Homilies for January 2022

For Mary Mother of God (January 1), Epiphany (January 2), the Baptism of the Lord (January 9), January 16, January 23, and January 30.

Mary, Mother of God – January 1, 2022

Readings: Nm 6:22–27 • Ps 67:2–3, 5, 6, 8 • Gal 4:4–7 • Lk 2:16–21    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010122.cfm

The Letter to the Hebrews is a beautiful letter written to the Jewish people about how Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything God had promised to His chosen people in ages past. We heard a semi-continuous reading of it at Mass throughout the final month of last year’s lectionary cycle. If it has been a while, or you have never done so, I recommend reading Hebrews from beginning to end. Today’s alleluia verse, which is recited (or sung) just before the proclamation of the Gospel, is taken from Hebrews. It says: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.

The Church has given us this verse in this Sunday liturgy and asks us to pay attention. It is a reminder that God’s revelation of Himself to humanity takes place in a definite context, that of His chosen people Israel. We know the story well. God begins by choosing the patriarchs — Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel. He promises to make them parents of an entire nation, to bring them to the promised land, and to become God’s chosen people through whom He will reveal himself to humanity.

God remains with them during their captivity in Egypt, allowing them to thrive even under the cruelty of pharaoh. He hears the cry of His people, and in response calls Moses to lead His people from captivity into freedom. Through Moses, God gives them the law — a way that teaches God’s holy people how to be in relationship with an all-holy God.

God remains faithful to His people even when they do not remain faithful. Through the judges and kings, God provides for them, cares for them, and tends them. When they give in to infidelity, Hebrews reminds us that God calls prophets to continually call His people back to himself.

Even when Israel is divided, conquered, and exiled, God’s prophets remind the people of God’s faithfulness to the covenant. In the darkness, they even foretell of the coming Messiah, through whom God’s power and plan will be manifest.

Hebrews also reminds us that God eventually brings his plan to fulfillment. He chooses a woman, Mary. He asks her to be the mother of his Son and through her “yes,” God’s plan of salvation unfolds. Mary conceives Christ in her virgin womb. This woman’s yes is what we celebrate today.

St. Augustine once famously said, “God who created you without you, will not save you without you.” This has been true throughout salvation history, and it is especially true for Mary. Just has human choice brought about our fall with our first parents, God brings about the salvation of humanity through Mary’s free cooperation. Jesus’ entire life, death, and resurrection all happened because God gave Mary the choice.

This says something profound about God’s respect for human freedom. God so respects our free choice that He allows us to choose whether to participate in his salvific plan. We have the choice to respond to God’s invitation of love. If love were forced, it would not truly be love. It must be freely given. God will not save you without your freely given “yes!”

In the second reading, St. Paul makes this same point to the Galatians:

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.

Slaves do not have dominion over their lives. They are not afforded the luxury of making their own free choices, but instead are subject to the will of another. While we may not be literal slaves, Paul reminds the Galatians (and us) that, through Christ, God ransoms us from the slavery of sin and adopts us into members of His family in baptism. We are given the freedom to embrace that status as God’s daughters and sons. We are also given the freedom to refuse it.

In the same way that God respects Mary’s yes, he also respects yours and mine. When we say yes to Him, we are no longer slaves to sin and death. We become beloved sons and daughters of God. We become heirs to God’s kingdom. We become the people whom God created us to be, free to love God and love others.

Feast of the Epiphany – January 2, 2022

Readings: Is 60:1–6 • Ps 72:1–2, 7–8, 10–11, 12–13 • Eph 3:2–3a, 5–6 • Mt 2:1–12  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010222.cfm

For those of us in the West, Epiphany is one of those feasts that can be difficult to understand. We tend to celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus on December 25, placing emphasis on the Lord’s Nativity. While we consider the Epiphany an important day within the season of Christmas, it is usually not front and center. For that reason, the meaning of the Epiphany of the Lord can be a bit obscured. What do we celebrate this day?

Consider the word itself: Epiphany. In a more colloquial sense, we use this word to signify a moment when we realize something important or significant. In times like this we even say, “I have had an epiphany!” Something hidden to us has been revealed and made manifest, and we suddenly recognize its importance.

The same is true for the Epiphany of the Lord. At first glance, anyone looking at the Christ child would not notice anything of particular interest. He is a baby boy, and a poor one at that. Born in a manger, innocent, helpless, hardly the way anyone would have expected the Messiah to enter the world. Yet, here He is, lying in Mary’s lap, surrounded by Joseph and the Magi.

In the Gospel we hear this story of the Magi traveling a great distance to pay their homage to the newborn King of the Jews. These men, whom the tradition names Balthazar, Malchior, and Casper, are not even Jews. They are not people of the covenant. Yet they recognize in this child someone of great importance: God incarnate. They recognize that God has manifest His Divinity in the person of Jesus, fully God and fully human. They are so moved by this that they give him gifts of great value: gold, frankincense, and myrrh — gifts fitting for a king.

These Gentile men recognize what many of God’s chosen people at the time missed: that God’s salvific plan was being revealed to humanity, not through the law, or a prophet, or a mighty king. Instead, it is revealed in Jesus Christ, a person who is both divine and human.

St. Thomas Aquinas talks about how fitting it is that God chooses to become human in the Incarnation. He says that a thing can be called “fitting” because of its’ nature. Thus, a thing is most fitting to the degree in which a thing achieves its natural end. For God, goodness belongs to His very essence — it has to do with what it means for God to be God. St. Thomas says that it is fitting for goodness to communicate itself, to diffuse itself. Hence, it belongs to God’s essence to communicate himself in this manner. How does he do this? He does it by joining creation to himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

God so loves creation that he is even willing to become what he is not: a person with both human and divine natures. By doing so, God diffuses His goodness. He elevates all creation, and especially human nature, to what it was like before the fall of our first parents. Not only that, God makes it possible for us to surpass what we were in the beginning. He allows us to even share in the divine life of the Holy Trinity.

This is what we celebrate on the Feast of the Epiphany. God has revealed all of this in a tiny baby boy. Throughout Jesus’ life, there will be many more “epiphanies.” I encourage you to pay attention to the readings in the lectionary this coming week. We will hear lots of stories of Jesus further revealing Himself to humanity: stories of miraculous healings, the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus walking on the water. All of these will culminate in Jesus’ own baptism, where we hear the Father saying, “This is my beloved Son.” Each of these stories make manifest something about Jesus that God wishes us to see. One could spend hours contemplating each of these mysteries. Another practical way to enter into the feast of the Epiphany is to pray the Luminous Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, meditating on these important “epiphanies” in Jesus’ life.

Finally, Jesus does not just manifest himself in these extraordinary moments. We can also recognize His presence in the ordinary, day-to-day events of our lives: in the quiet of prayer, though members of our families, in the poor and forgotten. Jesus’ invitation to us as the Christmas season continues to unfold is to be alert and pay attention. Will we carry on with life, not noticing Jesus revealing himself to us? Or, like the Magi, will we journey from afar to encounter him, God and human, made manifest to us?

Baptism of the Lord – January 9, 2022

Readings: Is 42:1–4, 6–7 • Ps 29:1–2, 3–4, 3, 9–10 • Acts 10:34–38 or Is 40:1–5, 9–11 • Ps 104:1b–2, 3–4, 24–25, 27–28, 29–30 • Ti 2:11–14, 3:4–7 • Lk 3:15–16, 21–22    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010922.cfm

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself the question, “Why does Jesus even need to be baptized?” After all, the Gospels tell us that the people who went out to the desert to be baptized by John were undergoing a “baptism of repentance,” something entirely different from Christian baptism, but nonetheless striking.

Why is it that Jesus, whom we have celebrated this Christmas season as God made manifest in the flesh, chooses to venture out to the desert with these people? We believe, and rightly so, that in the person of Jesus, there are two natures: divine and human. We also believe, as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that through his passion Jesus “became sin who knew no sin.” He has no need to undergo a baptism of repentance. So why does he do it?

Jesus ventures to the desert so that he can stand shoulder to shoulder with sinners. After all, is that not the reason he chose to be born among humanity? This Christmas, we have celebrated the incarnation and nativity of Jesus. This mystery of God taking on flesh is just the first of many mysteries of our Catholic faith. In the incarnation, you could say, God chooses to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with his creatures. God chooses to identify Himself with humanity.

The Baptism of the Lord, then, is a continuation of this. Jesus ventures out to the desert, stands shoulder to shoulder with His people, and chooses to undergo a baptism of repentance even though he does not need it. By doing so, Jesus inaugurates the beginning of his public life of ministry. Upon coming up out of the waters, Mark tells us “he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’

In this brief moment, the veil that separates humanity from divinity is lifted and we get to see the inner life of the Trinity: the Father who sends the Son, the Son humbly taking on his mission to redeem humanity, and the Holy Spirit, the life and love between the Father and the Son.

Take a moment to stop and think about it; it boggles the mind. When Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan, he is not cleansed by the waters, but rather the waters are cleansed by him. It foreshadows the Christian baptism which all of us receive.

Jesus shares in the inner life of the Trinity by his divine nature, and we, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, likewise are granted the privilege of sharing in the inner life of the Trinity, not by nature, but by God’s grace. Not only are we freed from sin, but we also become adopted sons and daughters of God. We are rendered capable of participation in the divine life. All of that, my friends, is contained in the simple action of Jesus choosing to be baptized.

How should this great mystery impact my day-to-day life as a Catholic Christian? Good question. We need to recognize that we are not passive observers of this great mystery. By our own baptism, we are immersed in it. We are God’s beloved sons and daughters, rendered capable of being in relationship with God. Ask yourself: do I really know and claim my status as God’s beloved daughter or son?

Perhaps, as you think about it, you may realize that the answer is “no” or “sometimes.” That is OK — and is helpful to know. But also know that you do not have to remain there. Whether you are a regular churchgoer, or someone who just happened to join us for Mass today, the invitation is the same. This week, invite the God in and ask Him for the grace to claim your status as His beloved:

Father, I know that I have not always been the best daughter or son. I have sinned at times, and not understood my place in your family, the Church. You said to your son Jesus ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’ I know and believe that I am also your beloved daughter or son by my baptism. Help me to embrace this identity. In those moments when I struggle, give me the grace I need to remember that your mercy is far greater than my sin, and the humility to accept that mercy in my life. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time – January 16, 2022

Readings: Is 62:1–5Ps 96:1–2, 2–3, 7–8, 9–101 Cor 12:4–11Jn 2:1–11  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/011622.cfm

We jump back into Ordinary Time this week with one of the most famous miracles of Jesus in the Bible: the changing of water to wine at the wedding feast at Cana. John tells us that Jesus, his disciples, and His mother Mary were also in attendance. I imagine it was quite the feast!

Jewish wedding celebrations were multiple day events that carried on into the late hours every night, so it was crucial for the bride and groom to prepare enough provisions. When the wine for the party runs dry, it is a huge embarrassment to the new couple and their families. Noticing this predicament, Mary approaches Jesus saying, “They have no wine.” Mary knows who her son is and what He is capable of. She approaches him with concern and care. Jesus replies, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” We should not read Jesus’ reply as a sign of disrespect, but rather a statement of fact: His public ministry had not yet begun in earnest. Performing this miracle would mean the inauguration of His public life, a decision that will ultimately lead to the cross.

Yet, Jesus is not one to refuse His mother. Mary’s instructions to the servers demonstrates her complete faith in her son: “Do whatever he tells you.” She knows Jesus will do everything in his power to remedy the situation, and in fact, he does. Mary’s witness of faith in her son is instructive for us. Am I willing to do whatever Jesus tells me to do? How do I go about doing so?

In the second reading, Paul speaks to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts, also called charisms. Charisms are given to each of us at baptism as a means by which we can participate in building the Kingdom of God here on earth. They are unique graces given to us so that we can be instruments of God’s provision for others. The scriptures talk about 24 charisms in particular, some of which are enumerated in this reading: service, wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, etc.

Likewise, our Church teaches us that the charisms must be discerned. Since the Holy Spirit “produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes”, each person must take the time to see how the Lord has gifted them so that they may understand how God calls them into mission. We also need to pay attention to the evidence of the charisms at work. Do I experience a sense of joy and personal fulfillment. Do I notice that I am particularly effective when undertaking work that involves the use of the charisms? Do others tend to notice when I am using my charisms or do people approach me habitually to undertake projects that involve the use of my charisms? These are all signs that the Holy Spirit is at work through my charisms.

Receiving and accepting the spiritual gifts God has given me is an important part of responding to His call. The charisms are like clues which, if discerned and followed, lead us to understand our small but crucial role in God’s plan for humanity. While that can seem a bit overwhelming at first, acceptance of our charisms is first and foremost an act of humility. Since charisms are gifts from God, accepting them helps us to have a right understanding of our identity as God’s beloved. He loves us, and wants us to participate in the salvific work of His church.

In this new year, many people make new years resolutions. Perhaps it is time to make a spiritual resolution to discern how God is calling me to participate in the Church’s mission. Like Mary, each of us is invited to do whatever Jesus tells us to do. With that invitation comes a responsibility. Unless I respond to what the Lord Jesus is asking of me, that unique mission will go unfulfilled. Spend some time in prayer this week asking God to help you understand and discern your charisms. Ask for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary so that we can model her openness to her son.

Lord, you have called me to participate in the great work of your Church through baptism, and you have given me gifts to equip me for that work. Give me the grace to humbly accept and discern these gifts so that I may be a better instrument of your love, mercy, and provision for others.

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time – January 23, 2022

Readings: Neh 8:2–4a, 5–6, 8–10Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 151 Cor 12:12–30 or 1 Cor 12:12–14, 27Lk 1:1–4; 4:14–21    bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012322.cfm

When I was a Dominican novice, I remember asking one of the older friars in our community to succinctly describe the charism of the Order of Preachers. He stopped, thought for a moment, and replied, “The Dominican is meant to have a preoccupation with the Word of God.” That has stuck with me throughout my years in religious life and helped shape my ministry as a priest. Would that we all have a preoccupation with the Word of God!

Our Church celebrates “Sunday of the Word of God” this week. Pope Francis, in instituting this celebration, wrote, “The Bible is the book of the Lord’s people, who, in listening to it, move from dispersion and division towards unity. The word of God unites believers and makes them one people.” We see a glimpse of the love for sacred scripture in our first reading. The book of Nehemiah is an account of the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile. Preeminent in the rebuilding was the reconstruction of the Jewish temple, the holy place where God’s holy people would offer sacrifices to God.

In the process of reconstruction, a book of the law of Moses is discovered. Ezra, a priest and scribe, gathers the entire remnant of the Jewish people together and recites the entirety of the book before the assembly. The people bow down and weep at God’s words. After the tragedy of the Babylonian exile, they recognize the importance of fidelity to God’s Word, which was a special gift given to them as His people. By listening to the book of the law, God’s people move from being dispersed to being united as His holy people once again.

Do we see the Word of God in the same manner? Do we recognize the gift that the Bible is? In it contains all that is necessary for our salvation. Through the scriptures, God speaks to the new Israel, His Church. He assures us of His love and fidelity. He challenges us when we go astray. He communicates His plan for humanity to live in communion with God and with one another. Would that we all have a preoccupation with the Word of God!

Such a preoccupation does not happen accidentally. We need to spend time each day reading and praying with the scriptures. There are plenty of reading plans that help us to read the entire Bible in a year. What if you replaced your music or news program on your daily commute with a Bible in a year podcast? The more time we spend with the scriptures, the more they become a part of us. We begin to think as God thinks, love as God loves, and see others as God sees them.

Alternatively, we can use a missalette or smartphone app to follow along with the daily readings from the lectionary. This allows us to have a semi-continuous reading of most of the Bible over the course of a few years. Taking a few minutes with one or more of the readings allows us an approachable way of starting to read the Bible.

As we become more deeply immersed in the scriptures, it will also change how we approach the celebration of the Mass. The liturgy makes extensive use of the Bible, presenting the mysteries of our faith and helping us to enter more deeply into the Eucharistic sacrifice. That is why the Liturgy of the Word is sometimes referred to as “the table of the Word.” In the same way that the Holy Eucharist nourishes us with Christ’s body and blood, the Word of God nourishes the deepest desires of our hearts, bringing comfort, peace, and healing for life’s many challenges.

We all desire to have a deeper friendship with God. The primary way we deepen friendship in life is to spend time with the other, to get to know the them and allow them to know us. The same is true of friendship with God: the more time we spend with His Word, the more we will become acquainted with Him and his plan for our lives.

Lord God, I desire to know, love, and serve you. I thank you today for the gift of your Word, the sacred scriptures. By it, you speak to me and help me to deepen my faith. Open my heart to the ways that you call me to encounter you in the Bible. Put into my heart a love of your name so that I may be an instrument of that love for everyone I encounter.

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time – January 30, 2022

Readings: Jer 1:4–5, 17–19 • Ps 71:1–2, 3–4, 5–6, 15–17 • 1 Cor 12:31–13:13 • Lk 4:21–30  bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/013022.cfm

Our first reading from today comes from the beginning of the book of the prophet Jeremiah. It belongs to a genre of biblical literature named “a call narrative.” In it, we hear God calling Jeremiah to take up his prophetic ministry in the days leading up to the Babylonian exile. Although our lectionary omits these verses, upon hearing that the Lord is calling him to be a prophet, Jeremiah exclaims, “Ah, Lord God! [..] I do not know how to speak. I am too young!

Often we feel the same way about our faith! We are told that we must live our faith in the world, spreading the fragrance of Christ to all parts of society that are in need of redemption. In response we make excuses: I am too young, too old, too infirm. I am not capable of doing great things for God. In response, the Lord says to us the same thing that he tells Jeremiah: “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak.”

I am reminded of the early days of my own vocational discernment when I felt myself unworthy of being called to a religious vocation. After a few months of listening to me say this, a priest friend of mine said in exasperation, “Brent, it is not about your worthiness. If God only called worthy people, then we would have no one working in His vineyard.” That was exactly the push I needed to open myself up to God’s call. The same is true about when God calls all the baptized. If God has called us into mission, He will also give everything necessary for us to carry out that mission.

That is not to say that following God’s call will be free of hardship. Jeremiah the prophet is sometimes called “the weeping prophet.” God called him to ministry in a particularly difficult time in Israel’s history. He endures scorn from his own people, he is beaten, and he is even placed in the stocks at the Upper Gate to be publicly humiliated.

Likewise, in our Gospel today, Jesus is mocked by the people of Nazareth where he had grown up. Despite the fact that they “spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth,” they also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” Not content with Jesus’ answers to their questions, “they rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built to hurl him down headlong.” Jesus does not even exempt himself from suffering and hardship.

What hope do we have in the mission to which we have been called? God provides the answer to Jeremiah: “Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them […] They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.” God, who calls us to a noble task, likewise walks with us in the midst of suffering. We can take comfort in the fact that God can use even our difficulties to bring Him glory. That is also why the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s provision: “For you are my hope, O Lord; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength.” Whenever we struggle with trials and persecution, God is with us.

To what is God calling you and me? What fears do I experience when I consider this call? It may be something big, but it does not have to be. As Mother Teresa said, “We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Whether great or small, the invitation today is the same: to place those fears in God’s hands, trusting Him that I do not have to do everything on my own. God himself will provide every grace necessary for my growth and flourishing.

God, I thank you for giving me every good thing in my baptism and for calling me to participate in your work of redemption. Increase your Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude so that I may respond generously to whatever you are calling me to do. I trust that all things work for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose.

Fr. Brent Bowen About Fr. Brent Bowen

Fr. Brent Bowen, O.P. is a Dominican Friar of the Province of St. Albert the Great. He is a Parochial Vicar and Director of Evangelization at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center at Purdue University, as well as a speaker for the Catherine of Siena Institute. He has a BS in Air Traffic Management, and Master’s degrees in Business Administration, Theology, and Divinity.

Comments

  1. Avatar Rt. Rev Thomas Joseph Bodkin says:

    Thank you Fr Brent for your learned and simply presented homilies. The pandemic has brought all to our knees and we whose vocation it is to preach the Holy Gospel must do so in a compassionate and loving way that truly draws seeking souls and many others to the Holy Feet of Jesus Christ.
    You are a true son of the great St. Dominic and son of Mary the Mother of Priets and Religious.
    May I wish you a Happy New Year filledwith the Grace of God.
    Pax+
    ++Thomas Joseph, OSB
    Orthodox Western Rite Bishop
    Good Shepherd Companions

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