Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Sunday of Advent-A

Isaiah 30:19, 30

Romans 15:4-9

Matthew 3:1-12

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         It is not always easy getting ready for Christmas, is it?  As wonderful as the season is, it still takes a lot of work.  That is why the words of John the Baptist to us today are so important, so that we don’t miss out on what we are really getting ready for.  He says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

         There are three questions that follow from John’s words that I would like to place before all of us who are busy getting ready for Christmas.

         The first one is:  Is there something in my life right now that needs some adjustment, some change, to be ready for the birthday of Jesus?  “Repent,” John the Baptist says, “for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

         There is a story about two friends:  one lived his whole life in the city and the other in the desert.  The city-friend regularly went out to the desert to visit but the desert-friend had never accepted an invitation to come to the city…until now.

         Well, on his journey to the city, he came upon a set of railroad tracks and he wondered what they were for.  And then a train came roaring by with whistles blaring, and the desert-fellow was darned scared.  When he finally calmed down, he followed the directions and arrived at his city-friend’s home, where a Christmas party was in full-swing.

         He began exploring the house which was filled with so many things he had never seen before.  He entered the kitchen and was fascinated by the appliances when, all of a sudden, the tea kettle on the stove began to whistle.  He had a scary flashback of his encounter with the train.  So he went through the kitchen drawers and found a hammer and began beating the living daylights out of that tea kettle.

         Just then his city-friend walked in and asked what in the world he was doing.  And the desert-friend answered, “Sometimes you gotta kill these things while they are still small!”

         Well, within this silly story, there is a lesson about sin.  We have to root out sin early on or it can quickly grow and take charge of our lives.  And so John the Baptist tells us, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Is there something in my life right now that needs some adjustment, some change, to be ready for the birthday of Jesus?

         The second question is:  Is there somebody to whom I should be extending my hand?  Repentance is not only turning away from sin but it is also turning towards God and towards each other.

         Rob lived on a farm and the cows needed to be milked early each morning.  His dad would wake him at 4:00 AM and they would go out to the barn together.  Rob really didn’t mind doing this, although he did sometimes wish the cows would sleep-in a bit on the weekends.

         Early one morning he heard his dad telling his mom in the hallway how much he appreciated Rob’s help and that he really looked forward to their time together. 

         Rob was very touched because he knew that his mom and dad loved him, but they found it difficult to say so.  [Sometimes people can love each other very much but just can’t say, “I love you.”] 

         Rob had been trying to figure out what he would give his dad for Christmas, and this gave him an idea.  He decided that, on Christmas morning, he would get up extra-early and milk the cows all by himself.  And he did.  When his dad knocked on his door at the usual time, Rob told him that he would be right there to meet him in the barn.  His dad came back from the barn a short time later with tears in his eyes.  He knew that Rob loved him, but they had not told each other this in a long time.  Early that Christmas morning, Rob and his dad hugged and told each other, “I love you.”

         Rob gave his dad a gift that didn’t cost a penny, but was priceless.  He gave his dad the gift of his love.

         During this second week of Advent, as we look into our hearts:  Is there something in my life right now that needs some adjustment, some change, to be ready for the birthday of Jesus?  Is there somebody to whom I should be extending my hand?

         And the third question is:  Have I truly allowed Jesus to take up residence in my heart?  Because isn’t this the reason that we do all the things we do this time of year?

         Jeannie Wilson tells about having a rough Christmas, when she just couldn’t get in the mood.  [Maybe some of you are there right now.]  But she needed to provide a good Christmas for her family.  So she went to the mall.

         She wandered up and down the aisles, not finding anything that interested her, because she just wasn’t in the mood.  And then, up ahead of her, she saw that some figures of a Nativity set had fallen to the floor and a little girl had picked up the Christ Child.

         The girl asked her mother, “Mommy, would you please buy this for me?”  Then Jeannie heard the mother tell her that, as much as she would like to, she just couldn’t afford it.  She hugged her daughter and her daughter said, “It’s all right, Mommy.  My teacher told me that Jesus really lives in my heart.”

         As the mother and daughter moved along Jeannie picked up the whole Nativity set, paid for it, and then said to the cashier:  “Would you please give this to that little girl who is leaving the store right now with her mother?”

         Jeannie says that on the mantle in her home today is an identical Nativity set that she bought in that same store where she couldn’t get in the mood for Christmas.  But there is no manger.  If you ask Jeannie why, she will answer, “Because Jesus really lives in my heart.”

         It is not always easy getting ready for Christmas.  But on this Second Sunday of Advent, the words of John the Baptist help us to look in the right direction:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

         Is there something in my life right now that needs some adjustment, some change, to be ready for the birthday of Jesus?  Is there somebody to whom I should be extending my hand?  Have I truly allowed Jesus to take up residence in my heart? 

Because if we do, no matter how far behind we are with our holiday preparations, we will truly be ready for Christmas, the birthday of Jesus,

Fr. Tim’s Homily for Sunday, December 1, 2019

First Sunday of Advent – A

Isaiah 2: 1-5

Romans 13: 11-14

Matthew 24: 37-44

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         Advent isn’t exactly a comfortable season.  And I don’t just mean the frost on the windshield and the certainty of January bills.  Advent has a strangeness about it that won’t be tamed by the caroling that begins at Thanksgiving or by the outdoor lighting displays.

         The measured sobriety of Advent clashes with the festive rush in the stores.  And the urgency of the Scripture readings clashes with our secular culture of materialism and individualism.  And, if the truth be told, the threat of final cosmic judgment in today’s Gospel grips us no more than the “eager longing” of the Advent hymns.

         Just how are we to identify with this season of Advent? Its purple sobriety contrasts with the red and green festival of an American Christmas that begins with October advertising.  And for all of the expectancy we feel for the coming of “the holidays,” the coming of Christ Himself can seem so remote and even unlikely.

         What are we to do?  We can, of course, feel guilty.  But guilt is not the keynote of the Advent season either.  Joy is so characteristic of Advent that nearly every Responsorial Psalm is a Psalm of rejoicing.  The Advent Psalms don’t say:  “Feel guilty that you are not rejoicing.”  They just say:  “Rejoice!”  But it is not exactly the rejoicing of the office party either.

         Advent seems to be such an untidy season.  Here a comforting  Scripture passage, and there a threat;  unusual John the Baptist at the edge of the desert and meek Mary in Nazareth;  the purple of repentance and the songs of rejoicing;  the “last day” in the Gospel on the first Sunday of Advent is a day of final judgment and we pray to greet it with joy.  What a mess!  No instant relevance and not even a tidy thematic.

         How, then, should we deal with Advent?  As a cherished heirloom, annually dusted off for a churchly For Auld Lang Syne?  As a little bit of “liturgical Williamsburg”? 

But here is another possibility:  that we attempt to penetrate what the Bible and the liturgy are saying to us during this season – without asking them to say what we would like them to say, and without asking them to say it in a way that we would like to hear it.

         For both the Bible and the liturgy are about the relationship of God with His people.  And relationships – in case anybody hasn’t noticed – aren’t always tidy.

         And the Bible and the liturgy are not always communicating information about the relationship between God and His people.  In many cases, they are more concerned with the meaning of the relationship between God and His people.

         And while the passages we read in the liturgy are grounded in the past, they are here for us to reflect upon their meaning for today.

         Advent’s thematic is so simple that it is not likely to make the banners this year:  God is present to us.  For “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”

         Advent looks to that great feast of God’s presence to us:  Christmas.

God is present to His world through His Son, Jesus – who became one of us so that we could become one with Him.

         Our medieval ancestors, in their statues and iconography, often portrayed Mary as pregnant. 

         In our “enhanced” church at Saint Joseph, there will be a new shrine in the back with a statue of Mary expecting the Christ Child, the Pregnant Virgin, Our Lady of the Advent of Christ.  And this image has so much to say to our age which is in serious danger of forgetting that the God-given gift of human life begins at conception.

         As mothers know, pregnancy isn’t a very comfortable thing.  Its hope is tinged with morning sickness.  You know that your child is living within you.  You can feel your child kicking.  But right at the moment, you can’t see the face of the one who is soon to be born.  But you will.

         And that is what Advent – the coming of Christ – is about.  The splendor of God’s presence is hidden within the everyday untidiness of our lives – and lies beneath the pain and poverty of this world.

         But we live in hope.  God is present to us — in His Son, Jesus.  We long to see His face, and one day we will.  But even now we can feel His presence within us and among us.

         This Advent season – like the pregnant Virgin Mary – is short on explanation and heavy with meaning.

Fr. Tim’s Homily from Sunday, Nov 24, 2019

The Feast of Christ the King-C

2 Samuel 5:1-3

Colossians 1:12-20

Luke 23: 35-43

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         Today trust in Church leadership is falling.  Confidence in government and politicians is sinking.  We long for trustworthy leadership but, in our times, can we ever hope to find it?

         So where does our longing for trustworthy leadership lead us?  To today’s feast – Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

         It was given to us by Pope Pius XI in 1925.  It falls on the last Sunday of the Church year.  Next Sunday opens the new Church year with the First Sunday of Advent.

Pope Pius XI was looking at the world and he saw dictatorships arising.  Mussolini [1883-1945] was parading around Italy with arrogance.  Hitler [1889-1945] was just released from jail and his scary Nazi party was gaining strength. 

Pope Pius XI wanted to remind the world of its Divine Lord and Master.  And so he established the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

         In America, presidents are voted in one day and out on another.   But a king is in office for life.  In today’s First Reading, from the Second Book of Samuel,  David is anointed the King of Israel, and the people pledge their ongoing loyalty to him.

         In Jewish thought, if you were loyal to God’s anointed one, the king, you were also being loyal to God.  But you and I know that King David, who he did a lot of good, also committed some very serious sins.  And we know that with human leadership there will always be flaws and failures.

         So who is the trustworthy leader for us to follow?  It is none other than the Son of God and the Son of Mary.  And what does Jesus our King teach us about leadership?

         Jesus describes Himself in the Gospels by saying, “I have come not to be served by others but to serve”  [Matthew 20: 28, Mark 10: 45].  He is our Servant King.  That is the kind of leadership that He exercises and that He teaches us to follow.

         In today’s Gospel, Jesus, our Servant King, is reigning from the Cross and suffering out of love to redeem us poor sinners.  And two thieves are crucified either side of Him.

One, in a very cocky way, says, “Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us.”

The other one, very humbly, says, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation?  And indeed, we have been condemned justly… but this man has done nothing criminal.”  And then he – the one we call the “good thief” or Saint Dismas – says to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus hears his confession on that cross.  And Jesus says to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Someone entitled this Gospel scene, “The Thief Who Stole Heaven.”  At the last minute, the good thief opened his heart to Jesus, and Jesus’ heart was already wide-open to him.  That is the kind of leadership that Jesus teaches us to follow:  being servant leaders with loving hearts.

         Several years ago [December 1997] a young man in West Paducah, Kentucky took a gun to school and killed seven of his classmates.  Parents were frantically praying, “Not my child, Lord.  Please don’t let anything happen to my child.”

         One mother’s prayer was not answered as she had wished.  Her son died in the shooting.  In spite of her shock and grief, that mother didn’t hesitate when doctors asked if she would donate her son’s organs to others in critical need.

         Many months passed, and the mother discovered that her son’s heart had gone to a Methodist pastor.  She contacted him and asked to meet him.

         The day of their meeting, the grieving mother and the grateful pastor talked and prayed and celebrated the life of her precious son who had died so suddenly and tragically.

         And then the mother surprised the pastor by asking him, “May I put my ear next to your heart?  May I hear my son’s heart beating one more time inside of you?”

         We are each called to be a person who has received a transplanted heart, the heart of Jesus within us.  There are so many people today who are discouraged with scandals in the Church, with corruption in government and politicians, with violence and terrorism, with overwhelming greed and the outright rejection of God-given morals. 

They desperately need to hear the blessed reassurance of His beating heart.  They need to be able to put their ears to our hearts and know that Jesus Christ our King still reigns.   

And so we pray:  “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like yours.”