Friday, December 25, 2020

What does it really take to have a Merry Christmas? (Christmas homily)

 This has been a difficult year, 

and just the past few weeks have been especially so. 

We’ve had the most funerals ever in 175 in at least 30 years, 

and many ever, of for our parish*, 

making Christmas pretty subdued for a number of our families.

So many of us have endured worry and tension over the virus, 

over the economy, over politics, 

or because of stresses at home at work, 

simply from having everything turned upside down.

To quote a popular song, “We need a little Christmas right now!” 

Maybe we need a LOT.

I don't know about you, but I've been looking forward to this Christmas like none I can remember.

Now, here are some news items you may have missed:

In Finland, a member of parliament 

has been criminally investigated four times – 

for remarks she made in public. What did she say? 

She explained what Christians believe 

about sin and marriage and Jesus’ coming again. 

She has managed to avoid prosecution so far. 

This is a democratic country in Europe. 

In Nigeria, just about ten days ago, 

several hundred school boys were kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists 

who have carried out similar kidnappings before. 

After ransom was paid, many of the boys 

were released to their families a few days before Christmas.

And this item is from Christmas, three years ago:

Two men in red outfits and fake white beards walked through 

the devastated city of Raqqa [Syria] and rang their bells, 

causing disbelief among the residents who haven’t seen such a parade since 2013, 

when the war came to their city.

The Islamic State seized Raqqa in 2014 

and…imposed a strict interpretation of Islam on everyone, 

but the jihadis were expelled…in October [2017].

The Father Christmases stopped by…an Armenian Catholic church…. 

reduced to a concrete shell…  

The celebrations were put on by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance that ousted the jihadis. 

There was no priest…

Loudspeakers belted out hymns 

as some set up a large wooden cross on a pile of rubble, 

near a Christmas tree decorated with red and yellow balls.”

“There are no words to describe how we feel right now,” 

said Christian SDF member Harou Aram.

All of which raises the question: what, precisely, 

do you and I need in order to have a Merry Christmas?

If you aren’t all tuckered out on Christmas movies and stories, 

maybe take time to read a story by O. Henry, 

called “The Gift of the Magi.” There’s probably a movie or TV version.

It’s the beautiful story of a poor couple, 

having almost nothing to give each other for Christmas but their love. 

With all we’ve been through, the thing that we all had was each other. 

Our families, friends and neighbors. 

When we had some funerals this year, with the church almost empty, 

the streets of Russia were full. 

As people have faced needs for food and furniture 

and utilities and rent, behind the scenes, 

things get delivered, bills get paid. 

Our seminarian, Isaiah Callan, helped butcher his first steer – 

the meat was for hungry people – and I think he’s been back again.

A lot has gone wrong, to be sure, 

but don’t miss the fact that a lot has gone right. More than we realize.

You and I can take so much for granted!

Our church is not a bombed out rubble, and its doors are – 

and always were and with God’s help, always will be – open.

All this is a reflection and an effect of what brings us here, now: 

that God has entered the world, and given birth to hope. 

The light of heaven shines in the face of a child, 

and is reflected in your face and mine, 

and we cannot help but smile and feel joy and courage. 

You and I can only avoid hope by staying away…

But a funny thing happened this year, in Russia. 

Despite all that we’ve been through, and all that can discourage us, 

we didn’t “stay away.” 

I’ve hated having to ask people to attend Mass on weekdays, 

instead of Sunday, and God willing, before long, 

that advice will no longer be needed. 

But it’s an encouraging thing to say, 

“I’m sorry, Archbishop, but people just keep coming to church!” 

And I can report to you that for months, many months, 

more folks have been coming to confession. 

After the New Year, I’ll be adding some times for confessions. 

Whatever else that it is, it is more proof of God’s grace.

It has been rough. But our Lord chose to be born to a poor couple, 

oppressed by pagan Romans, huddling in a barn with farm animals. 

Lots of reasons to be discouraged, 

and when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, 

they found out even more trouble lay ahead for him and them. 

The joy of Christmas is not our prosperity or our stuff, 

or our national strength, or our success in business or sports. 

No, it is the realization that Heaven has stooped down to earth, 

become one of us, and said to each and all: 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, 

and I will give you rest.” 

The Son of God, born a child of earth, 

came that you and I can be reborn as children of God. 

And a little child will lead them – all the way to heaven.

What does it take, exactly, to have a Merry Christmas?

* After Midnight Mass, I realized the original claim might be overstated.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Whose House? (Sunday homily)

 In the first reading, King David wants to build a house for God. 

God tells David: he doesn’t really need it. 

Instead, God says that what David really needs to do 

is to allow God to build Israel’s “house.”

What does that mean?

First, it means that David – and those who would be king after him – 

are to be concerned with the spiritual welfare of the nation. 

If the nation is founded squarely on God, and centered on God, 

the nation will be secure. 

Then the house of God to be built will serve its purpose.

That was advice David’s son, Solomon – 

who ultimately built the temple – failed to follow. 

And so the kingdom of Israel gradually turned away from God; 

and the temple was destroyed.

But notice, as important as the temple was, 

what determined Israel’s fate was the faith of the people.

And what applies to the nation 

applies to the community, the parish and the family.

This church, which is beautiful, 

thanks to the sacrifices and care of many generations,  

is not something God needs. 

It is something we need, however. 

We need this house of prayer, this place of sacrifice. 

But a beautiful church doesn’t keep God at the center. 

That depends on us, and the choices each of us makes every day.

Above all, it depends on doing as we see Mary doing in the Gospel. 

She makes herself a house of God; a home for God.

As Saint Augustine said so beautifully of our Lady: 

she first conceived Jesus by faith in her heart, 

before she conceived him in her womb.

Your task and mine is to make our lives homes for Jesus. 

That is, someplace he lives – as opposed to being a guest.

I wonder: is Jesus really welcome to live in our lives? 

Or is he merely a guest? 

Guests don’t expect to go into every room, 

and they know not to stay too long. 

Some parts of the house remain private, because it’s not their house.

What would change in our lives – 

or for that matter, in our actual houses – 

if, instead of greeting Jesus at the door as a guest, 

we instead handed him the keys?

“It’s your house now, Lord; do what you wish with it.”

So with our house; so with our business, our farm, our car; 

so with our talents and gifts; 

so with our money and savings; 

so with our time, every day. 

So with all of our lives.

“It’s all yours Lord. Do with them as you wish.”

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Called to be mirror of eternity (Sunday homily)

 You’ve heard me say before that Advent is mainly about eternity; 

it is about Christmas because that is a down-payment on eternity.

One of the reasons this is worth emphasizing 

is because it helps us be clear about Christmas too;

so we don’t misunderstand Christmas, the way our society does.

Stop and consider the way we celebrate Christmas as a society; 

and you’ll see that it actually distorts our focus. 

We start seeing ads and TV specials hinting at Christmas 

back in September, even August.

Once Hallowe’en is over, it’s all Christmas, all the time, for two months.

More, more, MOAR! Till we arrive at December 25, CHRISTMAS! Exhaustion! It’s over! Here come the bills, ouch!

See what we’ve done? We’ve turned Christmas into the climax.

But what if that’s all wrong?

Christmas isn’t the END; it’s the BEGINNING. 

It is the down payment on the complete redemption of humanity; 

on the New Creation, on what lies ahead for each of us.

Christmas is the first, concrete beginning of salvation –

of a relationship with God being possible, of heaven being opened.

If someone asks, why be a Christian, the short answer is, 

because of the eternity Jesus offers us.

Jesus came to fix what went wrong with humanity.

That’s why he was born; that’s why he died and rose.

You and I join our lives to his, living for him, watching for him, 

Till he comes again to bring us to that fullness of life.

Our life is to be what Advent models for us:

Keeping our gaze on the far horizon of eternal life.

This is a good time to recall the ancient Christian practice 

of giving up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom, 

which lives on in priests and religious, of course. 

Why should anyone give up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom?

So many people, especially in our time, simply do not understand it.

Nor do they get why anyone would take vows in religious life, 

and enter a convent or monastery. 

Is it because we think marriage is something bad? 

Hardly: we call it a sacrament. Marriage is something very, very good.

And that is precisely the point. 

There’s nothing noteworthy about giving up a bad thing. 

But when someone gives up something extraordinarily good, 

the natural question is, why?

And the answer is, they are looking to something better. 

To eternity. That is why when you see religious sisters and brothers, 

their faces are lit with an other-worldly light. 

They have given up possessions and the world and marriage, 

and they are full of joy.

To embrace the religious life is to be a mirror of eternity,

so that people see in your life, not the ordinary things of this world, 

but the New Creation that we hope for.

People see that you are dressed and ready for the Kingdom.

How do you know if you are called to the religious life?

Well, if you find yourself longing for more: for more prayer; 

for more Mass; for more than this world can offer; for more Christ:

Then this calling may be for you. 

And I want to remind you we have a second collection today 

to benefit those retired brothers and sisters 

who gave up so much of this world, 

precisely to be a shining witness of what lies ahead.

You are always generous, thank you in advance.

All the same, it is not only priests and religious 

who are called to be a witness to hope. 

Every single Christian – every one of us – 

is asked by Christ to be such a mirror of eternity.

And if that sounds demanding, it is. 

But then, realize that life makes more sense 

when we keep our focus on what we’re working toward and waiting for.  

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Three ways to 'Prepare the Way of the Lord' (Sunday homily)

This Sunday the key idea in the readings is:  

“Prepare the way.”

In the first reading, a voice cries out: “prepare the way of the LORD!”

 In the Gospel, we learn whose voice it is: John the Baptist’s.

How do we prepare the way?

Well, Saint Peter tells us in the second reading:

“the day of the Lord will come like a thief” – we cannot know when; 

so “be eager to be found… at peace” with Christ.

So let me suggest some concrete things you and I can do, starting now, 

to draw closer to Christ and prepare the way for him in your life.

The first thing I want to highlight 

is spending time in the Lord’s presence – visiting him here,

particularly when he is on the altar for adoration, 

as we do on Thursdays.

It’s like the difference between calling someone you love, 

versus going to see that person. 

Sometimes a phone call is all we can do, and that’s a lot; 

but it’s obviously not the same as visiting in person.

Making a habit of prayer, especially taking time 

to come and pray before the Blessed Sacrament, isn’t just going to happen.

It will happen only if you make a firm resolution and concrete plan.

We have exposition every Thursday, 

from the 8:15 Mass in the morning till Benediction 

at 8:30 in the evening. Come anytime you want, for as long as you want. 

And we also do this on First Friday, all night.

The second thing I want to emphasize is confession.

If praying before the Eucharist is “face time,”

Confession is “heart time.”

I’m obviously not married, 

but two things are true of every marriage.

First, that there are always hurts and times of distance.

Second, there is always a need 

for open-hearted confession and forgiveness.

It is true that forgiveness doesn’t always come easily 

in family situations. 

But the good news is, even if your husband or wife 

doesn’t forgive easily and generously, God does!

Between now and Christmas, there will be plenty of opportunities 

for you to receive this sacrament. 

And, in the days before Christmas, 

I’ll have extra times here at St. Remy. Watch the bulletin for these. 

The third thing suggestion I have is to reach out.

So we have “face time”: adoring Jesus in the Eucharist;

And “heart time”: confessing our sins in the sacrament of penance;

So this is “go time”: go make some a difference in someone’s life. 

A lot of people at this time of year are sad, 

especially if they lost someone they love and the memory is sharp. 

No better time to check in with friends and neighbors, 

especially if they live alone and maybe are getting a little older. 

Especially now, with so much isolation!

And if you are feeling sad, helping others is the best thing for it.

We have a St. Vincent de Paul Society that helps people in need. 

If you want to be involved, they would love to hear from you. 

And they can connect you to opportunities 

in Piqua, Sidney, Troy and Dayton. 

Right here in Russia we have Rustic Hope, 

helping women facing an unexpected pregnancy. 

Craig and Connie McEldowney would love your help.

So would the food pantry in Versailles. 

What I’m going to say might annoy someone, and I’m sorry:

But with the virus getting worse in many places,

maybe each of us can think about how to go the extra mile.

If you’re getting any kind of symptoms, please don’t wave it off,

And realize that some people 

have really good reason to be concerned.

Not only for their own health, 

but also for people they live with or care for.

It should be obvious that if you test positive, stay home please!

And we all know there is a lot of skepticism about wearing a mask,

and I know all the arguments, pro and con.

But think of it as a way to put people at ease.

And, if you think I’m talking about this too much, 

Let me say, there are a good number of folks 

who think I need to go really full-bore on this. 

There are strong feelings both ways,

And I’m trying to be a bridge, I’m trying to hold us together.

This virus will go away, not soon enough, but it will.

After this, let’s not have bitterness and anger linger.

Trying really hard to think about and appreciate other points of view 

is also a really good way to help others, and be more Christlike.

Jesus is coming: at the end of time; and he comes in this Mass. 

If you want to be prepared, fix your eyes on him. 

Open your heart to him. Give him your hands for his work.