Monthly Archives: December 2013

Holy Family Homily


Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family.  I have to admit that what truly strikes me this year in the readings is the focus on the father and particularly on the person of Joseph.  In the Catholic tradition, you might think that since we have an all-male priesthood which person would we have truly focused on more in the holy family if it was really all about gender–it would be on St. Joseph.  But is that really true?

We will find that this is absolutely not the case.  Go to any Christian library and you will find 100 times as many books on Mary as you will Joseph.  There is such a thing as getting a degree in Mariology, but there is no such thing as “joseph-ology.”  Mary has easily gotten so many times the attention as Joseph in the Christian tradition to the point where there is no contest.  When it comes to the Holy Family, there is no danger that the idea of motherhood will be lost.  But there is a little bit of danger that the idea of fatherhood is misunderstood.


No, there is no contest between attention given to Mary over Joseph; Nor really should there be.  Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus Christ–God the Father is.  But Mary is truly his mother.  It is through Mary that Jesus truly receives his human nature.  Recall what happened when they found Jesus in the temple when he was only a boy.  Mary actually corrects Jesus and says, “Did you not know that your father and I have been searched for you with great anxiety?”  And Jesus actually gentle corrects his mother and says, “Did YOU not know that I would be in MY FATHER’S HOUSE.”  He reminds his mother who his real father is. 

But do you know that despite the fact that Joseph is only Jesus’s foster father, we must accept that in a very real way it was Joseph who taught Jesus how to be a man.  Mary helped with this, of course, but it was Joseph’s primary responsibility to image manhood for Jesus.  I find this fascinating.  If this is the case, then Joseph is the man that God himself chose to image manhood to his own son.  I think that we can safely say that despite the fact that though we know little about Joseph’s personality, that makes him one of the manliest men who has ever lived.  You men, give that some thought.  Maybe we should be calling on St. Joseph’s intercession a little more than we do.

So what is Fatherhood?  I really cannot fully answer this question, but I would at least like to point to it.  I would like to quote from the apostolic exhortation, “Gaurdian of the Redeemer,” written by Pope John Paul II:  “St. Joseph was called by God to serve the person and mission of Jesus directly through the exercise of his fatherhood….  His fatherhood is expressed concretely “in his having made his life a service, a sacrifice to the mystery of the Incarnation and to the redemptive mission connected with it; in having used the legal authority which was his over the Holy Family in order to make a total gift of self, of his life and work; in having turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of self, an oblation of his heart and all his abilities into love placed at the service of the Messiah growing up in his house.”  (Gaurdian, #8)  The TOTAL GIFT OF SELF that a man gives to his wife and the fruitfulness of their marriage is the essence of fatherhood.  It is not about him.  Is is not about what he receives, but what he gives.  I know a man who was totally dedicated to his job but lost his family in the process.  An emiment success in the workplace, he ended up an abject failure as a man.  A man needs to remember that he never made a vow to take care of his job, but you did make a vow before God to take care of your wife and family.  So see to it. 

Again, I make a few comments on fatherhood over motherhood because I really think that fatherhood is in more danger than motherhood in this day and age, although both are under attack.  This is just a homily and I can’t cover EVERYTHING….

That same document that I spoke about designates the whole mission of the family as the following:  “The essence and role of the family are in the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living reflection of and a real sharing in God’s love for humanity and the love of Christ the Lord for the Church his bride.”  This being the case, it is in the Holy Family, the original “Church in miniature that every Christian family must be reflected. “Through God’s mysterious design, it was in that family that the Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the prototype and example for all Christian families.”

What is the holy family?  We have to remember that it was to a married couple that creation was originally entrusted–Adam and Eve.  And they didn’t do so well with that.  So it was equally to a married couple that the new creation was entrusted–Mary and Joseph.  And instead, THEY did everything that they had been commanded to do.  Because of Adam and Eve’s “no”, the Garden of Eden is closed.  Because of Mary and Joseph’s “yes,” the Garden can be opened to us again.  It is the whole mission of the family to be an image of the love of the Trinity–it is supposed to be total, fruitful, and faithful.  This is one the reasons why the church can never bless a same-sex union.  It cannot be fruitful.  It is contrary to nature and flies in the face of God’s plan for finding a complementary partner and to be fruitful and multiply.  An attack on the idea of the family is an attack on the church itself.  And an attack on the church is also an attack on the world.

It is a good day to ask the question, “Just how much does my family image the Trinity?  How much does my “yes” to God image itself in my actions towards my spouse, my brothers and sisters, my father and my mother?”  How true is what St. Paul wrote today in Colossians?

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.

We even hear in scripture today that kindness shown to a father can actually cover over some of your sins.  Wow.  That’s impressive.  I’m sure this works for mother’s too, because if your house is like mine, the way it works is this:  if momma is happy, then everybody’s happy.  So be good to your momma–it might actually make God forget some of your faults.


Are my actions opening the garden of Eden or closing it?  Isn’t THAT an interesting way of looking at things?  What if our bad example could actually close the gate of heaven for someone and prevent them from entering?  We are called to roll back the sin of Adam and Eve, one family at a time.  And the one that made it possible is the Holy Family.  And why are they holy?  They are holy because they thought not of themselves, but rather of the God that summoned them to do great things by his grace.

My brothers and sisters, our egos grow like a weed sometimes.  The ego is that part of us that is always whispering, “Me, me, me, me, me.…”  The family has been given to us to remind us that it is not about me, and that sometimes a little pruning is necessary for us to belong in the garden of God.  


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Christmas Homily Midnight Mass 2013





The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful….

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this….

God, could it be true?  Could it really be true?  That God himself was born as a tiny, human child a little over 2,000 years ago to save us from our sins–to fix the great mess of the world, to bring peace, and to bring us back to him in heaven?  Could it really be true?  Our faith tells us it is true.  But sometimes our faith can falter.  Our hearts whisper that it is true.  But our hearts can sometimes break. 

 But that’s why he came, people.  He came to have his heart broken so that ours might be healed.  Let me ask you a question.  When you really feel like you are going through an awful spot, whom do you like to talk to?  Somebody who has never been through a similar struggle, or somebody who has walked a few miles in your shoes?  Someone who is struggling with an addiction wants to share with somebody else who is struggling with addiction and defeated it.  Someone with marital problems wants to share with someone else who has had marital problems and come out stronger.  Someone whose heart has been broken wants to speak to another broken heart who has found a way to make it whole again.  Shortly before he died, Jesus said to his apostles, ” I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  He has been through the warfare that is human life, and he has come out on the other side.  Let me offer you an image.  Imagine the afterlife as a massive, awful wilderness full of wild beasts.  On the other side of this wildnerness is heaven.  Well, before Jesus there was no trail through the wildnerness.  He was born into this world, he made a way through the woods, gave us ways to be protected from the beasts, and then opened the gate to heaven on the other side (which before his time had been LOCKED).  Jesus is a trailblazer.  He is a pilgrim, a wanderer.  And we need to follow him down that narrow pathway to the other side.

But that journey has to begin somewhere.  And in the spiritual life that begins with birth and baptism–and that is what we celebrate this evening.  The BEGINNING OF THE JOURNEY.  The trees of the wilderness tremble with anticipation, for our great trailblazer arises to make a way for us.

That is why God was born in a manger 2,000 years ago.  He was born so that we would not recoil from sharing with him everything that we are, were or hope to be.  Jesus Christ would not be accused that he doesn’t know how it feels to be lonely, mocked, heart-broken, poor, confused or misunderstood.  He would not be accused.  And so he humbled himself and became one of us.  Why be afraid to give ourselves to such a God?  Why be afraid to come to Him with everything?  St. Peter tells us, “Cast all your burdens and anxieties upon him because he cares about you.”  (1 Pet 5:7).  What our God wishes the most of all is that we give him our burdens.  Didn’t he die bearing them?  And yet for some reason I want to bear mine alone?  We are such strange creatures…


Let me repeat what I said before:   God, could it be true?  Could it really be true?  That God himself was born as a tiny, human child a little over 2,000 years ago to save us from our sins–to fix the great mess of the world, to bring peace, and to bring us back to him in heaven?  Could it really be true? 

1.  Did you know that Jesus was born in a manger?  And why might that be important for us as Christians?  Because the one great act of Jesus’s life was to die on the cross and then give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink.  He died so that his death might nourish us.  And when he was born it was in a box meant to feed animals?  Do you think that this might be more than a coincidence?  Or did you know that the word Bethlehem–the city in which Jesus was born–means “the house of bread”?  And what did he do before he died but raise up a piece of bread and say “This is my body–eat this?  And do it in memory of me”?  Again, another divine coincidence?  My friends, can your heart feel the plan of it all, the plan of salvation arranged from the foundation of the world?  It is not a riddle to be figured out, it is rather a mystery that needs to be invited in–into the heart. 

2.  But despite that, God still gave us the power of the mind and gave us hints to indicate his presence and his plan.  There were prophecies that existed for centuries that point to Jesus.  It was Prophesied by Micah that the Lord will be born in Bethlehem.  It was Prophesied by Zechariah that he would be betrayed by one of his followers for 30 pieces of silver.  It was Prophesied by the psalms that he would be crucified and that his bones would not be broken, and the list goes on and on….

3.  Christians by the thousands were beheaded, flayed alive and fed to wild beasts rather than simply burn incense to a pagan god of Rome because they were THAT convinced that what the apostles were saying about Christ was true, and what they were experiencing through the power of the Holy Spirit was very real.  Christianity hit the world like a tidal wave, and it was almost snuffed out as soon as it began.  We can’t forget that.  We can never forget that. 

Christianity–our precious faith–started in a manger with Mary, Joseph, and some frightened shepherds 2,000 years ago.  And now we are a billion strong.  Or are we all really strong?  I doubt there are a billion strong.  But do we really need a billion?  Let’s not forget that in the beginning, it took the faith of one teenage girl and her struggling husband to found a religion that would become a billion strong.

There has been a lot that has happened in history that is not directly connected with this seemingly unimportant event in a cave in Palestine–a child born to some of the poorest of the poor 2,000 years ago in a faith that the Romans barely allowed to exist.  And there has been a lot that has happened in our personal history that doesn’t directly have to do with our faith.  But let me suggest the manger as an image.  Where is the manger in our hearts?  There is a very poor place in our hearts where innocence is kept alive, and a child cries in manger, and the mother of God sings a soft lullaby, and angels kneel in wonder….  It is a soft place, a quiet place, sometimes so covered in noise and pride and ambition that we can barely get to it…  What has happened to it?  It only takes one tiny ember to fan into a flame…  And so where is that ember in our hearts?  What event, what believe, what word–what beginning–what humble nativity can we return to, to give us the strength to journey from here into the frightening wilderness? 


When I was praying the rosary on December 6, 1994, something happened to me that I still cannot explain.  I heard a voice that said, “Teach my children,” and my life has never been the same since.  And I followed a calling that led me here.  It was my nativity, in a way.  It didn’t give me all the answers, but in that night was a power that gave me a new mission in life.

This is a night to make things new.  This is a night where promises come true.  It is a night to set aside old grudges and old hurts.  Do you know that one of the greatest gifts that you can give someone else–AND YOURSELF–is the grace of starting over?

There was once a set of twins who had a very alcoholic father.  One twin drank and one did not.  The first twin was asked, “Why do you drink so much?”  and he said, “Because my father drank so much.  That is why I drink.”  and the second twin was asked, “Why don’t you drink at all?”  And he responded, “I have decided not to drink because my father drank so much.”  PAUSE

Do you get the message?  Let’s not be held in bondage by what has happened to us in the past.  What happened on this night two thousand years ago was meant to give us the power to be set free from such bondage.  But have we tapped into such a power?  Have we begged to be set free?

I would like to sincerely beg particularly you married couples to use tonight as a night to reconcile–it doesn’t matter who did what, or who deserves what, or who should make up first.  People, just do it.  When something new happens, it can break the rules.  It can appear from nowhere.  APOLOGIZE….

Do you know how much we insult the baby Jesus when we approach him and tell him that he can’t make our lives new again?  He transformed the life of Mary and Joseph.  He turned the Jewish religion inside out.  He took over the Roman empire after all the Christians were nearly executed out of existance.  He established a culture that would last for more than a millenium in Europe, he converted the country of Mexico almost overnight through Our Lady of Guadalupe, he established the oldest and most lasting organization in the catholic church under the pope of rome where we serve Francis the 266th successor of Peter, and you don’t think that he can make 2014 look new for you, and transform your heart from the inside out?  If you don’t think so, you are the most arrogant and most powerful person in the galaxy to keep at bay such a god.  So think again.

Find once more the humility of the manger that glows softly in your heart, and the lullaby of your virgin mother who longs to hold you again.  For behold, he makes all things new again.  Merry Christmas.

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Homily, December 23–“Be like a Child Again…”

When I lived in Philadelphia for two years before I entered the monastery, I saw a great deal of snow during the winter.  It got old pretty quickly.  And of course, it got old because I saw it every day.  As the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  But when I went up there recently for my retreat and saw the new snow, I ran out there and played in it like a ten year old.  It had become new again.  It had become fresh.  It was no longer familiar, and I was able to see an old thing in a new way.

I think that something like this can happen at Christmas.  We have heard the story of the virgin heavy with child so many times that it no longer amazes us and fills us with wonder.  But what does it take to see something with new eyes?  I think that is a question worth asking.

First of all, I think it requires a little grace.  We need to remember that faith is a great deal about perspective.  It is a gift from heaven.  And because it is a gift, we should be asking for it to be given by God through the Holy Spirit.  I know some children at Christmas who aren’t really impressed with the gifts that their parents and relatives give them–and do you know why that is the case?  It is because those children are spoiled, and they think that they deserve those gifts.  This is not the right attitude to have before God.  There are two kinds of children.  There are the spoiled ones who are surprised by nothing, and there are the innocent ones who are surprised by everything.  Wouldn’t you rather have the heart of that second kind of child?  “Unless you become like this child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven…”  Does that sound familiar?  We need to ask for the gift of wonder.

Secondly, I wonder what sort of things we surround ourselves with?  What sort of things do we take into our homes?  Are we all about cellphones, television, noise, business, distraction and clutter?  If so, is it a wonder that Christmas is not filling you with wonder?  Maybe an advent wreath, some blessed candles, appropriate music, PRAYER, a family get together to talk about maybe the best and worst parts of the year, some spiritual reading, some SILENCE…  Indeed, what do we take into our homes?  Do you have holy objects in your home?  Do you actually revere them, maybe bow to a picture or have some holy water and make the sign of the cross?  People, we are bodily creatures.  We need signs like this to remind us of the sacred, and if we perform sacred actions, then maybe we will feel sacred feelings–wonder, hope, joy?  I do things like this every day.  I have to.  Otherwise, it becomes too easy to feel the spirit draining from me and allowing the spirit of the world to seep in like a poison, stealing my joy and making me look at everything with a negative, whiny, jaded spirit.

With this in mind, let me read to you my favorite paragraph of St. Francis’s new letter on evangelization where he talks about this spirit of negativity that can come when we fail to struggle for the newness of faith that I am talking about.  He writes:

And so the biggest threat of all gradually takes shape: “the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness”.[63] A tomb psychology thus develops and slowly transforms Christians into mummies in a museum. Disillusioned with reality, with the Church and with themselves, they experience a constant temptation to cling to a faint melancholy, lacking in hope, which seizes the heart like “the most precious of the devil’s potions”.[64] Called to radiate light and communicate life, in the end they are caught up in things that generate only darkness and inner weariness, and slowly consume all zeal for the apostolate. For all this, I repeat: Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the joy of evangelization!

What do we take into our homes?  How about the rosary?  How about Mary?  Let me bring to your attention something that I discovered in the readings. 

When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he said, “Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home.”  And at the end of the gospel today it says, “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.”  When scripture repeats itself, we need to stand up and take notice.  And you know, this reminds me of another scripture passage.  Recall Jesus on the cross, and now let me remind you of the words of St. John:  “When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” took her into his own home.” 

(It’s really kindof weird actually.)

I have a game that I like to play.  It’s called “Where is Jesus?”  It is simple and child-like, but again, we won’t enter the kingdom unless we become like children, full of wonder and surprise again.  Every day I like to ask Jesus where he will show up, where he will surprise me next.  Just for example, I had a woman just walk up to me in Winn Dixie and tell me that she prays a rosary for me every day and wanted me to know that she had my back–that’s Jesus himself right there.  He showed up.  And it makes me smile.  And it fills me with wonder again.  And good lord, do we need that in this world today.  Because he WILL come again, but will our eyes have grown so cloudy and our ears so full of noise that we will not recognize him when he comes? 

I want to share with you a quote by G.K Chesterton about the spiritual superiority of the child:

““Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Indeed.  The gospel says that “The virgin shall be with child, and his name shall be emmanuel.”  And taking Mary into our homes will certainly help with that.  Pray, keep the sacred sacred, play games with God and wait to be surprised.  At Christmas, a child is born to us.  And You know, sometimes it takes a child to play with a child.  Maybe this Christmas the child that needs to be reborn is us.  


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