Homilies for December 2019

For December 1, December 8, Immaculate Conception, December 15, December 22, Christmas, and Holy Family.

1st Sunday of Advent – December 1, 2019

  Readings: Is 2:1–5 • Ps 122:1–9 • Rom 12:11–14 • Mt 24:37–44
  usccb.org/bible/readings/120119.cfm

When something is urgent, we act without delay. When the fire department receives a call, they send out trucks within seconds. When someone having a heart attack enters an emergency room, the doctors begin treating the patient immediately. When a priest gets a call in the middle of the night informing him that someone is close to death, he jumps out of bed and dashes to the person’s bedside to administer the Sacraments. A slow response in an urgent situation can have devastating consequences. If a first responder delays action, it could mean the loss of life. If a priest delays action, it could mean the death of a person without the grace and consolation of the Church’s Sacraments. Moreover, a rapid response to a critical situation is only possible when we are properly prepared. Without basic preparation, the firefighter, doctor, or priest, would be ill-equipped or even completely useless when the desperate call comes.

There is an urgency that characterizes the entirety of Jesus’s preaching. Jesus begins his active ministry by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt 4:17). Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, the urgency of Jesus’s message intensifies. Jesus says, “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come” (Mt 24:42).

Why this urgency on the First Sunday of Advent? During this great season of preparation, the Church places before us the two comings of Christ. In the days immediately preceding Christmas, the Church focuses her attention on the Mystery of Christ’s coming in the flesh. However, for the first two weeks of Advent, the Church asks us to meditate deeply on Jesus’s second glorious coming at the end of time. Contemplating the Lord’s second coming helps us to understand why Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem in the first place. The Word became flesh in the fullness of time to draw all things to Himself, bringing salvation to a world sick with sin. Though we were not all present in Bethlehem two millennia ago, men and women from all times and places will see Him face to face when he comes again at the end of time.

Jesus, the One who says, “surely I am coming soon” (Rev 22:20), warns that if we do not prepare our hearts for the coming of the Son of Man, we risk the same fate as those who were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (Mt 24:38) up until the day when the flood waters came and covered the earth. God warned Noah about the coming flood and told him what he needed to do to protect his life and the lives of his family members. Since Noah was attentive to God’s warning and obeyed the directions given to him, he and his family were saved, while all else perished. Those who make the proper preparations have the guarantee of the Lord’s protection, just as Noah and his family were preserved from harm in the ark.

Although God only warned Noah the righteous man about the flood, God’s Son Jesus came to announce the message of salvation to more than just one man and his family. Jesus’s powerful warning, “stay awake!” (Mt 24:42) is issued to the disciples and to all nations. As St. Augustine notes, “[Jesus] said “watch,” not only to those who heard Him speak at the time, but to those who came after them, and to us, and to all who shall be after us, until his second coming” (Augustine, Epistle 199, 3). He issues this warning — this urgent message — because He does not want to see anyone left behind. None of us who have heard the Word of God proclaimed can claim ignorance. The Lord has advised us, “you also must be prepared for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:44). Though we do not know the hour, we know that the Lord’s coming is imminent, and whether or not He comes again in the span of our lifetime, we will all be present at his second coming because, as we profess in the creed, “He will come again to judge the living and the dead” (Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed).

God gave Noah details about how the ark should be built. Jesus — Himself the Way and the Narrow Gate leading to salvation — has built for us a new ark, the Church. When we take refuge in this new ark, we are assured of safe passage to the shores of heaven. In this ark, the Lord Himself remains at the helm, teaching us through the Sacred Scriptures, and healing and nourishing us through the Sacraments.

The friends of the Lord, the saints, have a keen understanding of the urgency with which Jesus speaks. St. Paul reminds the Romans (and us) of Jesus’s urgent message. St. Paul says, “You know the time; it is the hour for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand” (Rom 13:11–12). The saints, always keeping the imminent coming of Christ in mind, persevere in a twofold way; they “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” as St. Paul encourages. For St. Paul, to “put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:12) means to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14) for Christ Himself is the Light of the World. In order to have the strength to “throw off the works of darkness” (Rom 13:12), we must be bathed in the Light that dispels all darkness, Christ our Light. The Prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years before, knew this as well and so urged his listeners: “let us walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:5).

No doubt, it is difficult for us to maintain a constant awareness of the Lord’s coming since we are always worried and anxious about the things of the world — our families, our friends, and our work. So, on this First Sunday of Advent we beg God the Father to help us to internalize the urgency of Jesus’s words. We ask the Father to grant us “the resolve to run forth to meet . . . Christ with righteous deeds at his coming” (Collect, First Sunday of Advent), and “to teach us . . . to love the things of heaven and to hold fast to what endures…even now, as we walk amid passing things” (Prayer after Communion, First Sunday of Advent). Just as a first responder must be prepared at all times for a life-or-death situation, we must prepare our souls now, because we do not want to be caught off guard when the urgent call comes — when Christ comes.

2nd Sunday of Advent – December 8, 2019

  Readings: Is 11:1–10 • Ps 72: 1–2, 7–8, 12–13, 17 • Rom 15:4–9 • Mt 3:1–12
  usccb.org/bible/readings/120819.cfm

A voice was heard. “A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mt 3:3). It was the voice of an austere man — John the Baptist. He lived a life of radical simplicity, having separated himself from the luxuries of the world. He was humble in appearance and did not think highly of himself, yet he was courageous and persuasive in his preaching. Everything about him indicated that he was a man to be trusted, a man whose message needed to be heard. Simply speaking, the multitudes recognized John as a man of God, a true messenger of the Most High.

So, we hear in the Gospel that “Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to [John the Baptist] and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins” (Mt 3:5–6). What an amazing sight it must have been to see a continuous stream of people making their way down to the river with their hearts filled with a burning desire to turn away from all sin and to start anew on the path of righteousness. How encouraged the onlookers must have been as one person after another emerged from the waters of the river, with the resolve to live according to the law of the Lord.

Not only were they baptized in droves, but the Baptist also promised them something great. He was preparing the multitudes for the coming of the Savior by leading them to repentance and by stirring up in their hearts a sense of expectation for something mightier, more awesome, and more wonderful than they had ever experienced. “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). What wonder must have filled the minds of the crowds as they began to contemplate what it might mean to be baptized “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). Having already experienced the transformative power of John’s baptism, the promise of an even more potent encounter with the living God must have set their hearts ablaze with fervor. We too have been promised that the Lord will come soon and that He will come in glory. For those prepared for His coming, it will be a time of joy because He will then take us to Himself to live forever in the Kingdom of God.

The sense of anticipation that filled the hearts of those baptized by John and the eagerness with which we began our preparation for the coming of the Lord must be coupled with perseverance lest our zeal for the Lord’s coming fade away. There are many things that can distract us from the Lord and from preparing ourselves for His coming: all of the worries and anxieties of our daily lives. These worries and anxieties always seem to multiply around the holidays as well. Knowing how easily we become sidetracked, Holy Mother Church places before us the prayers and readings of this Second Sunday of Advent, encouraging us to keep our eyes on the Lord. In the Collect of today’s Mass we begged God to keep us focused on the path that leads to Jesus Christ. We prayed, “may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company” (Collect, Second Sunday of Advent). In a similar vein, St. Paul urged the Romans, and he urges us today, “may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 15:5-6).

St. Josemaría Escrivá said, “to begin is easy; to persevere is sanctity” (St. Josemaría Escrivá, The Way, 983). Just think of some things that we often start with great zeal: regimens of exercise, diets, projects to repair things in our homes that are in need of attention. Yet, we all know how difficult it is to remain steadfast in the tasks of our daily lives. Too often we abandon tasks, projects, promises, and resolutions. We abandon them because of a lack of strength. Our perseverance in faith and our preparation for the Lord’s coming, of course, is far more important than any of our other worldly tasks. Though the consequences of growing weak in our resolve to go on a daily run may not be so serious, there are eternal consequences of growing lax in our “resolve to run for to meet Christ” (Collect, First Sunday of Advent).

John the Baptist warns the Pharisees and Sadducees of the cost of halfhearted repentance and lack of perseverance. He says, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:10). He continues, “the one who is coming after me . . . [will] gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:1112). None of us desires to be the bad tree or chaff that is thrown into the fire. Thus, at John’s urging we too must “produce good fruit as evidence of [our] repentance” (Mt 3:8).

In order to produce good fruit, witnessing to how we have been transfigured by the presence of Christ in our lives, we must persevere in faith and in our preparation for the Lord’s coming. The Catechism gives us some basic advice about how to persevere. We read, “to live, grow and persevere in the faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be “working through charity,” abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 162). We certainly cannot persevere on our own. As St. Augustine teaches, “the perseverance by which we persevere in Christ even to the end is the gift of God” (Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 1). That is why we must beg the Lord for it in prayer.

With perseverance we will not only come to the joy of the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity in a few weeks, but we will also enter into the eternal joy of the Lord’s Presence when he comes again and takes us to Himself. So, we pray with the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, “Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you.”

Immaculate Conception – December 9, 2019

  Readings: Gn 3:9-15, 20 • Ps 98:1, 2-3AB, 3CD-4 • Eph 1:3-6, 11-12 • Lk 1:26-38
  usccb.org/bible/readings/120919.cfm

God began to prepare the world for the coming of the Savior long before the Incarnation. Immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve, God declared to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Gen 3:15). Thus, before Adam and Eve were even expelled from the Garden, God gave hope to humanity. A Savior would come and He would be born of a woman.

Little by little God prepared the world, entering into covenants with Noah, Abraham, Moses, and David. He set apart a nation, Israel, with whom He entered into a spousal covenant. Individuals who would play roles of great importance were each chosen by God for specific reasons and He gave each of them the graces necessary to fulfill the tasks entrusted to them. God did not fail to prepare the men and women He chose to accomplish His Will. For example, He gave Moses the power to perform mighty deeds before Pharaoh and the people and he gave the prophets the words they needed to speak. Being eternal and omniscient, God even selected and prepared each of his chosen servants before they were created. As the Lord tells the Prophet Jeremiah, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you” (Jer 1:5).

In the fullness of time, God chose the lowly Virgin Mary to be the Mother of His Son. More than any patriarch, judge, king, or prophet, God the Father looked with favor on Mary because she would have the most supreme task any creature could be given — to bear God’s Only-Begotten Son. He prepared her not only to respond favorably and generously to His will, but more importantly, he prepared her for who she would be: The Mother of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Like Jeremiah, God knew Mary before she was formed in the womb. In view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God (cf. Ineffabilis Deus, Blessed Pope Pius IX). Mary was also saved by her Son, since all of humanity was in need of salvation, but she received a singular grace on account of the victory that Her Son would win over sin and death through His Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. If it was not beyond God’s power to save the human race, it was not beyond his power to share the grace of that salvation with Mary before His coming. Indeed, it was fitting that she received that grace so that she could be a spotless temple for the Savior who would dwell in her womb for nine months.

As we hear in the Gospel of the Annunciation proclaimed today, Gabriel saluted her saying, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). Since Gabriel is God’s messenger, we can trust that the words with which he saluted Mary were given to him directly by God. God desired Mary to be referred to as “full of grace” because He had freely bestowed upon her all graces, including that of being conceived immaculately. St. John, in the Prologue of his Gospel, says that Jesus Christ — the Word Who became flesh — is full of grace and truth (cf. Jn 1:14). Jesus and Mary are the only ones in the Scriptures who are said to be full of grace. Jesus, of course, is full of grace insofar as He is the Source of all grace. Mary is full of grace insofar as the fullness of grace was given to her on account of the merits of her Son.

Just as God chose men and women throughout history to be a part of His glorious plan of salvation, we too have been chosen by God “who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will” (Eph 1:11). St. Paul, in the Letter to the Ephesians, which we read today, says that God also “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him” (Eph 1:3–4). St. Paul makes it clear that Jeremiah was not the only one who was chosen before he was formed in the womb. We too were chosen by God “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4). Though we may not yet be holy and without blemish, it is God’s will that this be accomplished in each one of us. He has called each and every one of us to be holy, which means that he desires each of us to be saints. Mary is our hope because she was the first to be “holy and without blemish before him” (Eph 1:4). Mary, pure and holy from the moment of her conception, intercedes “for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” that we might be freed from our sins, transfigured by her Son, and welcomed into the heavenly banquet, where we “might exist for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).

3rd Sunday of Advent – December 15, 2019

  Readings: Is 35:1-6A, 10 • Ps 146:6-10 • Jas 5:7-10 • Mt 11:2-11
  usccb.org/bible/readings/121519.cfm

“Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed the Lord is near” (Phil 4:4–5). St. Paul’s words from his Letter to the Philippians resound throughout the Church today as we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, or Gaudete Sunday, as it is also called, marking less than two weeks until our celebration of the Lord’s Nativity. With St. Paul’s encouragement, we have asked the Lord to increase the joy within us as we prayed in the Collect of today’s Mass: “enable us . . . to attain the joys of so great a salvation [as we] faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity” (Collect, Third Sunday of Advent). We are still in this great season of waiting and preparation, so St. James reminds us, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord” (Jm 5:7), yet in the midst of our preparation, Gaudete Sunday is an anticipation of the joy of Christmas. It is also a privileged opportunity given to us by the Church to meditate on what joy is and what the reason for our joy is.

Taking the time to consider the true meaning of joy is especially important because joy is often misunderstood. Many think that joy is reducible to a pleasurable feeling or a delight. Joy, however, is not simply delight. We take delight in all sorts of things, like a delicious meal or a fine glass of wine. Even animals take delight in things that taste good, but we do not say that those animals are joyful. Joy, on the other hand, is caused by love, especially when we are in the presence of the thing or person that we love. The joy of Christmas, therefore, does not come from the holiday trappings as our materialist and consumerist society leads us to believe. Far greater than the presents we exchange at Christmas is the presence of Jesus Christ, sent to us from God the Father — a gift wrapped in swaddling clothes. God’s presence in the Word made flesh is the true source of our joy. Not only does our God Who is Love and Who created us out of love come to dwell among us, but He also comes to bring us salvation. As Isaiah says, “Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you” (Is 35:4). We are filled with joy in the presence of the God who comes to save us and in the salvation He has already won for us.

Since joy springs from love and from the presence of the one that we love, it is possible to have joy even in the midst of suffering. Many do not come to the celebration of Christmas with feelings of delight. Some are grieving the loss of a loved one. Many may be enduring some type of hardship at home or in the workplace. Others, like the Infant Savior, may not even have a home or place to rest their heads. Many more bear other spiritual burdens and wounds that make Christmas a difficult time to celebrate. If joy were simply a feeling of delight, it would be impossible to speak of joy for all who suffer. Yet, when God reaches out to us, as He did by coming to dwell among us, all people — and especially those who are suffering — have reason for true spiritual joy. This is why the Prophet Isaiah says to us today, “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong fear not! Here is your God” (Is 35:3–4). It is only the presence of God and the salvation that He brings that can bring joy to those who are weak, fearful, suffering, and in distress.

In fact, the reason for the Lord’s coming was precisely to relieve the suffering of His people — the suffering which is the consequence of sin in the world. When asked if He is “the one who is to come” (Mt 11:3), Jesus tells John the Baptist’s followers, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11:4–5). It is Jesus who brings relief to the suffering. He, therefore, is their cause for joy. As Isaiah says, “those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee” (Is 35:10).

As Adam rejoiced when he saw one who was “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23), we rejoice in the presence of “the Word [Who] became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). We rejoice in the presence of the One Who is like us in all things but sin. By his Incarnation, God became present to us in such a way that we can encounter Him in the flesh. Before His Ascension, the Lord Jesus promised that He would remain present with us: “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 18:20). He remains present with us in many ways, but principally through the Sacrament of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. In that Sacrament we encounter the presence of the One who came to save us and we are given the opportunity for a profound union with Him. Today, we can rejoice before the True Presence of the Lord on the altar.

May the Blessed Virgin Mary, the first to experience the presence of the Lord in the flesh come to our aid as we approach the solemn days of Christmas, reminding us that “there is cause for rejoicing here” (1 Pet 1:6).

4th Sunday of Advent – December 22, 2019

  Readings: Is 7:10–14 • Ps 24:1–6 • Rom 1:1–7 • Mt 1:18–24
  usccb.org/bible/readings/122219.cfm

A few days before the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord, we cry out with the Prophet Isaiah, “Drop down dew from above, you heavens, and let the clouds rain down the Just One; let the earth be opened and bring for a Savior” (cf. Is 45:8). Similarly, with the Psalmist we sing, “let the Lord enter; he is king of glory” (Ps 24:7c, 10b) The righteous man, Joseph, a faithful son of the house of David, eagerly awaited the coming of the Savior and prayed for His coming, likely reciting the same words of Isaiah and the Psalmist as we do today. Joseph knew from his upbringing that the Savior would come from the line of David, from whom he himself descended, but he probably never expected to be the one chosen by God from the line of David to serve as the Savior’s earthly father. Joseph was also betrothed to Mary because he trusted in her goodness, purity, and integrity; Yet, as faithful as he was, he could never have imagined that God would choose his wife as the virgin who would conceive and bear a son whose name would be Emmanuel — God with us. Nor could he have ever thought that God would entrust him with the task of guarding, protecting, and providing for the Savior and the Mother of God. The humble carpenter, nevertheless, was a key part of God’s plan.

So, the Angel of the Lord visits Joseph in a dream which we hear about in today’s Gospel. The angel calls him by name and dispels any fears he may have. Just as Gabriel told Mary, “do not be afraid” (Lk 1:30), the angel of the Lord tells Joseph, “do not be afraid” (Mt 1:20). Mary is entrusted with receiving the Word of God in her womb and Joseph is encouraged to receive Mary (and the Redeemer in her womb) into his own home. As Gabriel reveals to Mary that it is the Holy Spirit Who will come upon her and the power of the Most High that will overshadow her, the angel of the Lord assures Joseph that “it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her” (Mt 1:20).

While the angels reveal both to Mary and Joseph that they are to name the child Jesus, it is to Joseph alone that it is revealed that Jesus “will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Joseph, a devout Jew, knows and believes that it is only God who can forgive sins. Thus, with these words, Joseph is faced with a great decision. The decision before him is not only whether or not to take Mary, his wife, into his home. He also has to decide whether or not to believe that the child his wife is carrying is God Himself, God in the flesh, the God of his fathers, Who Alone can save people from their sins. Unlike Mary’s response, “may be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38), the Gospel does not record any words of Joseph. The Evangelist Matthew, however, tells us what Joseph did in response to the message that he had received: “When Joseph awoke he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Mt 1:24). Joseph did not question the angel of the Lord, nor did he take time to consider how to act. Without being given any further details about what he would need to do in the future, Joseph simply arose and did as he was asked by the angel of the Lord. It is clear that he understood the divine commission he had been given. His quick and decisive action reveals that he did in fact believe what he had heard about Mary and the child in her womb. Joseph’s response was a concrete act of faith. It was his life of fidelity to the will of God that had prepared him for this crucial moment. Joseph was ready to take Mary and the Savior, not only into his earthly dwelling place, but into the confines of his pure and undivided heart.

On this Fourth Sunday of Advent, the humble carpenter, Joseph, is given to us as an example. Joseph could not have imagined how he would one day fit into God’s eternal plan of salvation, but he was ready to respond when called by the Lord. We may also often wonder how the Lord is working through each and every one of us in order to fulfill His Will. Like Joseph, we must be open to the Lord’s will and ready to respond in faith and with generosity when the Lord calls us into His service.

As the angels communicated God’s message, “do not be afraid” (Lk 1:30, Mt 1:20), both to Mary and Joseph, that same message is communicated to us today. Do not be afraid to do the will of God and to welcome the Lord Jesus into your heart and home. In these days before Christmas, take the opportunity to consider how your heart still needs to be prepared for the Lord’s coming. Maybe there is sin weighing on your heart and a good confession would bring about much needed healing and the opportunity to receive the Eucharist this Christmas in a state of grace. Maybe you have been holding a grudge against someone and letting go would bring about long-sought peace and tranquility. Maybe the Lord has been knocking at the door of your heart asking you to draw closer to Him in prayer, but you have been hesitant about responding to Him out of fear. “Do not be afraid” (Lk 1:30, Mt 1:20). “Let the Lord enter; he is the king of glory” (Ps 24:7c, 10b).

Christmas, Mass during the Night
– December 24/25, 2019

  Readings: Is 9:1-6 • Ps 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13 • Ti 2:11-14 • Lk 2:1-14
  usccb.org/bible/readings/122519-the-nativity-of-the-lord-night.cfm

“Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord” (cf. Lk 2:11) From the infinite Kingdom of Heaven, the Word of God journeys to the small town of Bethlehem. The Light from Light enters a darkened world in the middle of the night. The Only-Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, takes on flesh and is born of the lowly Blessed Virgin Mary. The All-Powerful God becomes vulnerable, unable to move His limbs as He is wrapped in swaddling clothes. The Word through whom all things were made, including blazing sun, relies on the embrace of His mother to keep Him warm. The King of Kings and the Lord of Lords is now under the guardianship of a humble carpenter. Isaiah says, “a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5), but He sleeps this silent night in a manger — a trough for cattle. The glory of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity is hidden under the veil of flesh, but not lost. His divine nature is perfectly united to human nature so that we might be able to see the living God face to face and be saved. Rejoice! Our God has come to save us!

Without eyes enlightened by faith, all that can be seen is a baby like any other. To those with faith, however, He is the Savior; He is God with us. Mary knows that “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32–33). Joseph knows that Jesus “will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The multitude of angels know Who He is and so they praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Lk 2:14). The shepherds know that Jesus is the Savior because they are told by the angels. They believe and, along with the Magi, come to adore the Child, bowing down before Him.

Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary more than two millennia ago, yet we still say, “today is born a Savior” (cf. Lk 2:11). Jesus did not come only to be with those who would walk with Him two thousand years ago. He came for all. He came to offer salvation to all. He came to remain with us always. That is why He promised His apostles, “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). The Lord of all comes into our midst and makes his dwelling among us in a humble way. His divinity is fully present, yet unable to be seen without the eyes of faith. The Lord, of course, comes to be with us here in this church when the simple elements of bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Today, the Lord’s manger is the altar. To this manger we come to feast. Today, the Lord is wrapped in swaddling clothes that look like bread and wine. Today, we are like the shepherds who come to kneel down and adore Him, our King, our Savior, the Christ Child. Today we, like the Magi, come to present gifts worthy of the King of Kings: the gift of our worship. Today, we sing with the angels who have not ceased praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest” (Lk 2:14). Today, we are like Mary, contemplating the Lord present among us. Today, we are like Joseph who watch over and guard the Lord’s presence. Today, we receive the Word made flesh into our bodies and souls. Today, we proclaim to the world with the angel, “do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people . . . a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord” (Lk 2:10–11). Today, therefore, is not unlike that Christmas day in Bethlehem.

The Shepherds and the Magi did not come to gaze upon a baby like any other. We have not come here to see the statue of a baby in a crèche as we could see in any store window. We, like the Shepherds and Magi have come to encounter the Living God. We have not come here today only to look back two thousand years in history. We have come here because we have seen the signs of the Lord’s coming. We have heard of His presence among us. We have walked in darkness, but have now come to be enveloped in Light. We have come to encounter Emmanuel — God with us.

Today is Christmas. Today is born our savior, Christ the Lord (cf. Lk 2:11).

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph
– December 29, 2019

  Readings: Sir 3:2–6, 12–14 • Ps 128:1–5 • Col 3:12–21 • Mt 2:13–15, 19–23
  usccb.org/bible/readings/112419.cfm

Responding to those who did not believe that Jesus Christ took on all of the elements of human nature, St. Gregory Nazianzen declared, “what has not been assumed has not been healed” (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Epistle 101, 32). If Christ did not take on all that it means to be a human being, he could not have truly saved humanity. Though St. Gregory was referring particularly to the rational mind of Jesus, his declaration can be extended to every aspect of human nature that Jesus took on, including life in a family.

We know how sin affected family life from the first pages of the Book of Genesis. Upon eating the forbidden fruit, severe tension entered the spousal relationship between Adam and Eve. Soon thereafter Adam and Eve’s sons entered into a dispute that ended in the murder of Abel. Sin profoundly wounded the life of the family. Jesus came to bring an end to sin and death and to heal the wounds caused by sin, including the wounds suffered by the family. Thus, God the Father chose to send His Son among us and providentially did so by entrusting him to a mother and father — to Mary and Joseph. Together Jesus, Mary, and Joseph formed the Holy Family — a family that was certainly characterized by “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Col 3:12). Jesus’s participation in family life here on earth has and will continue to heal the wounds that exist among families. More than ever, in our age in which so many families are in tatters, having been attacked by the evil one from every direction, we need the example of the Holy Family to guide the lives of our own families.

Adam and Eve lived together in perfect harmony in Paradise before the fall. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph teach us once again how to live in harmony and mutual love, even in the midst of difficulty. The Holy Family endured many trials together. Consider the difficulty Mary and Joseph had finding a place for the birth of Jesus to occur. Imagine the distress of Joseph, a man who desired to care for and provide for his family, when he could not even find a room for Mary to give birth to Jesus. Imagine the even greater anguish of Mary, a woman in labor, without a suitable place to rest her head or the head of her soon-to-be born child. Yet, in the midst of their distress, Mary and Joseph rejoice in the birth of the newborn Savior and are able to share that joy with all those who come to pay homage. Though their situation was less than ideal, they were able to find joy in that which mattered the most — the presence of a new life and the presence of God in their own midst. Although they did not have much of anything materially speaking, they had each other and life together as a family.

Finding a place for Mary to give birth was not the only difficult task Joseph had to undertake. Soon after the birth of Jesus, as we hear in today’s Gospel, Joseph is told by an angel of the Lord in a dream, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him” (Mt 2:13). Dutifully and without hesitation, “Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt” (Mt 2:14). Joseph is an example of a father who will do anything he can to guard and protect his family, even in the midst of hardship. Joseph did not flee on his own when things became difficult. He fulfilled his sacred responsibility as a husband and father. Listening to the angel, Joseph leads Jesus and Mary on first great journey together as a family. This journey was not for rest and recreation, but for survival. The glory of God was hidden in flesh and the vulnerable child Jesus needed to be hidden from those who desired to kill him. Once again, Jesus’s parents trusted in God’s providential care for them.

Mary and Joseph also suffered the distress of not knowing where their twelve-year-old son was when Jesus decided to remain in the Temple conversing with the teachers. Upon finding Jesus, Mary expresses the worry that she and Joseph experienced. She says to Jesus, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Lk 2:48)? Mary and Joseph experienced so many of the challenges and worries that all parents experience.

Other than the accounts of Jesus’s infancy and the story of Mary and Joseph finding him in the Jerusalem Temple when he was twelve, we do not know much more about the first thirty years of Jesus’s life. It is telling that God willed to reveal to us through Sacred Scripture those moments of great difficulty for the Holy Family. The way in which the Holy Family lived through challenging moments is an example for us and a source of hope for our families.

Those quiet years, however, are also an example to us. It was during those years that Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph. His obedience reveals his great humility. The Son of God, the Word through Whom all things were made, listens to and obeys his human parents — Mary and Joseph. By living with Mary and Joseph, Jesus also gives honor to the dignity of Mary’s maternity and Joseph’s paternity. By living in obscurity with them, he honors the ordinary life of the family, a life that includes work, prayer, and “love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Col 3:14).

May our meditation on the life of the Holy Family help us “to imitate them in practicing the virtues of family life,” and may our imitation of their virtues help to preserve our families from division and heal any wounds that our families have suffered.

Fr. Louis Philip Masi About Fr. Louis Philip Masi

Rev. Louis Philip Masi, PhL, STL, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. He is the Parochial Vicar of the Parish of St. Mary, Mother of the Church, in Fishkill, New York.

Comments

  1. Avatar Mauclair SIMON says:

    These homilies are of great caliber.

  2. I 100% agreed! Thank you very much and God bless you and to the one who prepared this…

  3. Avatar Fr. Tony Blount says:

    Thank you very much Father!

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