This day we celebrate that God is born man. That our salvation is offered to us through the babe. The angels rejoiced at this amazing gift for us, we are loved. But today, Mary witnesses the fruit of her belief. It was Mary who believed in God and by doing so brought salvation into the world. She is the first of believers and her belief in God guides us as her children in our faith. We believe because she believed before us. May our Blessed Mother always be in our hearts and my we always look to her for belief in her Son.
In today’s Gospel we see something happen that, sadly, is becoming less of a possibility today. In the midst of doing their daily routine, working for their existence, four men were able to see beyond and recognize the transcendent truth, indeed recognize God. Peter and Andrew, James and John, in the middle of a busy day heard the voice of truth, the Word made flesh, and took an extraordinary move towards it. Through their ‘daily noise’ they heard God call and put aside everything they knew and valued to travel an unknown path.
What is becoming less of a possibility today is the ability to be sensitive to the promptings of our God. In many cases the people of today, especially the youth, are so numb to their surroundings that they don’t even recognize those around them, they don’t hear each other; to try and hear our God is just that much harder.
In a talk given on March 14, 2015 in New York City Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln Nebraska said ‘When we aren’t careful, our technology can make us flat souled – very bored and very lonely…When we only encounter others through electronic media, we become callous about their humanity.’ Profound words about what the technology of our society is doing to us.
Brothers and sisters, Christ called the four men to spread His message. God’s message and our response to it, religion, is built on the foundation of human interaction, we need each other to learn from and teach to. Our faith is faith in a person, and it is by people that we are introduced to this person, to our God. It is urgent that we bring back to society the awareness of those around us. We need to witness to interpersonal relationships and not a virtual version. To do this we need to start with ourselves, we need to detach from the cyber and embrace the human. If we don’t then the most human of all messages – love – will start to be an abstraction; God will be an abstraction; and, at least for me, that is one definition of hell.
There is a scene in the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’ where Christ is walking the Via Dolorosa. The people are in an almost party mood as they watch the condemned carry their crosses to Golgotha. Both sides of the street are lined with people, revelers mostly but some sadden by the spectacle. Mary is walking parallel to her son watching in agony. On the other side of the street is a grotesque figure, if not Satan then one of his minions doing the same as Mary, only it is enjoying the spectacle. What strikes me most is that Mary is the only one that sees this creature for what it truly is. She is aware of the evil among us, Satan’s manipulations.
On this Holy Day of the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God I am reminded of two undeniable facts.
Satan is real, and he and his hoards do walk among us affecting evil in our world. Maybe by direct action but mostly by whispering in our ears to move us farther from God.
God is real, and he is calling us back towards His path and Heaven. But it is important to understand, as in the scene from ‘The Passion of the Christ’, that the closer we get to God the more clearly we see the world for what it is and what it should be. The more we are bathed in the light of Christ the more we see and understand God’s plan for us; but also see the manipulations of the evil one in our world. God’s light doesn’t blind us from evil it reveals it. The closer to God we become the more we see clearly both the good and the bad. This is ok; it not bad. Though we might not wish to be aware of Satan, we need to be. To be blinded from his mechanizations is to allow him to succeed. We just need to be strong and call his actions for what they are, be heralds against Satan. This is especially important in our age where our society is pushing God from the public discourse – which removes him from the personal consciousness. His light is dimmer which means Satan is now in the background, in the shadows, hidden – making it easier for Him to work against us.
Brothers and sisters, this might seem frightening but we can rest assured that we have the better of him when we are living within the light of Christ, as Mary did. God’s light doesn’t protect us from evil but His love does, and where His light shines so does His love – in our hearts.
Today is the Feast of St. Stephen and for me, a deacon, it is a special feast day. I make sure to read his account in the Acts of the Apostles. Quite a heroic ‘play’, Stephen out-argues the established intelligentsia, doesn’t fear the outcome (death) and proclaims great words. Usually when I am done I reflect on what he did and whether I could do the same, then I pray for the strength that he had.
All of this is good. But this year I am struck by the idea that his great acts weren’t things he all-of-a-sudden did; his actions are really the result of how he lived his life. That he fearlessly held to the truth regardless of the outcome was the result of his firm understanding of the truth and that God was with him always. His, ability to pray for those who gave false witness and those who stoned him wasn’t some great feat of will that he had to dig deep for but came from the daily love of neighbor that he had. These events in his life were not some heroic self-sacrifice that he rose to, but was the result of another sacrifice that he knew was for him. He was a loving servant of Christ!
C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.’ Brothers and sisters, this is the paradigm of a Christian, we recognize the truth of Jesus Christ in which contains the knowledge that Jesus is within everyone. When we can obtain this paradigm then those ‘great acts of heroism’ we are called to are actually just living our life as always.
St. Stephen pray for us.
 C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses’
This past Thursday, the senior staff of the parish where I work, along with the pastor, sat in a classroom and celebrated our year in serving the mission of the parish, and of course the upcoming Christmas. There were just the five of us, celebrating in an empty parish since we closed the office at noon. The main part of our celebration was watching the movie ‘The Nativity Story’. We ‘gifted’ this movie to the rest of the staff, but we sat together and watched it.
I have seen this movie a few times, it is always a beautiful and spiritually fruitful experience. Today, however, I was struck with something that, though obvious now, I seemed to have missed in the past. What we were watching was a movie about individuals trying to follow their faith in the daily trials of their lives. Towards the end, at the birth of Christ, the movie powerfully showed two people, man and wife, who had gone through so much together, enduring the fear and joy of childbirth, alone. They were facing the next trial of their lives which was parenthood, and they were also facing a new phase of their faith life. Could they raise the child of God? Could their wisdom and love bring to adulthood God Himself? Were they worthy of such trust? I kept reflecting on that throughout the rest of the day and during the evening I remembered the Responsory of morning prayer that day in the Liturgy of the Hours.
‘You will see his glory within you;
The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.’
Brothers and sisters, as we enter the celebration of the Nativity of Lord, as we gaze with our hearts in amazement and humility at the baby in the crib, God Himself, let’s remember that it was the daily lives of Mary and Joseph, that brought us this celebration. It was by struggling through each day of their lives, through the temptations and hardships of life, that Mary and Joseph participated with God in His incarnation and nativity. No great plan on their part, it was just living their lives as best as they could by following God that mankind is given the chance to receive God’s gift of salvation.
Let’s remember and follow their example. It is not doing great things that we bring the Kingdom Heaven to earth as much as it by living our lives in faith, day by day, seemingly unnoticed, that the great things God offers comes about. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Have you noticed how human love consists of little things? Well, divine love also consists of little things.’ It is by living as Mary and Joseph did, and the countless saints since, that we will truly see His glory within us, and by doing so the Lord will continue to dawn on us in His radiant beauty.
May the God of mercy and love reign in our hearts, especially in those ‘unnoticed minutes’ of our lives.
I am always on the lookout for those ‘cute and clever’ church signs that are supposed to get you think. They do, but probably not in the way the volunteer intended. Last week a church in town had the following ‘Looking back keeps you from moving forward’ Considering that we are in the season of Advent I couldn’t help but reflect this message.
Modern society is all about today, never yesterday. Not just today, but what today can do for tomorrow. The past is the past and isn’t that important; a curiosity at best, but irrelevant to my life now. It is truly all about the goals of tomorrow. I have to plan, act, react and struggle today for what I have planned tomorrow. There is not much ‘enjoying the moment’ in society today.
There is no better example of this then the secular holiday season Xmas (Xmas as opposed to the holy celebration of Christmas). Hectic activity pointing towards a special day ahead of us. Not just the great gift-giving day of Xmas, but the parties and events that lead up to it. Pressure, deadlines, responsibilities, and the ever-present fear of not being able to make that certain day special. We put up holiday lights, make holiday food and treats, listen to holiday music in an almost manic way. But to sit back and actually enjoy the moment, remember times past, relax and be at peace with the present – well – that is something in books and movies.
This so-called modern understanding is also why it is so hard for people to embrace the religious season of Advent. Two reasons come to mind:
The first reason is that the Advent season comes in middle of this secular Xmas Season. More accurately, Advent was always there but this manic secular season has pushed Advent out of the way.
The second reason is that Advent is counter intuitive to those who live within this ‘memory disconnect malady’ because Advent looks to the uncertain future with a certainty from what happened in the past. As we enter into the Advent Season the message we are confronted with are the last things of life: death, judgement, heaven and hell; but we are given an assured hope with the message Advent brings us towards the end – memory of our past. Christ the judge has already shown us His love and mercy by coming among us. He knows us and He desires a positive outcome for each of us. The Advent season brings the great and good news that what happened is still happening, and what will happen is already happening.
Christ, who came among us 2,000 years ago and showed us the way and His mercy, is among us today continuing to show His mercy and give us His grace. We are not alone on this journey to the final judgement, we still have the benefit of His presence. And, of course, the end of days, the final judgement, eternity, is not something that is to come so much as it is the end of what is happening now. We are living in eternity right now – Christ’s judgement is what is guiding us on the true path home. Christ gives us the knowledge of how to achieve Heaven, He gives us His love to strengthen and urge us on and His mercy when we stumble.
Brothers and sisters, Advent is the cure for this ‘memory disconnect malady’ that affects the world today. It gives us peace about the future because of what happened in the past. It brings joy to our hearts because of the knowledge that our past is with us in the present and won’t leave us in the future. The phrase that I saw on the Church sign can be answered with another phrase: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’
 HEB 13:8
During the past two Sunday Vesper services, we have reflected on two foundational prayers given to us. Crossing ourselves while praying ‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ And the Our Father, given to us by Christ Himself as the quintessence of prayer. During the last ten years of Sunday Vespers we have reflected on other prayers and aspects of prayer in general. Tonight, I would like to reflect on the maybe the most fundamental aspect of prayer – time.
Not, how much time we offer, not what type of time schedule we keep for our prayer but just the time we pray. Whether we offer corporate prayer such as this Vesper Liturgy, or the Holy Mass; whether we offer known traditional prayers that we recite, or we pound our breast and explode with extemporaneous dialog to God, as in the Gospel today. Whether there are words or just silence, we are offering our most intimate time to God.
If our prayer, no matter the type, is offered from our heart to God; if we are making time for God in our daily lives, then we are opening our time to the eternal. We are making our time God’s time. This tithe is of absolute importance and value, for when we are in God’s time, in the eternal, we are in effect entering the end of times, the goal of our lives; and by doing so we are being changed. This might be the most important action that we can do as pilgrims on our journey home because as we are being changed our actions will now change those around us – we change the world. Or as St. Theresa of Calcutta said ‘I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us and we change things.’
Brothers and sisters, the world needs our change, needs us to open ourselves to being changed by God, let’s not ignore this need.
 LK 18:13
 Dogma and Preaching, Cardinal Ratzinger pg 115