Homily From the Baptism of the Lord, Year C

theophanyOk, fine, you can finally start putting your Christmas decorations away, because after today, Christmas is finally over.  And thank goodness, because the wreath on my door is turning brown.  Today is the feast day of the Baptism of the Lord, when Jesus decided that he’d spent enough time laying around the manger, and it was time to get to work.  So he speeds up time so that he’s an adult, and gets baptized by John.  Not really, but the event triggers the beginning of his public ministry.  The readings from the next few weeks of Ordinary Time will revolve around his public works, how he lives out the stuff that was promised at Christmas.  Today his identity is revealed: “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”  And he is given a mission, which we hear in our first reading: “I the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice.  I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring our prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

You might be wondering, did Jesus need to be baptized?  Well, he was like us in all things except for sin, so no, not really.  Normally when we think of baptism, we think of the holy waters flooding on someone to make them holy, right?  Well in this case, those waters, in washing upon him, are themselves made holy.  It was through this baptism that Jesus instituted and opened the doors for our own baptism.  Baptism is sort of the forgotten sacrament – literally.  Does anyone remember their baptism?  Does anyone remember their baptismal day (mine is April 14!)?  Sometimes baptism becomes the sacrament that we leave behind for the old photographs or yellowed baptism candles.  But it really is incredibly important.

Baptism isn’t just an excuse for our parish to start sending you donation envelopes, nor is it something as simple as a welcoming ceremony where you have to start being a good person.  The thing is, Christianity isn’t even about being a good person, nor about doing the right thing.  Anybody can do that – even someone who doesn’t care about God, even a Cubs fan, can be a good person or do the right thing.  Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to do this – in fact, thank you for being good people and not hurting each other in the pews!  But the thing is, Baptism shows us that Christianity is even more basic than that.  It’s about bringing us into the inner life of God.  It’s about defining who we are.

Jesus receives his identity today – “You are my beloved son,” but really, that line can be spoken about each of us as well.  “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.”  God makes us who we are in baptism – he gives us an identity.  Sometimes we can think we are the ones who define ourselves.  Obviously, we make choices like what we will do, how we will live our lives, and things that people will remember us for.  But sometimes we start to define ourselves by our successes and failures.  Then we can fall into the misguided pride and arrogance about ourselves – that we don’t need God.  Or we can fall into a disdain and hatred of ourselves – that we aren’t worth God’s time.  But the things we do aren’t our identity – God decides who we are: beloved sons and daughters of God.

It’s from that identity that we receive our mission in life – to be a light of the nations, a sign of God’s covenant.  To open the eyes of the blind, to bring freedom to those captive in their self-loathing.  To bring light to those in darkness.  That’s the mission of every Christian, not just Jesus himself.  Today we have the opportunity to enroll our confirmation candidates, inviting them to begin their commitment to preparing for the sacrament of Confirmation.  Confirmation isn’t a coming of age ceremony or anything, but it’s a perfection of what was started way back on the day we were baptized.  It’s the time to embrace your faith, and see where it leads you.

This Sunday also kicks off our National Vocations Awareness Week, where we will celebrate and become more aware of the way that God calls us through baptism to become holy.  Your vocation is your highway to become a saint!  And while on the feast day of the Holy Family a few weeks ago we talked specifically about the vocation to marriage and the family, this week is dedicated specifically to remembering the vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life.

fitness-roman-collarMy own story isn’t that special.  I didn’t hear voices or see visions or find a secret message in my toast or anything.  My vocation to the priesthood is pretty simple: I had loving parents.  We went to Mass and my parents cared about my Catholic education.  I had the great example of my faithful grandparents.  I thought about it as an altar server because I was closer to the action and could see what was going on.  I received an invitation from a friend to visit the seminary in high school, then entered the College Seminary, studied there for 4 years, then 4 years of grad school, and pow!  Here I am!  Sometimes people ask when I knew that I was called to be a priest, and to be honest, it was about a day after my ordination.  It was at my first Mass and at my first Confessions that I knew that God had called me here.  Sure, I had thought about it a lot before that, and was confident in my discernment, but it was then that I realized that that’s who I am – that’s my identity.  It’s not my career as a man who went into the priesthood (because it’s obviously not about the money, but the insurance isn’t bad!).  It’s not about what I do, but it’s about who I am.  At my very core, I am a priest – and I’m proud of it!  It’s from that identity that I do what I do here at All Saints.

Each of us has our own vocations, our pathways to heaven – married couples, people dedicated to the single life, religious brothers and sisters, deacons, and priests.  Our vocations aren’t about what we do, but about who we are – who God has called us to be.  As we’re celebrating the Baptism of the Lord today, and as we reflect on our own baptismal call to holiness, and how that is lived out in our vocations, then let us bring ourselves back in our hearts to that baptismal font, where the doors of the Church were opened to us, and where God gave us our core identity – “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in you I am well pleased.”  Let us give thanks to God for who he has made us, and commit ourselves today to living that out in service to our brothers and sisters.

Eucharistic Prayer I: The Treasury of the Church

1Over the Christmas season and the time leading up to it, the generous people of All Saints gave us priests a lot of gifts – especially in cookie form!  So many people would send each of us cookies, and so we would take what we had received and sort of combine it on the kitchen counter in a hulking mound of cookie tins and plates.  And each of us would draw on that mound throughout the Christmas season, until now, when we are all working on our New Year’s fitness resolutions.  For the record, I for one am always looking for excuses to eat cookies, so feel free to keep them coming (Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, the Conversion of St. Paul, the feast day of St. Paul Miki and his Companions…I could go on…)!

Odd as it may seem, the same is true between us and the saints – not that they give us cookies, but that they generously store up God’s graces for us!  In the Catechism, we read that, “a perennial link of charity exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth. Between them there is, too, an abundant exchange of all good things.  In this wonderful exchange, the holiness of one profits others, well beyond the harm that the sin of one could cause others.” (CCC 1475)

Basically, the good deeds that the saints did and all the graces they received are also passed down to us.  As you’ll become aware, Eucharistic Prayer I loves to mention lists of saints, but considering it’s ancient origins, the saints mentioned in the Canon very well might have been people that these congregations knew.  Even today, we pray that they might pass their merits on to us.

This is called the “Treasury of the Church.”  No, it’s not a huge chest in the lower levels of the Vatican where Dan Brown claims the pope hoards all our weekly contributions.  It’s a mystical treasury of infinite value, filled by the merits of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.  That’s worth more than anything we could possibly accomplish!  Really, it’s even through God’s grace that we are led to do things that we might consider to have merit.  Our merits are really God’s merits!

The merits of the saints are then passed down to us when we call upon them.  The Canon prays that “through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help.”  The saints are there to help us – to defend us and protect us.

I think it’s an important question whether we are calling upon this treasury.  Eucharistic Prayer I certainly encourages us to do so.  Many times, we might ask our friends or relatives to pray for us or to keep us in their thoughts, but do we ask the saints for the same favor?  This week, as you’re muddling through your ordinary business, don’t be afraid to unlock that treasury of grace that the saints, through the grace of God, have built up for us!

Homily From the Solemnity of the Epiphany

wise-menHow many people here have already packed up all their Christmas decorations?  Well, Christmas isn’t over yet!  Actually, we have another whole week to go!  Well, back to our manger scene, we notice that the magi have finally made their way over the stable, along with their obligatory camels, as we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany.  Now many of us are probably out of Christmas mode already, but today the Church invites us to continue to celebrate, and to enter into the experience of the magi.  The magi wandered to Bethlehem, they processed to the Lord to offer their gifts, they humbled themselves in a time of adoration, and then they went forth by a different way.  Today, as we celebrate this Mass, we are invited to join them.

The magi first came to Bethlehem, wandering by faith.  They were most likely some eastern combination of a king and an astrologer, so they were constantly looking to the stars, trying to decipher the heavens, trying to find order and purpose.  When they saw the shining star different from all others, they realized that they had to follow this star to find it’s meaning, and ultimately, after much wandering, the star led them to Christ.  We probably find ourselves looking for meaning and purpose in our lives as well.  Sometimes on the one hand, we can face a lot of chaos, or on the other, the monotony of daily life.  But today, our search has led us here before this altar, to listen to the Word of God and to receive his Body and Blood.  By our coming here, we come into contact, even if just for an hour, with our purpose in life – to know, love, and serve God in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next.

Upon arriving, the magi process to the Lord, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  These are rather strange gifts, really, but they show us a bit of Jesus’ identity: gold, a gift to a king; frankincense, a costly incense for worship before God; and myrrh, a perfume used to anoint the dead, showing us Christ’s true mission.  These three gifts were also gifts of themselves, statements of their adoration and faith in Jesus.  Here in this church, we likewise process with bread and wine – to re-present the Last Supper and the mystery of the Cross.  It really is the greatest gift we could give because it is a gift of love, of total self-sacrifice.  But as these gifts are brought forward and prepared, we likewise bring the gift of ourselves and our hearts – all the joys, sufferings, thoughts, words, and actions of the day and week ahead.  It is through these gifts that the Lord receives us and welcomes us, just as Jesus and his family did for the travelling magi.

Now remember, the magi didn’t just show up, drop their gifts off, and leave.  The Gospel tells us that they prostrated themselves and did him homage.  If what we say is true, that they were astrologer kings, that would be quite an extraordinary sight – three kings laying in humility and adoration before this tiny child.  They may not have fully understood it at the time, but that child would grow up to offer himself out of love, not just to his parents, not just to the Jewish people, but to these gentile kings, and to all of us throughout the world.  They wanted simply to thank him for the opportunity to be present with him.  Now I know how uncomfortable these pews are (Thank God I have a presider chair!), and I know how we all have things we are getting ready to do and breakfasts that we are licking our lips for.  Many times, we just want to get things over with!  But as we come together today, we’re invited to pause, to kneel, to be silent, to pray, and to adore.  The King in the manger that the magi prostrated before is the same that we will soon kneel before as well, present on this altar.  We need to be sure to take the time to thank God simply for the opportunity to be in his presence and serve him!

If you recall, there was no room at the inn, and I don’t think Bethlehem had any Holiday Inns, so the magi knew that they would have to return at some point.  And the Gospel tells us that they had been warned in a dream not to return to Herod.  They went back by another way, but not merely geographically.  They had the choice: would they return to Herod and the selfishness and power-hunger that he represented?  Or would they return a different way, starting a new life influenced by what they had just seen.  Their hearts and spirits were comforted and their minds were still turning these things over in wonder – not a bad way to head home on the camel!  At the end of Mass, we are invited to “Go in peace.”  But we need to realize what this means.  It is not merely to go in peace back to our cars and get back to work.  We go in peace by another route.  The way we know that the Eucharist means something to us is if we find ourselves doing or thinking things differently.  Is the mystery that we are kneeling before here compatible with how we are living our lives?  Do we take seriously what Christ challenges us to do through the Church in living new lives?  Let us be comforted by the mysteries we receive here, and turn them over in our minds in wonder.

Brothers and sisters, let us mystically join the magi in their pilgrimage to Bethlehem.  Let us pray in silent and profound adoration before the King of Kings, placing our gifts before him to do with them what he wills.  And then, holding the child Jesus in our arms as we are soon to do in the Holy Eucharist, let us treasure his grace in our hearts and return home with new and transformed hearts by another way.

Homily From the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, Year C

Yeah, kind of like that.  Thanks, Dad!
Yeah, kind of like that. Thanks, Dad!

Sometimes it’s interesting what people pick up from their parents.  We develop different habits, different facial expressions, laughs, or even speaking habits from our parents.  From my dad, for example, I received the incredible ability to raise my left eyebrow as I lower my right one. My mom can’t do it, but it is one of the great inheritances that my sister and I received from our dad.  We also received what is affectionately called the “Grosch Tongue”, where when we find ourselves hard at work, our tongue likes to poke out of our mouths to assist in the effort. We learn a lot from our parents.  Maybe I didn’t receive any odd facial expressions from my mom, but I received countless other things that have helped me to become the man that I am today – how to sew a button, how to wash black clerical shirts without having them fade, how to clean the kitchen as I cook.  The point is, no matter how much we like to think that we’re individuals or that we define ourselves, we take after our parents.

The same was true of Jesus.  Jesus was the Son of God, and the Son of Mary.  He was like us in all things but sin, but nevertheless, I would still think that the example of his parents, especially his Mother, taught him how to live.  I sometimes wonder what Jesus received from her.  Did he have Mary’s eyes, her nose, or her smile?  Maybe.  But more importantly, he probably learned other things from her as he grew up.  Maybe he learned his obedience, openness, and surrender to God – things which would ultimately find their greatest expression on the Cross – from the total openness, acceptance, and humility of Mary.  I feel very confident in saying that he might have learned to pray from Mary.  We hear of Jesus going away early in the morning to a deserted place to pray.  But this practice didn’t just come about on its own.  Maybe he learned that from the reflective and contemplative heart of his Mother, who kept all these things in her heart.

Mary_Mother_of_GodIf we’re going to be spiritual brothers and sisters of Jesus, we also have to be spiritual sons and daughters of Mary.  She was his mother in the flesh, but she is also our mother in grace.  Just as I learned from my mom sewing and laundry and the like to make me a mature adult, so we learn how to be mature Christians from Mary – we learn how to be not just followers, but disciples.  Today, Mary teaches us one of the most important virtues of all: wisdom.  She responded to all the wonderful things that God was doing in and around her, and she kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.  Put yourself in her place for just a second.  How strange would it have seemed if all of a sudden, these shepherds knock on the door looking for your baby boy?  And then a few days later, magi from the east, exotic astrologer kings, come to offer these ridiculously rich gifts.  I mean, these people are just showing up!  But rather than just noting how random these occasions were and letting them roll right off her, she opened herself to the awe and joy of seeing the truth of her Son revealed to her and to the world.  Just as Mary’s womb was opened to receiving the living Word of God, so her heart was open to receiving God’s ongoing words and messages and blessings as he continued to speak through the events of her life.  That is the mature faith that she passes on to us today to learn from her.

There have been a lot of lists the past few days.  The St. Louis Post Dispatch had their list of top stories from 2012.  There were lists of the best and worst movies of 2012.  Even MLB Network had a show last night on the top 25 ejections of 2012!  (Man, do I miss baseball!)  Maybe today’s feast reminds us and challenges us to look back at the events of our lives with a mature faith – with contemplation and gratitude.  This isn’t just seeing these things as random events that simply make up one more year of our lives that has passed on to oblivion.  A mature faith is following the example of Mary.  How was it that God made himself known to you this year?  What are you called to reflect on in your heart today?  Obviously, we do that in a special way today on New Years Day, but I think God challenges us through Mary to not simply be reflective on our lives one day a year, one year at a time, but each and every day.  When we follow the example of Mary, each day is a new day of grace, and we find ourselves reflective and thankful for the blessings of the past year and attentive to what he will bring us in the year to come.

Let us turn now in praise of Christ, who gives us today the example of his mother, who is our mother as well.  Let us give him thanks for the great example of motherhood that we receive from her, and as we begin this new year of God’s grace, let us think on all the events of 2012 and anticipate 2013, reflecting on all these things in our hearts.