The Roman Missal: The Institution Narrative (Part II)

One of the traditions when a priest is ordained is that he receives a chalice for the celebration of his First Mass.  In my case, this involved a bit of adventure.  My family and I decided to take a trip to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Ground Zero, and (grudgingly) Yankee Stadium, but the main purpose of our trip was to look at chalices from a company there.

I don’t know if too many people have seen my chalice close up, but it is truly a blessing to be able to celebrate Mass with such a beautiful chalice.  It is decorated with floral engravings and small icons of the Holy Family, and I was even able to mount the stones from my grandmothers’ engagement rings on the cross at the base of the chalice.  One of the most beautiful aspects, however, is that around the lip of the chalice are inscribed the Words of Institution in Latin: “Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei”, in English, “This is the chalice of my blood.”  Trust me, it’s not there so I can remember my lines!

We discussed last time about the importance of these words in the celebration of Mass.  While there aren’t many changes to the Words of Institution for the Body of Christ, there are some significant changes for the Blood of Christ.  One of the primary changes is the replacement of the word “cup” with the word “chalice”.  The primary reason for this change is because “chalice” is a better translation of the Latin word “calix”.  They even look similar, right?  But there is more to it than translation.

We use cups all the time.  I drink from a cup at the bathroom sink in the morning in front of my mirror.  You drink from a paper cup at the water cooler in the gym or at work, simply throwing it away when finished.  Your children might have thrown cups of juice all over the floor on several occasions.  A cup is something very general, and in a sense, pretty mundane.  But a chalice is a special kind of cup.  It is one set aside for a noble and sacred purpose.  You wouldn’t drink a refreshing Coca-Cola from a chalice because it would just seem wrong!

The instruction for Mass makes it pretty clear that chalices must be made of precious metal, or at least lined with it where the Blood of Christ is held.  Many chalices have beautiful and ornate decorations as well.  Some might wonder why something so valuable would be used here instead of the money given to the poor.  But remember, Judas asked the same question!  Just as the woman in the Gospel used her most expensive perfume to anoint Jesus (Matthew 26:6-13), so we offer our best to Christ.  Certainly a chalice is valuable because of its materials, but that is irrelevant.  A chalice is only really valuable because of what it holds.

In changing the English word from “cup” to “chalice”, the Church his helping us to foster reverence for the actions going on at this point in the Mass.  When we go to Mass, are we aware of the sacredness and importance of what’s going on?  Tune in next week when we run into one of the most noticeable changes in the new translation!


By the way, if anyone ever wants to see my chalice, stop by and let me know, and I’d be happy to show you!

Homily From the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Over the past several years, comic book movies have been the big thing.  In fact, most of us probably grew up at least aware of comic books, from the 1960’s on.  Comic books portray heroes as supermen.  They are these powerful figures that are able to fight against the forces of evil.  But they always have some experience or something out of the ordinary that makes them different, that allows them to fight against evil: a radioactive spider bite, a tragic past, an extraordinary inheritance of wealth and access to all sorts of gadgets, being from a distant planet but being undetectable as different while wearing glasses, a super-soldier serum, or being the subject of terrible government experiments.  All these things make it possible for them to fulfill their task and destroy evil.

In many ways, we sort of look for extraordinary figures to do these things in our lives.  Not necessarily with capes, but outstanding people to get things done for us.  In some ways, we’re a lot like the ancient Israelites.  They had figures like Moses, Aaron, Elijah, King David, and they were always looking for the next one: the next Moses, the next Elijah.  But today in the first reading from Deuteronomy, God promises to raise up a new prophet.  He’s obviously referring to Jesus here, but in some ways, he’s referring to us too.  We, like the Israelites, are always looking to someone else, but in reality, each of us are called to be prophets.  We’re charged with the task of being God’s messenger, his prophet.

Just like any superhero, one of the first things that a prophet will have to do is encounter opposition.  If we’re really doing our jobs as prophets, we’re going to encounter evil out there in the world, and that’s exactly what Jesus encountered as he was teaching in the synagogue.  Now, there are two extremes that we can sometimes tend to in this matter.  The first is one that is largely held by our culture, and one that continues to grow in popularity even within the Church.  It is that these demons and unclean spirits that Jesus encountered are really just a mythical way of talking about the problem of evil, and about the bad choices that people have made.  “Demons are things for movies and for medieval art, but all of us know that they don’t actually exist!”  The other extreme that we fall into is seeing the devil around every corner.  “Officer, I know it said on my speedometer that I was going 25 over the speed limit, but it’s not my fault, the devil made me do it!”  Well, the reality is, that the Church has always consistently taught that there are evil beings, angels created by God who by their choice fell away from him.  Our culture is fascinated by this, and almost in a bad way.  There was a movie out recently, an exorcism movie that had as its tagline, “The Vatican doesn’t want you to see this!”  Well no, I doubt the Vatican would want us to see that, but not because of some conspiracy, but because it takes the whole matter of evil and the devil too casually, encouraging people to seek that out for some sort of thrill.  Evil is real.  The devil is real.  The greatest victory of the evil one is to convince us that he doesn’t exist.  We need to be aware of this, and if it scares us a little, then that’s good!

But I think it’s important that we remember not to remove responsibility from ourselves as well.  We always have to be aware that forces of evil are out there and are actively working against all of us as members of the Church of Christ.  But many times, the first opposition that we will have to face as prophets is that opposition within ourselves.  We know that we cannot give the holiness that we ourselves don’t strive to, and we have to do our best to practice what we preach.  And so sometimes battling the forces of darkness means fighting our inner demons: selfishness, ingratitude, fear, lust, envy.  All of these are the little battles we face every day.  They divide us against ourselves.  Think about the man in the gospels: what is it that makes him strange?  He’s an individual, but he’s speaking in the plural: “What have you to do with us?  Have you come to destroy us?”  This is the power of the diabolic, a divisive power that causes us to be ripped apart within ourselves.  Diabolein, the Greek word from which we get the English word “diabolical” literally means “to cast apart” or “to throw apart.”  You see, sin divides us from each other, but it also divides us within ourselves.  You and I know this experience well.  Our wills are divided.  We know what we should do, we know what our conscience tells us in our deepest convictions and beliefs, but we want to do something else.

So what is it that can help us?  What is it that brings this man back to himself, back together again?  What can restore our divided hearts and fight against the evil within ourselves?  Well, the superheroes always have some special power that they use, and as Christians, we are no different, but ours isn’t an ability, it’s a person: the person of Jesus Christ.  The voice of Jesus is what brings that man in the gospel back to himself, and so it is with us.  We have as our power the authoritative voice of Christ given to us through the Church: through the readings of Scripture, through our celebration of the liturgy, through the teachings of the Church.  The authoritative voice that Jesus spoke to that unclean spirit echoes through the Church down through the ages.  If we allow that word to penetrate our hearts, we, like that man in the gospel, are knitted back together, and made whole.  When we make Christ the center of our hearts, the center of our lives, that’s when we feel harmony around that center.  It’s when we do our best to pay attention at Mass, when we seek to be whole through a good Confession, when we offer prayers before meals, when we strive to improve the knowledge of our faith through books or articles, when we pray for our Holy Father, when we pray for our loved ones.  It’s when we do these things and more, to make Christ the center of our lives, that we are made whole.  There are a lot of other voices out there, seeking our attention, telling us to place other things like cars or our homes or fame or financial success at the center of our lives.  Don’t listen to those voices.  Let us strive to always listen to the voice speaking with authority, the voice of Christ, and then go forth, battling evil and spreading that voice to others.

The Roman Missal: The Institution Narrative (Part I)

Say the magic word!  Of course, every child knows what the magic words are to get a cookie or a favor or pretty much anything else – “please” and “thank you”.  These are the words that do everything, the most important words for opening doors and new opportunities.  Actually in magic tricks, you’ll hear the magic words as being something like “Hocus Pocus”!  But did you know that this phrase is actually a mockery of Catholicism, especially of the Eucharist?

“Hocus Pocus” is a mockery of the Latin words used at Mass, in which the priest says “Hoc est enim corpus meum,” meaning “This is my body.”  This is a criticism of the Mass by people who think that our celebration of the Mass is magical, comparing the words of Jesus to words that might do the impossible.  In their mind, Jesus saying that bread becomes his body is about the same as a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat!

To put it bluntly, the words that we speak at Mass are not magic words – they are the words of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  These particular words spoken by Christ, and the narrative that is formed around them, is called the Institution Narrative.  If you listen, the Eucharistic Prayer changes gears from being a prayer to the Father to recounting the events of the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the Eucharist.  The words of institution, the words Christ spoke to his disciples saying “This is my body,” and “This is my blood,” are the Words of Institution, and they are the holiest and most important part of the Mass.

So why are they so important, if they’re just words?  We might have a tendency to think of them like magic words.  But these aren’t our words designed to manipulate God into doing something for us.  They are the words of Christ.  Are they just words?  Were they just words that God spoke to create the heavens and the earth?  Were they just words that Jesus spoke to heal people of their sickness?  Very simply, God’s word does what he says it does.  So if God can speak and create trees and oceans and clouds and breakfast cereals out of nothing, I’m pretty sure he can change bread and wine into his body and blood.

Just as Jesus spoke those words at the Last Supper, he speaks them again at every Mass through the priest to do the same thing.  Because of the power of these words, a priest can’t change them.  Priests are not really supposed to change any wording of the Mass for their own purposes anyway, but the Words of Institution are non-negotiables.  In fact, if a priest just made up his own words here (“…and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘I LOVE YOU GUYS!  YOU’RE AMAZING!’”) they would be invalid.  And of course, that really stinks for everyone going to Mass, because they have to stick around and go to Mass again for their Sunday obligation, listening to the same boring homily.

You’ll notice that the Words of Institution are different from the previous translation, in both minor and significant ways.  Does that mean that we’re changing the words of institution?  No.  Does that mean that all the new translation Masses we’ve been saying for the past few months are invalid?  No.  They were the same Latin as they were in the previous translation.  It’s a different translation, not new words altogether.

As I mentioned, some of these changes are pretty significant, so next time, we’ll pick up these important words again, and explain what they’re about!

Homily From the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Isn’t it kind of interesting how history is broken up into different eras?  I’m German, so I like organization, but wow!  It’s crazy!  You’ve got the Middle Ages, the Age of Discovery, the Age of the Enlightenment, the Modern Era, the Postmodern Era, the Post-postmodern era.  Since World War II, you’ve got the Atomic Age and the Space Age.  Then of course after the invention of the personal computer, you’ve got the Computer Age, otherwise known as the Information Age.  And then since 2001, apparently we’re currently in the Big Data Age, whatever that means.  But who decides these things?  How can you tell?  Is there a buzzer that goes off every couple years that announces “Now leaving the Information Age; Welcome to the Big Data Age…where all your dreams come true!”?

Well, in the Gospel today, we’ve got a little different view of history.  Jesus starts things off by saying, “Now is the time of fulfillment!”  What does that mean?  Fulfillment for what?  It sounds like a bad Gatorade commercial.  Well, in a sense, he’s beginning a new era in human history.  You see, to Christ, and really to all of us Christians, time doesn’t depend on who invents what, but on our friendship with God.  First, you had the Age of Creation, or the Age of Innocence.  It was a time of fullness of communion with God, a time when we lived in paradise and walked with God in the garden.  There was complete friendship with God.  I can just imagine if it were that way today, that Adam and God would be texting each other.  (Adam would text “OMG!!!” and God would text back “What? LOL!!!”)  But then all this came to an end with our fall from grace and the first sin.

So then comes the second age, the Age of the Promise.  This begins right away in Genesis 3:15, even right after God discovers Adam and Eve’s sin.  God promised that he would send a savior.  And so much of this time was spent on preparation and waiting.

But then comes the third age, the one Jesus is thinking about – the Time of Fulfillment.  This is the time of salvation!  About a month ago, we celebrated how God came into time and space at Christmas.  This age started with Christmas, but continues even today, through the activity of the Church!  We’ve gone forth, baptizing all nations, just as Jesus commissioned us to.  And then, of course, at the end of time, Christ will usher in a new age, an age of glory, when all evil is destroyed forever and we are once again united fully with God.

Sounds great, right?  If we think like this, if we realize that we’re living in blessed times, where Christ has fulfilled his promise to us, it can really fill us with peace and purpose.  But the problem is, sometimes, it doesn’t seem that way, and we forget to see things this way.  Sometimes we can feel like we’re on a ship on the ocean.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been on one o those huge cruise ships or not.  It’s like a floating city, honestly.  But at first, when you board the ship, you feel every wave.  You stumble around and might even get sick, but you’re very aware of the beauty of the ocean and the rhythm of the water.  But then as time goes on, you get more and more used to the shift in the boat, and you can walk fine.  And then, you get so involved in what’s going on inside that you might even forget completely that you’re in the middle of the ocean.  If you’re not careful, you can take it all for granted.

Sometimes, we forget to look at our lives as part of God’s plan for history.  Maybe when we first experience that closeness of God, or when we have those extraordinary moments of prayer or of a beautiful Mass, we feel God close to us, and it’s very clear that we live in blessed times.  But then we get into our routine.  And then it’s busy days and busy nights.  There’s always something to do, always something to pay for, always something to repair.  There’s always another meeting or appointment to get to.  And we get so caught up in these things that we forget where we are in God’s plan!

But you see, Christ doesn’t want us to sit idly by while he saves the world.  He doesn’t want us to feel like we’re living in an ant farm.  Instead, he is constantly inviting us to take part in his plan.  What happens in the Gospel today could be said of any one of us in our lives.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John are just sitting around, doing their normal thing.  They were living their lives, working hard so that they could put food on the table.  They were exactly like you and me, and indistinguishable from anyone else around them.  But then, Christ comes along and calls each of them by name.  When he looked at them, he didn’t see just average people, passengers on the salvation train.  He saw people who would play a beautiful and active role in his plan!  And today, he does the same with us.  God calls us to be his disciples and to be Fishers of Men!  We are each called to be like ambassadors for Christ in our lives.  This means that we go into those everyday, repetitive things like work, our family, shopping at Wal-Mart, getting gas at Quik-Trip, and all the other ordinary events of our day, and then we transform them into extraordinary opportunities for holiness!  Christ calls each of us to aid him in his work of redemption by converting it from the inside out, like the leaven in bread.

Today, he calls us again, by offering himself to us in the Most Holy Eucharist.  As we pray around this altar, we are reminded of God’s plan for human history, a plan that found its fulfillment in Jesus.  But then he calls each of us to participate in that plan, and to renew our response and follow him.  May that call, that friendship with Christ found most especially when we receive the Eucharist, be at the center of our lives.

The Roman Missal: On Angels

It’s been about a month since Albert Pujols signed his new contract, and it seems tensions have cooled a little, so I’m a confident I can talk about angels (not the LA kind) without being beaten to death.  Most of us have a pretty romantic vision of angels.  We usually think of altar servers with wings, or fat babies with wings, or even people in 1990’s haircuts with strange lights shining on them (ie. the “Touched by an Angel” TV show).

Modern thought is that angels are a cute, make-believe thing.  But as Catholics, angels are very important to our faith.  They’re not what people turn into when they die, but a whole other creation of God, just as much as we are, or dogs, cats, or wildebeests are.  They are creatures of pure spirit and, like all creation, join us in giving praise to God.

That’s where the Sanctus, or the “Holy, Holy, Holy” comes in (Sanctus is just “holy” in Latin).  The most notable change is that rather than saying “Lord God of power and might,” we say “Lord God of hosts”.  “Hosts” doesn’t mean that God is king of the little white things (although he is…), but it refers to the great multitude of the heavenly armies.  This goes back to the Old Testament in Isaiah 6:1-3, where we hear the prophet’s vision of angels, and guess what?  They’re singing the same words that we do at Mass!  The Gospel of Luke also refers to the “great multitude of heavenly hosts” in Luke 2:13.  Angels are definitely part of our faith!

So what are they?  Well, as I mentioned, they are beings of pure spirit without bodies, and they’re organized in groupings, or choirs of angels.  From the least to the most powerful, they are: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.  Keep these choirs in mind, because you’ll hear about them at Mass.  You can’t tell from hearing it, but when I’m praying the preface (the part right before the Sanctus), these different words are capitalized, referring to the specific choirs of angels: “With Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven…“

What’s the big deal about this, and why is there more emphasis on these angels in the new translation?  Well, it reminds us that when we’re sitting in the pews, struggling to stay awake or to sing along with the music, we’re not doing it alone!  We believe that the angels are there with us, singing and praying with us to give praise and glory to God.  Like them, every fiber of our being is created to give praise, which is why the next thing we do together is kneel.  Certainly something to remember next time you’re at Mass!

Homily From the 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

What is the meaning of life?  It’s kind of a big question, isn’t it?  People spend all their time and energy searching for it.  It’s something we feel we need to discover.  It can be something that evades us our entire lives, except for us young people who clearly have it figured out completely already.  What is it?  Is it having peace of mind?  Is it doing nice things for people?  Is it about feeling good about ourselves?  What is it?

History is filled with philosophers, scientists, outspoken celebrities, and religious leaders who ask themselves that question, and have been seeking for thousands of years what is the meaning of life – what will fulfill us, what will satisfy us.  But really, despite the helpful suggestions given by so many people throughout history, only Christ gives us the answer, and he hints at it today.  We hear in the Gospel that Jesus is walking around by the Jordan River, doing his thing, listening to his iPod, and John the Baptist, a man who has dedicated his entire life for preparing for the Messiah and being able to recognize him calls out, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  John and Andrew, who had been John the Baptist’s followers, decide to investigate this, to check Jesus out, and so they follow Christ.  Jesus sees them, takes the earbuds out of his ears, and asks them, “What are you looking for?”  This may seem like a pretty basic question with a pretty basic answer (“a Wendy’s, “a Target store”, “the All Saints Athletics Fields”).  But it’s a very deep question.  In it, Jesus is asking them what it is that they seek, what it is that they long for within their hearts, what it is that gives them meaning.  The two are awestruck, and don’t really know what to say, so they ask Jesus where he’s staying, and where they can get more information.  And Jesus sort of smiles, and looks at them, and says, “Come and see.”  Come and see.  These beautiful words are some of the most important that we’ll hear in scripture, because they invite him, and all of us, to follow him and to become his disciples.  You see, the meaning of life isn’t something out there for us to find.  It’s not something abstract that we spend our whole lives seeking to possess.  It’s not some strange doctrine to wrap our minds around.  It’s a relationship that we enter into.  It’s a deep and personal friendship and companionship that we share with Christ.

In the Church, that call to friendship with Christ is called our vocation.  It’s the call to the deepest part of ourselves.  It’s not just the call to come to Mass, although that’s certainly out there.  It’s not just the call to help the poor and the lonely, and those in need.  But it is the call to our true purpose, our true mission.  It’s a call from someone who knows us more than we even know ourselves, to share intimately in the life of God.  Everyone has a vocation, whether you’re a mother or father, a husband or wife, or a single person.  And each of us are called in a special way, a unique way, to follow Christ, just as John and Andrew did.

This past week, we celebrated National Vocations Awareness week.  Did anyone know that?  Maybe we didn’t do the best job of awareness…  And while certainly we promote awareness to the married and single life, in a particular way, we promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life.  I think this is something in dire need in our Church and in our parish.  It should be part of every young man’s life to think about serving God as a priest, and part of every young woman’s life to think about serving God as a religious sister or nun.  But unfortunately, it hasn’t really turned out that way in our world today.  I was looking at some statistics for the united states, and in 1965, 994 men were ordained as priests.  But in 2003, just 9 years ago, there were only 441 ordinations.  You can see this in the class sizes that come out of the seminary especially.  In St. Louis, which is a pretty healthy diocese for vocations, Msgr. Whited’s class was made up of 16 people.  Just this past May, however, I was ordained as one in a class of…4.  What’s going on?  Why is this happening?  If it’s truly a call, then why is God calling fewer men?  Well, my theory is that God is still calling men to follow him, and maybe even moreso considering the need of the Church today, but that it’s become harder and harder for them to hear His call.  Other things are blocking that out: consumerism, the sexualization of our society, the emphasis of pleasure over happiness, and the growing idea that faith has nothing to do with life, or that faith is something purely individual.  All these messages and calls are going out.

I’m the only priest here today, as far as I can tell, so you might wonder how this affects you in any way.  But it’s important, because God needs a little help making his call heard.  Samuel had Eli to point it out, and John and Andrew had John the Baptist to point it out.  The priests and religious need us to point it out.  Do we pray for vocations?  Do we make frequent use of Mass, confession, individual prayer?  All these are important, especially to give a good example to foster vocations among our youth.  So if you know anyone who would make a good priest or religious, PLEASE TELL THEM!  It’s not an insult, or a sign of a lack in confidence of them, but a compliment!  It’s a challenging life, but a life of great, great rewards and happiness that ultimately gives meaning to my life.  The reality is that the Church can’t survive without priests.  If it’s a great community, that’s great!  If it’s a great social justice organization, that’s wonderful!  But the Church isn’t the Church if it’s not built around the Eucharist, and the Eucharist can’t happen without priests.

So as we turn the corner here back into Ordinary Time, we’re entering another long journey.  It’s not a boring time, but a time of invitation, a time of that call to get to know Christ and his teachings.  That call is for each of us: not just priests, not just religious, not just married or single people, but for all of us.  The only way that we’re going to know God’s call in our lives is to listen.  So as we come to this altar, as we are called to behold the Lamb of God, then let us respond just as Andrew and John did.  Let us put our trust in him, and in his call, and follow him, and let us find the happiness that Christ offers us in our lives.

The Roman Missal: Orate Fratres

How do you participate when you go to Mass?  Don’t worry, this isn’t a trap.  But there are a lot of ways that we participate when we go to Mass.  Singing is one of the most obvious ways, although that’s sometimes easier said than done.  Saying the responses at Mass, even if they’re melded versions of the old and new translations such as “And also with your spirit.”  Being and extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, a lector, a server, or an usher.  All these things are important responsibilities, and it would be much more difficult to celebrate Mass without them, but the most important participation, and the kind of active participation the Church means when you hear that phrase is a spiritual participation.

One of the changes in the translation invites us to that in particular.  After the gifts are prepared and the altar is ready, the priest will say “Pray brethren (or brothers and sisters), that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father.”  This seems like a pretty simple change, and yes, it reflects what the Latin text says more clearly, but it also helps us remember an incredibly important truth about the different ways that we participate.

The priest of course offers the sacrifice that is physically present there on the altar: the bread and wine that will be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.  This sacrifice is a re-presentation (not representation) of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary in an unbloody way, which is offered on behalf of everyone present, but also on behalf of the whole world.

But this doesn’t mean that those sitting in the pews are simple spectators watching the same thing week after week.  The Second Vatican Council reminded us that we’re all supposed to be conscious participants, by “offering the Immaculate Victim not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves.”

So what does that mean?  What can you and I offer?  Well, the best answer to that is whatever you’re dealing with, whoever you are.  Your sacrifice could be some hurt or pain in a family relationship.  Or it could be worries about a job or finances.  It could be concern about children, even those who have fallen away from the Church.  It could be our own personal habits of sinfulness that we’re dealing with.  It could be the fact that the priest is so monotone, and you can’t seem to pay attention.  Our individual sacrifice is all the joys, sorrows, fears, blessings, and sufferings that we hold in our hearts.  We offer them on the altar, at the foot of the Cross, and we place them next to the Body and Blood of Christ, uniting our sacrifice with His.

And that way, we can truly mean it when we say, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name, for our good, and the good of all his holy Church.”

Homily From the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

How would you feel if I gave my homily to you like this, turning around?  Or what if I hid down here behind the ambo?  Or what if I stood in the sacristy and read my homily to you?  It would be pretty awkward, wouldn’t it?  You can’t see my face, you hear some voice speaking to you from somewhere else.  You would probably feel a bit disconnected, right?  You might be awed that a voice would be coming down, seemingly from heaven, when it’s really from the sacristy, or you might be wondering why I’m doing any of these things during a homily.  But eventually, you’d get frustrated, lose attention, and go into screensaver mode, just tuning everything out (Although, nobody would ever do that here, right?).

It’s important that we see who’s talking to us, right?  It’s important to see their face.  If you’re behind a pillar or a very large person in the pew in front of you, you might scoot over just a little bit so you can see the face of a priest or reader or deacon or whoever.  The face is a sort of window into the soul.  We show everything through our faces – emotions, whether someone trusts you or not, what the other person is thinking.  You can look at couples that have been married for a while, and see that all they have to do to communicate is shoot a glance at the other person.  The face is really important, and it’s important that we see and be seen by others.  That feeling of seeing others is important, but even more important to us at times can bee that feeling of being gazed upon by someone else.  Think about how much you love it when a baby looks at you and smiles, and it sort of melts your heart.  When we see someone face to face, when we are gazing and being gazed upon, there is a connection there.  And when that gaze isn’t there, that connection seems almost fake.  How would you feel if someone said they cared for you, but then never lifted their face to look at you?

God wants us to feel connected.  In the first reading, we hear this blessing from the Book of Numbers, called the Aaronic Blessing (not the Ironic Blessing).  The blessing goes: “The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”  The Lord wants you to look upon his face, and to let you be looked upon you as well.  We are invited to look into the essence of God.  But that can be hard to do for us.  We’re sinful people, and in some ways, the last thing we want to do is look into God’s face.  When a child has done something wrong, like kicking the sister or breaking the lamp, or even when they’re angry with someone, the last thing they want to do is look their parents in the face.  And I think the same is true with us.  That look that is soul-searching and penetrating and connecting has been transformed in some ways into shame.  Even think of the Bible.  When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves, not wanting to look on the face of God.  Throughout the Old Testament, people averted their eyes from the Ark of the Covenant or from the presence of God out of respect and fear, because looking into God’s face would kill them.  They felt threatened, ashamed, and diminished.  How could they look into God’s face.

But then the face of God became the face of a baby, as we celebrated just a week ago, and as we still celebrate today.  Think about that, and about how unthreatening it is.  People never avert their eyes from a baby.  Even during Mass, people in the row behind babies make faces at them.  They think I can’t see them making silly faces at babies…but I see everything…  These people love making faces at the baby, they love looking at the baby’s face, trying to get them to laugh or smile, even if it takes looking ridiculous themselves.  But think about that baby in Bethlehem.  Sometimes, I think we can think of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, and of course all the shepherds, in these perfect statuesque positions, simply looking at Christ with awe.  And I’m sure that happened!  But I bet you the shepherds were doing the same things everyone else does when there’s a baby around – they made silly faces and expressions, looking at the baby and trying to get the baby to look at them.  And indeed, in a very profound sense, that is why God was made incarnate – so that we can gaze on him and be gazed upon by him ourselves.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God today, we recall that Mary was the first to be invited to see God in this way, and that is what she holds on to, and meditates on.  If you think about it, the shepherds would have loved to stay in Bethlehem, but they had work to do, and had to get back to their flocks.  And the same is true with us.  School starts here Tuesday, everyone has to get back to work, the Christmas parties are over, the trees are already out in the street, and soon, Valentines Day decorations will fill the stores.  So how can we keep Christmas meaningful to us, even after it’s over?  I think Mary gives us the answer today.  She reflects on all these things in her heart.  She moved on from the manger, she put away the gifts from the Magi and the shepherds, and she started being a mom.  But she reflected on all those things and their importance.  She didn’t know what lay ahead, or what God had in store for her or her Son, but she trusted that God would see her through.  She paid attention; she looked at her life, at her Son’s face, and she reflected on the many gifts that God had given her in her heart.  I think that’s what we’re all called to do.  Maybe as a New Year’s resolution, you can commit yourself to just a few minutes at the end of the day to reflect on the day, calling to mind your times of weakness, when you needed God the most, and then on all those gifts God has given you in that day.  I think if we do this, and if we reflect on these things in our hearts like Mary, we will feel that connection with God, a connection that he invites us to today, most especially in the Holy Eucharist.  May God bless us and keep us.  May he let his face shine upon us and be gracious to us.  May he look upon us kindly just as we look upon him with love, and may he give us peace.