Monday, December 23, 2019

A Christmas Homily: You Are Wanted, Loved, and Chosen

Dear Friends, although I don't preach from a text, this is the general idea of the homily I will have for Christmas this year. I hope it is helpful to someone. I wish you all a Merry Christmas.

There's a video that makes its way around social media fairly regularly. It's filmed on somebody's phone and takes place in the living room of a family home on Christmas Day, maybe last year. Seated on the floor amid a rather large family gathering, is a young boy (eleven, I believe) who is handed a present to open. The gift is a framed photograph. He's then asked to read the card aloud. The words he reads are something like this: "Dear Carter, we are all so happy that you are in our family photo this Christmas. We would like you to be in our family photo every year. Carter, would you like to be a . . . ." Before the young boy can finish reading, he bursts into tears. The implication is that this family is asking him if he'd like to be adopted into their family for good. 

I find the video moving on so many levels. What really strikes me, however, is that in that moment, you realize how being chosen--being adopted--impacts this young boy's life. His tears express something overwhelmingly human. All of a sudden, you realize that this young boy's hopes and fears are all coming to the surface. You get the sense that deep down, he may have felt like he would never belong, never be really part of a family. Perhaps he had always hoped that someday he'd feel like he really belonged. And now, he finally belongs to someone. He isn't an outsider any longer. His tears reveal that he is no longer alone. He is loved. He is wanted. He is desired and chosen. When he opened that gift, he had no idea how much his life was about to change. He was now part of a family.

Tonight, we come to the manger. Like the shepherds, who dwelled in the darkness of the fields, all of us dwell in some level of darkness. Each of us has these fundamental fears. We are afraid that we do not belong. We can feel left out of God's plan. We can feel like we are on the outside. We can feel alone, afraid, different. Our sufferings, our sins, our pasts, our fears can all weigh us down. Maybe sometime we are not even aware of it. Maybe the party is going on around us and we can lull ourselves into a sense of security. But tonight we are suddenly awakened.

Into the darkness of life, angels appear tonight. They announce to us, "Do not be afraid." They proclaim to us "Good News of Great Joy." Like that moment when the little boy was handed that present, our life is about to change. 

We come to the manger tonight. The Child in that manger is a gift to us. He is a gift that reveals to us something utterly extraordinary. This Child is God. Yes, God has come down from heaven to be part of our family. But more importantly, when we receive this gift, it is revealed to us that God has chosen us to be part of His family. We are not alone. We are no longer relegated to the darkness of our fears, sorrows, and sins. God has chosen us, adopted us into His family.

That young boy, Carter, burst into tears when he realized that he had been adopted into a loving family. Tonight, we are here because in the manger there is a gift awaiting us. He is Christ and Lord. He is given to us so that we can know that we are not alone. You are not alone. Deep down, whether you know it or not, you hope that you belong to someone forever. You hope that you are chosen. You hope that you are loved intimately and infinitely. Deep down, you have fears. You are afraid of being ultimately alone. You are afraid of being unlovable, unforgivable, unredeemable. 

All of us--deep down--have these hopes and these fears. Well, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in Bethlehem tonight. This little baby--this beautiful peaceful baby--is the Father's Gift to You. He is the Word Made Flesh. His Word tonight is that you are loved, forgiven, and redeemed. His word to you tonight is that you belong to the Father. 

I hope that this Christmas, all of us who sit in any sort of darkness might come to the manger and find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes. I hope that each of us can hear the Father speaking to us through this gift. The Infant Jesus tonight is the best news that any of us will ever receive. This gift is God telling us, "You are not alone. You are not unloved. You do not need to be afraid any longer. I love you and I want you always to be part of my family."

The angels were right. This indeed is good news of great joy. And this news is for you.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Do You See What I See? Catholic College Students Convincing Me of Christ

"Go and tell John what you hear and see." These are the words spoken by Jesus when John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, "Are you the one or should we look for another?" Jesus doesn't give them an oration. He doesn't provide them with a syllogism, a discourse, or some well-crafted talking points. He simply says, "Go and tell John what you hear and see."  These words are so striking to me.  Can it be that simple?

Twice a year, the Catholic students at Boston University go on retreat together. Although we always have great speakers come, what is always the most moving and memorable part of the retreat are the witness talks by the students themselves. They share how they have seen the Lord work in their own lives, how the Lord has spoken to them in their own lives. These witness talks are always an incredibly powerful testimony to what it means to be a Christian. Months and years after each retreat, nobody will recall anything that I ever said. But, the personal witness of the students is long remembered. 

When I began this blog some years ago, I did so in order to share with others what I see and what I hear in my life as a priest. The experience of encountering Christ is not complete until we have shared with others what we ourselves have heard and seen. As St. John writes, 

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life--the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and made manifest to us--that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete" (1JN 1:1-4).

On this Third Sunday of Advent, I share with you what I have seen and heard today. I do so that you may deepen your own fellowship with us and with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. I share these quick sights and sounds because to do so also helps my joy to be more complete. Here is what I have heard and seen:

  • Today as I looked out at Mass, I saw young 18-22 year olds who are in the midst of the stress of Final Exams, but who came to  Mass to worship God.
  • I heard the confessions on young men and women who are humbly trying to grow in holiness
  • I saw young men and women from all over the world--different races, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds--all worshipping together
  • I saw someone in the congregation who was not a Christian last Christmas, but who was baptized this past Easter.
  • I saw someone who had been an atheist, but is now an active and joyful Catholic.
  • I saw people at Mass who had not been practicing the Faith, but were now sitting next to the friend who encouraged and invited them to follow the Lord.
  • I  heard Catholic friends after Mass encouraging one another, laughing with one another, and loving one another.
  • I see and I hear the missionary zeal and love of the young people here. I see their intense desire for others to share in their fellowship and to be close to the Lord.
  • I see and hear young men and women who are in love with Jesus Christ and who love others enough to share their testimony.
  • I see them making sandwiches and delivering them to those living on the streets of Boston.
  • I hear them praying together, talking about serious things together, and participating in Bible Studies together.

To share the Faith, you don't need to be a theological expert. You don't need to be able to answer every single question about the Catholic Church with flawless precision. But, we can do two things. We can surround ourselves with people who are living the Catholic life, who are striving to become truly holy. And when we do this, we hear and see things that profoundly touch us and move us. These encounters--these sights and sounds--deepen our conviction about Jesus Christ and His Church. When we encounter these witnesses, we feel something in our heart that makes us say, "This is all true. I want this for my life."

John the Baptist was sitting in a dark cell. He couldn't see much in there, just the four walls. All he could hear was the party going on upstairs--the drinking, the music, the buffoonery--and perhaps he could hear the executioner sharpening his axe. Many people are sitting in darkness, feeling the weight of gloom, burdened by illness, by a sense of meaninglessness, emptiness, and doubt. They need a friend. They need someone who can share with them the joy of the Gospel.

Do you see what see what I see? Do you hear what I hear? Do you know what I know? If the answer is "No," that's because you are not surrounding yourself with Catholic friends and witnesses. If the answer is, "Yes," then there's only one more thing for you to do to make your joy complete: "Go and tell others what you hear and see."