Homilies for December 2016

homilies-for-december-2016

“L’innocence” (Innocence) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

Second Sunday of Advent—December 4, 2016
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120416.cfm;
IS 11:1-10; PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; ROM 15:4-9; MT 3:1-12.

Purpose
: To foster a deeper conversion in the hearers through an increase in the supernatural virtues of faith and hope.

Last week, the liturgy focused on God’s promises to establish the fullness of his Kingdom when Jesus comes again. We considered those promises because your hope in their fulfillment is the foundation for your whole lives as Christians. In fact, the motivation for all you do as Christians depends on the truth of God’s promises of a reward that is still to come, namely, the gift of our final reward in eternal life. Were it not for that reward, nothing that you do in this life as Christians would fully make sense (1 Cor 15:19, 29b-34), so that all of Christian morality rests on the fulfillment of God’s promises. This truth moved St. Augustine to claim that:

…anyone who does not think about the age to come, and is not a Christian precisely in order to receive what God promises at the end, is not yet a Christian. (Sermon 198 {augmented} 1-2).

In this second week of Advent, with those promises of Jesus’ Second Coming held in our sight, the figures of Isaiah (first reading) and John the Baptist (Gospel) continue to view Jesus’ Second Coming, while also beginning to call our attention to the first.

This shift of focus from Jesus’ second to first coming raises an important question: Why does the Church place side-by-side for us this week the promises of these two comings, asking us to turn our attention from one to the other, while keeping both in view? The reason is this: The whole pattern of God’s work is a pattern of promise and fulfillment—a promise, by which God offers us a future full of hope, and the fulfillment of that promise. All throughout salvation history, God promises long before He acts. Why does God do this? He does it so that as we consider how God has already fulfilled his promises to send Jesus the first time, our faith in God’s faithfulness in the past can grow, as well as our hope that he will fulfill his remaining promise to send Jesus the second time, and to complete all that he has begun. And as our hope in Jesus’ Second Coming grows, our love and longing for him and his future coming can also grow.

Growing in the virtues of faith, hope, and love is essential to our conversion and growth in holiness, because they are the only ways we have of being connected to God and, as it were, “grasping him.” Consider that God is present to us in a way that is different from the way we are present to God. While we are present to God by means of his omnipresence, and his dwelling in us, God can be present to us only by these three virtues. By faith—the acceptance of the truth of his revelation—we are able to perceive and know his presence in us. The Church fathers called faith a kind of “spiritual sense” which they compared to the physical sense of sight. When a healthy eye is open, it is able to perceive and “accept” the presence of light in a room. If my eye is closed, however, even though the light may be present all around me, I cannot “receive it” in a way that makes it “present to me.” Because of God’s transcendence, we have no way to grasp Him directly. Instead, our knowledge of Him depends entirely on the acceptance of the “light” of His self-revelation to us. Faith in Christ includes complete trust in Him as truthful, with the result that you are able then to live by what He has revealed because you are certain that it is true, since He is truthful. Faith thus becomes a true source of knowledge about God. If faith allows us to know God’s reality with respect to our past and present, then hope—trust in his promises—is what allows us to perceive Him (who is outside of time) with respect to our future—present “ahead of us,” as it were. A good friend of mine describes hope as “faith thrown into the future.” Finally, love allows us to value God as the One who is of infinite value, and to choose and seek union with Him above all other things.

Since these three virtues of faith, hope, and love are our only means of “grasping God,” then our nearness to Him, and the extent of our conversion and holiness, will be in proportion to our desire for these virtues. The Eucharist we are about to receive will benefit us spiritually only to the extent that we receive it with lively faith, hope, and love.

Bibliography:
St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermons (New), Sermon 198 (augmented) [= Sermon Dolbeau 26], sections 1-2 (in The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century III/11) ed. John Rotelle. Tr. Edmund HILL (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1997).

Catechism of the Catholic Church: Theological Virtues §1812 – 1821

Tadeusz Dajczer, The Gift of Faith (In the Arms of Mary Foundation, 2012).

Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, and Love. Tr. Sr. Mary Frances McCarthy, S.N.D. (Ignatius, 1986).

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Third Sunday of Advent—December 11, 2016
Readings:
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121116.cfm
IS 35:1-6A, 10; PS 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10; JAS 5:7-10; MT 11:2-11.

Purpose: That the congregation understand and appreciate how they have been drawn near to Christ through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, and so live their lives—with their routines, their joys, and their hardships—in the consolation and joy that comes from the knowledge of the nearness of Christ.

I once had the privilege of celebrating Mass at the grave of 12 of the Ugandan martyrs, which is located in Namugongo, Uganda. St. Charles Lwanga, and a group of about 11 other young men who were all pages of King Mwanga, were killed for professing the Catholic faith, which moved them to resist the king’s immoral advances. At their execution, they were bound and wrapped about with wood slats running along the length of their bodies. They were then placed lying down in a circle, with their feet facing toward a pile of wood for a bonfire. As the first layer of boys was laid down in the circle, another was placed on top of them, and so on. The fire in the center was lit. All were told that anyone who asked to be pulled from the fire would be pulled out and spared. But no one asked. As the fire was lit, and began to spread, they began singing to profess their faith, and encourage each other to persevere. They died singing!

How could these normal young men, living out their daily routines just like you and I must do, sharing the same faith and hope which we have, nonetheless live and die so differently than one might expect? They refused to go along with the immorality expected of them – a pressure we also face. How could they resist it even at the cost of sacrificing their lives? How could they suffer such a cruel death with such joy in their hearts?

They were able to do these things because of their faith in how near the Lord was to them, and the joy and hope which that nearness brought to their hearts.

This nearness of God to us is exactly what today’s liturgy for the third Sunday of Advent holds before us. The entrance antiphon which the liturgy gives us today is from Phil. 4:4—“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” Notice that from the beginning, there is something unusual in this verse. Rejoicing is something St. Paul commands Christians to do. This idea is quite foreign to our culture, which tends to understand joy as a feeling and, therefore, something outside our control. How can St. Paul command us to be joyful? He can do this because he sees Christian joy as something much deeper than our feelings. Instead, Christian joy is rooted in facts about reality—facts which he, and the Christians of Philippi, have come to experience. We can understand what these facts are by noticing first how St. Paul describes the way we rejoice: rejoice “in the Lord” (which for St. Paul means rejoice “in Christ.”) Notice, then, that for St. Paul, this rejoicing is something distinct to Christians. Christian joy is grounded in Christ, and what God has done for us in Him. Christians are, therefore, people for whom Christ has become their joy, the source of their happiness. Consider also the fact that St. Paul was a prisoner in chains when he wrote this letter. Paul’s evident suffering, as he writes this command, makes even clearer his claim that a Christian’s ultimate happiness is not to come from this world, or from one’s temporal circumstances in this world. This verse can, therefore, provide a simple way of defining the Christian. The Christian is one whose joy or happiness is in God.

A second fact to notice is in Phil. 4:5, the verse immediately following today’s antiphon, where St. Paul gives us the reason for Christian joy: “The Lord is near.” The possibility and the obligation of Christian joy is rooted in the fact of Christ’s nearness to us. While this answers a question: “Why do we rejoice?”—it also raises a question:“How is Christ near”? What does the apostle mean by the Lord is near?

“Near” is typically a reference to something in time or in space. Yet, it seems clear here that something unusual or mysterious is happening in the way St. Paul is talking about time and space, so that we could almost say that time and space begin to mean something special for the Christian.

First, consider what is happening with time. Even though St. James tells us in the second reading, “Make your hearts firm, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (literally, “is near”) (Jm 5:8), St. Paul in another place tells the Christians of Thessalonica, who are expecting Christ’s Second Coming to be soon, that they should not be alarmed as if the Lord’s coming was going to be immediate. Thus, while Ss. Paul and James are saying that the Lord’s coming is “near,” it is not necessarily near in time.

As to nearness in space, God is certainly near to us because He is everywhere. But in this spatial sense, God is near to all people, Christian or not. But Paul is speaking about a joy unique to Christians, because he says, “Rejoice in the Lord” (and Jesus is the one that Christians called “Lord”). This means that Paul is probably not talking about nearness in a spatial sense either. The Lord is near to Christians in a different way than He is near to all people.

So if it seems clear that being “near to God” doesn’t mainly refer to space or time, what does St. Paul mean by “the Lord is near?”

Consider what has happened to us in Christ. After Jesus ascended victorious to the right hand of the Father, He poured out the Holy Spirit upon his Church at Pentecost, causing the Spirit to live in the disciples so intimately that St. Paul could say that each disciple is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” Through Baptism, Jesus now does the same thing with us. Because of this, something further happens. When the Holy Spirit comes to live in you, the Spirit also brings the presence of Jesus to live in you. Jesus speaks of this at the Last Supper, when He promises to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles soon. When St. Jude then asks Jesus about what this means, Jesus replies:

If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him (Jn 14:23).

That is, when the Holy Spirit comes to live in the disciples, the Spirit will also bring the presence of Jesus, and the Father, with Him. So now, we also have Jesus living in the disciples. This union is so real that when Jesus appears to Saul on the road to Damascus, he can ask him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Saul then asks, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus replies, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5). Notice that He didn’t say: “Jesus, whose followers you are persecuting.” No, whatever Saul is doing to persecute the Christians, he is doing to Jesus Himself, because Jesus Himself is living in them. What does this mean for you? It means that in some mysterious but real way, even though Jesus is present in His human body in heaven, He is also truly present and living in you. So because Jesus is one with us, and we are still on earth, Jesus is still present with us on earth.

Consider another marvel of this union. The Holy Spirit brings Jesus to live in us. But where is Jesus, very literally, living right now? Yes, in heaven. Jesus still has a human body, and He is present with that human body, in a mode very difficult for us to understand, in a kind of “place” we call “heaven.” Now consider what this means. If Jesus is in heaven, and you are one with Jesus by the power of the Spirit, then where are you? You are also with Him in heaven. Listen to how St. Paul describes this truth: “But God, Who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6). Paul is saying that in some mysterious, yet real way, because Christ is now in heaven, you, too, are already with Him there. He repeats this in Colossians: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3).

Paul is saying that Jesus Christ is now a glorious man, dwelling in Heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, all Christian men and women share in His risen humanity, as “members of His Body.” If we have truly risen with Christ, then we are already with Him in heaven through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Though what Paul calls our “outer man” is still awaiting our physical resurrection, our “inner man” is already risen with Christ, and participating in the life of heaven. In this way, our life is still “hidden with Christ in God”—that is, mysteriously present with the glorified humanity of Christ. Another way of saying it is this: Though we are not yet physically present with Jesus in heaven, Heaven (where Jesus is) is already present in us—through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, even now, God wants to make a heaven of your soul. That is, he wants you to believe already now, the reality of the God who is in you, the same One whom one day, when the veil is finally removed, you will be able to see face to face.

I hope that we can now understand what St. Paul means by Christ being “near” to us. St. Augustine says that Christ is “closer to you than your inmost self.” We are accustomed to speak about this closeness in two ways. The first way is spatial. We say that because we are in Christ, and Christ is now in a “place” called heaven, we are also present in heaven. So too, because we are still on the earth, Christ is still present with us on earth. But this “place” we call heaven, where Christ is, is not exactly what we mean by a place. St. Augustine calls it “a place that is not a place.” Think about the fact that Christ has a Body that is now risen, that is able to do things normal bodies are not able to do. He can appear and disappear, pass through walls, or be in one place, and then suddenly be in another. Yet, He can also be touched. He eats a fish for His disciples, and it doesn’t fall to the ground. In other words, Christ’s glorified body has an entirely new way of being a body, with new properties which can’t be explained in terms we’re familiar with in this world. This means that there is also a new kind of “space” which has come into being. This is why we can speak, in one sense, of heaven being “up,” while knowing that it is obviously not just “up”—since “up” for us would mean “down” for China! Heaven is thus a place, but not exactly a place in the way we normally understand “place.”

Likewise, we sometimes understand heaven as a future reality. When we die, we hope to go to be with Christ “in heaven.” But, if you are already in Christ, and Christ is in you, then that future reality is already, in a sense, in you now. In Christ, heaven and heaven’s Lord has already been brought “near” to us. This is why we can already anticipate, by hope, the life of heaven. Hope is the confident expectation that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled. It is a way that we can come to “know,” and so experience already, the promised future reality of heaven. A simple secular analogy: holding a winning lottery ticket now helps you experience already, in a certain sense, the future reward that is coming to you. Even if you don’t yet have a cent to your name, you rejoice.

What does all this mean for you today? First, it means tremendous consolation in the midst of present suffering. All that we suffer—sufferings of body, of soul, emotional suffering—we now experience from within Jesus’ risen humanity. We suffer and die as partakers of Jesus’ resurrection. This “place” in which we suffer transforms how we suffer. On the one hand, suffering is always still suffering. Yet the consolations of being “in Christ” fundamentally change how we suffer. For example, our union with Christ means that we have already been freed of the greatest evil possible—everlasting suffering in hell. This is a source of immeasurable consolation, no matter what happens to us. Likewise, because we are united to God, we can be assured of the personal love and compassion and consolation of the Heavenly Father, “because,” as Paul says, “the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5). Finally, because we are now united to the Risen Christ, we already have the hope of future Resurrection. This transforms everything about our life now on earth.

A final thing this means is that, as we just heard St. Paul say, “your life is hidden with Christ in God.” You have a life that is hidden to you. In fact, all the most important things about your life in Christ are hidden from you all throughout this life, and knowable only by faith—for example, God, God’s gift of life in Christ, the life of the Spirit, all the rewards we hope for. These are visible to God, but not to us. This does not mean that they are “less real.” If anything, they are “more real”—so real that merely earthly senses cannot grasp them. They can be grasped only by faith, the new supernatural way of knowing that God gives to us. The knowledge we gain by faith is different from natural knowledge, not only in degree, but also in kind. I said last week that our way of knowing depends on the object known. The eye knows light. The ear knows sound waves. In the same way, grasping a supernatural God demands a supernatural way of knowing. When God reveals to us what He sees, we are enabled, by the gift of faith, to “see as God sees.” God is the only one who sees reality. As the Lord said to Samuel, when he asked which of Jesse’s sons should be king, “[T]he Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).

Faith also allows us to value as God values. Once, while walking past a large wall of newspapers in many languages at an international airport, I wondered: “What if I were to read all those newspapers? Would any of them have anything which God finds important?” And then I wondered: “What if heaven had a newspaper? What would make the news in heaven’s newspaper?” I realized that most of what would appear there are things humans despise, or find unimportant. For example, Jesus said that the angels rejoice (and all of heaven as well, I suppose) when one sinner in the silence of his heart repents. So, too, when Jesus pointed to the widow putting her two last coins into the Temple treasury, he indicated that God found this act very significant. But no one would have noticed it had Jesus not called his disciples together to point it out. He was trying to teach them to “see as God sees.”

Recall again the martyrs of Uganda. How did they do what they did? They already hoped in Christ for the future life of heaven, so that God was already making a heaven of their souls.

Brothers and sisters, the same Christ lives in you, and so you, too, can be filled with joy no matter what may happen to you in the this life. The Eucharist brings the reality of Christ’s sacrifice from heaven down to earth—from the timeless life of heaven, into this earthly present time. So, too, as you receive it, you are brought into heaven itself, because heaven’s Lord has been brought to you.

Bibliography:
Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The Holy Spirit, God’s Gift of Joy §736

Theological Virtues §1812 – 1813; Faith §1814 – 1816; Hope §1817 – 1821

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Fourth Sunday of Advent—December 18, 2016
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/121816.cfm;
IS 7:10-14; PS 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; ROM 1:1-7; MT 1:18-24.

Purpose: That the listeners may understand Christ’s identity, and its purpose for His saving work, and so appreciate the greatness of His gift to us that they may possess God now and for eternity, loving him above all created things.

I see many married couples here today. Could you go back in your memory to the day you got engaged? Perhaps the rest of you could either put yourself in their situation, or perhaps think about others you know who’ve gotten engaged. At some point, the future husband probably brought his future wife to some special place, and at the right moment, brought out an engagement ring, and asked her to marry him.

The act of engagement is a pledge of self-gift. The man asks the woman to a accept his offer of himself to her as a gift for life. The engagement ring is a sign of the gift. That’s why it’s usually so expensive. It’s precious and beautiful, but it’s still only a sign that points to something beyond itself: that is, it points to something infinitely more precious and expensive—his gift of himself, body and soul, for the rest of his life on earth.

Imagine how absurd it would be if the woman, on receiving the gift of that precious ring, forgot about the giver, and instead fell in love with the ring. As ridiculous as this seems, it is precisely what happens when we love the things of this world more than the Creator who made them for us as gifts—or signs—of His love for us. For it was precisely for a marriage that the Son of God came into this world: the marriage of His divinity to our humanity.

The readings of today’s liturgy speak of this greatest of all God’s gifts to us: Himself, forever! The first reading was a prophecy of Isaiah to king Ahaz of Judah promising a sign to confirm his word to Ahaz: “Behold a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” The Gospel (Matthew) describes the fulfillment of this prophecy. The sign is the Virgin Mary, conceiving Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Both of these passages refer to Jesus as “Emmanuel,” which means “God-with-us.” This title refers especially to Jesus’ identity—who Jesus is as God and man. Isaiah’s prophecy links His being “Emmanuel” (the God-man) to his birth of the virgin. Matthew then says that the birth of Emmanuel to the Virgin Mary happened “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken” in the Scriptures. That is, in God’s plan, this was the way that Emmanuel had to be born. He had to be born of a Virgin, for the virgin birth would reveal that He truly is Emmanuel, God and man.

Why was being born of a virgin so important to Jesus’ identity as the God-man? It is because the manner in which Jesus was born manifested who was being born (that is, Jesus’ identity). Jesus was one whose Father was quite literally God. That is, Jesus was the only one of whom God could be called His Father. This was the one who was “God from God, light from light, true God from God.” He was “born of the Father before all ages” (i.e., from all eternity). Because the one Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in His divinity has His sole origin in God the Father, this same Person of Jesus as man must also have His origin in God the Father.

A second name we see for the child appears in the Gospel, where the angel instructs Joseph to name Mary’s child “Jesus,” in Hebrew “Jeshua,” which means “the Lord saves,” “because He will save his people from their sins.” This name tells what the child will do.

Therefore, we have two titles: “Emmanuel” (God is with us) and “Jesus” (the Lord saves). How do these fit together? “Emmanuel” tells us who Jesus is: “God-with-us;” that is, it tells the us the child’s identity as both God and man. “Jesus” tells what He does to save us. He would suffer, die, and rise from the dead to save us from our sins.

These two names are related, and complementary. That is, each name makes possible the other name.

First, the Son of God becomes Emmanuel in order to be Jesus. That is, he becomes who he is (i.e., God and man) as a prerequisite for His saving work of redemption. Why was it necessary for Him to be both God and man to save us?

On the one hand, it would not have been enough for us if Jesus were only a man. If that were all Jesus was, He would have been able to identify with us, to teach us, and to be an example for us; but he would not have been able to save us, to pull us out of the mess we were in. Jesus said, “I am the way.” For Jesus to be the way, a bridge, to God, Jesus had to have the end of the way to God already in Him.

On the other hand, it would also not have been enough if Jesus were only God. If Jesus were God, but not God-with-us, that is, not truly one with us in all things but sin, He would have remained a God who is distant from us and apart. And because of that, we would not have been saved. St. Gregory Nazianzen explains the reason for this. He writes: “For that which He has not assumed, He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved” (Letter 101). Because the whole of our humanity (body and soul) was truly united to God in Jesus; the whole of our humanity could be saved by this union with the divinity. Thus, Jesus had to be both God and man in order to save us.

I said that this means that the Son of God becomes Emmanuel (i.e., both God and man) in order to be Jesus (i.e., in order to save us), but I haven’t exactly explained yet how the Son’s taking of our humanity saves us. He takes our flesh as a way of taking to Himself what was ours, and giving to us what was His. Because Jesus perfectly united our humanity to His divinity, the humanity was able to become an instrument of salvation. His humanity became a kind of channel, or corridor, for a transfer, or exchange, from His divinity to our humanity to take place. In taking our humanity, He allowed the entire judgment on our humanity also to pass over onto His humanity, so as to be carried by the Son of God Himself, though He did not deserve it. But at the same time, this union also allowed His divine life to flow in the other direction, that is, from His divinity into His humanity, and so into our humanity. St. Augustine sums this all up very beautifully. I will paraphrase him like this: “We were unable to live, He was unable to die. So He borrowed from us the power to die, so that we might have from Him the power to live” (see sermon 375B [= sermon Denis 5.5], or Expositions of the Psalms 30.2.1.3; 52.6). He takes our death and gives us His life in exchange.

That is, the Son of God becomes who He is in order to do what He does. He becomes man in order to die for us, to rise from the dead, and to ascend to the Father’s right hand.

Second, the converse of what we have just been saying is also true. Not only does the Son of God become Emmanuel in order to be Jesus. The Son of God also becomes Jesus to be Emmanuel. That is, God saves us in order to be one with us. This happens when from the Father’s right hand, the Father and the Son pour out on the Church the Holy Spirit, who comes to draw the disciples into a profound union with the Father and the Son. This happens as the Spirit unites us with the humanity of Jesus, through which we are united to His divinity, and so also to the Father.

What does it mean to be “united to the divinity” and to “have God”? One analogy used in the Scripture for this is marriage (see Eph. 5:32). You know what it means for a husband and a wife to have each other by being united to each other. Having God is similar, but with God you are united to One infinitely superior to yourself. Imagine a peasant girl marrying a king. The marriage would not degrade the king, but would greatly elevate the poor girl. So, too, you have been elevated to the unimaginable point of becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pt. 1:4). Theologians sometimes call this “deification” (being made God) or “divinization” (being made divine).

Thus, the whole goal of salvation was to unite us back again to God. This nearness, this union of God-with-us, is itself already our salvation. In other words, He saves us in order to give us the best thing possible: Himself. God doesn’t save us by giving us anything other than Himself, because there is nothing greater than Himself. That is why Ps. 73 says that “to be near God is my happiness.” And in Ps. 16, the Psalmist tells the Lord that “at your right hand,” there is “happiness forever.” That is why St. Augustine, when instructing his congregation on prayer, tells them, “O would that you would ask for nothing from God but God!” (see Sermon 374.5 [= sermon Dolbeau 23.5]).

Does this mean that God does not also want to give us the good things of creation? Of course not. After all, he made them precisely for that—as gifts to us. And so at Christmas, we, too, give gifts. But what are these gifts? Simply signs of our love, visible signs of a further invisible gift that is more precious than the outward gift. That is, they are signs of the love of the Giver, of the relationship with the Giver. Recognizing this helps us find in every gift of God a double gift—an outward created gift, and then a further, far more precious gift of the love of God Himself. Forgetting this is as absurd as the one who would love an engagement ring more than the one who gave it. Misplaced love like this blinds one to the meaning of the things he or she loves. It also misses the fact that, as beautiful as all the things in this world can be, no created thing, in itself, can make us happy. But to have God IS already to have happiness.

This is one of the great mysteries, or paradoxes, of Christianity. As long as I am in this world, I will never escape suffering, pain, and trial. Yet, as soon as I have God, I realize that I have with me, within me, the Creator of the whole universe, who is preparing me here for a happiness beyond all imagining.

This is the gift of Hope. It is the knowledge that if I truly have God now, my future is perfectly provided for. Eternal Life! Imagine if (God forbid!) on your way home from Mass today, two of you get into accidents and your cars are totaled. But just before that, one of you found out that you had just won the lottery. The one who didn’t win would probably be full of distress. But what would the response be of the one who had won the lottery? She would probably laugh! (I was going to buy a new car anyway!) Notice the difference: two people with the same present problem react in entirely different ways because of what they know about their future. This is the difference that our hope—which is far greater than just winning the lottery—makes for us. This is why the Christian is able to laugh at tomorrow. He knows that whatever comes, he has, and will not lose, the best thing possible: God Himself, forever.

But having God in this way is not just about future consolation. To know God’s immense love for you, even now, is already a consolation greater than any possible suffering. That’s why St. Paul, who suffered so much, can still cry out (in Rom. 8), “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Fr. Cantalamessa, the papal preacher, points out that the problem with this age (i.e., those who don’t follow Christ, and often, even many who do), is that they’ve turned upside-down the manner of finding happiness. Instead of making God their happiness (Ps. 16:2, 5), they’ve made happiness their “god.” When you make God your happiness, God gives you happiness. You find both God and happiness. But when you make happiness your “god,” that is, when you seek happiness rather than God, you lose both—happiness and God.

So: Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. In His earthly life, Jesus truly showed Himself to be God-with-us. As He healed the sick, and raised the dead, He visibly brought about salvation.

But what about now? Is He still today “Emmanuel, God with us” in so great a way? Yes! Just as He is announced as “Emmanuel” at the beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 1:23), so His final words at the end of Matthew are: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to live even more intimately in you than He did during the whole of His time on earth. And He wants each of you to know Him just as intimately.

In this Eucharist, He comes to you now in a way even more intimate than the way He was present, in the flesh, on earth. He comes to you now, not only from the outside, as He did when He walked the earth; He comes to you now also on the inside, as you take Him in, and “God-with-us” becomes “God-in-you.”

Bibliography:
St. Augustine of Hippo, Expositions of the Psalms: 1-32, Exposition 3 of Ps 30, section 1 (in The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century III/15) ed. Boniface Ramsey. Introduction by Michael Fiedrowicz. Tr. Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2000).

St. Augustine of Hippo, Expositions of the Psalms: 51-72, Exposition of Ps 52, section 6 (in The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century III/17) ed. Boniface Ramsey. Tr. Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2001).

St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermons, Sermon 375B [= sermon Denis 5], section 5 (in The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century III/10 [341-400 on Various Subjects]) ed. John Rotelle. Tr. Edmund HILL (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1995).

St. Augustine of Hippo, Sermons (New), Sermon 374 (augmented) [= Sermon Dolbeau 23], section 5 (in The Works of St. Augustine: A Translation for the Twenty-First Century III/11) ed. John Rotelle. Tr. Edmund HILL (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1997).

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Grace §1996 – 2005.

Daniel Keating, Deification and Grace (Introductions to Catholic Doctrine) (Sapientia Press 2013).

Carl E. Olson and Fr. David Vincent Meconi (Ed.), Called to Be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification (Ignatius 2016)

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Nativity of the Lord, Christmas Day—December 25, 2016
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/122516-day.cfm
IS 52:7-10; PS 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6; HEB 1:1-6; JN 1:1-18.

Purpose: To appreciate and marvel at Christ’s humility, and in love, to imitate Him.

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, Who is in the bosom
of the Father, He has made Him known. (Jn 1:18).

These words which we just heard from St. John’s Gospel summarize the mystery we celebrate this Christmas morning.

The prophet Isaiah says, “Truly you are a hidden God, O God of Israel, the Savior” (Is 45:15). St. Paul tells us that God is the One whom “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived.” And because God could not be seen, or heard, or even understood unless He somehow “made Himself known” to us, we had no way to know Him, or to find Him, had He not first come to us.

And so, as we heard in the second reading (Hebrews), throughout the Old Testament, God gradually revealed Himself, speaking “of old in many and various ways to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1). But in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ:
… the invisible God—makes Himself visible;

… the timeless One—appears in time;

… the One who is everywhere, not bound by space—takes a body that is limited by space;

… the One who cannot be touched by suffering—takes a body, and a soul, that are capable of suffering;

… the immortal, deathless One—becomes our Friend in the companionship of death;

And He takes this humanity of ours to Himself, not just for a season, or a time, but forever.

And while it is still true even in Jesus that the divinity itself cannot be seen with human eyes (we can see Jesus’ humanity, but not His divinity), that visible humanity of Jesus is the very humanity of God.

Any time we try to meditate on a feast as great as this one, we have to choose one aspect of it to focus on. So, hoping to help you appreciate the meaning of Christmas, a question I’d like you to think about today is this:

When the invisible God makes Himself visible, how does He appear?

The answer to this question is part of the greatest surprise in human history. It was a total, unlooked-for surprise that God should even come to us at all. But when He did come, it was even more of a surprise that He came in the way that He did. It was not at all as we would have imagined.

All of this, as St. Paul said, was part of “a secret and hidden wisdom of God” which “none of the rulers of this age understood” (1 Cor. 2:7-8).

Consider, brothers and sisters, how the Son of God came to us. He came lowly. He came humbly. He comes as a little child. The God who holds the stars in their place, and guides their courses, when He comes, has to be held in the arms of Mary, and guided by her. The God who provides food and drink for all living creatures, Himself has to be fed and nursed at the breast by his mother, Mary. God becomes so helpless that He has to be burped. He has to have His diapers changed!

The fact that God came at all is an unfathomable mystery of love. But the way that He came makes the mystery even more unfathomable.

Why did God come to us in this way? What does this tell you?

First, God came to us as one lowly and humble because He preferred to win us with His love, rather than overwhelm us with His power. Jesus said that He came as a physician, not for those who were well, but for sinners, who recognized that they were sick. And so He wanted to make himself approachable for the least, the last, and the lost.

Second, when God became man, He did it in order to take to Himself all that was ours. This was so that, by uniting Himself closely to us, He could then transform that humanity He took from us, and then give it back to us in return as something new.

You see, Jesus came to carry out a kind of “gift exchange” with the human race, with you. He came to take what was lowliest in you to Himself so that by bearing it Himself all the way to death, and then rising from the dead, He could transform it, and then give that transformed new life back to you as a gift. In this way, it was a wondrous kind of gift exchange. That is, HE took something from the human race, so that YOU could then take something from Him. He took your death so that you could then take His life. He took your poverty so that you could take His riches.

Listen to what St. Paul says about this: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake, He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9).

I cited this paraphrase of St. Augustine last week, but I cannot resist doing it again:

He was unable to die; we were unable to live. So He borrowed from us the power to die, so that we might have from Him the power to live.

So far, I’ve mentioned two reasons that Jesus came humbly. Both of them speak of Jesus coming humbly in order to DO something on our behalf. But there’s another (third) reason for Jesus’ coming in humility that is perhaps the most startling of all. Perhaps the main reason that Jesus came in humility is that God Himself IS humble. In fact, when the Son of God came into the world in time, He came in a manner that expressed who He is from all eternity.

Who is the Son of God from all eternity?

We say in the Creed that the Son is “eternally begotten of the Father.”

From all eternity, from the infinite fount of His own life, the Father pours out all that He is in a gift of life to the Son. The Son is thus “brought forth” from the bosom of the Father. All that the Son IS, and all that the Son DOES, He receives as a gift from the Father. This is why Jesus can say to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).

Notice, then, how utterly dependent the Son is for all that He is and does. The Son of God, although He is fully and truly God, is not His own source. He is “sourced” by another—the Father. That’s why we call the Father, “Father”; and the Son, “Son.” Thus, if God were not continually giving Him life, the Son would not be.

Because this is who the Son is from all eternity, when He comes to earth, the Son expresses this perfectly in His human life. This is why Jesus says, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 6:38); and “the Son can do nothing of His own accord, but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever He does, that the Son does likewise” (Jn 5:19).

All of these truths about Jesus as Son of the Father are important for you as well, because your way to the Father is by being joined to the Son. When you were baptized, you were baptized into Christ in order to be part of His Sonship.

What does this mean for us?

First, the humility of Christ means that if God has come to us in our lowliness, there is hope for us in our lowliness. We spend so much of our lives being anxious about our weaknesses, fearing them, or running from them. Yet, if God has come to the human race by meeting us in our lowliness, then we will meet Him precisely in, and not away from, our weakness.

We so often make the mistake of trying to escape our weaknesses rather than accepting them. Jesus said that “whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”(Mt 16:25). Running from our weakness is a way of trying to “save our own life.” The mysterious, paradoxical truth is that the best way to save your life is to “lose it”—to let go of trying to be your own life-source, and to leave that to God. This involves accepting your weakness, meeting God right in the midst of it, and clinging to Him as He takes you wherever He will. Sometimes, He may choose to lift you out of it, but more often it seems that He shows His power precisely as He visits you right within it. Recall what He said to St. Paul when Paul complained to the Lord about a serious physical problem he had: “Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses… for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:8-10).

Second, the humility of Christ appeals to us: if God is humble, will you be proud? If Jesus came humbly, you will be able to find Him only in humility. This is why Jesus tells us clearly that we need to imitate His own humility. There is only one time in all the Gospels where Jesus explicitly tells His disciples to imitate Him. Notice what He tells them there: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29).

Because God is humble, and because Jesus comes to us in humility, and meets us there, the Scripture tells us in three different places: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Jm. 4:6; 1 Pt. 5:5). Do you want the grace of God? Then learn humility.

Finally, how can you be humble?

Humility means recognizing your radical dependence on God—as creatures before your Creator, and as sinners before your Savior. If Christ is our Savior, it means that you need a savior. It means recognizing that you are not your own source, and that God is your source; the source of your life, the source of your goodness, and the source of any good thing you do.

It means to recognize that He is God, not me, and for me to act, contentedly, as His wholly dependent creature. This is what Jesus means when He tells us that we must become like children.

Consider what God does for you in this Eucharist. See how He lowers Himself before you. In this sacrament, He makes Himself vulnerable to you, such that you can do with Him whatever you will. If you will lower yourself to confess your need for Him, and eat this food that He lowers Himself to give you, you will be raised by Him to go where you could not otherwise go. You will share in His own divine nature. This is what the priest asks for on your behalf, as He mixes water with the wine about to be offered, saying: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in His divinity, who humbled Himself to share in our humanity.”

Fr. Daniel Jones About Fr. Daniel Jones

Comments

  1. Regina Perry says:

    How does the indwelling of God in me as a Christian, as a Catholic differ from His indwelling in each and every human being?

Trackbacks

  1. […] Since these three virtues of faith, hope, and love are our only means of “grasping God,” then our nearness to Him, and the extent of our conversion and holiness, will be in proportion to our desire for these virtues. The Eucharist we are about to receive will benefit us spiritually only to the extent that we receive it with lively faith, hope, and love. – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2016/12/homilies-for-december-2016/ […]

  2. […] Brothers and sisters, the same Christ lives in you, and so you, too, can be filled with joy no matter what may happen to you in the this life. The Eucharist brings the reality of Christ’s sacrifice from heaven down to earth—from the timeless life of heaven, into this earthly present time. So, too, as you receive it, you are brought into heaven itself, because heaven’s Lord has been brought to you. – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2016/12/homilies-for-december-2016/ […]

  3. […] In this Eucharist, He comes to you now in a way even more intimate than the way He was present, in the flesh, on earth. He comes to you now, not only from the outside, as He did when He walked the earth; He comes to you now also on the inside, as you take Him in, and “God-with-us” becomes “God-in-you.” Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2016/12/homilies-for-december-2016/ […]