In his book, Go down to the potter’s house, Don O’Shea has a story about a king who had two artists in his realm who were bitter rivals.
One day the king said, “I want to decide once and for all which of you is the better artist. You must paint the same subject, so that I can judge between you. And what I want you to paint is your vision of PEACE.”
The two artists accepted the challenge, and a month later came back with their paintings.
The first artist painted a dreamy landscape with rolling hills and a lake without a ripple on the surface. The whole painting spoke of contentment and stillness – which was his depiction of peace.
However, as the king looked at the picture – he could barely suppress a yawn. Then turning to the artist he said, “your picture is pretty, but it puts me to sleep.”
Then the second artist presented his painting. It showed a thundering waterfall crashing over a steep cliff. It was so realistic that one could almost hear the roar of the water as it crashed onto the rocks - hundreds of feet below.
“But this is not a painting of peace as I ordered,” the king said angrily.
The artist made no reply but motioned to the king to come closer to the painting to see all of its details.
It was then that the king spotted something which had escaped him at first.
There among the rocks at the base of the waterfall – a small shrub was growing. And in the small shrub – a bird’s nest sat in the branches.
And upon looking even closer – the king saw a bird in the nest – a sparrow, sitting calmly on its eggs, her eyes half-closed as she patiently waited for her babies to be hatched.
On seeing all these minute details – the king was delighted at what he thought was a perfect picture of peace.
Turning to the artist the king said, “I like your painting very much – as it conveys a very important message about peace – and that is– it is possible to be at peace even in the midst of the chaos of life swirling around you.”
Jesus spoke to his disciples about peace in the farewell he is giving them in today’s Gospel from John. He was soon to leave them – and he wanted them to know a few things before he left – like:
“Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you. Not as the world gives it do I give it to you. So do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”
It was a strange time for Jesus to be speaking about peace – because everything was in turmoil around him. One of his own was about to betray him. Within the hour he would be arrested and before the cock crowed – would be denied three times by his closest friend.
How, then, was Jesus able to talk about peace?
Because the peace Jesus speaks of is being in union with God. And Jesus was in perfect union with God. Which is like the bird at the bottom of the waterfall. With the chaos of life swirling around him - Jesus could talk about peace even as his enemies were closing in on him and death was just around the corner.
Because the peace Jesus talks about is NOT tranquility – which is an external thing – something which occasionally can surround us.
But the peace Jesus talks about and offers to us – is a state of inner calm – which one achieves by being in union with God and with others.
So an essential component of the peace of the kingdom of God — is righteousness – being in right relationship with God and others – and hence there is no peace for the wicked.
Peace results when one trusts God, and when the desire to be like God is the dominant force in one’s life. This is something which we can have even if, and especially if, we are in the midst of turmoil, conflict, and unresolved problems.
It is not the outer circumstances of our lives which brings us peace – but the inner state of our minds and hearts.
This is the peace that Jesus offers us: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”
This peace is not the calm of escaping from reality. It is something so deep it is independent of outer circumstances. It is the peace which surpasses all understanding, the peace which this world cannot give – and most especially – the peace no one can take away from us.
God, to believe in you and your word – even in the midst of the storms of life – can provide a place of peace for us.
In the midst of the seemingly impossible demands, deadlines and tasks at hand, our hearts and minds can be at rest in You.
Strength and boldness are released into us as we confidently rest in your peace.
In your presence we are refreshed, restored, and renewed in Jesus’ name. AMEN!
It happens to all of us. . . at weddings, at graduations, and at going away parties. It happens in nursing homes, cemeteries, in hospitals, and on playgrounds.
And many times we are embarrassed when it happens and we try to stop – but it’s always more healthy to continue than to stop.
Sister of Notre Dame, Melannie Svoboda, tells of the time it happened to her in a funeral home:
An elderly widow named Mrs. Benish lived down the road from our farm in a tiny white house nestled in a grove of trees.
Although she had several grown children, she lived alone. For many years she had been our babysitter, one we were fond of.
But when I was about 10 – she died suddenly in her sleep.
Hers was one of the first deaths to make a real impact on me. I remember going to her wake with the rest of my family and even surprised myself – when I burst into tears when I saw her motionless body in the casket.
Embarrassed by my tears, I sought refuge in a chair in a remote corner of the room – away from everyone else.
Suddenly – a man appeared out of nowhere and squatted down on the floor next to my chair. I did not know who he was — but I will always remember what he said to me.
He began by saying, “you must have loved Mrs. Benish very much.” Unable to speak, I nodded a few times.
Then he said, “Always remember this: never be ashamed of your tears. Only rocks don’t cry.”
Even back then, I somehow comprehended the simple - yet profound - truth of his words. Rocks don’t cry. . . never be ashamed of your tears. . . you must have loved very much.
Yes, it is because we LOVE that we shed tears: both tears of joy – and tears of sadness.
It is because we LOVE those who are getting married, graduating, or leaving behind a job or a home — that we shed tears.
It is because we LOVE the one in the nursing home, or being lowered into the ground, or about to have surgery, or being picked on at recess – that we shed tears.
It’s only if we are a rock – unmoving, unengaged, unloving – that our tears can be spared.
As one of my mentors simply states: tears are the cost of our love.
Or as the writer Washington Irving says:
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness - but of power.
Tears are messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unfathomable love. So let the tears come.
And hopefully we will be blessed to have people like the stranger in Sister Melanie’s life who tell us it is okay to cry – or be blessed by people like Josh in our life.
Josh was a ten year old boy who, when out playing in the neighborhood –was supposed to be home by 6:00 for supper.
One night, he wasn’t home at 6:00. And the later it got, the more worried his mother became.
When he finally did arrive home, his mom wasn’t very patient with him and immediately launched into how she was worried and afraid that something had happened to him. She told him if he could not make it home on time –
he should have at least called. “Why were you late anyway?” she asked with more than a quiet, understanding voice. . .
Josh said, “well, I would have been home on time. But a couple of blocks from home I came across my friend Tommy. He was upset and crying because his bike was broken – so I stopped to help.”
“Why?” asked his mother in that rather loud motherly voice. “You don’t know a thing about fixing bikes.”
“I know that,” Josh said. “But I do know how to cry. So that’s how I helped my friend – I sat and cried with him. . .”
Josh knew the wisdom that comes from an old saying: Tears of sadness shared – are halved. While tears of joy shared – are doubled.”
We can’t always FIX things for people – in fact, most times we are kind of crazy if we even try. But what we can do – is share their tears – especially their tears of sorrow.
We cry because we love – and we can help others BECAUSE we love – as Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel: “as I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”
And do as the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer for Special Occasions calls us to: We need to “keep attentive to the needs of all so that, sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope –
we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation and go forward with them along the way of Christ’s kingdom.”
We are all members of the Good Shepherd’s flock. And we follow him best when we imitate his care and concern for others.
The words of the Good Shepherd are words of healing – and so should ours.
His are words of peace, love, and hope – and so should ours.
Together, we walk on the journey of life. And together we help bear each other’s sorrow and share each other’s joy. . .
And we should have no shame of shedding tears, because after all, we are told in the shortest verse of the New Testament, that Jesus wept. He wept over the loss of his friend, Lazarus.
Tears are a sign of our love, our humanity and our vulnerability.
Pope Francis has referred several times in his homilies to “the gift of tears” which he believes leads us to showing mercy and empathy to those in need.
And then, as Christians – we live in the possibility and hope of what Eric Clapton sings in one of his songs:
Beyond the door.
There’s peace, I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven.
But we don’t have to take Eric Clapton’s word on that – we have God’s word that we heard both last week and this week in the Book of Revelation – which captured my attention and heart and led me to preach this homily.
Last week, the Book of Revelation told us:
“For the lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
And today we heard: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, God will always be with them as their God – and God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”
Yes, there will be no more tears in heaven because all of those things that cause us to shed tears of sorrow here on earth will be no more – no more death, or mourning, wailing or pain. No more sickness, failed dreams, frustrations or bullying.
And we will know God is with us – which is another cause of our tears here on earth when we think God has abandoned us –
when we forget that God is always with us. God never gives up on us.
That God is always willing to give us another chance – ALL because GOD LOVES US!
I do think, however, Clapton is only partially right — for I do believe there will still be tears of joy in heaven. I mean when I get to see my mother and father again – and you get to see your loved ones again – and they get to see us – how could there not be tears of joy??? Which, when shared – will double.
How quickly time flies – as it is already the 4th Sunday of Easter – I don’t remember Lent going by this fast!
So two stories today.
The first is about a pop quiz given to a class of nursing students in their first year of training.
Most of the students did well on the quiz until they came to the last question – which they all left blank, with a few unsuccessful guesses. . .
The last questions was:
“What is the name of the person who cleans your dorm?”
The students all thought the question was a joke. But when they got their quizzes back – they all had it marked wrong.
They all protested but the professor said, “her name is Jill.”
And went on to say, “you will meet many people in your careers. All of them are significant. They deserve your attention and your care and most especially your respect. Even if all you can do is smile and wish them a good day – do it!”
The students all remembered the lesson – and all spoke to Jill the next time they saw her.
To be a disciple of Jesus Christ demands that we respond to every person the same way the Good Shepherd responds.
Every person deserves our attention and our care and most especially our respect – because each person possesses the sacred dignity of being created in the image and likeness of God. Every person is a unique reflection of God.
This is why the charity of a Christian must reach beyond his or her own family and friends – beyond the parish community – and even beyond the needs of one’s own country.
As Christians, we have to be concerned about those who are hurt, starving, suffering, or dying throughout the world.
Our charity cannot be limited by anything including the parameters of our faith community.
Mother Theresa, for example, reached out to the poor of Calcutta. Most of these people were Hindi — not Christian. We help others because WE are Catholic – not because they are Catholic – everyone is created in the image and likeness of God. . .
Maybe someone is waiting to hear our words and see our actions that include them into the Lord’s flock.
It’s so easy to say that we need to reach out to others – but often times difficult to do.
It seems like we’re always on the run – totally oblivious to a neighbor who is rather down.
Or as parents who might be so caught up in the hectic schedule of our children with gymnastics, dance, school, scouts, sports – that we might not notice that our children have needs far greater than all the activities we take them to.
It’s often the case that others tend to need our support and love the most – when we are at our busiest.
Following the Good Shepherd requires our never being too busy to be aware of and to respond to those around us who need our love and attention.
The second story is about Maria, a little 9 year old blind girl, who lived with her father in a large New York City apartment building.
Maria’s father usually did not leave her alone – but he had to run our and pick up a few things - so left her watching – listening actually –
to a television program.
He spent more time out than he planned and when he rounded the corner to their building – the street was full of fire trucks and hoses, and fire personnel.
He looked up and to his horror – it was his section of the building that was ablaze.
And there, on the ledge outside the window of his apartment – was a terrified Maria – huddled into a ball.
The fire fighters could not maneuver the truck in such a way to reach the girl, so they had set up a net and told her to jump. She was frozen in fear.
Then her father took a bull horn and called to her. “Maria,” he said, “Daddy’s here. I’ll take care of you. You just need to jump when I tell you to. Are you ready?”
Maria stood up and said, “I’m ready.” Then he shouted – “Okay, jump on three. One. Two. Three.” – and she jumped safely into the net. She was so completely relaxed that she did not even strain a muscle from the three story fall. All because she trusted the voice that she knew loved her.
There is a voice calling us to jump – to take a risk.
But sometimes the noise of our lives is so loud, that we don’t hear the voice. But the voice is still there – and we need to hear it.
It is the voice of the Good Shepherd – the voice of Jesus speaking to us in the quiet of our hearts, in the love of our family and friends, in the cries of the needy calling out to us.
The voice of the Good Shepherd calls us out to us calmly and lovingly.
He tells us to jump from our places of comfort – to take a leap of faith. He tells us to trust in him because he is taking care of us.
The Good Shepherd is the risen Lord. He is with us. He will never leave us alone. Today we ask the Lord to allow us to slow down and hear his voice. And to respond to his call with open hearts.
Sorry for being off line for so long! I had computer problems and other things going on -- but looking forward to continuing our spiritual journey this weekend for the 4th Sunday of Easter! Fr. Matthew
You may have heard to the tragedy we had in our community this week. Tena Fiest – a 4th grader in our school – died in a fire early Thursday morning.
Her parents remain in critical condition at KU Medical Center. Please pray for Tena and her family.
You may want to look at the butterflies on the steps of the altar after Mass. Everyone in school wrote something they enjoyed or will miss about Tena on them.
For us – it’s a good time to make sure our smoke detectors work in our homes – and that we have a plan for getting out in case a fire does occur.
It’s time for a revelation: call it a Matthew moment. For the last 20 years or so – I have been hooked ---- on---- Harry Potter!
I first got hooked on the books – because I wondered what could be so interesting that young people were reading 500 and 600 page books?
And so I bought a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – and was easily hooked into the escapism that the book offered.
If you have any familiarity with any of the books or the movies – you probably know all about Bertie Botts Every Flavored Beans.
They are inspired by the traditional muggle, that is human --candy known as Jelly Beans --- but they come in all different flavors – some no one would expect.
From great hits like marshmallow or watermelon, to some horrible surprises like ear wax or rotten eggs --- and perhaps even a few hidden treats like toothpaste or grass --- with Bertie Botts
Flavored Beans --- there really is as many flavors as there are people. . . because if you can imagine it – then it is possible.
So what about faith? And what about holiness? And what about Catholic parishes. . . Do they only come in a few flavors – or are there many???
St. Paul tells us “there are different kinds of spiritual gifts – but the same Spirit;
-there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
-there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.”
Do we really believe this???? And the reason I ask is because, on the surface, it seems probably not.
And I’m not talking about how Catholics view the rest of the world. We’ll leave that for another day.
No, I’m talking about how Catholics view other Catholics – how we view those sitting on our left and on our right ---------- in a literal sense as to who is sitting in the pew next to us --------
but also in a figurative sense – as to how one falls on the liberal to the conservative scale.
Do we think that all faithfulness looks exactly the same? Do we believe that Catholics are expected (dare I say – commanded) to be carbon-copies of each other??
Do we believe there is only one way to be holy, one way to worship – that faith and holiness and reverence only come in one flavor, one color, one expression????
I think it takes deep faith ----- to embrace what St. Paul is getting at – that God’s work is accomplished through our DIFFERENCES not our SIMILARITIES.
That God’s work is accomplished through COUNTLESS gifts, not just a few – accomplished through unique and often complex individuals coming together for a greater purpose, a greater good --- coming together to help bring about the world God envisions and hopes for and died to make possible.
But this can’t happen if we over-romanticize the so called “good old days” – the days when Catholicism ONLY seemed to come in one flavor, when Catholics seemed to never have a reason to disagree, or wonder about things, or wrestle with how best to follow after Christ.
For good or bad ---- those days are gone – IF they ever really existed --- and they are not coming back no matter how many altars are turned around of Latin Masses are said – and one could easily argue that those days should NOT come back.
After all ---- we have been through an ecumenical council -------- called by the Holy Spirit working in and through Pope John 23rd ----------- and a council inspired by the Holy Spirit working through over 2,000 Bishops ----- who approved 16 documents, the first one being on the reform of the liturgy ----- all passed by a vast majority.
The Second Vatican council calls the Church NOT to avoid the world – but to engage it --- by being leaven ---
That is a pervasive influence that modifies something or transforms it for the better.
This is what the Church --- and we are the Church – the People of God--- are called to do.
And, if we really are going to be leaven in the world --- if we are truly going to help transform the world into something great and meaningful and loving ----- it’s going to take all of us ---- all of us using our very unique gifts and abilities and insights and perspectives and ideas to help bring it about.
And it can’t happen if each one of us, or each parish, or each priest --- thinks they have cornered the market on holiness – if we think that everyone has to do it our way.
It can’t happen if we think that all that matters is what we believe --- and not what we do.
And it can’t happen if we think all that matters is what we do – and not what we believe.
And it can’t happen if we think holiness means we have to vote a certain way, or pray a certain way, or talk about the Church in a certain way, or even talk about God in a certain way.
So last week, with the help of the Scriptures – we found out we are called to be followers of Christ.
This week – we find out we are called to be leaven, a change element – in the world. . .
Each of us has something to offer – something given to us by God ---- we don’t have to try to be like anyone else or envious of anyone else --- for part of being Church is the ability to recognize the gifts of one another and embrace them --------- not simply try to tolerate them and certainly not dismissing them.
I guess you could say that the best way to live out our faith --- the best way to be disciples of Jesus Christ – the adopted daughters and sons of the living God ---
is to let Christ TRANSFORM each of us into the wonderful individual God is calling us to be --- allow God to take what looks ordinary – like water – and bring about the finest wine.
But don’t forget – even though we may all be growing on the same vine, in the same vineyard and nourished and cultivated and pruned by the same vine-grower ----- the wine we produce is the result of all of us getting crushed and mixed together.
It’s each of our individual variety mixed together that keeps the celebration going and the Church growing – always moving forward – never backward and that keeps God’s love and mercy and compassion alive and well in the world.
And who knows – maybe there is something in you or in me the world and the Church has never yet experienced and desperately needs . . . and is just waiting for to offer -----------and we find that out ---TOGETHER.
Peter Parrot came home upset and confused.
“What’s wrong?” – his mother asked.
“I hate my stupid beak!” Peter blurted out.
“Why do you hate your beak? I think it’s beautiful,” his mother said--- trying to reassure him.
“But all my friends have much cooler beaks than I do: Patty Pelican. Harry Hawk. Freddy Finch. . .”
Peter’s mother sat silently for a moment. Sometimes a mother has to think pretty quickly of what to say in order to heal a wounded ego. . . “Peter may be right,” she thought to herself, “they do have pretty cool beaks.”
But that’s not what she said. “you should go see Major Macaw, he’ll know what to tell you. He’s the wisest of the parrots and lives in the tallest tree in the forest. Yes, he will know what to say.” This is what Peter’s mom told him.
So off Peter flew to the tallest tree in the forest to find Major Macaw.
“Excuse me Major, I have a problem,” said Peter. “Oh dear, what can it be?” asked the venerable Macaw.
“I have a stupid beak – why can’t I have a cool beak like my friends?”
“You’re right,” said the macaw. “Your friends do have cool beaks. Tell me Peter, do you like eating fish?”
“Yuck! That would be disgusting!” responded Peter.
“Well that’s what Patty Pelican’s beak is designed for. So what’s your taste for rabbits and mice?”
“Gross,” said Peter.
“OK so maybe you should not aspire to have Harry Hawk’s beak. How about small seeds?”
“They’re not so bad, but my favorite is Brazil nuts,” explained Peter, salivating at the thought.
“Tell me Peter, if you had the beak of a pelican, hawk or finch – do you think you could eat a Brazil nut?”
“I guess not,” said Peter.
“You see, young parrot, you have been designed a certain way, with certain skills, attributes, and tastes. Don’t waste your life being envious of the capacities of others – just make sure that you know what you’re good at ---- and why you are here.”
The lesson Major Macaw is trying to teach Peter Parrot – sounds awfully close to being what Joey’s mother tried to teach him in the story we had on Christmas about the 3rd shepherd on the left ----
We don’t have to waste our time or energy being like anyone else. What’s important is the person God has created us to be – and to go about being that person the best we can.
So as Christ invites us to journey through another liturgical year – year C of the lectionary cycle when we read mostly from St. Luke’s Gospel --- may we come all the more to an understanding of who God has called us to be.
So let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start:
Let’s start with our Baptism. . .for once the life-giving waters of Baptism are poured on our heads – then like the Magi of last week –
we have to go home by another route – because we are set on a journey different than everyone else – we are called to look up and find the star – to find the light of Christ – and then we are to follow that light every day ----
So let’s remember what our parents and godparents first promised for us at our Baptism – and we have had many opportunities to renew since then – by responding I DO to the following questions:
Do you reject Satan?
And all his works?
And all his empty promises?
Do you believe in God, the Father almighty creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of God?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. If you are proud to profess and will strive to live it – then say: AMEN!
Amen – so be it. We have just said that we will do our best to live our lives following after Christ ---
that’s the first thing we need to come to know about who God is calling us to be – followers of Jesus Christ.
In Baptism, we become God’s beloved daughters and sons – and God is well pleased with us.
And to continue to discover who God is calling us to be – we need to listen to the call that comes to us in the Scriptures, be nourished by the Body of Christ – and to find support, challenge and encouragement from others ----------------- all of which we find in this place Sunday after Sunday.
By immersing ourselves in the grace that is found in this place – we continue to discover who God is calling us to be ----
and gain the courage and strength to choose God’s call ----- instead of giving in to who the world is calling us to be.
And that’s why I think it is wise for us from time to time to revisit just how committed we are to being members of this particular Body of Christ at St. Patrick.
In the Christmas card you received several weeks ago – I tried to lay out as best I could – the covenant relationship we are in when we belong to a parish.
In this relationship -- the parish provides certain things for us:
-opportunities to grow and strengthen our faith
-opportunities to live our faith in service to others
-life-long learning opportunities to deepen our understanding of the faith
-the challenge to practice good stewardship of all our financial contributions
-and the opportunities to develop lasting friendships within a faith community.
AND IN TURN – to uphold our end of the relationship each of us must decide to:
-regularly attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days
-participate in ministry and events that puts our God given gifts and talents to use for the good of all.
-prayerfully consider how we can support the parish spiritually and financially
-support the mission of the parish
-and to pray regularly for the parish and our fellow parishioners.
If we can’t do all of these things – then choose to do something --- something to show that you are committed to this parish – because it takes all of us, working together ---- to make this place the special place that it is.
In the card, you were asked to print your names on the bottom of the slip – and bring them here today -- there are baskets to drop them in when you come up for Communion -------
But don’t worry if you forgot ---- starting next weekend – there will be a bowl at the Baptismal Font where you can drop them in.
Again, the important thing in all of this is for you to just take a few minutes to prayerfully reflect on what this parish means to you --- and then make some kind of commitment to continue making this place a spiritual home for you – and all who gather here Sunday after Sunday.
PLEASE MAKE THE COMMITMENT THAT AS FOR YOU AND YOUR HOUSE---YOU WILL SERVE THE LORD!
Our Lady of Knock. Our Lady of Guadalupe. Mother of Divine Grace. Mother of Sorrows –
The particular website I looked up to list the titles or names of Mary ---- listed more than 200.
Mystical Rose. Our Lady of the Angels. Mary untier of knots – one of Pope Francis’ favorites. . .
All of this led me to wonder what title Mary would choose of herself. . .
My guess is that she would have shied away from the notion, would have strongly resisted doing such a thing – after all, choosing a title for ourselves does seem a bit presumptuous. . .
But if Mary had too – my guess would be her choice of LOWLY SERVANT –one of the translations of a well-known line from her Magnificat – the
hymn-like proclamation she makes to her cousin Elizabeth upon visiting her.
LOWLY SERVANT. The title seems to suit her, or at least suits how we imagine her to be. . . and are lead to believe in the Scriptures. LOWLY SERVANT: a title which could never be construed as something overly lofty, or self-centered, or reflecting any overt importance.
But what about “Mother of God?”
Now that’s a title that really sounds like something! Mother of God. It is filled with a sense of importance – an achievement of something lofty, powerful, and special.
And yet nothing could be further from the truth – for this title of Mary is at its core a faith-filled affirmation of the Incarnation – a resounding declaration that God really did become one of us – really broke into our world fully in the person of Jesus Christ – the one whom Mary bore and gave birth to.
In the first few centuries after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the faithful were wrestling with all sorts of big questions – questions surrounding exactly who Jesus was: just a man, totally God disguised as a human, some combination of the two. .
And so the institutional Church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, needed to settle some of these matters – needed to clarify for the faithful some of these profound truths. . .
And so it was at the Council of Ephesus in the year 431 – that the Church gave the formal teaching that Mary was to be referred to as Theotokos – a Greek word meaning “God bearer”.
This was the Church’s way of making sure the faithful knew that God the Son – the second person of the Holy Trinity – truly took on our human nature – and that Mary was indeed the one who bore him. Mary was the one whose YES to God resulted in the miracle of miracles – the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
And so while Mother of God – sounds like a lofty title – it is in fact the opposite: a title pointing to the profound truth that God chose a lowly path to come to us, chose a lowly way to enter our world, chose a lowly way of showing us the face of God.
Put simply – God bridged the gap between the divine and the human – refusing to simply sit in heaven and watch from afar.
And so whenever we call Mary by the title Mother of God ---- it’s a powerful reminder to us of what God was and is willing to do for us --- a powerful reminder of how much our God is concerned for us and cares about what happens to us --- a profound reminder of just how much God loves us --- more than we can ever imagine.
And so maybe Mary would be okay with a title after all: Mother of God.
May we always be grateful for Mary’s willingness to say yes to God’s will.
May we always give heartfelt thanks to God for her – for her courage and faithfulness which allowed her to play an indispensable role in salvation history.
And may we never forget that we, too, are called to do God’s work and help bring about a better world by saying yes to God’s will in our lives – for we each have our role to play in salvation history – and no role is more important than any other.
And it’s not about titles or roles or fame or attention that makes is important. What is important is the person God has created us to be – and go about being that person the best we can. Mary has shown us how. We thank God for her witness – and ask: Mary, mother of God –pray for us.
Anyone who has ever raised a child, especially a teenager, should be able to identify with Mary and Joseph’s anguish over the disappearance of their son.
When a child fails to come home – the universal response is to fear the worst.
Just as parent’s today worry about child trafficers, random shootings, and hit-and-run drivers ---- so in Jesus’ time there were similar predators who targeted the young.
Given the fact that Jesus was missing for three days ---- Mary thinking Jesus was old enough to be walking back to Nazareth with the men ----
and Joseph thinking the boy, not old enough to be considered a man --- was walking home with his mother and the women ---- one can only begin to imagine the panic that set in when they actually discovered that Jesus was with neither group.
And so the frantic search began. And relief came only when they found Jesus in the temple.
Mary then reprimanded her son letting him know of the “great anxiety” he had caused.
On this feast of the Holy Family, it is important to know that struggles are part of everyone’s life.
However we define “family”, holiness is always worked out by engaging with struggle and conflict and misunderstanding – not avoiding these things. Problems don’t go away just because we refuse to talk about them.
From his parent’s perspective – Jesus behaved rather thoughtlessly.
And from Jesus’ perspective, his parents should have known his whereabouts.
Somewhere in this clash of viewpoints and perspectives – in spite of the pain and confusion and struggle --- LOVE PREVAILED. And that’s what made this family unit – holy.
O loving God, help us to love in the midst of family struggles --- so we, too, can be holy.
It cannot be said enough – in this year of stress and turmoil --- Merry Christmas!
On the feast we come to know that nothing is impossible to God ---------- so at least for a day – we turn over all our worries and anxieties over to God – and enjoy a day nurturing our relationships with family and friends ---------- either in person, by zoom, or with a phone call.
Mother Theresa once said – If you want to practice world peace -------- go home and love your family – and that will be a good start.
May we do just that as we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. And now a story. . .
Joey had waited years to step into the lead role of the 4th grade Christmas pageant. He thought he would be a shoe-in for one of the top performers: after all who was more natural for the lead of Joseph, the father of Jesus --- than a boy with the same name?
So as the days grew shorter and the wind blew colder and the days of Advent lessened: Joey grew more excited.
The day finally came for the roles to be assigned and Joey left for school that morning very excited – but returned very sad.
His mother quickly picked up on his mood and to address the elephant in the room said to him: “I guess you never got the part you wanted.”
“NO”, Joey said, almost in tears, “Ben got the part of Joseph this year. My role doesn’t even have a name. . . I’m just the third shepherd on the left. . .
I don’t even think I want to be in the play this year!”
Sometimes a mother has to think pretty quickly of what to say in order to heal a wounded ego ---but what should Joey’s mother say to him?
-- we don’t always get what we want, that’s just life --- so get over it. . . That may be the truth – but was it going to be helpful?
--Or -- Keep studying the lines and hope that Ben gets sick the night of the performance then you can step in. That doesn’t sound too kind. . . or even realistic. . .
--Or should she say: I’m sure the costume worn by the third shepherd on the left will be so stunning and eye-catching – everyone will be looking at you and not at Joseph.
Joey’s mom did not think any of these seemed like the right thing to say.
So difficult though it was --- this is what she told him.
“You know Joey, I guess the teacher thought Ben had more of what it took to be Joseph. . .
“If you haven’t noticed yet, no two people – not even you and your sister both from the same family – have the same gifts. So instead of feeling jealous of Ben’s gifts and talents which landed him the part of Joseph – it’s important for you to discover what your own gifts are.
“And then hard as it may be for you now and up to the night of the performance – you need to celebrate Ben’s gifts of being Joseph – celebrate from right where you are standing on the stage: the third shepherd on the left.”
Joey’s mother was trying to teach him a most important lesson in life. . .
It’s not about titles or roles or fame or attention that make us important. What’s important is the person God has created us to be – and to go about being that person as best we can.
In life we may not be named in the playbill, or be in the spotlight – we may be just one of many in the chorus – or someone working off stage. We may, in fact, be a simple shepherd of shepherdess -- who just happened to be in the right place at the right time to be able to do the right thing.
But our lives are neither random nor accidental – we are part of God’s plan. Our role has been written in purposefully, and we must step up to play our part in salvation history.
There are countless saints whose names we do not know – who lived quiet, normal, unremarkable lives but who have been good people.
Just think – century upon century and nation upon nation of people who led faith-filled, mundane lives who are now Saints among the Saints in the halls of heaven.
Moms, grandpas, first responders, poets, migrant workers, waitresses, bus drivers and mechanics --- the entirety of human history must be accounted for when we wonder how full heaven might be.
These “ordinary saints” are just as surely heavenly residents as any of the great names we invoke in our litanies – and there are lots of them.
So no matter how you felt when you walked in the door tonight – happy, sad, feeling good about your life and your family, despondent, depressed – hopeful or hopeless, tired, wearied, worried or full of enthusiasm ---------- when you leave this place may you feel a little more joyful and triumphant ------- knowing that you have encountered the living God in this place – the wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, the prince of peace ------
Who out of his kindness and generous love – came down to earth to save ------------ you –
The one who created the unique person who you are and calls you to go about being that person as best you can.
All of us have our role to play in salvation history –and my role is not yours – and your role is not mine. Everyone in a Christmas pageant – whether it is Mary, or Joseph, a magi, or the third shepherd from the left – and everyone in life – is important – and no role is any more special than any other.
After all, the 3rd shepherd from the left was the precise individual who was led by the angels to the stable and who was one of the first to see the newborn Christ. . .
As Christ invites us to journey through another liturgical year – may we come all the more to an understanding of who God has call us to be.
The greatest gifts God has given us is our life and our faith --- may we live them both to the fullest. And be filled with gratitude for the unique blessings God showers down upon us.
O come let us adore him, o come let us adore him, o come let is adore him – Christ, the lord.
I don’t know about you, but these days of Advent have just flown by. . . Usually when you are watching and waiting – time seems to go a little slower – and perhaps it does – just not in December of 2021.
We began our journey with the hope that by the time Christmas arrived – we could be both a little more joyful and triumphant!
We’ve tried to achieve that by turning our worries and fears over to the Lord --- and --- having the motivation to live a more simple life, so we can be more generous. . .
This last Sunday of Advent, gives us our final way of the season to come to Bethlehem, to come to Christ, joyful and triumphant:
Which is to get our focus, our attention, our energy – off of ourselves – and on to others – by valuing our relationships.
We are pilgrims on a journey, we are trav-lers on the road; we are here to help each other / walk the mile and bear the load.
Mary, as soon as the angel Gabriel was finished telling her the good news of the son to be born to her – Mary was so overjoyed – she had to tell someone about it – and so she set out – and traveled to the hill country IN HASTE to a town of Judah to tell her cousin Elizabeth the news she had just received ----- only to find out that Elizabeth, herself, had some good news to share about the birth of her son who will be named John.
That’s what family and friends are for – to share our good news with, as well as to comfort each other through bad news, and to stick together no matter what. . .
The late actor, Robin Williams, once said that family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.
We are not on this journey of life alone – so if we value our relationships: with God, with family, with friends --- then we have to spend time nurturing those relationships.
Way back in 1990 – hard to believe that was 31 years ago – the first Mrs. Bush to live in the White House, Barbara --- gave a commencement speech at Wellesley College, in Massachusetts.
In that speech she spoke of three choices everyone should make in their lives:
First, to believe in something larger than oneself – which is a choice each of us has made in being followers of Jesus Christ and belonging to this parish of St. Patrick.
2nd – which is very appropriate for us this Advent season – is to make the choice to have JOY in your life – life, Mrs. Bush said, is supposed to be fun and meaningful --- so enjoy it.
The 3rd choice Mrs. Bush said one should make in their lives – is to cherish your human connections: your relationships with family and friends.
She told the graduates – that for several years, they have had impressed upon them the importance of their careers and dedication to hard work – which of course they should have.
But, she said, as important as your obligations as a doctor, lawyer, or business leader will be, you are a human being first – and those human connections – with spouses, with children, with friends – are the most important investments you will ever make.
At the end of your life, she said, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal.
You will regret time not spent with a husband, child, a friend, or a parent.
To be joyful and triumphant during this Advent, when we get to Christmas, and throughout our lives – we must value our relationships. And if we value them – we spend time nurturing them.
But it’s not just our relationships with family and friends. . .
Pope Francis reminds us many times in his homilies and public comments that “we will be judged for our relationship with the poor.”
Pope Francis said that the first question Jesus will ask at the final judgment will be: “how did you treat the poor? Did you feed them? Did you visit those in prison, in the hospital? >>
Did you help the widow and the orphan? Because that was me: you either reached out to me – or ignored me.”
The Pope continues by saying: “If you want to honor the body of Christ – do not scorn it when it is naked; do not honor the Eucharistic Christ with silk vestments at Mass – and then leave the Church neglecting the other Christ suffering from cold and nakedness.”
I want to thank you for your generosity shown to the poor and the needy through our giving tree this year. . .Your donations and gifts help families in our school and those in El Salvador.
You help support young mothers and their newborns through Mother’s Refuge. And you will help the parish reach out and help the poor throughout the year with your donations to our Nottingham Society.
But what Pope Francis thinks will affect us the most is not just donating our money – but having a personal encounter with someone who is in need – even if it is just acknowledging their presence by speaking to them and listening to their story, and calling them by name.
May we never forget how blessed most all of us are – and how we need to share with those who have less than we do.
Just having a sense of gratitude and a generous heart ---- will go a long way in helping us be more joyful and triumphant.
And as the Trappist Thomas Merton would once said: “A Christian is committed to the belief that Love and Mercy are the most powerful forces on earth.”
So if we practice love and mercy during these last days of Advent and into the Christmas season and the New Year --- we will be joyful and triumphant.
Let’s end our Advent journey as we began it. Please join me in singing: O come all he faithful, joyful and triumphant, o come ye, o come ye – to Bethlehem. Come and behold him, born the king of angels; O come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him: Christ, the Lord!