Mice & silence: A homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (C)

downloadThis year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the song Silent Night. It was written in just a few hours–both the words and the tune. A man from a little church in Austria composed it in 1818 because the church organ cords had been chewed apart the night before….by mice.  What a story!  Three thoughts about this tune and its story.

  1. We should thank God for the mice in our lives. The song Silent Night has touched athe hearts and souls of so many.  We wouldn’t have the song today had the mice not done their work. There are people in our lives that drive us crazy, they annoy us, frustrate us, disappoint us, etc.  There are situations in our lives that are mice like.  But folks, on the other side, if we’re patient through it…is something beautiful, as beautiful as the song Silent Night.
  2. The song Silent Night tells of how God came to us.  Union with God has always been a desire of the human being.  Fulton Sheen points out that there’s only two possibilities as to how this can happen: either we go up to God, or God comes down to us. Christianity, Sheen notes, is the only religion to say that God comes down to us. The other ones, they insist that we humans must do this or that, and THEN we can be with God.  Christianity claims the opposite: it’s God who takes the initiative and comes down to us.  Now we have to RESPOND to this of course, but what a relief that the burden isn’t on us!
  3. Silence.  We all need silence.  JEsus was born in the silence; he entered the scene in silence.  He still enters our lives in silence.  From 2pm today until 2pm tomorrow (Christmas Eve), all are welcome to come to St Joe for adoration.  The trees will be lit, the lights nice and dim, and Jesus will be exposed. Drop by for some silence. I’ll be hearing confessions from 2pm until 9pm today, too.

Who represents us at Bethlehem? A homily for the Third Sunday of Advent (C)

0459Pope John XXIII was canonized this past year. I want us to think back to Christmas 1958, when the world was waiting to see what the new Papa Roncalli was going say at his Christmas Mass. It was the first time a Christmas Mass would be broadcast on the radio waves. He was a peasant pope, and no one expected much from his homily. But then he began to speak.

He asked, “Who represented us at the first Christmas?” He directed the world’s attention to the manger scene. He said it wasn’t the shepherds that represented us since most of us aren’t farmers. It wasn’t the wise men since most of us are kind of stupid. It wasn’t the angels, as humans can’t be angels. Nope. It was the jackass. The pope explained himself: “The jackass was always feeling sorry for himself. He felt frustrated and thought his life was too monotonous—meaningless. He was habitually u

nhappy. He would always walk around with a long face…”

I think about Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. That poor fellow was never happy! O No, I lost my tail.  Oh poor me.  We sound that way oftentimes.  Pope John 23 said it’s a shame we spend so much of our lives walking around unhappy, throwing pity parties, etc.  But sometimes what prompts this is jealousy….

You see, Pope John 23 went on to say that the jackass walked around and found a horse and wished he could be like the horse who could run so fast and was so beautiful, or like the camel who could go days without water, or like the cow who was friendly and could get along with everybody. But then the jackass kept walking, and he found a baby lying in the manger. He went up to that baby instinctually. He couldn’t resist. And then he began breathing heavily on the baby.

“After a while, the baby reached up and patted the muzzle of the jackass—as if to say: ‘Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for keeping

me warm on this cold wintry night.’ Now, for the first time in his life, the jackass was happy. He no longer felt sorry for himself. He had found meaning and purpose in his life, and all his troubles went away.”

Then the pope added: “For that’s the way it is with Almighty God. All he wants is the warm breath of a living soul. You give him that and he will take care of the rest.” He ended his homily: “So Merry Christmas, from one jackass to all you other asses.” hahahaha.

I share this with you on this Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, becuase today the Church says: REJOICE!  Get over your problems for a day, celebrate and rejoice because we have the Lord!  WE are meant to be happy today!  To provide God a warm breath.

Happy third sunday of Advent

Two thoughts before Christmas: A homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent (B)

advent.jpgAdvent ends and Christmas begins in only a few hours.  Two thoughts to help us get ready.

  1. Imagine Mary at this time 2000 some years ago.  Sitting there, knowing who is to come, knowing what is to happen…in only a matter of hours.  Can you imagine!  Listen to what St Ambrose says–The child leaps in the womb; the mother is filled with the Holy Spirit, but not before her son.  Once the Son has been filled with the Holy Spirit in her womb, he fills his mother with the same Spirit. What St Ambrose is saying is that Jesus, flooded himself by the holy spirit, floods his mother with the holy spirit.  The Spirit emanates from Jesus within her, it proceeds and flows out of the one she has within her.  Folks–the same is with us. Mary had Jesus within her!  And so do we.  We who receive the Eucharist, we receive Jesus inside!  And flowing out from Jesus within us, just as with Mary, is this ability to do the divine!  Every time we love, every time we forgive, every time we do anything in the name of God….I think for example of our ancestors who built this church, or all the spiritual powerhouses who have written so much poetry, so many hymns, and all those who have produced so much beautiful Christian artwork…so many things….whenever we do these things, we are giving birth to the Lord!  How will you give birth to the Lord this Christmas?
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  2. The second thing is simpler.  Where do you need Jesus to be born in your life?  Jesus came into the darkness and dirtiness of a manger.  That is where God decided to enter the world.  There is nothing in your life too dark or dirty for the Lord.  I look at the manger here. There is an emptiness. B3ecuase Jesus is not there.  Where is there an emptiness in your life?  Consider all that, and invite Jesus to be born there. Maybe it’s a relationship or a fear or doubt, or an addiction or sin. Invite Jesus to be born there. And watch and see what he’ll do.

See you at Christmas.

Rejoicing in the Lord: A homily for the Third Sunday of Advent (B)

IMG_3912Today is Gaudate Sunday, Rejoice Sunday.  It is a day set aside to rejoice.  The color is a nice rose, because rose is a mix between the Christmas white and the Advent purple.  We are getting close. I think about Blessed Mother at this time and the joy she must have had in knowing she was about to give birth, not just to her precious baby boy, but to the savior of the world.  What joy!  Today we share in that.

Our psalm today is a bit different from normal. The response we chanted was from the Gospel of Luke. We echoed Mary’s words: “My soul rejoices in you my God.”  Isaiah says the same thing “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.”  And St Paul tells us the same.

Notice the theme–we are to rejoice IN THE LORD.  There is a human tendency to rejoice in earthly things: money, nice car, promotion, so on.  I just got a new pair of shoes the other day. I kind of feel like a new man when I get a new pair of shoes.  But it would be silly of me to rejoice in these shoes.  Because they will not last forever.  The time will come when they will no longer be shiny, when they will have holes.  If my joy were tied to my shoes, or anything in particular, then my joy is contingent upon something of the world.  Parties are great, bu they come to an end. New cars are nice, but they will break down one day.  Popularity comes and goes, and so do looks.  Even hair doesn’t last forever.  It is silly to rejoice in these things.

It’s not that they’re bad things.  There are many great and holy things to celebrate and rejoice in.  For example, this rosary.  I just got it the other day.  I visited the hospital twice on Thursday, and the first time there was this woman. She had this rosary in her hands. I said, “What a beautiful rosary!”  She told me how it changed colors when was praying it once. I’ve heard such stories before.  She insisted I take it.  I also got a few other rosaries that mean a lot to me, because some of our kids made them in rosary club for me.  I am deeply touched.  These are sacred things, but it wouldn’t be quite right to rejoice in the thing itself.  What happens if I lose one of them?  Or if it breaks? Or if there is an emergency and I need to give it to someone?   Our ultimate rejoicing, we save that for the Lord.  I appreciate these rosaries and will treat them with care, and I can rejoice in them…but only inasmuch as they help me with my relationship with the Mary, and ultimately with the Lord.  In him is my ultimate joy.

Even with people!  In a way, we should of course all rejoice in one another, love one another.  But people sometimes let us down, they do foolish and hurtful things.  Sometimes they flat out leave us in the dust. And people don’t last forever.  We have a family in our Hispanic community who just lost a 3 week old baby.  People don’t last forever.  While we should take joy in being with others and love them deeply, our ultimate rejoicing is in the Lord!

Because the Lord is always there.  He is our origin and our destiny, the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega.  We have the Lord always.  Here, at this table, is our ultimate joy.  So we don’t get the new job, or the raise doesn’t come through, or we get a B instead of an A….we still have the Lord, and because of that we can still rejoice.  No matter what might come.

A last thing.  Today’s feast is less about “getting joy” and more about “giving joy.”  If our joy is rooted in the Lord, then we must give people the Lord.  We must spread him.

Three lessons from St. Joseph: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent (Year A)

go-to-josephToday, as we celebrate the final week of Advent, holy Church offers us the example of St. Joseph. I think we can learn a lot of lessons from this man.  I want to focus on three.

1. First, Joseph was not afraid to take Mary into his home.  He did not abandon her, even when doing so seemed the logical and best thing. We Christians can never abandon Mary, either. We must take her into our homes!  We love our dear mother.  There is a scene in Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night where we find a fallen away Catholic by the name of Mary Tyronne. At one point, she breaks down and says, “I want my faith back. With Mary, life is so much easier.”  It is true!  Mary is our surest intercessor, our most beautiful guide, the mother who takes us gently by the hand to heaven. We love her. We had the most wonderful celebrations for Our Lady of Guadalupe last week on Dec 12. We had Las Manaitas at 5am. Tons of people came and we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast afterwards. Then we had the first-ever school Mass in Spanish. And the big Mass was at 6pm. I wanted to cry it was so beautiful. And then the party….we had 500 chairs but that wasn’t enough, and we ran out of food. Folks: Mary is always bringing people to herself and then to Christ–in droves she does this!  We must love her for that reason!  That little church Our Lady asked St. Juan Diego to build–now it is the biggest Christian pilgrimage site in the world!  Joseph did not abandon Mary, he took her into his home, and he enthroned her-and she took him right to heaven.  We must do the same, take Mary into our homes and hearts. Every Catholic house should have a picture of Mary or a statue of Mary.

2. Second, Joseph loved radically.  Mary must have wondered how he would respond to the news that she as with child. Mary knew she as innocent, that she had not had relations with anyone. But she must also have known it didn’t look so good from the perspective of anyone else–especially her beloved Joseph.  She knew he had every reason to walk away, every reason to suspect that she had not been faithful.  But Joseph stayed.  That didn’t look so good to the town. People probably stopped coming to his carpenter shop. They ousted him from the temple. They looked down on him. But he took all that shame on himself.  Mary must have wondered: Why does this man love me this much?  To believe in me, to treat me like a queen?  My friends: Joseph had a radical love for Mary.  We follow his example. We should love one another so much, so strongly and so generously–that they wonder, “Why is he so good to me?”  Every husband should have plenty of reason to honestly say, “Why is my wife so good to me!  I don’t deserve it!”  And vice versa.  I try to live my life–and fail–in such a way that people might say, “Why is Fr. Mike so good to us?”  We should love people so powerfully that they wonder why.

3.  Third, Joseph controlled his tongue.  Joseph’s silence is worth thinking about.  In all the scriptures he never speaks a word. Nothing in the bible or in our tradition evidences a single word he spoke.  Our words have power–and we can use that power for bad (gossip, condemning, swearing, complaining, tearing down, sarcasm, etc), or we can use that power for good (to praise, to lift another up, to offer a word of kindness).  What keeps us up at night is often what people say to us–or what we said to them.  St. Joseph was prudent in his words and he used them sparingly.  An important sign of humility is knowing that we don’t always have to talk.  Some of the holiest people I know are also the quietest.  Maybe that means I should stop talking now.

We ask through the intercession of St. Joseph that we can let Mary in, that we can love people so radically they wonder why, and that we can use our mouths to bless others and the Lord.  And may God give us a beautiful Christmas.

The contagious and lasting nature of joy: A homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

joyToday we celebrate Gaudate Sunday, Rejoice Sunday. Today’s color is rose—a mix between the Advent purple and Christmas white. The rose is a reminder we are getting there, we are happily on our way. And we rejoice because we know where we are going. To Bethlehem.

I want to offer a few random thoughts on joy.

1. First, there is something contagious about joy. There is a wonderful video on Youtube of a subway filled with strangers. A guy goes into it and just starts laughing. At first, everyone dismisses him and ignores him. Then some others start to chuckle. Then, after a minute or so, the whole train is filled with laughter. It is a beautiful video. It makes me think about the contagious nature of joy. In the gospels, we always see people happier after having been around Jesus. They feel acknowledged, recognized, loved, healed. Jesus is inside us, and so people should be happier because we’re around. I will say that again. People should be happier because we’re around.  Our houses, families, classrooms, workplaces, circles of friends, neighborhoods–should all be happier for having us as a part of them.

You know I was in Haiti and stuck there several days because of the hurricane. My brother, from Ohio, found us a way to jump across some islands and get home. Fred Harris, who was part of the group, was so happy he wanted to get my brother a gift to show his appreciation. He got him a gift card for ChickFilA to give to him. You may know I love Chickfila. The card never made it to my brother. But I do have a conscience, so I told my brother. He asked if I had written a thank you note. I told him to take care of that and to just put in there, “MY brother enjoyed the Chickfila very much. His joy is my joy.” You know, we should take joy in one another’s joy. It is because it is contagious, life giving.

2. My second thought about joy is this. Sometimes joy is easy. For example, I’ve had a great week this past week. We had our Christmas program at school. I’ve been to Christmas parties, priest gatherings, and dinners, my family was town, we’ve won a lot of games, I had a great birthday and figure I got about 300 hugs that day. My goodness God is good. Sometimes joy is easy.

But sometimes it takes work to be joyful, to “lift up our hearts” as we say at Mass. Like when we lose the game, when things don’t go our way, when we lose a loved one, when a relationship ends, when the lands don’t produce anything like in our readings. Yet God commands us in the scriptures (Philippians) to “rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say: Rejoice!” He commands it! So it must be possible. Here’s the thing: our joy is in the Lord, not in passing things that brings great happiness or deep sadness. Our joy is in Jesus! I asked my nephew Adam who is 5 what I should say about joy today. He said, “Tell them to be happy.” I said, “But how can we always we happy?” He said, “Because God loves us!” That’s it folks! We can always rejoice in the Lord, because he is always there and he cares.

Here’s an example. Msgr and I go to the hospital to be with folks all the time. I’ve been there many times lately. When I’m standing there with families as they watch their loved one fade away, I am not in a “happy happy joy joy” kind of mood. But I still would say that I have a joy. Because we have the Lord! Because his resurrection! Our joy is in something deeper than a fleeting emotion. It would be a shame to reduce our faith to our human highs and lows.

On a related note, I gave a talk this past week to our Daughters of Mary. The question came up: are there tears in heaven? My instinct is to say yes, that Mary and Jesus and everybody in heaven cries—not in sadness, but in love and concern for us. We know Jesus wept over Jerusalem at the lost souls. We know of the seven sorrows of Mary. So I said yes: there are tears in heaven. Pope Francis talks about how we should pray for the “gift of tears.” But then I got to thinking about how Revelation talks about how, in the end, God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. But then I realized that of course is speaking about the Second Coming (the rapture) and not simply heaven as it is now. I kept going back and forth this week. So I called up a nun friend of mine. We were talking about this and I said, “So what do you think?” She said, “How could it not be so? How could there not be tears in heaven?” I said, “Well, I suppose the argument against it is that we know that heaven is a place of perfection.” She said, “But Father Michael, tears are not an imperfection.” Boom! Tears make us what we are: human. And Mary and Jesus were perfectly human and remain so. Point being: I think that in heaven there are tears, and maybe a tinge of sadness here and there that stems from fierce love of those below. But I believe there is also an even deeper and more enduring kind of happiness and joy there, one that never fades or dims, one that will remain unaffected by any sort of mood swing, etc.

Last thing: Tomorrow is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron of life and the unborn. She said to Juan Diego, a little peasant: “Am I not here, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the fountain of your joy?” Our dear mother is the fountain of our joy. We will have many celebrations here: Last Mananitas at 5am, breakfast afterwards, school Mass in Spanish, Mass at 6pm in Spanish, and big party after that. If you don’t speak Spanish, that’s OK: God does. Come and celebrate!

Let us thank God for our contagious joy, for our lasting joy, and for our Mother who gives it to us.