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The beginning of a New Year has a lot of promise. We don’t know what will happen: the joys and sorrows, the opportunities before us and plans that will get scrapped, the changes that God will ask of us, the opportunities for ministry that will cross our paths, and the list continues. God does not have it all mapped out, but the promise of Christmas is that he will walk through it all with us. His Birth is the promise that by taking on Flesh, God will always be with humanity.
Mary teaches us today how to live this year in a way to grow in faith. The Gospel writer tells us that “And Mary kept all these reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary kept praying over all the events in the life of Jesus and opened her heart to God to give her the insight she needed to make sense out of it all. What a great example to follow. No matter what is to happen this year we need to bring it to Jesus. I am sure she didn’t always understand what he was doing or why, but she opened her heart to him. So must we. By opening our hearts to Jesus.
he will walk with us and give us the insight to make any decisions,
he will be our rock when we feel that life is out of control,
he will be the source of our forgiveness and the wellspring of grace.
Mary teaches us that when God asks anything of us ad we accept it, He will give us the grace we need. God will give us the strength to endure the Crosses we will be asked to carry and the fullness of joy to celebrate the Resurrection that also occur.
When Joseph and Mary fulfilled the precepts of the Law on this eighth day after the birth, they teach us the importance of living out the precepts of our faith. We are called to pray every day, to celebrate the Sacraments, to study the Sacred Scripture, to live out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, to not be afraid to be faithful Catholics. I would encourage you to take one thing and devote the year to it
Grow in your life of prayer.
Read one spiritual book
Read through the the Bible this year
Learn about one saint and try to imitate him or her
Get involved in one ministry in the parish
Commit yourself to one act of charity every day
May this New Year be a year of grace for each of you. May the prayers of the Mother of God help you to be faithful to the Christian life. Let 2020 be a time when you encounter Jesus so deeply that you, like Mary, bear him into the world.
This Sunday is one of the easiest and hardest Sundays to preach on. It is the easiest because we all have an experience of family whether it is good or bad and the hardest because we all have an experience of family whether it is good or bad. We all know that there are many different definitions of family in our world today: mom and dad and kids, dad and dad, mom and mom, grandparents raising grandchildren, single moms and single dads, blended families, children being raised in the foster care system, and the list continues. Looking at all the definitions of family that we have, these are the things that seem consistent
Basic unit of society no matter how the family is structured
A group of people with some common purpose
A group of people from a common stock and united by certain convictions or a common affiliation
It is in this basic unit of society that we learn about how to be a man or woman of faith and part of the community of faith. The first two readings challenge us how to be a good family no matter the make up: respect one another, take care of each other, be kind to each other, admit when we are wrong, forgive each other, put on Christ, pray together and do everything in the name of Jesus Christ. If we could practice this in our basic units of society, in the family of the church, in the family of the world, then, what a different world we will live in. The make up of what a family is not important: it is how the family lives together.
One pain that I hear a lot from parents is that their children have walked away from the practice of the faith and the Church. What I want to say to you is that you have not failed. All you can do is to lay the groundwork of faith by showing your children what it means to follow Jesus. You can only plant the seeds. It is all I can, too. I am a firm believer that every single person at some point has to make the choice to follow Jesus or not. We cannot do that for anyone; we can just witness about how faith is important to us. I am not above a word of challenge once in awhile, but I leave that up to you. Together we can only entrust them to the Blessed Mother and St Joseph that their prayers will lead them on a journey back to Jesus even if they go on a detour.
We have a common purpose: to continue the mission of Jesus. We are all brothers and sister in Baptism (our fundamental connection) and it is Jesus who binds us together. It is essential that people see us a Holy Family, not perfect, but people who strive together to be followers of Jesus. No one can exist alone and stay healthy: healthy, emotional or spiritually. The same thing is true as people of faith. Small faith sharing groups, common worship and mission are part of the family of faith. Jesus will use us to draw people to him, to increase this parish family, by our faithful witness to him. Again, it doesn’t need to be perfect, but it does need to be authentic. They will know we are Christians by our love for the rest of human kind.
So, even though this maybe the hardest and easiest Sunday to preach on, it is the opportunity to celebrate what Jesus’s birth transformed us into: men and women loved by God and given a common purpose to spread the Hope he brought into the world by His humble birth in Bethlehem and into a family that showed us that Love can conquer all the difficulties that life will throw at us.
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Do you have a hard time shopping for just the right gift? I often worry that what I give will not be liked or I will get the polite “Thank you” and the gift will end up in the back of closet or will be on the re gift list. I wonder if God felt the same way when he gave the gift of Himself in Jesus. Will they like the gift I am giving? So, what does the gift of Jesus mean? It is pure Love! It is the gift that keeps on giving!
In Jesus we find hope. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have a hard time keeping a sense of hope. World and national unrest, seeing many families try to deal with the stresses of today’s hectic pace of life, a rise in the opioid crisis, so many teens and people in the 20 and 30’s struggling with the stresses of life and sometimes choosing to opt out of life, people are hungry and cold and then all our own personal stresses. Isaiah re focuses us on the fact that the coming of a Savior would radically alter the world and begin something new. This new way of life can be ours! But, we need to surrender to Jesus as Lord for hope to be born is us. Will you, can I, open our hearts right now to Jesus as Lord?
With a heart surrendered to Jesus, hope is born in us. Nothing that will separate us from him and our hope will change the world. This doesn’t mean that the road will be smooth and carefree, but our response will be. Hope is the foundation; it is the true meaning of Christmas. In the birth of Jesus, hope was born anew. On the Cross, it was given to all and its proof is the empty tomb. Even death itself is destroyed by the Hope born today. Can we allow God to be born is us right now?
It is living as a hope filled people that keeps us on focused on Jesus even when we struggle with our faith. My belief is that if we are rooted in the hope that we are given today, any question about Catholic belief or misunderstandings can be asked and discussed. As long we stand firm in the fundamental and core beliefs of the faith, as long as we remain rooted in Jesus, we will find our answers. Look at the Shepherds in the Nativity story. You can’t tell me them they bought into the angel’s message not have any questions or doubts. But, when they say God Himself lying in dirty straw and surrounded by all the animals and odors of a barn, they believed. Hope and Love radiated from that scene and changed the shepherds’ hearts. Even the greatest of our saints struggled with parts of what we believe, but what makes them saints is that they didn’t give up the Church in their struggle. Their hearts were fixed on Jesus and him alone. I know how hard it is to be faithful given some of the news we hear about the behavior of some of the clergy and bishops, but, remember Jesus is the head of the Church. His mission continues despite the behavior of others because the Church is not just them; it is each one of us. Are we focused on the hope that Jesus is or only on the negative behaviors of others? Are we allowing other’s behaviors to keep us from Christ, especially Christ present in the Holy Eucharist?
My brothers and sisters, God doesn’t worry if we like His gift, if we want it, or just leave it unwrapped in the darkness of the closet of our hearts. He just keeps offering his Love made Human in Jesus. He just keeps offering the Hope that was born in poverty and as a fragile Child. Maybe tomorrow or tonight before we open our gifts, we can all take a few moments and open the gift that God gives, Jesus himself. All it takes is a couple of moments, and a simple prayer: Thank you Lord for the Hope that is born in me this day! Thank you for Jesus, Hope itself.