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.

Homily From the 4th Sunday in Advent, Year C

"Good God!"  "Yes, that's what the Hebrews thought."
“Good God!” “Yes, that’s what the Hebrews thought.”

There are so many Christmas movies out there that everyone has a favorite.  Somebody asked me recently what my favorite Christmas movie is, and I had to think about it.  Miracle on 34th Street?  No.  Stop-motion Rudolph?  No.  Small One?  Despite what my parents would probably tell you, no.  Die Hard?  Fun movie, but no.  My favorite Christmas movie (today at least) is Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Why you ask?  It’s clearly a perfect parallel to the season of Advent!  They are searching all over for the Ark of the Covenant, following ancient manuscripts and the Headstaff of Ra, just like we follow the prophecies of Isaiah and await the Messiah.  They find the Ark, and there is this spooky scene where they are lifting it out of the Well of Souls.  They know the presence of God lies within, but they can’t quite open it yet, because it’s not the proper time or circumstance.  Finally, the end comes, where the Nazis open the Ark – you might consider this like the “Christmas event” of the movie, welcoming God into their midst.  But they aren’t properly prepared, and it melts their faces off!  So what’s the point?  No, Christmas is not going to melt your face off if you’re not prepared.  The point is that the Ark of the Covenant in some ways might be considered part of the preparations for Christmas – we know what lies within, and we anticipate it and receive it with joy!

This whole season of Advent, we’ve been talking about King David.  The Messiah foretold is supposed to be born of David’s line and to take up David’s Kingdom forever.  And we hear today about Bethlehem, a small city, but the city of kings.  It’s where King David grew up, and as we know from all our Christmas carols (oh yeah, and the Bible), it’s where Jesus was born.  Bethlehem even means “House of Bread”, so how fitting that it’s from Bethlehem that Jesus, the Bread of Life comes.  One of the most important things that King David accomplished in his reign was returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  At the time, it was at the house of some guy named Obed-edom out in the hill country outside of Jerusalem.  And in 2nd Samuel, we hear that as David brought the Ark into the city, David danced and leaped with joy before the Ark of the Covenant.  Eventually, it was David’s son Solomon who built the Temple around the Ark.  The Ark was so important to the Israelites because it was the physical presence of God before them, to remind them that God is always near to them.

We hear a little more about the Ark today in our Gospel – not directly, but the little details in the Gospel point to the new Ark of the Covenant – the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Mary is the perfect symbol of the season of Advent.  I mean, yes, the season is about Jesus, but in a way, we’re kind of invited to join Mary in her preparation and rejoicing at her Son’s birth.  Now, any mother her can tell you that waiting for the baby isn’t always fun, and it definitely lasts longer than 4 weeks.  But still, what greater symbol of anticipation than an expectant mother?

4474384646_282021aa7cOne of the titles that we have for Mary in that famous Litany of Loreto is the “Ark of the Covenant”, and we can really see why today in the details.  We hear that Mary went in haste to the hill country (oh, St. Luke, you’re so clever!).  Then when she goes to meet Elizabeth, John the Baptist starts jumping around with joy – much like David did in adoration before the Ark of the Covenant.  There are some other cool details too: David wore an ephod, the clothing of a high priest, and John was of the priestly line of Aaron.  Also, the Ark remained in the house of Obed-edom for 3 months before it was revealed to all, and Mary remained in the house of Elizabeth for 3 months.  Mary is truly the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place for the presence of God.  St. Ambrose, a Doctor of the Church, can say this far better than I can:

The prophet David danced before the Ark.  Now what else should we say the Ark was but holy Mary?  The Ark bore within it the tables of the Testament, but Mary bore the Heir of the same Testament itself.  The former contained in it the Law, the latter the Gospel.  The one had the voice of God, the other His Word.  The Ark, indeed, was radiant within and without with the glitter of gold, but holy Mary shone within and without with the splendor of virginity.  The one was adorned with earthly gold, the other with heavenly.

So what are we supposed to get out of this other than to realize how clever God is?  Well, I would propose that we learn from this at two angles.  First, we are to imitate David and John the Baptist in recognizing the presence of the Lord when he comes before us.  That’s really tough to do!  It means recognizing the presence of God in the poor, in the weak, in the needy.  It means recognizing Christ in our family members that we have to get together with at Christmas, especially the ones you simply can’t stand to be around.  It especially means recognizing Christ’s presence in the Eucharist.  Despite the Church telling us over and over again for 2000 years that it is the Body and Blood of Christ and not just a symbol, how tough is it for us to recognize!  But that’s what Advent is about – being able to recognize the presence of Christ in our midst, and if we can’t, then sacrificing and challenging ourselves to grow in doing so.

The second angle that we approach with today is imitating Mary as the Ark of the Covenant.  Especially during these seasons of Advent and Christmas, we are challenged to ask ourselves how we are bearers of Christ to others.  When we are filled with God’s grace, and especially when we receive the Eucharist into our bodies, we become living tabernacles of the Lord, little Arks of the Covenant.  We are therefore called to act in a way that helps others to recognize Christ’s presence, just as Mary did for John and Elizabeth.  We do this especially through acts of kindness.  I’ve heard so many stories of random acts of kindness this month – from police giving 100-dollar bills to help people get by to strangers paying for the next person in line at the grocery store.  If only that didn’t just happen before Christmas!  Imagine if it were all year long!

Brothers and sisters, today, we stand before the Lord, present to us in Mary, in each other, and especially in this Eucharist.  May we have the faith to recognize him, the courage to reveal him to others, and the gratitude to rejoice and give praise for all he has done for us.