Homilies for January 2024

For the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, the Feast of the Epiphany, January 14, January 21, and January 28

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God – January 1, 2024

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/010124.cfm

As we mark the start of our calendar year, this great solemnity speaks to us not only of Mary, but also of Christ.

The fact that Mary is the Mother of God is of course the central truth about her. It is the basis for everything else in her life. Why was Mary conceived without sin? To prepare her to be the Mother of God. How did she participate in Christ’s passion and death in such a unique and profound way? Because she was his mother. Why was she assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life? Because she carried God in her sinless womb. In other words, Mary’s identity is determined entirely by her relationship to her God and Savior. Of course, this is true of all human beings, since Jesus Christ is the Lord and center of history, God’s great drama of salvation. Our identity in this world is incomprehensible apart from God. Mary did nothing to assert her own will or plan but instead allowed herself to be defined by God in an unsurpassed way: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Because Mary’s identity as the Mother of God was a free gift that she received, all of our celebrations of Mary are celebrations of God’s goodness. When her cousin Elizabeth called her “blessed among women,” she herself gave all the glory to God: “The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name” (Lk 1:49). So there should be no fear that our rejoicing over Mary would detract from God’s glory. In the words of St. Irenaeus, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” More than anyone, Mary shows us that submission to the will of God does not imply the renunciation of one’s freedom, but rather its perfect fulfillment. Mary’s physical relationship with Christ as his mother, while essential to salvation history, was the fruit of her prior “yes” to God — a complete surrender. Christ himself placed greater emphasis on this “yes” when he told the crowd, “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50). Likewise, when a woman said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed,” he replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11:27–28).

Historically, Mary’s title as the Mother of God was defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431. After heated debate, the Church declared Mary as the Theotokos, which in Greek literally means “God-bearer.” While apparently focused on Mary’s identity, this affirmation of Mary as the Mother of God was primarily concerned with the identity of Christ. By defining Mary as the Mother of God and not simply as the Mother of Christ, the Church clarified that Jesus Christ has two natures, divine and human, which cannot be separated. Since Jesus is one person, fully God and fully man, Mary is therefore the Mother of God.

This technical theological point has great spiritual relevance for us. In our second reading, St. Paul says: “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” (Gal 4:4–5). Jesus needed to be born as one of us in order to redeem our fallen human nature, and Mary needed to be the Mother of God in order to be our mother. Just as Eve was the “mother of all the living” (Gen 3:20), Mary is the mother of all those reborn in Christ through the Holy Spirit. God the Father knew that we needed a mother, so God the Son gave us his from the cross: “Behold your mother” (Jn 19:27). Following the example of John the Beloved Disciple, let us again take Mary into our home as our Mother.

The Epiphany of the Lord – January 7, 2024

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/010724.cfm

Today’s feast of the Lord’s Epiphany celebrates the fulfillment of God’s original purpose for His chosen people. Recall God’s initial promise to Abraham: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. [ . . . ] in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:2–3). In our first reading from Isaiah, we heard, “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” The Lord also said through the prophet Isaiah, “It is too little for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). God chose Israel in an exclusive way for the eventual purpose of drawing all peoples to Himself in an inclusive way. Israel was meant to become God’s “light to the nations,” revealing Him to the world. Despite this lofty vocation, Israel had remained essentially closed off to the world. Now, with the birth of Jesus Christ and the magi approaching him from the east, it is clear that this original plan of God was finally being fulfilled.

In modern English, we typically use the word “epiphany” to mean a sudden insight or intuition. It is generally a personal and private phenomenon. But the original meaning of epiphany is the public revelation or manifestation of something. The Epiphany of the Lord is the moment when Christ was revealed to the nations, the Gentiles, who are represented by the magi. Shortly after his birth, the shepherds had come to see him. As Jews, they represented the people of Israel acknowledging their Savior. But now, the magi seek him out and come to worship him. As non-Jewish foreigners, they already foreshadow the Gentiles who will later believe in him and be baptized.

Since most of us are Christians who descend from non-Jewish roots, it’s easy for us to take for granted that the Gentiles should be included. However, in our second reading from Ephesians, St. Paul says that the mystery of the Gentiles’ inclusion in God’s plan of salvation “was not made known to people in other generations,” and that it was “made known to [him] by revelation.” Despite Christ’s teachings about Gentiles and his encounters with them, it took special revelation to convince Paul, Peter, and the other disciples that the Gentiles were heirs of God’s promises.

There are a few spiritual laws on display in Matthew’s account of the visit of the magi. We could summarize them as: 1) those who seek God, find Him; 2) those who find Him, worship Him; and 3) those who worship Him, share Him.

Seek

God had said to the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer 29:13). And Christ said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Lk 11:9). The Magi seek Christ using reason and faith. They ask, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” Like the magi who followed the star. we too experience God’s handiwork in nature. We can learn about Him indirectly through His creation. But nature is not God. Notice that the star did not lead the magi all the way to Jesus. They had to consult Sacred Scripture in order to find him. And of course, it was only by coming into his presence that they could worship him.

Find

“They were overjoyed at seeing the star and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.” The magi had assumed that Jesus would be in Jerusalem with the king and other “important” people. Instead, they found him in the lowest place: a manger, a feeding trough for animals.

Worship

“They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Today, all of us have been affected to some degree by consumerism. “What’s in it for me? What can I get out of this?” We do have real spiritual needs, but these questions miss the main point. The example of the magi reminds us that the center of worship is sacrifice — in other words, giving and not receiving.

Mission

“ . . . they departed for their country by another way.” We don’t know what became of the magi or what they did to share about their experience. But we do know that they were changed by their encounter with Jesus and that they followed God’s will by protecting Jesus from Herod.

Every Mass is a Christmas: The incarnate Christ becomes present again in humble form. And every time we come to Mass, it is an Epiphany: The Lord is revealed to us. We are to be like the magi: we seek the Lord, we find him here, we worship him by offering our gifts, and we leave as changed people.

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 14, 2024

Readings: 1 Sm 3:3b–10, 19 • Ps 40:2, 4, 7–8, 8–9, 10 • 1 Cor 6:13c–15a, 17–20 • Jn 1:35–42 bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/011424.cfm

Last Sunday we celebrated the Epiphany, when the infant Jesus was visited by the magi. Today, we have entered Ordinary Time and in the Gospel we are again presented with the adult Jesus. The Sundays and weeks of Ordinary Time lead us through the life of Christ, emphasizing his ministry and teachings so that we can mature as his disciples. With this in mind, it makes sense that we should begin Ordinary Time by returning to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and his calling of the first disciples. In fact, our readings this Sunday in general have a theme of vocation, of hearing the call of the Lord and responding properly.

In our first reading, the prophet Samuel is only a boy and is hearing the voice of God for the first time. This whole scene is rich with lessons on the spiritual life. Before we consider these lessons, we need to remember that, while perhaps most of us won’t receive the rare gift of hearing the audible voice of God, all of us can hear God speak to us in various ways, especially through Sacred Scripture, the teaching of the Church, our conscience, and in our own prayer. Jesus himself says that, because we are his sheep, we know him and can hear his voice. But we have to learn to distinguish his voice from that of strangers (see John chapter 10).

Now, back to Samuel. First, we hear that “Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was.” If we want to hear God’s voice, to know His will for our life and receive His guidance, we need to place ourselves in His presence in concrete ways. As Catholics, of course, this ideally looks like spending time before the Eucharist, whether during exposition or simply in the tabernacle.

Second, Samuel has a posture of obedience and readiness. While at first he mistakes the voice of God for the voice of the priest Eli, his response is telling: “Here I am. You called me.” This simple response implies humble obedience and an eagerness to serve. In our Responsorial Psalm, we prayed to have this same disposition: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Third, Samuel is persistent; he doesn’t become frustrated or give up when he doesn’t understand what is happening. Instead, he obediently follows Eli’s instructions. Sometimes we are quick to judge our prayer as fruitless or ineffective. But we need to trust the process: God wants us to form us in humility and obedience so that we can receive what He wants to give us.

Finally, Samuel hears the Lord and responds, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” His disposition of humility and openness allows the Lord to use him as a great prophet. We are told that he “grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” This applies also to us: if we spend time in the Lord’s presence, we will carry that presence in a powerful way. We will be living tabernacles, or as St. Paul says in our second reading, “temples of the Holy Spirit.” People are supposed to experience God when they encounter us. Also, like Samuel, we will only be able to speak effectively on behalf of God to the extent that we have listened humbly.

Looking briefly at the Gospel reading, it has a very similar theme of responding to God’s call. Just as Samuel required the advice of Eli, the first disciples needed help from trusted people in order to follow the Lord. John the Baptist points out Jesus as the Lamb of God to his disciples, who follow Jesus as a result. One of them is Andrew, who in turn brings his brother Peter to Jesus. None of us is alone as we seek to know God better, to hear His voice and follow His will. While personal prayer is extremely important, we should not seek the Lord in total isolation. No one has a monopoly on the Holy Spirit or the ability to hear God’s voice. Rather, God speaks to each of us and He gives everyone a variety of gifts so that we need to rely on each other. To use Paul’s image, the Body of Christ is interdependent, with each member both serving and needing all the others. This is certainly true of the variety of vocations, but also more generally of the way the Church lives her mission of proclaiming the Gospel.

Jesus, Good Shepherd, help us to hear your voice clearly in the midst of so many other voices. Increase our desire for your presence and your words. Give us the help we need in following you, and use us to bring others to you. Amen.

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 21, 2024

Readings: Jon 3:1–5, 10 • Ps 25:4–5, 6–7, 8–9 • 1 Cor 7:29–31 • Mk 1:14–20 https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012124.cfm

Like last Sunday, our readings this Sunday again have a theme of vocation. Today, however, the emphasis is on the urgency of obeying God’s call. In the story of Jonah, God gives Jonah the apparently impossible task of calling the entire large city of Nineveh to repentance. Jonah was both the most reluctant prophet in history and the most successful. No other prophet resisted his calling more, but also, no other prophet saw greater fruit when delivering God’s message. The story of Jonah illustrates that, while God uses us as His instruments, His will ultimately is not thwarted by our disobedience. We need to cooperate with His will as much as possible, but He determines the outcome, and we are foolish if we attribute our success to our own efforts. As St. Paul said, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth” (1 Cor 3:7).

There is one phrase in this first reading that always merits some explanation. After the people of Nineveh fasted and turned away from evil, we are told that God “repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” There are other places in the Old Testament where God is described as changing His mind or regretting some action of His. What are we to make of this? This really is not a theological problem. First, in the drama of the storytelling, the human authors of the Scriptures sometimes anthropomorphize God by attributing certain human emotions and moods to Him. God does not literally have such emotions, but He is not disinterested—He is personally involved in His creation and engages us with loving concern.

Second, when God threatens some punishment, Scripture sometimes describes the punishment as inevitable when in reality it is conditional. The case of Nineveh is a perfect example: God’s literal message to them through Jonah was, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.” It seems hopeless. However, the fact that God did not destroy Nineveh shows that His original threat was actually conditional upon their repentance. In order to highlight God’s mercy in response to their repentance, the sacred author describes God as “repenting of the evil he had threatened.” The simple but powerful point is that God’s mercy is conditional upon our repentance. God Himself does not change, but our ability to receive His grace and mercy does change depending on our disposition. Another powerful lesson from Nineveh is that the time to repent and convert is always now. The present moment is all that we have — “later” is not a reality or something guaranteed to us. In St. Paul’s words, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).

In both the second reading and the Gospel, we see that the ability to follow God’s will is dependent upon detachment. St. Paul tells the Corinthians about the urgency of salvation and presents five paradoxes: they should marry, weep, rejoice, buy, and use the world as if they were not doing these things. This sounds strange — what does Paul mean? Certainly, he cannot mean that Christians should simply abandon these things altogether. Rather, he is urging them to set their hearts on God and eternal life. Even the best things in this life, such as marriage, are only temporary. The only realities that will remain with us into eternity are God, ourselves, and our relationship with Him. When we treat the passing things of this life as if they had ultimate or lasting importance, we make them idols and expect a happiness from them which they simply cannot provide. This leads to attachments and addictions. But when we love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our being, and all our strength, we are free to enjoy the good things of this life in a healthy way, as blessings of God and signs to us of His goodness. As Christ himself says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:33).

In the Gospel, we see that the first disciples, while certainly far from perfect, were apparently detached enough from their identity and livelihood as fishermen that they were able to leave this behind the instant that Christ called them. For James and John, who were probably only teenagers, this also meant leaving their own father behind. Was their father important to them? Absolutely. Did they love him? Undoubtedly. But God is the most important thing. Although they hadn’t yet heard this teaching, James and John were literally observing Christ’s words, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37). This message is very challenging to many people. The key to accepting it is to trust that, however painful it may be at times, doing God’s will always enables us to love the people in our life even more. If anything or anyone stands in the way of us following God completely, we need to reevaluate our relationship with that thing or person.

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – January 28, 2024

Readings: Dt 18:15–20 • Ps 95:1–2, 6–7, 7–9 • 1 Cor 7:32–35 • Mk 1:21–28 bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/012824.cfm

Almost all disagreements in theological matters come down to authority. When something about God or His will for us is unclear, who or what has the final word? In Christianity and Judaism, God has always raised up certain people as His representatives who speak authoritatively on His behalf. He usually gives clear signs that authenticate the authority of these representatives. The most common sign is the working of miracles.

Clearly, this was the case for Moses. The Israelites believed Moses when he relayed God’s words to them because they witnessed firsthand how God used Him in supernatural ways. The idea of God choosing to speak to a very small number of people who in turn are given authority over everyone else can be offensive to our modern sensibilities of democracy and egalitarianism. Already at the time of Moses, it was not easy for people to accept. Even Aaron and Miriam, who served God alongside Moses, once became indignant and complained, “Is it through Moses alone that the Lord has spoken? Has he not spoken through us also?” (Num 12:2).

Of course, in principle, God can speak to anyone, and He does speak to us all in various ways. The problem is that when everyone believes that they have equal access to God’s revelation and do not need anyone else, chaos ensues. This is the problem with the Protestant Reformers and their notion of “sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone). This idea was supposed to embrace Scripture as the only authority for understanding the Faith. In practice, however, history has shown that “Scripture alone” inevitably devolves into each person being his or her own Magisterium. God knows that we need human authorities, and so throughout salvation history, He has provided them. Of course, they are always imperfect, and Moses himself was no exception. But the sins and flaws of God’s representatives never give us the right to ignore them. God Himself says, “Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it.”

The prophets did not only speak on God’s behalf. They also received unique revelation of Him. A person has authority to speak for God in proportion to how much He has revealed to him. Thus it is no accident that Moses was the most authoritative prophet in the Old Testament, for Scripture describes says this of him: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a person speaks to a friend” (Ex 33:11). No one else after Moses had this kind of relationship with God, and so no one else had his authority. But in the first reading, God promised to Moses, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin.”

Jesus Christ fulfills this promise — he is the prophet like Moses, the one who speaks to God face to face. As the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son” (Heb 1:1–2). In the Bread of Life discourse, Christ himself says, “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father” (Jn 6:45–46). Christ claims to reveal God and speak authoritatively for God in a completely unprecedented way. Because of this, in a way very similar to the Old Testament prophets, Christ performed signs and wonders that authenticated his teachings and claims. He did not merely speak eloquently or try to persuade people with arguments. Instead, he perfectly revealed God by both words and deeds, proclamation and demonstration.

Our Gospel reading today is a classic example. When Christ was teaching in the synagogue, the people were already marveling at the authority with which he spoke, which was so different from how the scribes taught them. As if trying to undermine this teaching authority, a demoniac disrupts him by crying out and causing a scene. Christ immediately exorcizes the demon, which naturally amazes everyone and makes them wonder, “What is this? A new teaching with authority.” Christ had already impressed them by the authority of his words, and now he confirms this authority by his deeds. Christ reveals the Father by words and deeds. He is the epitome of authenticity: what he says and does perfectly coincides with who he is.

In the Church today, people rightly demand authenticity from Church leaders as those who represent God and speak on His behalf. People have a right to demand that those who teach about God actually know Him and spend time with Him in prayer, speaking to Him “as a person speaks to a friend.” Authority of office is real and important, and we cannot ignore or dismiss it. But in order to be effective, authority of office must be complemented by authority of experience and authority of charism. In other words, a person must really know and love God in order to speak of Him authoritatively. As much as we rightly expect this authenticity from our Church leaders and pray for them to have it, do we ourselves sincerely pursue the Lord? Do we have a disposition of humble obedience to those the Lord has given us as His representatives on earth? We cannot wait until these men are perfect before we will follow them. In the words of St. Paul, God gives us His treasure in clay vessels (2 Cor 4:7). None of us possesses the full revelation of who God is and what He wills. Our only choice is to humble ourselves and allow God to teach, feed, and protect us through His Church. Only in heaven, when we have finally been prepared to see God, will we no longer need mediators.

And so, in closing, St. Paul reassures us, “We know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. [. . .] At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor 13:9–10, 12).

Fr. Christopher Trummer About Fr. Christopher Trummer

Fr. Christopher Trummer is a priest of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. He completed a Licentiate in Sacred Theology in Moral Theology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. He currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Springfield, associate delegate for Health Care Professionals, and associate chaplain of the Springfield Chapter of the Catholic Physicians Guild/Catholic Medical Association.

Comments

  1. Avatar Ginny Kearney Allen says:

    The simple but powerful point is that God’s mercy is conditional upon our repentance. God Himself does not change, but our ability to receive His grace and mercy does change depending on our disposition. Another powerful lesson from Nineveh is that the time to repent and convert is always now. The present moment is all that we have — “later” is not a reality or something guaranteed to us. In St. Paul’s words, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)

    If God’s mercy is conditional on our repentance ,why do we think we have to be merciful before there is a change.in someone we are willing to forgive.

    ​A.M.D.G.
    In God’s Love and mine.
    Ginny Kearney Allen
    255 Sea Road
    Kennebunk, Maine 04043
    207-967-0724

    • Avatar Fr. Christopher Trummer says:

      Hi Ginny!
      Thank you for your question! I would say that God offers mercy to us sinners even before we repent, but that redemption and salvation only take place fully when we repent. In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul makes it clear that God did not wait for us to admit our need for a Savior before sending us His Son:
      “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (…) while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (…) while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5:6-8,10).
      God always takes the initiative, and we respond: “We love because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).
      Of course, we also believe that God heals original sin through Baptism even for infants and other people who are personally incapable of making a profession of faith, and that the faith of their parents or guardians is sufficient. But eventually, we all have to respond personally to God’s offer of mercy.
      As far as our willingness to forgive and show mercy to others is concerned, God’s example teaches us that when we extend mercy to others—even before they change or ask for forgiveness—this act of love can be the very thing that opens them to repent and reconcile.

      I hope this helps a bit!
      Pax,
      Fr. Christopher Trummer

  2. Avatar Satheesh Jose says:

    It is a good attempt, it gives good insights to prepare a homily.

  3. Avatar Fr Michael Barry says:

    Father, thank you for your outstanding homilies – all with helpful, concrete, teachable insights.

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