Deacon Jim Koger and Deacon Mike Lewis preached this weekend: No homily available.
So it is the first Sunday of Lent – time to get moving on our Lenten journey.
So imagine we are a train sitting at a station. It’s going to take a lot of energy to get that train moving. And even then, progress is slow, the wheels seem to meander around. But then something shifts:
The wheels turn faster, momentum builds and before too long, the train is an unstoppable force.
No one but the driver, the engineer, can stop it from getting to its destination and if anyone was to try – they had better get out of the way or they will get run over.
What if we expended all that energy and power to get ourselves moving --- only to discover we’re moving in the wrong direction because we’re on the wrong track??
I think that is why every year the season of Lent begins in the desert. “The Spirit DROVE Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days.”
Like Jesus, like the Israelites, like John the Baptist, like the early Church fathers and mothers – to begin our Lenten journey – the spirit drives us into the desert.
Why? I think to make sure our heads are on straight – our hearts are in the right place – and to make sure we are on the right track before we come barreling out of the station. . .
We are driven into the desert – that is times and places of quiet and isolation and reflection however we can carve them out of our busy schedules --- our inner room, as St. Matthew’s Gospel told us on Ash Wednesday – where we go and close the door in order to spend time with God -- so that we can be apart from the influences of culture and society.
The uncertainties of the desert create a need for God and a dependence upon God.
God lets us do without – so we can come to know God as our provider.
God lets us be lonely – so we can come to know God as our ally and friend.
God lets us be frightened and worried – so that we can come to know God as our peace.
God lets us be weak – so we can know God as our strength.
In the desert – God reveals Himself. In the darkness of the desert – God become our light.
In the confusion of the desert –we learn to let God be our guide.
In the desert – God separates us from the influences of the world, as well as the things and people we have learned to depend on – so that we will learn to depend on God.
In the desert, with the help of God’s grace, we put ourselves on the right track – having learned to reject Satan and all his empty works and empty promises.
The spirit drives us into the desert – so that God, alone, can lead us out.
So after carving out those places of quiet and isolation and reflection from our busy schedules – and having placed ourselves on the right track – it’s time to get that train rolling.
If we have not started anything by way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving -- thenstart today. Even the smallest actions toward turning away from evil and doing good – seeking after peace and pursuing it – will make a difference.
It may take a lot of effort to get the wheels turning – as it always seems to be hard to get Lent going – as we usually don’t jump into Lent with much enthusiasm --- but once we have started, momentum can build quickly.
And then once we off and running with our prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – no once can stop is.
We can be that unstoppable train. We can become those people God wants us to be.
We can live the Baptismal promises that call us to reject sin and Satan and to embrace Jesus’ way of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.
We just need to leave the station –AND be sure we’re on the right track. . .
It was a strategy that worked well for us at Advent – so I thought -- why not use it for Lent? And so ---- Let’s begin with the end in mind. . .
So at the end of Lent comes Easter and the 50 day Easter season. Throughout the Easter season we always do something different. Instead of professing our faith using either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed --- we do it by renewing our Baptismal promises ---- which, as you should recall – has us answer a series of question by saying “I do” to define ourselves as followers of Christ by what we reject – do we reject Satan and all his works and empty promises ----- and by what we embrace: do we believe in God the Father almighty, in Jesus Christ his only Son, and the Holy Spirit?
Yes, Christians define themselves by not only what they turn FROM --- but by what they turn TOWARD.
Lent, then, is the preparation period of 40 days that comes before Easter. It is a time to “whip ourselves into shape” so that we are ready to profess anew who we are as Christians and to make the commitment to do what Jesus did: live with compassion, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness.
For some of us – there is plenty to do to get ourselves back on the path WITH Jesus because of how far we have strayed from his ways.
For others, there may not be any major changes --- maybe just be a little fine-tuning that needs to take place --- for no matter how hard we try to imitate the life and teachings of Jesus – everyone of us stray – if but a bit.
Lent, itself, always begins with a question that helps us do the major overhaul, or the fine tuning we need to be about in order re-align ourselves with Jesus.
The question for us this year as the Ashes are sprinkled upon us: WILL YOU TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD --- SEEK AFTER PEACE AND PURSUE IT?
That can be a tall task – and it will take some effort to achieve. But through our prayer, our fasting, and our almsgiving during these 40 days of Lent– we hope to achieve it.
And if we successfully practice turning away from evil and doing good – seeking after peace and pursuing it --------------------- then we should have no problem renewing those Baptismal promises every Sunday throughout the Easter season that commits us to follow after Jesus and doing what Jesus did: living with compassion, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness.
Ordinarily as you know – we would receive Ashes on our foreheads. Since that involves touching each and every one of you – which is not safe during these covid times – you will come forward – slightly bow your heads – and the Ashes will be sprinkled on the top of your head ------ which I understand is the practice elsewhere in the world --- it just hasn’t been our way in the United States.
Ashes are a sign of repentance – and the desire to “whip ourselves into shape” so that we can follow Christ more closely.
My name is JOAB. King David of Israel once cursed my family by saying:
“May Joab’s family never be without one suffering from a skin disease” – and so here I am – generations later: a leper for more than 30 years all because my great-great-great grandfather killed Abner: a commander of King David’s army.
At first my leprosy wasn’t very bad. My family did their best to cover up the first few signs on my skin. Gradually, as the white, flaky areas started to spread, it was impossible to hide – so my loved ones bowed to the law and sent me away.
I understood the need for my exile out of towns and separation from any contact with others.
Because, of course, leprosy was contagious. But beyond that, these signs of inflammation and disease of my skin indicated that I was a sinner – or so it was thought at the time. Something inside of me was decayed or unclean – and that was showing itself on the outside of my body in the form of the disease.
That’s the real reason a leper like me is expelled from society and from contact with anyone. Any person who even got close to me would be rendered unclean themselves – you caught both the disease and the underlying sin at the same time.
So I, and everyone else like me – lived in isolation in the wilderness. The disease was bad enough – but the isolation was worse.
The feeling of being unclean, contagious, untouchable – all leading to the feeling of being UNLOVABLE—was the real horror.
I examined myself over and over again and asked: “what had I done? What inner disorder is showing itself on my skin?”
It did not matter that I could not figure that out. After a while, you just feel horrible about yourself. You start seeing yourself as one disgusting mess.
I happily did what the law required of us untouchables – I shouted: “Unclean – unclean” whenever anyone got close – to warn them – that I was no good, that I was toxic, that I was to be shunned at all costs.
Most people just alerted their paths to avoid me and the other lepers with me. Sometimes people would shout obscenities at us – just to make sure we would stay in our place of exile and not come any closer.
Most just had fear in their eyes. One time I heard a person damn me to hell – saying that’s exactly where I belonged for having done what I did – even though they, nor I, knew what that something was.
One fateful day, I heard someone say: “Maybe the prophet from Nazareth could help these wretched souls. After all, he has been curing so many.”
Another said: “Who knows. I hear the Nazarene eats and drinks with sinners. Why should he not start to hang out with lepers and other despicable people?
It could not have been but a few days later that I came out of the cave I used for shelter to the sound of a group of travelers coming by. I did my customary shouting: “Unclean – unclean!”
Then I saw him. I knew who he was immediately – such a stunning man – walking with such confidence, yet his bearing communicated such peace.
Then his eyes met mine – and there was no fear at all in those eyes. Just compassion and love. It was so clear, in just this connection of our eyes – that he felt sad about my state – and he understood my isolation.
For the first time in a very long time – I felt courage and hope. Going against everything I had been taught by the Jewish Law – I ran up to him and fell on my knees in front of him and boldly said:
“Lord if you wish – you can make me clean!”
My actions and words got everyone to stop in their tracks – and they listened to what he would say.
I think I actually stopped breathing when he reached out and touched me. TOUCHED ME! He touched the unclean, contagious, untouchable, unlovable ME.
You cannot possibly know what it is like to feel so vile and then to suddenly be touched in the way that he touched me – the feeling started with the touch of his hand to my skin – but that touch went way deep – possibly even touching my very soul.
And then he spoke those words that I will never forget: “I do will it – be made clean!”
My shame left me immediately. And then my skin was transformed. The tears of joy must have told him how grateful I was.
HE – just smiled and embraced me. And every one of his fellow travelers embraced me as well. We were all laughing and crying at the same time. He, this man they call Jesus – was laughing and enjoying it the most --- for I was lost, but now I was found. Once unclean – but now clean. Alone – and now would know loneliness no more.
What a joy. What a gift. What a day!
Jesus had restored me to communion again because he had compassion on me.
And you know what – he has the same compassion for anyone who suffers in anyway what-so-ever: physically, mentally, spiritually. . . .
And so my advice to you – is to be bold. Just say: “Lord if you wish – you can heal me!”
Give him that chance to also restore you.
And then be imitators of Christ – looking for ways to include people rather than exclude them – looking for ways to lift them up rather than put them down – looking for ways to love them rather than to shun them: do everything for the glory of God!
So my name is Joab – and that is my miraculous story – and I am sticking with it. Peace to you and yours: And blessed be the name of the Lord!
In the three year cycle of readings that we get for Sunday Mass – there is only one other time besides today – that we read from the Book of Job.
This summer, on the 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – we will read 4 short verses of Job – today it is a whopping 5 – and yet the book of Job in the Old Testament is 42 Chapters long!
Our reading today is taken from chapter 7 – about the time things begin to turn sour for Job:
“I have been assigned months of misery. I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. I shall not see happiness again.” Job says.
Rabbi Harold Kushner based his book: Why do bad things happen to good People, on the book of Job and says 30 years after its publication, he still hears from people who wonder where God was when they needed him the most . . .
This is Matthew’s condensed story of Job--- to help us understand the answer to that question when we are wondering the same thing.
There was a rich man named Job – who lived in the land of Uz in Israel. Job was a good man. He always put God first in his life.
One day when God was talking with his angels, Satan dropped by. God asked Satan: “Have you ever seen such a good man as my servant, Job?”
Satan liked to argue with God and said: “Anyone can be good when they have everything a person could want. . . Job has a home, family, cattle, and great wealth.
Besides all that, you don’t let anything harm him. Job doesn’t have a clue what it is like to be miserable. If he did, he would be no friend of yours!”
So satan asked God, “Hey, let me prove to you that Job will be a big cry baby and start saying bad things about you the minute something goes wrong.”
Since God was convinced that NOTHING would stop Job from loving and honoring him – God replied: “Okay, but I know Job will always be faithful to me – do what you want – just don’t hurt him.”
So satan rubbed his hands together and said – “Yes, I am out to get Job. . .” And so it began.
Meanwhile, Job was sitting quietly, when one of his servants came running up to him and said:
“My master, some men from out of the desert came and killed all of your servants – and they drove away all your cattle – I alone survived the tragedy.”
While this servant was speaking, another man came rushing up to Job and said: “Master, you will never believe it! All of your shepherds and sheep were struck by lightning and killed – I alone survived the tragedy.”
Yet another man came running and yelling, “Sir, three bands of enemies have stolen all your camels and killed the camel drivers – I alone survived the tragedy.”
Finally the last messenger arrived crying, “Oh no, Job, all your children have been killed. A giant wind blew the house down on them – I alone survived the tragedy.”
So in the course of one day, Job lost everything but his wife and his own life. Job went from being rich to being poor in just a few hours. . .
Did Job get angry with God? NO – he fell down on his knees and said to God: “With nothing I came into the world and with nothing I shall leave it. The Lord gave and now the Lord has taken away: Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
With all that went wrong, Job did not blame God or stop loving or trusting God. . .
And so God called to Satan: “See, you could not make Job turn from me! There is no man on earth more perfect than Job.”
But Satan said, “Trust me – if you let me hurt him, so that he is in great physical pain – he will start calling you names and lose his faith in you.”
God really did not want Satan to hurt Job – so he said: “Okay, you can make him uncomfortable – but that’s as far as you can go.”
So Satan immediately zapped Job with huge sores from his head to his feet. Job became very miserable – but he still did not blame God or say anything mean about God.
Job’s wife tried to convince him that he should curse God and just die – but Job could not do that. He loved God too much.
Job was beginning to wonder why God had allowed all of this to happen to him. But then he thought, God doesn’t just punish those who love him – there must be something God wanted him to learn from all of this. And so Job prayed that God would open his eyes to see the meaning of his sufferings. . .
It was then that God spoke directly to Job: “Can you begin to know my greatness?
Were you there when I created the world: the light, the sea, the stars, the earth and everything on the earth? Can you attempt to instruct me?”
Job got the message. He did not need to know WHY things happened, he just needed to keep trusting God and God’s love for him.
God then gave Job back his health, double his previous wealth, and blessed him with a long happy life.
And that’s the lesson of the book of Job – that no matter what happens to us – or happens around us --- we need only know that God is in charge – and then continue to trust in God – no matter what – which of course is more easily said than done. . .
Because even though we are not the God of the universe – had nothing to do with the creation of the earth and all that is on it –
we almost always think our way is better than God’s. . . And that’s the type of thinking that can get us to start questioning our faith and the power of God. . .
Every week, after the Our Father, we pray:
“Deliver us lord, we pray, from every evil. Graciously grant
peace in our days. That by the help of your mercy – we
may be always free from sin and safe from all distress – as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior: Jesus Christ.”
It is only when we place our trust in God alone – that Jesus will approach us – grasp our hand – and lift us up out of whatever misery has befallen us.
It is only when we place our trust in God alone – that we truly become good stewards – recognizing that everything we have is a gift – and are able to echo Job’s words: “With nothing I came into the world and with nothing I shall leave it. The Lord gave and the Lord can take away: Blessed by the name of the Lord!”
“Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord where the Ark of God was. And the Lord called to Samuel. . .”
For the last couple of years, I have used a story with our eighth graders on their one day retreat – with the encouragement that they will never hear God calling them ---- it they never quiet their lives enough to listen. . . I think it is a lesson all of us, including myself, need to be reminded of from time to time. So the story: God is in the Silence by Fiona Basile.
Be still. Be quiet. . . God is in the silence. Can you hear God?
God is speaking to your heart. Are you listening? I love you God says.
Be still. Be quiet. . . God is in the silence. Can you hear God?
Listen closely to your heart. I love you, God says. You are precious in my eyes.
Be still. Be quiet. . . God is in the silence. Can you hear God?
God lives in your heart. I love you, God says. You are precious in my eyes. There is no one else like you.
Be still. Be quiet. . . God is in the silence. Can you hear God?
Listen closely to your heart. I love you, God says. You are precious in my eyes. There is no one else like you. I created you just the way you are.
Be still. Be quiet. . . God is in the silence. Can you hear God?
Listen closely to your heart. I love you God says. You are precious in my eyes. There is no one else like you. I created you just the way you are. You are mine.
Be still. Be quiet. . . God is in the silence. Can you hear God?
Listen closely to your heart. I love you, God says. You are precious in my eyes. There is no one else like you. I created you just the way you are. You are mine. I am always with you.
Be still. Be quiet. . . God is in the silence.
Listen closely to your heart. There is where God lives. Can you hear God?
I love you, God says. You are precious in my eyes. There is no one else like you. I created you just the way you are. And you are mine. I am always with you. You are safe.
So rest --- and know that God is always in your heart.
Be still. Be quiet. . . God is in the silence --- but we have to be willing to listen.
And that’s the end of the story. . .
After Samuel, with Eli’s help – figured out that it was God who was calling him ---
Samuel grew up to be a great prophet – a great spokesperson – for God. Samuel was the last of the great judges of Israel and helped usher in the monarchy by anointing Saul the first king of Israel.
It is said of Samuel that few people in the Bible were as obedient to God as he was.
So what is God calling us to do?? Certainly like Andrew and Simon Peter in the Gospel – God is calling us to be followers of Jesus.
But beyond that --- what is God calling us to do?? We will never know unless we listen:
Be still. Be quiet. . . for God is in the silence.
So ---- as I do on the eighth grade retreat – let’s just sit in silence for a few minutes --- and invite God to speak to us – and like some of our eighth graders – this might not be easy for some of you . . .
[2 minutes of Silence]
Perhaps we can add such moments of silence into our daily routines --- and begin to be overwhelmed by how much God has to say to us --- if we just quiet ourselves and listen. . .
Be still. Be quiet.
So the next time Jesus calls us by name to come and follow after him – we can say:
Here I am Lord, here I am: I come to do your will!
My guess is that not many of us still have our Christmas trees up – and yet we should. . . because liturgically – in the Church – the Christmas season does not end until we celebrate the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism--- as we do today.
It may seem kind of strange to conclude the season in which we celebrate the Lord’s birth in Bethlehem ---- with an event that takes place 30 years after Christ was born. . . and about 6 miles from his place of birth. . .
But this feast celebrates a very important truth related to the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place.
At Christmas, when Christ was born, we believe that God – who loves us so much – became one of us – a human being --- with a father and a mother who loved him --- two arms, two legs, a personality, likes and dislikes, with friends and neighbors --- a person like us in all things but sin.
At Christmas God was plunged into our humanity and shares our humanity ---- and when we are Baptized – we are plunged into divinity and we share in God’s divinity --- a wonderful exchange that the Church proclaims at the celebration of every Mass when the priest or deacon pours water into the chalice of wine at the offertory and says:
By the mystery of this water and wine – may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
I always thought it was unfortunate that this prayer is said silently – rather than out loud – as it is quite a profound statement. [Repeat]
Yes, a wonderful exchange – God becomes a human so our lowly human bodies may be transformed after the pattern of Christ’s own glorious body.
So the Lord’s Baptism – is an important link in the chain between his saving birth and our new birth in the Sacrament of Baptism.
St. Leo the Great, who was Pope from 440 AD until his death in 461 --- used to give special catechism lessons to the newly Baptized.
He would instruct them: “Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and have been brought into the light of the kingdom of God. Never forget!
Recalling that we are baptized should bring joy to us when we are sad – and strengthen us when we are tempted. A powerful way to fight off temptation and sin --- is to recall our Baptism. To say to ourselves: “wait, I am a Christian. I’m not supposed to act like this or to talk like this. I’m supposed to act like Christ! And God gives us the grace to it!
Yes there can be – and needs to be – a righteous anger turned toward injustice and wrong doing – but when it turns to hateful words and violent actions – it ceases to be Christ-like
For Baptism is more than just a symbolic ceremony where we express our faith – it is a life-changing event.
In Baptism, as God does for us in all the Sacraments: God does something for us that we cannot do for ourselves: God gives us a share in the divine life – a share in the power and strength by which Christ overcame sin and darkness and death on the cross.
THIS is the greatest of all Christmas gifts – the gift of salvation – made possible by God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ. The gift that gives us the grace and strength to overcome the power of darkness and evil and death ---- the gift of eternal life!
May that grace of our own Baptism be renewed and strengthened within us – so we know, as Isaiah the prophet told us in the first reading:
that God has grasped us by the hand – and formed us and sent us out to be a light for the nations: to open the eyes of the blind to bring prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness: to make God’s kingdom present by our words and actions.
Almost 70 years ago – my father was a young student at the University of Louisville studying mechanical engineering.
Mostly on the weekends, but also throughout the week – he hung out with some of my mother’s cousins who lived around the corner from his family in Shively, Kentucky.
He was not too thrilled with the idea when his friends said their cousin from the country was coming to stay with them for the summer --- and asked if my dad would take her out on a date.
As reluctant as my father was at first, one blind date turned into a second date, then another--- and the rest, as they say, is history. . .
Up until the last decade or so – that’s how husbands met their wives – and wives their husbands. It mostly happened by accident.
--Sometimes it came about because someone happened to sit next to them in one of their classes or lived in the same dorm.
--Sometimes it came about because a new family moved in next door.
--Sometimes it came about because they worked for the same company or in the same building.
--Sometimes it was the result of meeting a friend of a friend of a friend.
--And sometimes it came about in the most clichéd way of all: two bored people striking up a conversation in a bar or at a party.
Yes, until recently, people met other people in all sorts of ways, usually “just because” not because of something the person or persons were actually doing to bring it about.
It’s all different these days – with the use of the internet and online searches for intended mates --- which is a method with some intentionality – the method in which people take the most active role in the search, the method in which people don’t wait for something “accidental” to happen – but rather set out on a mission to find what they are looking for. And it seems to work – as most engaged couples I work with these days tell me that’s how they met. . .
There was certainly a type of intentionality involved in the Magi’s search for the newborn king of Israel – this was no chance excursion they were taking – no wild goose chase they got involved in ----
NO – they were intentionally searching the stars of the heavens – perhaps for years – watching and waiting and looking for a sign that would signal something special, something out of the ordinary.
And when that special light made its appearance -- they set out on their quest to pay homage to the newborn king of the Jews –
not really knowing where they would end up – just following the light wherever it led them.
We can presume this was NOT an easy journey – traveling in ancient times was never easy or safe. And of course, ultimately they got to gaze on and
do homage to the very Light of the World.
“Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”
So says the prophet Isaiah in our first reading today. In hindsight – it’s easy to see a foreshadowing in his words – a prophecy that would be realized centuries later.
Isaiah seemed to understand that a kind of darkness had crept into the world – into the hearts and minds and spirits of the Jewish people. And what would make things right, what would make things better, what would heal those broken hearts -- -was NOT a conqueror --- not a strong army ---- but rather LIGHT – a light that would dispel the darkness, a light which was God himself shining down upon them and with and through them.
Christ our Light! Thanks be to God. . .
Does the intentional search of the Magi for the invisible God made visible – the light from light – true God from true God ------ describe us in any way???
I know we SAY we look for God in our lives – but are we sincerely and intentionally looking for the Light??
Do we really want to follow the path illuminated by the light of Christ – so that once we encounter it – we return by another way --------------- or do we just want to continue to forge our own path??
Do we truly want the light of Christ to shine on our faults and failings and shortcomings and sins?
Do we want the Light to dispel the darkness of our egos and selfishness and greed and self-righteousness – or do we secretly want to keep all of those things just as they are???
You see our spiritual lives require the same kind of intentionality as we have in the dating scene these days. It requires a certain kind of focus and persistence and humility. It requires openness to grace and a willingness to be led.
We have to have some sort of idea who we are looking for, some sort of conviction that God’s way is always the best way, some sort of acceptance and acknowledgement that we need to change –
need to forgive more --- and to love more --- the need to be more accepting and a little less judgmental. . .
Without these things, we will likely remain in the darkness and remain in a kind of spiritual loneliness in which we ultimately spend our lives waiting for God to come to us ------ all the while God is inviting us to come to him. . .
Put another way – it’s sort of as if we are continually sitting at home on the couch every night, wondering why we can’t ever meet someone --- while failing to make any effort to help bring it about. . .
May we look to the Magi for wisdom, courage, and trust --- to seek God in at all times, in all places, and in all people --- believing that it is a search in which we discover ---- the God we seek has been with us all along. O Come let us adore Him. O Come let us adore him. O Come. . . Christ – the Lord.
Hail Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of death. AMEN!
Mother of God. For us Catholics – those words roll off our tongues so easily. . . We’ve heard them our whole lives – and have prayed them thousands of times in the Hail Mary. . .
In fact, we have heard them so many times that it’s easy to overlook just what a PROFOUND thing we are implying every time we say them. . .
Mary: Mother of God.
That title for Mary is commonplace for us ---but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, in the early days of the Church – they were tremendously controversial – and were argued about among learned people of all kinds.
Some of the controversy stemmed from the Church trying to understand Mary’s place in the story of salvation: what really was Mary’s role in God’s plan to redeem the world?
But most of the controversy sprung from the Church’s struggle to figure out who Jesus was. . .
We sometimes forget that the Church had to wrestle with these very BIG questions, and to do their best to clarify these questions that had basically been unanswered in those first few centuries of Christianity.
Who is Jesus? What does it mean to call him Son of God? Does that mean he is a man – or is he God – or is he both? What sort of a God is Jesus? And depending on what was said of Jesus – determined how the Church would talk about Mary.
These are the questions that eventually needed to be answered – that needed to be thought about, argued over, prayed over – and ultimate stated for the faithful in order to believe ---
a process we have come to believe was – and continues to be – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And so it was in 431 AD at the Church Council at Ephesus --- that the Church declared that it was entirely appropriate to refer to Mary as the Mother of God ------- for Jesus was indeed – BOTH the only begotten Son of God – and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate – made flesh—of the Virgin Mary, and became man – as we say in the Nicene Creed.
What the Church actually accepted as the title for Mary was the Greek word “Theotokos” which means “God-bearer.”
So they affirmed that Jesus is God – and that Mary did bear and give birth to Jesus – and so was the Mother of God. And for some, these things were a little unbelievable, a little hard to accept. These ideas were pretty controversial then. . . and for some, as Deacon Jim reminded us on the feast of the Immaculate Conception – they are still controversial. .
Sometimes it is hard for us to appreciate just how challenging and hard to wrap our minds around the teachings of Catholicism are.
We who are on the inside become so used to rattling off our beliefs in the Creed that we fail to realize how difficult these teachings can be for those on the outside.
Often times I wonder what I would think of Catholicism had I grown up in a different Christian tradition --- or what I would think of Christianity had a grown up in another faith tradition???
My guess is that it would all seem a little hard to accept. . . would I be open enough to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be led where God wanted me to be --- or would I resist and be unable to embrace that which God wanted me to embrace? Would I have chosen to be Catholic if not raised a Catholic? Honestly, I really don’t know. . .
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
I think it is important to see Mary NOT as someone who had all the answers or had everything completely figured out or knew precisely what God’s plan was for her ----- BUT rather as someone who simply stepped out in faith AND SAID YES: even though from the manger to the empty tomb she would wonder about these things. . .
The incredible things she was invited by the angel to accept were NOT obstacles to her faith, but rather were opportunities to deepen her faith and her trust and her hope in the God of her ancestors – and in a baby whose very existence she could not satisfactorily explain.
And so – fs we sometimes wonder about the teachings of the Church – good for us. We need to keep wondering. We need to keep asking questions. We need to keep appreciating just how incredible and unbelievable and sometimes how inexplicable these things are.
And then keep on reflecting on these things in our hearts – as did Mary – NOT in the hope of getting clear answers – but trusting that the search itself is evidence of faith – a deep kind of faith that is always looking for greater meaning and understanding and union with our God.
And while we’re at it --- let’s be respectful of and understanding of those who find the teachings of our faith hard to accept – whether that is a spouse, a child, a friend, or a stranger. And be respectful and understanding of those who believe in a faith tradition that is different from ours – because that is the faith in which they were raised.
Mary, MOTHER OF GOD. . .
May these words always fill us with awe for the incredible God we have and the unique role Mary played in God’s plan to save the world.
Hail Mary, mother of God, pray for sinners now – and at the hour of death. AMEN!
So I want to begin by echoing our welcome at the beginning of Mass: a welcome to all of you here in the Church – those joining us remotely in the gym – and all of you joining us remotely at home.
We’ve been through a lot this year – so may you just be able to relax a little this Christmas knowing that the Prince of Peace, the Wonder-Counselor: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who comes to us today ------ has everything under control!
So did we do the work of Advent?
--Did we stay watchful and alert?
--Did we prepare the way for the Lord?
--Have we testified to the light?
--And have we spoken our YES to God as did Mary ---
All to make room in our hearts and lives for Jesus?
If we did, then we can join the ranks of Wally Purling. . .
Who is Wally Purling you may ask --
Well for years now – whenever Christmas pageants are talked about in a certain town in the Midwest, someone is sure to mention the name of
Wally’s performance in one annual production of the Nativity play has slipped into the realm of legend.
But the old timers in the audience that night never tire of recalling exactly what happened.
Wally was 9 years old that year – and in the 2nd grade, although he should have been in the 4th. Most people in town knew that he had difficulty keeping up.
Wally was big and clumsy, slow in movement and in mind. Still, Wally was well liked by the other children in his class, all of whom were smaller than he was.
Wally was always a helpful boy, a willing and smiling one, and the natural protector of the underdog.
Wally hoped to be shepherd with a flute in the Christmas pageant that year, but the play’s director, Miss Lombardi, assigned him to a more important role – or so she told him.
After all, she reasoned, the Innkeepr did not have many lines to say, and Wally’s size would make his refusal of lodging to Joseph even more forceful.
And so it happened that the usual large audience gathered for the town’s Yuletide extravaganza of the sheep and the shepherds, the beards, and crowns, and halos and wings – and a whole stage-full of squirming bodies and squeaky voices.
No one on stage or off was more caught up in the magic of the night than Wally Purling.
They said later that he stood in the wings and watched the performance with such fascination that from time to time, Miss Lombardi had to make sure he did not wander on stage before his time.
BUT then the time did come when Joseph appeared, slowly and tenderly guiding Mary to the door of the Inn.
Joseph knocked hard on the wooden door set into the painted backdrop. And Wally the Innkeeper was there --- waiting for that knock.
“What do you want?” Wally said, swinging the door open.
“We seek lodging,” said a weary Joseph.
“Well go seek it elsewhere,” Wally said as he looked straight ahead speaking vigorously. “For there is no room in my Inn.”
“Sir,” Joseph said, “we have asked everywhere in vain. We have traveled far and are very tired.”
“There is NO ROOM in this Inn for you,” Wally said, properly stern.
“Please, good innkeeper,” Joseph continued. “My wife, Mary, is about to have a baby and she needs a place to rest. Surely you must have some small corner of some small room for her. She is so tired.”
Now for the first time – Wally the innkeeper relaxed his stiff stance and looked down at Mary. And then there was a long pause, long enough to make the audience a bit tense with anxiety.
“No, be gone.” – whispered Miss Lombardi from off stage – trying to get Wally to say his next line.
“NO!,” Wally repeated automatically. “Be Gone!” But the words were not said very convincingly.
Joseph sadly placed his arm around Mary, and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder and the two of them started to leave.
The innkeeper, however, did not close the door and retreat within his warm inn.
No, Wally Purling just stood there in the doorway, watching the sad couple walk away.
His mouth was open, and his brow creased with concern, and his eyes were filling unmistakenly ----with tears.
And suddenly this Christmas pageant became different from all others.
“Don’t go, Joseph!!” Wally cried out. “Bring Mary back.”
And Wally’s face grew into a bright smile. And he said with great enthusiasm: “You can have my room!”
Some people in town thought the pageant had been ruined. Yet there were others who considered it the most Christmas of all Christmas pageants they had ever seen!!
For that is the message of Christmas – our Savior still comes today – and he is looking for a place to stay.
Each of us is the Innkeeper of our own hearts and lives. We control who is welcome and who is turned away.
This Christmas --- Jesus is knocking at the door of our hearts. Do we welcome him – or do we send him away?
And let’s remember --- it is never too late to do the work of Advent – may all of us make room for Christ not just today – but every day of our lives. And then we will really know --- that we have truly celebrated Christmas.
O Come let us adore Him. O Come let us adore Him. O come let us adore Him – Christ the Lord!