Homilies for January 2020

Painting of Jesus's baptism by John

For Mary, Mother of God, both the Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord,
January 19, and January 26.

Mary, the Mother of God – January 1, 2020

  Readings: Num 6:22–27 • Gal 4:4–7 • Ps 67:2–3, 5–6, 8 • Lk 2:16–21
  usccb.org/bible/readings/010120.cfm

“When eight days were completed for His circumcision,
He was named Jesus, the Name given Him by the angel . . .”

In the year of Our Lord 431, the bishops of the Church gave glory to God by giving honor to Mary, pronouncing her to be “the Mother of God.” In that year, the third world-wide — or ecumenical — council of the Church took place in the city of Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.

According to tradition, Ephesus is where the Blessed Virgin Mary lived the last years of her earthly life under the care of St. John, the Beloved Disciple. So it’s very fitting that the Council of Ephesus was the setting for the Church to proclaim Mary to be “the Mother of God.”

The bishops gathered in Ephesus to contend with the heresy being taught by the archbishop of Constantinople. He was falsely teaching that the child who was born to Mary in Bethlehem was actually two separate persons: the human Jesus and the divine Christ. Mary, according to that faulty logic, would certainly be the mother of the human Jesus, but could not be called the mother of anyone who is divine.

Fortunately, that way of thinking was condemned by the Council of Ephesus. The teaching of the Church, the bishops proclaimed, is that there is only one person in Jesus Christ, and that if Mary is the mother of Jesus — Jesus Christ who is fully God and fully man — then she can be honored as the Mother of God, as we do especially on this day, the eighth day of Christmas.

Still, even if we know all this — if we know in our heads that we can call Mary the Mother of God — why should we? Why is this feast so important that we celebrate it as a holy day of obligation?

Keep in mind that whenever Holy Mother Church obliges us to do something, she’s acting like any good mother. What she does is for our sake, not hers. At the heart of this great mystery is the truth that Mary is the “Mother of God.” This truth teaches us something about Jesus, about us, and about her.

What does the title “Mother of God” say about Jesus? The mystery that the Council of Ephesus reflected on is not principally that Mary is the Mother of God, but, rather, that this baby whom we see lying in the manger is in truth God.

The Christmas hymn asks “What child is this?” and our answer is that “this, this is Christ the King!” This helpless infant is the same God who creates the stars of the heavens. This helpless infant is the same God who destroys our sins on the Cross. In Jesus, God and man are united. The infinite and the finite wed. Because of this wedding, our lives on this earth, naturally destined to last maybe seventy or eighty years, can be lived forever in Heaven.

In your imagination, picture today’s Gospel reading. You see the infant Jesus in the manger, with His mother on the ground next to Him. Saint Joseph keeps watch over them. The Holy Family had already made the perilous journey to Bethlehem. When they had arrived, they had found themselves rejected by everyone whom they asked for shelter.

Later, there were angels and shepherds and kings from the East praising the newborn child. What a strange turn of events: from rejection to adoration! It’s no wonder that as Mary rested in the hay, she pondered these things in her heart. The Holy Family experienced complete rejection and utter acceptance because of the same person.

Mary was beginning to see how the world treats people. You remain the same person throughout your life, but because of changing circumstances, others react very differently toward you.

Mary realized that this was going to be the pattern throughout her son’s life: acceptance or rejection, based merely upon the attitudes of others and the circumstances of life. She could see, even at such a young age, that if others were given the chance to witness miracles — angels singing in the sky, water turning to wine, or a blind man regaining his sight — they would very likely praise her son.

However, if following Jesus meant watching him being turned out of the synagogue in Galilee where He had grown up, or being mocked by the scribes and Pharisees for trying to teach them something new about God, or being whipped and crowned with thorns after being condemned to a traitor’s death — what would people say about her son then?

Many of us are going to make resolutions for the new year. How successful will we be? For most of us, the new year won’t be much different than the last. If we truly want to change, it will take the grace of God. The grace of God is what made Mary the “Mother of God,” and so also our Mother. Ask her intercession before her divine Son each day of this new year.

Epiphany of the Lord – January 5, 2020

  Readings: Is 60:1–6 • Eph 3:2–3, 5–6 • PS 72:1–2, 7–8, 10–13 • Mt 2:1–12
  usccb.org/bible/readings/010520.cfm

“We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

The feast of the Epiphany is a feast of reflecting on the gifts we see at Bethlehem. In the Gospel reading today, we hear of the gifts of the “magi” from the east. But their three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh are responses to an infinitely greater gift: the Gift — with a capital G — named Jesus. God the Father gifted this divine gift to mankind. It’s the reflection on all four of these gifts — three human and one divine — that leads Eastern Christians to exchange Christmas gifts on January 6, the twelfth day of the Christmas Season.

You know, of course, that the feast of the Epiphany is the basis for the folk carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The twelve days referred to in this song — and the corresponding twelve gifts that are described — mark the days that stretch between the Birth of Jesus and His Epiphany to the Wise Men, the Epiphany traditionally being celebrated on January 6. These two feasts of the Nativity of Jesus and the Epiphany of Jesus are the poles of the Christmas Season, just as the North Pole and the South Pole are the poles of the planet earth.

That image of the planet earth is actually a good way to reflect upon today’s feast. In every one of today’s Scripture passages, including our responsorial psalm, we hear that God’s grace is given as a gift for all the peoples of the earth. In the first reading from Isaiah, we hear the prophet proclaim to Jerusalem that “nations shall walk by your light” and that “the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.” Through the refrain of the responsorial psalm, we proclaim to the Lord that “every nation on earth will adore you.” In the second reading, from his Letter to the Ephesians, we hear Saint Paul preach that “the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

All of these passages from Sacred Scripture point our attention to God’s desire that His grace be spread universally throughout the earth. These Scripture passages culminate in the Gospel story about the pagan “magi from the east” who “arrived in Jerusalem” bearing the gifts that Isaiah foretold. When the wise men “prostrated themselves and did [the child Jesus] homage,” they fulfilled the refrain of today’s psalm. These pagan kings were only three, but they represent all the Gentiles of the earth, from north to south and east to west. These pagan kings represent all those whom God wanted to be co-partners with the Jews, “members of the same [Mystical] body” of Christ.

The Church, in other words, is meant by God to be universal. Universal is simply another word for catholic. Most likely, when you and I are discussing religious matters with others and use the word Catholic, we’re using it in contrast to words such as Methodist or Baptist or Presbyterian. But that’s not the Scriptural meaning of the word catholic. The literal meaning of the word catholic is “universal.” The word catholic refers to God’s desire that His grace cover the earth from north to south and east to west. God’s Church is catholic because His heart is catholic.

Put another way, the universal Faith of God’s Church is where the two great commandments kiss. Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbor. He expanded on that second great commandment with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, teaching us that every man, woman, and child on the face of God’s green earth is our neighbor, without exception. That’s how Jesus loved on the Cross. He gave His Body and Blood, soul and divinity for all mankind: for every last sinner, without exception. That’s the Love that became Flesh and dwelt among us in the Person of Jesus, who was born for us, and appeared to us in Bethlehem.

The Season of Christmas lasts only one more week. It ends next Sunday with the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. So we need to continue celebrating this spiritual season of gift-giving. It’s in response to God’s Gift of His Son Jesus that you can come before the child Jesus and lay yourself with your gifts at His feet.

But notice! That order is very important. It’s not that we give our selves to God and, in response, God — being mightily impressed with us — gives us His Son. That’s not how God’s love works. In a passage from one of his letters, a passage which the Church proclaims during Christmastide, Saint John the Evangelist reveals the nature of the divine love that became Flesh and dwelt among us. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us, and has given us His Son as an offering for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).

Baptism of the Lord – January 12, 2020

  Readings: Is 42:1–4, 6–7 • Acts 10:34–38 • PS 29:1–4, 9–10 • Mt 3:13–17
  usccb.org/bible/readings/011220.cfm

“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased . . .”

The word Trinity does not appear even once in the New Testament. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the New Testament doesn’t teach us a lot about the Trinity. Today’s Gospel Reading is a case in point.

In St. Matthew the Evangelist’s description of the Baptism of the Lord Jesus, all three Persons of the Trinity reveal Themselves. God the Father reveals Himself only by speech. We know that He’s the Father because He identifies Himself in terms of His relationship with His Son, declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

God the Holy Spirit also reveals Himself in terms of His relationship with God the Son. After Jesus’s baptism, “the heavens were opened for him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon him.” We might wonder what St. Matthew means by describing the Holy Spirit’s descent as being “like a dove.” The first quality suggested by this metaphor is gentleness, a quality that through the Holy Spirit’s descent is related to Jesus.

In today’s Gospel reading, St. John the Baptist alludes to the fact that Jesus does not need to be baptized. In fact, Jesus no more needed to be baptized than He needed to descend from Heaven to earth. He did both for the same reason: “for us men and for our salvation,” as we profess in the Creed.

The whole of today’s feast reveals to us the gifts that the Christian receives through the Sacrament of Baptism. Simply put, all of these gifts are shares in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. Yet some of them could be described as negative; others, positive. That is to say, the gifts that God gives in Baptism both destroy and build (see CCC 1262).

The former are more simple and, in a sense, less important. When a human sinner is baptized, all sin within that person is destroyed: both the Original Sin that is inherited, and any actual sins committed by that individual.

But that washing away of moral and spiritual dirt is only a preparation. God has something even greater in store for the baptized Christian: in fact, a new creation (see CCC 1265).

The relationships that we see the Father and the Holy Spirit sharing with the Son in today’s Gospel reading are also shared with the Christian through baptism. God the Father adopts the Christian as His own child “in Christ.” Likewise, the Holy Spirit bestows His fruits and gifts upon the baptized “in Christ.”

More specifically, the Catechism notes three key ways, among others, in which God builds up the Christian through Baptism. The first is “sanctifying grace, the grace of justification,” which enables the Christian “to believe in God, to hope in him, and to love him through the theological virtues” (CCC 1266).

The second is membership in the Mystical Body of Christ: the Church. As one member of Christ’s Body, the Christian shares in Jesus’s priestly, prophetic, and kingly missions. The Catechism specifically notes that “Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers” (CCC 1268), expanding upon St. Peter’s exhortation: “like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pt 2:5).

Unfortunately, this “common priesthood,” sometimes called the “baptismal priesthood,” is one of the most misunderstood gifts in the Church today. Some promote clericalism by encouraging laypersons to act as clerics, instead of giving due honor to the “spiritual sacrifices” proper to the baptismal priesthood: self-sacrifice in the family’s home, in the business’s boardroom, on the factory’s floor, and in the public square.

The third key gift of Baptism is that the Holy Spirit through Baptism marks the Christian with the “seal of the Lord” (CCC 1274). This seal marks the Christian as irrevocably being destined for God in Heaven. Of course, this mark is a mark of the Christian’s destiny, not of her salvation. The Gospel does not teach that the Christian who is once saved is always saved, or that who is once baptized is always saved. Salvation depends upon perseverance “in Christ”: both living and dying “in Christ.” The Catechism attests that no “sin can erase this mark, even if sin prevents Baptism from bearing the fruits of salvation” (CCC 1272).

The Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River reveals to man the loving relationships that God the Son shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. At His Baptism, Jesus did not receive but revealed. He revealed who He is in relation to the other divine Persons of the Trinity. In this, He revealed the inheritance that’s destined for each baptized Christian who lives and dies “in Christ.”

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 19, 2020

  Readings: Is 49:3, 5–6 • 1 Cor 1:1–3 • Ps 40:2, 4, 7–10 • Jn 1:29–34
  usccb.org/bible/readings/011920.cfm

“Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Our Scriptures this Sunday help us set our own lives within the grander scheme of things. That grander scheme is called “Divine Providence.” One way to describe Divine Providence is to say that it’s what God chooses to do, when He does it, and why He does it.

Divine Providence is at the heart of the Scriptures of Holy Mass during the first several weeks in Ordinary Time. Following the season of Christmas, which ended last week with the Baptism of Jesus, we turn to consider our own baptism.

When you were baptized, the promises that were made started a relationship where God is your Lord, and you are His servant. Or, at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be like. We hear several different examples of this servant-Lord relationship in today’s Scriptures. Each is a model for us, and the last is also something more.

First, Isaiah was called to serve the Lord as His prophet. “The Lord said to [Isaiah]: ‘You are my servant. . . . I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.’” Among all the Old Testament prophets who proclaimed the coming of God’s justice, Isaiah had a unique place. His calling was to prepare for the coming of a Messiah who offers loving mercy that knows no bounds and that would “reach to the ends of the earth.” Although none of us has been called to be a prophet like Isaiah, there is something in his vocation that ought to be mirrored in our own vocations: namely, loving mercy that knows no bounds.

Second, Paul was called to serve the Lord as His apostle. Today’s second reading is simply the first three verses of a letter written by Saint Paul: it’s not the longest of his letters, but it’s one of the more profound. His self-introduction focuses upon his calling as an apostle, which literally means “one who is sent.” He describes himself this way: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”.

Paul was sent “by the will of God” to spread the Messiah’s Gospel to the Gentiles, the very people that Isaiah had served by preparing them for the Messiah. Although none of us has been called to be an apostle like Paul, there is something in his vocation that ought to be mirrored in our own vocations: namely, serving as “one who is sent.”

That Messiah whose coming Isaiah proclaimed, and whom Paul was sent forth to preach about, is of course Jesus. Jesus, like Isaiah and Paul, was called by God to serve. Yet Jesus is not only an example for us, as are Isaiah and Paul.

Jesus was called by God the Father to serve as the Savior of mankind. We hear about this call within today’s Gospel reading. This call connects to today’s responsorial psalm, and especially its refrain. The refrain can help you rest in God’s Divine Providence, instead of wrestling against it.

“Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” Although the word I appears twice in this single verse, it’s not the focus of the verse. The focus is God’s Providential Will and one’s submission to it: that is, one’s willingness to be His servant. Most of us, when we pray, actually speak to God as if He’s our servant: in effect saying, “Here I am, Lord; now come and do my will.”

One of the chief ways that Christians experience God’s Providential Will is unanswered prayers. In fact, these are often God’s gifts to us, whether we acknowledge them as such or not. Tragically, some Christians stop following Jesus because their prayers aren’t answered as they want. But silence on God’s part can be His way of demanding patience and perseverance. This silence clarifies what’s important to God for the unfolding of His Providential Will.

Yet, whether in accepting God’s silence or in moving forward to carry out His Will, we need to recognize a distinction. Not only are we to imitate Jesus in His example of doing His Father’s Will in all things. As Christians, we are meant to live in Christ.

We are not meant to live “in Isaiah” or “in Paul,” as much as we ought to follow their respective examples. But each of us is meant to live “in Christ.” This is not something that the Christian can accomplish through human effort or good works. Only God can accomplish this. His chief means for doing so are the Sacraments and grace given within personal prayer. For our part, we need to work at disposing ourselves for reception of these divine gifts. God’s gifts allow Christ to live in us, and allow Christ to say through us: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 26, 2020

Readings: Is 8:23—9:3 • 1 Cor 1:10–13, 17 • Mt 4:12–23 (or Mt 4:12–17)

“. . . so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.”

The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. Yet He dwelt among us so that He could die for us. On Calvary on Good Friday, the Word sacrificed Himself — flesh and blood, soul and divinity — to God the Father. The meaning of this singular act of self-sacrifice is two-fold: that sinners might be reconciled to God, so that God might make them His children.

The Word of God is a person. This truth is often obscured in regard to preaching. Preaching, of course, is essential to the Word of God’s ministry. Nonetheless, the preaching of the Word of God is a means to a far greater end, just as the divine Son in all things leads us to the divine Father.

The ultimate end of all preaching is communion with God the Father, through God the Son, in God the Holy Spirit. Yet in His Divine Providence, God chose to accomplish this communion through the Cross of Christ. All of Jesus’s words and works on earth lead to Calvary. The Cross of Christ is the earthly end — the proximate end — of our discipleship.

This Sunday’s Scripture passages focus our attention upon the Word of God. The Gospel reading is from only the fourth of the 28 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel account. The first two chapters, of course, focus on the advent and infancy of Jesus. So today’s Gospel Reading takes place early in Jesus’s public ministry, and focuses on the basics.

That’s fitting for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. The beginning of the Church year, of course, focused on the advent and infancy of Jesus. So today’s Gospel Reading during the early part of Ordinary Time focuses on the basics of following Jesus.

After Jesus calls two sets of brothers to become “fishers of men,” He labors at three works of public ministry amidst “all of Galilee.” Jesus teaches, preaches, and cures the sick. Yet the fact that the short form of today’s Gospel reading ends by focusing upon Jesus’s preaching suggests how central preaching is to His public ministry.

In fact, the only words that we hear Jesus preaching in today’s Gospel Reading are: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance is the first word of Jesus’s preaching the Word of God. From the perspective of those who hear the Word of God, repentance is the first word of following Jesus.

The Christian repents not just once in his life because, this side of Heaven, he remains a sinner. When Jesus later commands His disciples to take up their crosses each day (Lk 9:23), this command includes the embrace of daily repentance.

This side of death, it’s only through the Cross of Christ that we can enter into union with the Word of God. That’s not to say that we can’t, while on earth, also enjoy a foretaste of Jesus’s victory over death. But entering into the Cross of Christ is the door to this victory. On earth we can only dimly glimpse the resurrection; its fullness can only be known in Heaven. On earth we can, however, fully experience the Cross of Christ. In fact, we must in order to be His disciples.

Saint Paul in today’s second reading draws our attention to the link between preaching and the Cross of Christ. It’s telling that the larger point of this passage is divisions among the Corinthians. Paul’s remedy for divisions within the Church is the Cross of Christ. He even speaks to one of the pitfalls that he, as a preacher, has to work to avoid. This pitfall is the “human eloquence” that captivates in the short term but can bear no lasting fruit, and in fact does lasting harm by creating an expectation and desire within Christians for what is shallow.

The depth of the Word of God is only found finally in the Cross of Christ. Every word of the Old Testament is fulfilled in the Cross of Christ on Calvary on Good Friday, just as each word and work during Jesus’s public ministry was so fulfilled. Every word and work of Jesus after His Resurrection, as every word in the New Testament books that follow the four Gospel accounts, as every work of the Church in her holy sacraments, flows from the power of the Cross of Christ. Of no sacrament is this more true than the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist, where the Word made Flesh offers Himself in sacrifice, so that we can join sacramentally in His singular act of salvation.

By embracing Jesus’s Cross, we can come to communion with the divine Person of Jesus Christ Himself. Only through this Cross can the Christian enter the life of the Son, and through the Son the embrace of the Father. In the order of salvation, this is the providential role of the Word of God.

Fr. Thomas Hoisington About Fr. Thomas Hoisington

Fr. Thomas Hoisington was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Wichita in 1995. He earned the STL in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in 2001. His daily reflections can be found at reflectionsonthesacredliturgy.com.

Comments

  1. Avatar Fr. Tony Blount says:

    Beautiful homily for the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Thank you Fr. Thomas!

  2. Avatar Fr. Philip says:

    Hello Fr. Thoma.
    Congratulations for your excellent homilies. These homilies are full of inspirations. Thank you very much. Be blessed.

  3. This is so profound. I thank you for sharing your wisdom and insights.

  4. Avatar SALVIN MASEREKA says:

    The reflections are very enriching. Keep me posted too.
    Thanks

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