Light To See The Devil

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.

Merry Christmas!

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Introductions

In this morning’s gospel we are surprised by Christ’s attitude. We have come know Jesus as the compassionate, the peacemaker, the merciful. His attitude towards his apostles, his disciples and those he meets during his ministry was one of fellowship, brotherhood, love. But this morning he seems to almost hurl his words at us: ‘I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing![1] and: ‘Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.[2] and he continues in talking about a house, a family, divided.  How does this reconcile with our understanding of the prince of peace?

We can know much about Jesus; we can dive deep into study and reflection of our Lord; but as important as that is, it is not what our faith calls for. It is a very big mistake on our part to only ‘study’ our Lord; Pope Benedict in his first encyclical writes: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person…[3] We need to know Jesus himself; we need to build and deepen a relationship with Him. As we become closer to Him then words like today’s gospel start to open up into the loving, not threatening, message that they truly are. We need to embrace the love of Christ with our love for Him.

Where do we start? Where can we go to step into this relationship that is so needed? How can we be sure that we are building a true friendship, a loving relationship?

This evening we start the celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She who loved God absolutely. She who offered her body and life to God Himself. She who embraced Christ every day and built a mother’s love for her child as she deepened her love for God. She who, at the cross embraced all humanity with a mother’s embrace. She who, has come to us through the millennia to introduce us to Jesus. Let’s look to her as our guide to Christ, as our model for our relationship with her Son. She loves us with all her heart and soul.  Let’s ask her for the wisdom to deepen our friendship with her Son.

It is then that all of Christ’s words will come into clearer focus and consistency. It is then that His words this morning will take on the attitude of love and we will realize that our hearts will blaze with the fire of true love as He wished.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
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[1] LK 12:43
[2] LK 12:51
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, paragraph 2

Hope

Tonight, New Year’s Eve, might be the most celebrated event in the world. All around the world, regardless of religion, culture, race the people wait for midnight and the new year. There is a palpable atmosphere of hope with this celebration. The old year is passing and the future is very noticeable. No matter what the old year held there is always the promise of the new.

Of course, this evening Catholics start the last day of the octave of Christmas.  The eight day of the celebration of the birth of He who is Hope – Christ. We Catholics are, or should be, a hopeful people regardless of what is swirling around us. We are bolstered by the fact of what we are celebrating – God came among us. He came to us, to lift us up. He will never leave us alone; that is what our hope is built upon.

As we travel these last hours of this year, ready to welcome the promise of the next, Holy Mother Church, in her Vigil Vespers, prays two great ‘hymns’; the ‘Te Deum’ and this great ‘canticle’ of hope from Ephesians[1]; let’s make this our prayer as well:

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

even as he chose us in him
before the foundation of the world,
that we should be holy
and blameless before him.

He destined us in love
to be his sons through Jesus Christ,
according to the purpose of his will,
to the praise of his glorious grace
which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

In him we have redemption through his blood,
the forgiveness of our trespasses,
according to the riches of his grace
which he lavished upon us.

For he has made known to us
in all wisdom and insight
the mystery of his will,
according to his purpose

which he set forth in Christ
as a plan for the fullness of time,
to unite all things in him,
things in heaven and things on earth.

As we pray this canticle let’s ask our Blessed Mother Mary, the deliverer of Hope, who we celebrate tomorrow as Mother of God, to pray for us to her Son.

Happy New Year !
Ad multos annos!
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[1] Ephesians 1:3-10

Our Lady of many titles

Homily given on the Memorial of the dedication of the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Today is a special feast for Mary Queen of Heaven parish.  Today Holy Mother Church celebrates not just another church dedicated to our Blessed Mother but the first Marian Church in the west – St. Mary Major in Rome. Santa Maria Maggiore was erected in the 4th century in honor of the proclamation of Mary as Theotokos (God bearer) or as we say ‘Mother of God’ at the council of Ephesus.

We celebrate not only the dedication of a church named after the Blessed Virgin but we also celebrate another title given to Mary in connection with a miracle that led to its erection when in 352, legend has it, Mary indicated in a dream to a wealthy, childless Roman couple, who had prayed that Mary might show them how to dispose of their money, that she wanted a church built in her honor. The couple’s friend, Pope Liberius, also had a dream in which Mary told him that a church should be built in honor of the title ‘Mother of God’ and the site for this church would be covered with snow. The next day, August 5th, a hot, sultry morning, the Esquiline Hill was covered with snow. All Rome proclaimed the summer snows a miracle, and Santa Maria Maggiore was built on the hill; and from this event Mary was given the title ‘Our Lady of the Snows’.

And so, here at our church in Elmhurst Illinois 1,663 years later, dedicated to yet another title given Blessed Mary we celebrate almost two millennia of special honors given to this small maiden, from a small backwards village in a small backwater kingdom – who offered her whole heart and mind and entire being to God long before she gave her fiat to the Archangel Gabriel. A young maiden whose yes changed humanity. A young maiden who has time and time again come among us with love to do one thing – to lead us to her Son.

Brothers and sisters whether we proclaim her as: Our Lady of Good Help, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Guadalupe, or any of the other dozens of titles let’s make sure that we make it our mission to honor Mary by how we live our lives. Let’s make her total faith in her Son our own.  Let’s be like the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel and approach her Son with the confidence that Jesus will hear our prayer and say to us ‘O woman/man great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.[1]

Let’s not give in to the pressures of trying to fit into society if it leads away from where Mary is pointing.  The last week or so our first readings have shown us a stubborn and wayward Israel nation who at almost every step of their journey were tempted to return to slavery if it meant comfort. This is not our path; our path is that of our Blessed Mother – who trusted in God – come what may! She will help us to move towards her Son, she is our Mother; she will untwist the confusion and chaos we find ourselves in by pointing to her Son; which brings us to yet another title given her (and one of Pope Francis’ favorite) ‘Our Lady of the Knots’.

Oh, Lady of many titles help us to keep close to your Son and our Savior.

Amen.
[1] MT 15:28

Mother of God – Mother of Us

Today, the beginning of the year, Holy Mother Church looks to Our Blessed Mother. As all children look to their mother to see how they are doing the Church is no different. Mary is our ‘protectress’, her concern for those her Son loves is unfathomable and unlimited. This was evidenced by her fiat; because with her yes she opened the door of time to eternity; and by doing this allowed Love to enter our hearts in its fullness. Her yes wasn’t just in obedience to God but also in concern for mankind. Her actions throughout her life show her loving concern for people – from going in haste to help Elizabeth her cousin to urging her Son to fix a wrong at the wedding feast in Cana. From the social buffeting she took being pregnant and unwed in Nazareth; to escaping to Egypt; to standing below the Cross she gave witness to her concern for God’s people. She is a mother to Jesus and to us.

It is very, very important as Catholics to understand the nature of Mary’s motherhood, because it is the nature of the Church. Holy Mother Church is not a political action group she is a mother! The then Cardinal Ratzinger summed it up very well in a 1985 interview:

To use the very formulations of Vatican II, Mary is ‘figure,’ ‘image’ and ‘model’ of the Church. Beholding her the Church is shielded against the … masculinized models that views her as an   instrument for a program of social-political action. In Mary, as figure and archetype, the Church again finds her own visage as Mother and cannot degenerate into the
complexity of a party, an organization or a pressure group in the service of human interests, even the noblest. If Mary no longer finds a place in many theologies and ecclesiologies,
the reason is obvious: they have reduced faith to an abstraction. And an abstraction does not need a Mother.

An abstraction does not need a Mother!’ Wow!

My prayer for all of us is that we remember this small yet profound line. When we are in danger of passing judgment; when we are at the point of taking action (or not); when we are trying to witness to our faith; when we expect the Church do those same things – let’s remember this line and look to our Blessed Mother and not an idea – no matter how good because ideas don’t love – her Son does.

Christmas Gifting

In today’s Gospel we see and hear from the Archangel Gabriel.  He comes to Mary to bring a message. This isn’t the first time we see an account of an angel bringing a message, Gabriel came just 6 months earlier to Zechariah and announced that his wife would give birth to St. John the Baptist.  In fact, angel activity has been recorded in the bible many times

  • Abraham told not to kill Isaac. (Genesis 22:11-1)
  • Manoah and his wife told of son to be born. (Judges 13:13-14)
  • Joseph had a message from an angel about Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-24)
  • Shepherds all have message by angels about Jesus. (Luke 2:8-12)
  • Philip told to go to the desert. (Acts 8:26)
  • Paul is told that they would be delivered from the storm at sea. (Acts 27:23-24)

and on and on – there are almost 300 mentions in the Bible of angels!

Angel – the word isn’t a name as much as it is a description of what these spirits do.  It comes from the Greek word ‘anggelos’ and it means messenger.  They are primarily God’s messengers, at least angels and archangels.  There are more – we have put names to them. Pope Gregory the Great tells us ‘There are nine orders of angels, to wit, angels, archangels, virtues, powers, principalities, dominations, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim.[1]  Existence outside of this reality is probably thick with them.  George Bernard Shaw says:  ‘In Heaven an angel is nobody in particular.’   There are many.

I have this vision that as we walk the journey of struggle between our sinful inclinations and our desire to be holy, angels are all around us fighting the agents of evil. I am not alone, St. Ambrose says: ‘We should pray to the angels, for they are given to us as guardians.’  That they are real, that they do God’s bidding, and that they love who God loves should be a given for each of us.  But this information shouldn’t blind us from the historical (biblically speaking) fact that encounters with angels are never a Hallmark Card moment; they are unnerving to say the least, terrifying is probably the best description. Dr. Paul Eymann speaks of this: ‘Angels in the Bible never appear as cute, chubby infants! They are always full-grown adults. When people in the Bible saw an angel, their typical response was to fall on their faces in fear and awe, not to reach out and tickle an adorable baby.[2]

I take this time to discuss angels because of the import this information brings to today’s Gospel.  Mary, devout though she was (the most devout, full of grace, immaculately conceived) must have been very distraught by the visit of an angel, indeed I imagine her terrified[3]. Not only by the appearance but by the message.  This messenger of God tells her that she is to become pregnant, prior to her finalization of marriage – an almost certain death sentence in her time and culture.  All she had to do was say yes to God and her life would be in jeopardy.

And she said yes!

In spite of the traumatic appearance of God’s messenger, in spite of the danger inherent in His message, Mary said yes.  Her trust in God was absolute.  So, like Abraham with his son Isaac; like Job; like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace Mary gives her total self to God’s designs.  In all of these, especially with our Blessed Mother, we see the same holy characteristic – humility; they are humble; they understand their place when viewed from the correct perspective, that of standing in front of God.  Mary’s great unconditional fiat ‘Be it done to me according to your word.’ is the greatest witness of trust and love and the truth it brings – next to her son’s obedience on the cross.  She loves her God and she knows who she is in His eyes. With acceptance of her small and absolutely precious place in God’s family Mary has the peace of mind to accept what He puts to her. Fr. Cantalamessa, the preacher of the papal household, in his 2nd advent homily from last year speaking of this special realization said: ‘It consists in the quiet and tranquil sentiment of being nothing before God, but a nothing loved by Him![4] What freedom is realized with this gift of truth of self!  What power it can bring forth!  What grace can flow from acceptance of self as seen by God!

God gives Mary the gift of His only Son. Mary gives to God her absolute trust in His goodness and love. Both are wrapped in humility.  This my brothers and sisters is the greatest example of Christmas gifting. In a very important way, our tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is a remembrance of this foundational event. May each of us follow Mary’s example and offer to God this Christmas our gift absolute trust. After all, He comes to us and gives us the gift of Himself.

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[1] Pope Gregory the Great Homily
[2] http://christiananswers.net/q-acb/acb-t005.html
[3] Luke 1:29-30 ‘But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
[4] Fr. Cantalamessa, 12/13/13  2nd Advent Homily for Pope Francis

Welcome to our family.

Though not a liturgical event, this evening is the vigil of the Nativity of our Blessed Mother.  For me it emphasizes the historical aspect of our faith.  Christians, especially Catholics celebrate the humanness of our faith and birthdays are one aspect.

As does Christmas, the Nativity of our Blessed Mother reminds me that the origin and the object of our faith entered into history, walked among us; and is still coming among us through the sacraments, through His real presence in the Eucharist and through family members (all we need do is look to Lourdes, Fatima, Champion Wisconsin, and on and on to see this).  We are not trying to follow some abstract set of mystical philosophical ideals to better ourselves or cleanse ourselves or escape from the physical realities around us – we are very much part of the world and we look to God who was and is also very much part this world as well.  This is very important for us to keep in mind as we introduce people to our faith – it isn’t a what; it is a who.  We aren’t adherents we are family members – we don’t ascribe we belong.

For me the first part of today’s gospel[1] reinforces this, Christ is actually giving his disciples some practical rules and procedures to deal with situations in their community.  He understands mankind since He is part of the human race.  It shows me that God is extremely reachable, knowable (to the extent that He lets us know Him) and relatable.

Reachable,
God is not only reachable He actually reached out to us first and eventually came among us.  He desires to walk with mankind in their struggles on their journey home.  He could have just stood at the goal line and waiting to see who among us would reach Him – He didn’t because of His love for us.

Knowable,
Walking among us God came into history and let Himself be known.  He allowed us to participate with Him in time and thus come to know and love Him in an intimate way which couldn’t have happened if He remained in heaven, aloof from us.  He allowed us to know (taste and see if you will), the object of our faith; the goal of our journey. God made Himself small and we can learn much from this act.

Relatable,
Because our God came among us, allowed us to know Him, be becomes relatable.  Our God doesn’t cause us to shy off fearfully into corner shadows; He exudes familial concern and approachability.  He desires a relationship with those He loves – us.

All of this boils down to some very, very good news: we are loved children of God. He desires this intimate relationship with each of us and He gives us family to help with this.  We have just come from (what I consider) a family celebration of birthdays, anniversaries, friendships, and shared lives; and now we are together celebrating as family with God.  It makes us joyful and gives us peace. It allows us to feel, albeit vaguely, what God has in store for us and that makes us hopeful.  This is why we should feel within us the need to bring our friends, who don’t know him, to him.  Our family can never be too big; our celebrations have room for many more.  In my heart I know of no better way to ‘love your neighbor as yourself[2] than to welcome them into my family.

Dear family – let’s bring our other friends to meet our reachable, knowable, relatable Father; let’s bring them into our family.

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[1] Today’s readings Ex 33:7-9,Rom 13:8-10, Mt 18:15-20
[2] Rom 13:9