We need a group, a star, and some gifts: A homily for the Epiphany (Year B)

camels-1150075_1920Today, as we close the Christmas season, we celebrate the three wise men, the three kings, the magi–whatever you want to call them!  Their presence in our Christian story teaches us a lot…I want to focus on three things.

We need a group.  We really don’t know how many there were in the group with the Magi. We do know there were three for sure–Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar–but there is lots of speculation that there were many more with them.  Their journey from Persia to Bethlehem was about from here to San Antonio–about 1500 miles.  On a camel.  Caspar never would have made it without the other two…and the same for them.  We need a group to get to Jesus.  That is truth!  That is why God gives us families, why he gives us parishes, why he gives us groups within parishes.  We need holy friends to get to Jesus, to inspire us, to keep us going.  The journey is too long for us to make on our own.

We need a star. Without the star in the sky, the wise men wouldn’t have known where to go. The same is true for us. The Catholic Church is our star!  Without the Church, we are lost.  And if we ever want to reach the Lord–just as the kings wanted so desperately to reach him–then we need to look to our star, the Church!  We look to her timeless teachings, her doctrines of love, her precepts and commandments. So long as we look to the star of the Church and follow after her beaming light, we’ll get to the Good Lord in no time.

We need gifts.  God forbid we should show up to the Lord empty handed one day!  We give Jesus our everything.  That is the lesson of these kings.  Caspar’s gift is incense–a symbol of the devotion, prayers, and heart we are to give to God.  Melchior brought the gold–a sign of the temporal goods we give to God, including our money.  Balthazar gives the myrrh, the stuff used over bodies when someone died. It’s a symbol that we give Jesus our bodies, our lives. They don’t belong to us anyway!

My friends, we need a group, we need the star, we need gifts!  Praise the Lord he gives us everything we need!  There’s a great line in Eucharistic Prayer I about how we give to God what he himself has given to us.  In other words, even our gifts–it’s all God’s!  Praise the Lord.  Together may we follow after the star, may we seek Jesus and give him everything.  He is worth it.

All because God fell in love: A homily for Christmas

IMG_9957I’ve been visiting all of our shut-ins and folks in nursing homes recently, in order to wish them a Merry and happy Christmas. I always love looking at the pictures on people’s walls. Often there are dozens and dozens of pictures of family members and loved ones. You should always send pictures of you and your family to loved ones who are homebound, or in nursing homes. Often it is looking at faces of children and grandchildren that gets people through. Some also tell me they pray over those pictures.

About four days ago I visited a husband and wife who have been members of our parish for ages. They live in Ashford Place. Like so many, they had pictures everywhere of family members.  At the top of it all was a picture of the two of them.  Above that was a frame that said, “All because two people fell in love.”  In other words, none of the 100 or so people below would ever even exist were it not for the love that brought together this couple.

Brothers and sisters: today we celebrate that Jesus came to earth, that God has been born among us.  All that has followed–everyone who has been baptized, every family that exists, everyone who has been brought together in matrimony, all whose sins have been absolved in holy confession, every person who has received the Body of Our Lord at Holy Mass, every soul that has been born on earth and every soul that has entered heaven–it is all because God fell in love.

God is not out to get us!  He’s out to love us!  Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds and the wise men–all were told, “Do not be afraid!”  The same is said to us!  God comes to us, is born among us, because he fell in love.  No one is afraid of a baby!  Everyone wants to hold the baby, kiss the baby. For that, when God entered the world, he did so as a beautiful baby boy.

So that all might love him, too.  And fall in love.  Among the many Christmas cards I got–and I am so very thankful for them all–there was one that really got me.  It said, “Dear Fr. Mike, Merry Christmas.  We appreciate what you are doing. Thank you for caring.”

Today Jesus invites us all to care a little more–about our faith, about our families, about living a good and upright life.  So I had this experience in prayer.  I was sitting there with Mary who was holding, and she asked: Do you want to hold him?

We are all asked that today my friends.  Do you want to hold him?

Friends: Hold onto Jesus, hold on to him with all your life, all your heart, all your soul.  Do it.  Never let him go.  Look him in the eyes, behold him, love him, kiss him.  Cherish him.  Do that, and only then will you be able to let go of everything else–all your angers, resentments, failures, mistakes, addicitons.  Just fall in love with Jesus and hold onto him.

So much has happened because Jesus fell in love with us.  What might happen, my dear friends, if we fell in love with him, too??????

Everyone of you–please, for the love of God, think of one way that you will hold on to Jesus in a better, more passionate way this coming year.

May God bless you and your families with a Merry Christmas.

Mysteries of the Magi: A homily for the Epiphany of the Lord (Year A)

three-wise-menToday Holy Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord, his manifestation to the Magi.  There are several Magi mysteries and I want to consider some.

First, the Bible does not tell us how many people exactly it was that made the journey to the Child Jesus.  We do know there were three presents, so we assume that there were most likely three magi—one for each gift. Our tradition does name the Magi Casper, Melchior and Balthazar, and their remains are preserved in Cologne Cathedral.  That said, there was probably an entourage of people with them. However many there were, we know there was more than one.  That teaches us our first lesson: we cannot search for Jesus alone.  We need one another–which is why God gave us families, friends, parishes.  Had Casper been on his own, or any of the others, he would not have made it.
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Christmas, an invitation to live in the Light: A homily for Christmas (Year A)

14199294_10206930735689402_7346692487453914529_nSome years ago, a friend of mine got me bacon jam for Christmas.  It is not good.  I used to think that everything is better with bacon.  No more.  Jam is not better with bacon.

That friend—he told me of how he once was in a science class and did an experiment.  He took two pots and put seeds in both of them.  He watered them the same.  The only difference was that one pot he put in a fairly dark room and the other he put in a very well lit room.
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Four things the wise men had that we need – A homily for the Epiphany of the Lord

wiseToday Holy Church celebrates the  the Epiphany. We celebrate those three kings–Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar–and their journey to the Lord.  In some ways, until this point in this Christmas season, we have been considering God’s journey towards us.  He had a far way to come, from heaven to earth. We’ve considered how he came to us through the Blessed Virgin Mary, how he came to the stable, how he comes into our lives.

Today we reflect a bit on the fact that we must journey to God, too.  It’s a pretty sweet deal he’s given us. His part of the journey, after all, is far greater, far more difficult. The distance from Heaven to earth is a lot more miles than from our house to the manger, to the church. We have only to go a bit.  I want to reflect briefly with you about how to make that journey to the Lord. The wise men teach us we need four things. They all start with G, so it should be easy to remember: a guide, a group, a gift, and grace.

First, a guide.  No one can find his or her way to God without a guide. Many try. We think that we can find God on our couches or in our armchairs. The only guide we have there is the television guide. We need a guide. The wise men had the star. They looked to that star for direction, direction to God. Who is your star? This is why God gave us his church–to show the way. It is why we have confirmation sponsors, godparents, small groups in faith communities, saints, teachers, parents, siblings, etc. It is why we have the bible, spiritual books, etc. Those are our stars. We cannot get to God relying on ourselves, our own sense to get there. It is not sufficient.  I stress this to our kids all the time: we have to be guides to others, we have to be stars that show the way. No matter who you are, someone looks up to you. Be a star for them. Young people: be stars to your families. Be stars to your friends. Get them to church. Get them to God. It might mean an awkward conversation. So be it. Be nice, but invite people and don’t easily take no for an answer.

Second, we need a group. The wise men had one another. We need each other. All of us are bumbling along the way. We need guides, yes, but we also need to be making the journey with others. This is why we have Christ Renews, why we have retreats and bible study groups. This is why I wish our classes at the school went to Mass together on Sundays. It is why I wish our families did, I mean everybody in the family. This is why I wish friends would bring friends to church. A lot of people would come to church if we invited them. So invite.

Third, we need a gift. The wise men gave their all. What they gave cost them. What do we give to God?  God deserves our money, our time, our talents. So we give.

Fourth, we need grace. That is the most important thing. In the end, it is everything. God’s grace. It works in ways we never understand. Which is why no one knows how to define it. But we all feel it, even in the core of our bones sometimes, deep in our hearts. God’s grace leads us on, it carries us, it gives us everything we need.

Here’s the thing. Every step the wise men took–it was either to God or away from God. Same for us. Pray God we will always have those four things with us, those four G’s–a guide, a group, a gift, and grace.

“All God wants is the warm breath of a living soul”: A homily for the Solemnity of the Holy Family

Pope John XXIIIPope 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 unhappy. He would always walk around with a long face…”

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Jesus enters our basements: A homily for Christmas

jesus-mary-josephThe other day I was invited to a Christmas party. I had been to this house several times before, so I thought I knew where I was going. I went to the neighborhood, pulled up to a house that looked exactly like the house I remembered, and parked among the many other cars there. I knocked on the door–nothing. Doorbell–nothing. So I waltzed right on in. The house looked pretty much right on, but no one was on the ground floor. But I could hear them all in the basement, so I started on down.  Upon getting to the bottom, I announced, “Merry Christmas everyone.” And I did not see a single familiar face.  Silence followed for a few seconds, at which time I said, “I’m beginning to think I’m in the wrong place.” To which someone said, “Yes you are.” Lots and lots of laughter ensued. It is not every day a priest walks into your house unexpected. Now these folks were nice as could be and I even stayed for a beer and some food!  Had a great time.

I got to thinking. That’s like our Lord.  Today we celebrate a moment that changed everything.  To quote Msgr. Pope, Christmas is less candy canes and decorations and more D-Day.  The incarnation of Jesus changed it all. He came to earth as man to accomplish what only God could accomplish and to pay a debt that only man owed.  That’s St. Anselm. What he did in Bethlehem, by God, that changed it all–not just the lot of those folks then and there at Bethlehem, but forever and all around the world.

What I mean is this. It’s one thing to celebrate what we celebrate at Christmas, that God became man 2000 some years ago in Bethlehem. That is true and worthy of grand celebration and reflection. After all, as the preface for Mass says today, because of God’s incarnation we are made eternal. But it is also true that God is born to us here and now, today. This is true in a special way with the Mass. As surely as Jesus lay in the manger, he will also lie on this altar and on altars like it around the world and through the centuries.

And he is born into our lives. He enters our houses, unannounced, just like I entered that house unannounced and uninvited. And here’s the thing: even though sometimes we try to lock him out like the innkeeper, he will enter. He will be born.  And it should change everything that God is in the room with us, that God is born among us, that God is with us. We ought to live differently knowing that God is here.  He is Emmanuel, God with us.

Two questions I will leave you with.  It is true that God is Emmanuel, God-with-us.  God is with us. Are we with him?

And where do you need God to be born the most in your life? Perhaps a troubled relationship. Perhaps a bad feeling you are carrying towards someone that consumes you. Perhaps you need God to be born in a dark place of your life, or into that secret life you have that you think no one knows about. Perhaps you need God to be born into your marriage, your life with some friend. We all need Jesus to be born in our lives. We celebrate that today, he is born in all those places. Let us look for him there and draw power from him there.

He is born, and in response to that we echo the angels and the shepherds in proclaiming, Glory to God in the highest!