This morning’s homily by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand
Joshua 5:9a, 10–12
2 Corinthians 5:17–21
Luke 15:1–3, 11–32
Jesus was a prophet. The reading of Luke’s gospel makes this clear. As a prophet, Jesus was the kind of person who liked to challenge your way of thinking. If you thought reality was to be seen this way, he was almost certain to have another. What made it hard was that Jesus was not talking about opinion. Jesus claimed that his way of looking at things and his actions were none other than God’s way of seeing things and God’s way of acting in the world and with its people. What Jesus was challenging then and today was how God was to be understood and where he was to be experienced.
The action that the prophet Jesus offers us today is that of eating a meal. But the revealing part of this meal is not the kind of food but the kind of people he eats it with. Jesus eats with sinners. Jesus eats with those at the edge, those ‘not worthy.’
When we eat with someone, we do more than share in the food he or she has prepared for us. The food is more than just a bodily necessity that satisfies hunger. This shared food is really a symbol for lives shared. To eat with someone means to make yourself open to the other person. In sharing a meal with someone, you are involving yourself in communion. Not only do you share yourself with other people, but they are sharing themselves with you. Communion is a two way process. There is risk and delight on both sides.
When Jesus eats with sinners, as Luke tells us today, this means he is identifying with them. Not only is he sharing his life of forgiveness with them, but he is involving himself in their life of sin. In sharing a meal with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus makes a statement about who God is and how he wants to be. Jesus is revealing the way in which God loves us. What Jesus is saying in his simple act of eating is that God’s rightful place is at the table of sinful human kind. Our God is a God who invites humanity to a new way of life by sitting down at table with us and sharing in our food. The person we share our food with brings with him or her a new way of seeing ourselves, of accepting ourselves. When Jesus sits with sinners, he brings a new way of life with him. Accepting Jesus at the table means that the sinner leaves himself or herself open to the way of life that Jesus offers. In the act of eating with sinners, Jesus not only shares in the life of the sinner at the table but the sinner shares in the way of life that God is offering in Jesus. Food is shared, yes, but in the food lives are shared, are given over one to another.
Jesus tells a story, a parable, to illustrate his point. We like to see ourselves as the youngest son who comes to his senses when he hits bottom (eating with the pigs is pretty much the bottom).We take our cue of who God is by focusing on the loving father. We make sure that we have this father run down the road to greet us. The welcome of the father captures our emotions. But that is not the clincher of the story. Jesus does more than welcome sinners; he eats with them. The father in the parable does more than embrace and kiss his younger son after he has wasted his inheritance. He wants a meal to celebrate with him and for him.
It is not enough for the younger son to say, “I’m sorry.” The father must have a meal before the reconciliation is complete. All is not healed between father and son until the fattened calf is prepared and the music and dancing begin. For Jesus, the essence of conversion or repentance was accepting a God who would eat with the sinner and in this eating offer and celebrate a new way of life. The father is not satisfied until the younger son accepts from his father a meal and so opens the way to a new life.
You see, the younger son wanted to be treated by his father as a hired worker. He wanted to give up his identity as son and eat with the workers. But the father refuses to allow the younger son to give up his identity. And to make his point, he will have a meal worthy of a son.
These are not actions and stories from the past. This act of God eating with sinners and sinners finding a new identity through this God who shares a meal with them is happening right now. Right now we are hearing the story about a God who risks all to eat with his sinful people. Very soon now the meal will become a reality for us too. The Risen Jesus will offer us food again. He does not offer us a meal because we are worthy or pure or clean or have got our lives straightened out. He offers us food because we have heard of him and come to listen to him; he offers us a simple meal because he knows we are sinners struggling to find our way. Jesus joins our meal and transforms it so that when we are through eating we will be a new people with a new identity in him. Or as Paul says today, we will be a new creation. This very morning God is not only embracing us and holding us as his own, he is offering us a meal that brings him and us together in the intimacy that sharing food holds within it. On the way to death, to walk into the depths of sin, Jesus leaves us a meal with him not because we are his best followers. Better he leaves us this meal so that we will remember that when we are lost, broken, estranged, afraid and without identity, he is there in the sharing of bread and wine to say you are still children of God, human beings in his image.
If we find ourselves among those broken people, those sinners, the dissipated younger son, even perhaps the self-righteous older son, then the Eucharist is for us. Jesus comes to the table. To us Jesus says, “I am not afraid to share and live your brokenness, your death. I will eat your food. And you, take my food, and find in it the way to wholeness, the way of love, the way of healing. When we eat together in this way, then truly God and humanity are made whole. This is why I have come: that we, the Father, the Son and all the Father’s children, may eat together and sing and dance to the original rhythm of love and fidelity.”
Prior, Fr. Joel Macul, OSB
This morning’s homily - by Fr. Adam Patras
Inspirational words by our own Fr. Thomas Leitner. His homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent:
Lk 9:28-36 Gen 15:5-12.17-18
Phil 3:17 – 4:1
Focus: The transfiguration story shows us Jesus’ Divine glory.
Function: It is a consolation for us, as it was for his first disciples, for the times in the valley, the times of pain and of hardship.
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
In movie theaters and on television, we so often see previews of new movies or TV shows. These usually aren’t sufficient for us to understand fully what this movie or show is all about. But they sometimes arouse our interest and stir our desire to see more of the movie or show.
Today’s gospel is a preview of a very special kind. To Peter, John and James, Jesus’ Easter glory is revealed. In Luke’s gospel, it’s only on two occasions that Jesus asks a group of disciples to go with him to a particular place for prayer: here on mountain of transfiguration, which is usually identified as Mt. Tabor, and later in the Garden of Gethsemani.
The Tabor experience happens just at the right time for the disciples. It is a preparation for things to come. Jesus ministry in Galilee is almost over. He has made the first prediction of his passion. In the passage preceding the transfiguration story, Jesus points out to the disciples for the first time that whoever wishes to come after him must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow him. After our passage, Jesus starts his journey to Jerusalem.
The topic of the three persons’ conversation in the vision is Jesus’ exodus, which he is going to accomplish in Jerusalem. The Greek word ‘ex-hodos’ means ‘way out.’ It is the way out of the city and up the hill of Golgotha. But the Exodus is, at the same time, the people of Israel’s way out of Egyptian slavery through the Red Sea’s dangerous waters into freedom. The word ‘exodus’ here points to the whole Paschal mystery: the one once in Egypt and the new one that is going to enfold now: it is a way through death to life.
Moses and Elijah are great O.T. persons who show something about who Jesus was and about what he did. Moses was the lawgiver; Jesus brought a new law of love to God and neighbor. Elijah was the greatest O.T. prophet; Jesus surpassed the prophets’ message by proclaiming God’s special love and care for the poor.
The whole experience is overwhelming. Peter is confused; he wants to build booths like at the festival of Tabernacles; he wants the feast to endure. But the vision ends—still God’s presence, indicated by the cloud, continues. God’s voice from the cloud makes Jesus known as God’s chosen Son and summons the disciples to listen to him.
The season of Lent is an invitation to follow Jesus more closely. It’s a time of repentance and conversion, but also of accepting anew the salvation and redemption that come from God through Jesus Christ. Like Peter, John and James, we, too, need Tabor in order to be able to endure Gethsemani and Golgotha.
Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, the transfiguration story reveals to us Jesus Divine glory. It’s a consolation for us, as it was for his first disciples, for the times in the valley, for times of pain and of hardship.
This Sunday is a good opportunity to recall the Tabor hours of our life. Most of us can remember moments when we felt God’s closeness in a special way, during a retreat or worship service may be, or when a child was born, or during a mountain hike.
Of course, there were also other times, times when we, in one way or the other, had a share in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and in his way of the cross.
In order to experience God’s closeness we need, like Peter, John and James, prayer times in the company of Jesus, personal prayer times, but also times of communal worship. The center of the Church’s communal prayer is the celebration of the Eucharist, where Jesus is really present, where we can listen to him, to his word, and where he strengthens us with his body and blood.
Indeed, Tabor hours are necessary in order to stir our interest in heaven and to keep our hope for it alive. “Our citizenship is in heaven.” “The cross and the bearing of the cross we can accept only if we know that they are not the destination and the end, but just the way in order to reach the glory,” one spiritual author writes. The waiting period of this earthly life … can only be endured if we know that Christ—and we with him—have to suffer in order to so enter into his glory.” AMEN.
Fr. Thomas Leitner, OS
This morning’s homily by Fr. Volker Futter
Lent Begins! The homily for Ash Wednesday was given by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand
For the past 4 ½ years I have been living and working in our Abbey in Germany. A large part of what I did there was working with Refugees.
One day one of the refugees asked me, “why do you help us even though we aren’t Christians”? I asked, “why do you think we help”? He was quiet for a long while and then said, “because we are all children of God”? “Yes”, I said, “and because Jesus told us to help those who cannot help us, and do to others as we want done to us. We are to be compassionate and merciful as Allah (God) is merciful and compassionate.”
In the Gospel today Jesus gives us this exact command. He turns everything we think we know upside down and tells us to turn the other cheek, love those who do not love us, not to judge, and to be merciful and forgive.
We like to think we are a Christian country, but all you need to do is turn on the news to see that we are often FAR from being followers of Christ.
If you are shocked or uncomfortable with Jesus words you are not alone. His listeners would have been shocked as well. The Jews at the time were a conquered people. There were foreign soldiers (Romans) all over their country and people were burdened with taxes by a foreign king.
The Greek word used here for love is agape. It does NOT mean a romantic love, or liking someone, or even friendship love.
What Jesus is talking about is a whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other person.
We might not like some of their behaviors. We might disagree with what they stand for, but to love those we do not like or disagree with will be to disagree with them in such a way that we still desire their well-being.
Jesus tells us we are to do good! What does that mean? That means to do well by others. It means to be just, to do the right thing, even if we do not like them or think they are bad. It means to be honorable, a trait that seems to have lost its importance.
Jesus tell us to - STOP JUDGING! I took some training over the past few years in Spiritual Direction. If you are going to help people in the spiritual life you have to learn your own weaknesses. I used to think I was a pretty open guy. I found out that I can be quite the judging guy. Not a pretty thing to see when you look in the mirror, but a good start to healing and living the Lord’s command not to judge.
Jesus also tells us to be merciful as God is Merciful. If you have never been shown mercy it might be hard to know what that is.
So what does it mean to be merciful? When I googled it I got this answer: Forgiving, compassionate, gracious, lenient, pitying, humane, mild, softhearted, tenderhearted, kind, kindly, sympathetic, patient, humanitarian, liberal, easygoing, tolerant, generous, benevolent etc.
Being merciful might be what some today would call being a “snowflake”.
Just to bring home the point, the opposite of merciful is merciless or cruel. And boy have we learned how to be merciless and cruel with the poor, with the migrant, and with those who do not think as we think.
Where have we, where has our Church, has our Society forgotten how to be merciful? Something to ponder this week.
We are asked to FORGIVE!
To forgive and pray for someone who has deeply wronged you is tuff! Man is it tuff! It’s one of the hardest things to do. I can’t say that I have totally mastered it yet.
About five years ago I was deeply wronged by someone who I thought was my friend. I must confess I am still working on forgiving him. I shared this one day at coffee break in the abbey with one of the younger monks. He got really upset and asked me “how can you call yourself a Christian if you can’t forgive this man”. I said “because I am working on forgiving and being merciful to him. I want to, but will need time and grace.”
My brothers and sisters, what the Lord is asking of us today isn’t easy, and he never said it would be easy. It certainly cost him everything. But if we are to truly be what our baptism calls us to be, then we have to keep trying. We Benedictines take a vow of conversion of life which is basically this continued trying to make our hearts more like HIS.
We gather here around the altar. We come with our brokenness, with our wounds, our judgieness, our merciful, and mercilessness. We ask that through partaking in this holy sacrifice our hearts might be made more like HIS heart. May HE strengthen us to be more loving, just, and merciful till the day when we finally see him face to face. AMEN
Fr. Adam Patras, OSB
Our Homily this morning, by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand
The Homily this morning - by Fr. Volker Futter:
Today’s homily by Prior Joel.
Nehemiah 8:2–4a, 5–6, 8–10
1 Corinthians 12:12–30
Luke 1:1–4; 4:14–21
Every image or symbol used to unpack a spiritual reality deserves our careful attention. Within that image there is a truth that cries out for our understanding. We are used to this with the parables of Jesus. Today it is Paul who offers us the clear metaphor of the human body. Our body is not something we can easily escape or set aside. Today Paul puts it forward as an image for our understanding the community. He unpacks for us the meaning of the human body in a way that invites us to move through and beyond our body to a related body, namely the community in Christ. Paul wants to have the Corinthian community understand itself better and so he chooses the physical body that each member of that community is aware of to stretch their understanding of life together in Christ. Paul links the human body to the body of the community to the Christ-Body. It is to the body that is Christ that the human body and its functioning points. We are meant to look beyond the material functioning of our human body to the profound working of the Body that is Christ himself and of which each of us is a member.
Paul draws out three aspects of the body that characterize the Christian community. The first aspect is that of unity. There is only one body not many bodies. The unity in the body of the community is based on baptism. We were all baptized into one body in the Spirit. It is the Spirit and baptism that all share and hence form a single body. This implies that distinctions that seem clearly visible before baptism are transformed into a common life through baptism. Paul chooses ethnic and religious distinctions like Jew and Greek to make his point; he also makes the point that social categories and classes like free and slave cannot be invoked for identity. While these categories may work in the society as a whole, they are not a defining factor in the Body into which members have been baptized. Baptism profoundly alters social categories as forms of distinction. Baptized Christians of all walks of life have a common basis in the one Body into which they have been incorporated. Each of us has something in common with a fellow Christian. Baptism creates a body, a community in Christ himself. Christ and the Spirit are the common denominator. All Christians belong to one another through the common Body of Christ in which all are members. This is the basis for the dialogue called ecumenism. It is not strangers somehow sheepishly talking with one another, rather it is members of one body through baptism seeking ways to acknowledge the gift that each member brings to the one body.
This leads to Paul’s second point. Just as the human body has diverse members which make up the body, so too does the community of the Body of Christ. There is a diversity among the members that is inherent in belonging to the body. No one member of the community can say they are the community to the exclusion of the other members. At the same time, there is no competition among members as though one member of the body is better or more indispensable than another. No one member of the community can say to another “I don’t need you.” In this body there is no inferiority nor is there a superiority. That way of thinking cannot be the mindset that operates this Body of the community, the Body that Paul reminds us is Christ. Pope St. John Paul II was very much aware of the need for all the members of the Body of Christ, the Church, to be recognized as needed for the Body to be whole. He often referred to the Church of the West as really a Church with one lung. We in the West forget that there is a Church in the East and carry on as though the West was the whole Body. He made it clear that we are not the whole Body until East and West are breathing together. When both lungs of the Body are functioning, then the community is manifesting its true fullness. If we were to translate Paul’s point into current events, we would have to say that when the Christians in Iraq, and their communities are among some of the oldest in the Body of Christ, are persecuted and forced into exile, then the whole Body is also suffering because one member is suffering.
The diversity in the Body of Christ that history and culture have given us is precisely the work of the Spirit. To believe in the Spirit is to acknowledge gifts that are given by God to the members of the Body. It is the Spirit that is at work bringing gifts needed for the whole into the one Body. In our small local communities it is good if we recognize the gifts that each one brings into the community. Each member carries a gift that allows the whole to be the Body. Whether it is a gift of visible leadership in the Church or lowly service of collecting clothes and food for those in need, it is all the work of the one Spirit and it is all for building a strong Body in Christ.A third point Paul makes is that of the interdependence of all members in the Body. We are a healthy Body in Christ when there is concern for the other member. The community is not made up of isolated members who happen to come together. We are an organic living whole that is activated when we turn to one another. We are a living Body of Christ when we can suffer with one another and also rejoice with one another. Such living demands humility, setting aside of self-importance, and seeing others as members in the same Body as myself. The interdependence of members in the Christian Body is a challenge in our culture which seems to lean in the opposite pole of individualism and self-reliance. But if we take our baptism into Christ seriously and the life in the Spirit that comes with it, then ours is a life far from walking it alone. The Body’s life does not come from looking away from other members but in interacting with them as a whole.
Paul was not talking idle talk. His Corinthian community was divided into cliques, its wealthier members brought food to the community meals but did not share it with those who had little or could bring nothing. There were members who thought their spiritual gifts were more important than ordinary service. There were those who used their past status to claim honors for themselves. He challenged them to be truly the Body of Christ-recognizing gifts as from the Spirit and being concerned for the weakest among them. …We will shortly be offered the Body of Christ. Let us once again say Amen to who we are and eat the Body that makes us one community in Christ, one Body in the Lord.
Prior Joel Macul, OSB
Our homily this morning, given by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand.
Mt 2:1-12 Is 60:1-6
focus: Jesus is the light, the Savior of all humankind.
function: We are invited to receive the light and to manifest it to others.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, 0. a. A symphony, according to Wikipedia, is “an extended musical composition in Western classical music most often written by composers for orchestra.” In the orchestra, the many different instruments come together in harmony—and the result can be a magnificent work like Beethoven’s Eroica! The word symphony in its ancient Greek origin combines the prefix syn, which means together, with the word phonein, which means tosound. Sounds in harmony. In a figurative sense, we speak of a symphony of colors among the fall leaves of a park,or the symphony of colors in a magnificent sunrise! Colors in harmony!
A synthesis is, so Merriam Webster, “the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole.” Out of many perhaps diverse parts a whole is created, which is more than the sum of the parts. Here we have again the Greek the prefix syn: syntithenai--to put or place together.
Finally, we speak of synergy when two or more distinct business participants or elements come together—and the result is beneficial for all! One common energy.
In today’s gospel the magi, in response to their scientific observation and the meditation of their Sacred Scriptures, embark upon a journey. They seek a special newborn king. They spend many days in the desert, in stillness. In stillness we can more easily hear God speaking to us. They do.
First they arrive in Jerusalem, where the king resides, Herod. There, however, they hear God’s revelation to the prophet Micah: “You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah… from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Thus the seekers reach Bethlehem. Because the eyes of their hearts are open they can recognize the wonder-full work of God in the poor child who hasn’t been born in a royal palace, but in a stable. They use their own knowledge; they are willing to learn from the Scribes in Jerusalem; and they are ready to be surprised by God!
In the stable, the magi kneel down at the manger in adoration and present their gifts to the child. – The experience transforms them. Their ways are different ones now. They return to their country by another way.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah presents us with a vision of God’s light, God’s glory, which, he says, will be granted to many nations. People from all-over come together. They walk by this shining radiance and joyfully bring their gifts and riches to praise and adore God. In Jesus Christ, we see this prophecy fulfilled: He is the Light of the nations!
Today’s solemnity of Epiphany, the word translated means ‘Manifestation,’ expounds for us in greater fullness the meaning of Christmas: Jesus is the Light for all, for the whole world. He is the Messiah, the shepherd and ruler of his people Israel and of all peoples. And in him, as the preface of the feast proclaims, God has renewed all humanity in God’s own immortal image. We, all of us, all humans, have a share in his divine nature.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul explains further what we celebrate today by witnessing to the Ephesians about the mystery of God’s grace that wasn’t known yet to people of previous generations. Now the Holy Spirit has revealed it to him: namely that the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
The Greek original text of the New Testament uses the prefix syn in three words: synkleroma, syssoma and symmetoxa: Jews and Gentiles, all people, are heirs together, one body together, partners together in the promise, meaning they are called to make the promise of unity in Christ a reality ever more fully.
Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, Jesus is the light, the Savior, of all humankind. We, like the magi, are called upon to receive the light and to manifest it to others.
The magi are models for us. They are seekers. They travel in the quietness of the desert. Prayer and trusting faith in God have made them clear-sighted, as St. Bernard once remarked. They are humble enough to recognize the Son of God as he sucks milk, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in the poverty of the stable. Prayer, stillness, and humility are necessary also for us to see the presence and the work of God, the glory of God, in the people whom we encounter today!
If this is so, then we can also be co-partners in the promise and strengthen the unity that already exists between us and others. We will be able to reach out to, and be surprised by, people whose personality, background, language or nationality are different from ours.
The result will be synergy and synthesis, a symphony of the various gifts that God wants to make manifest in and through us—for His glory. AMEN.
Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB
Our Prior, Fr. Joel Macul gave the homily this morning.
Samuel 1:20–22, 24–28
John 3:1–2, 21–24
This episode in the life of Jesus hits directly on the world of parenting in at least two ways. First and most terrifying is the loss of a child on the part of Mary and Joseph. Suddenly the parents realize that Jesus is not where they thought he was or even where they assumed he was supposed to be—with relatives and acquaintances. They thought he was with members of their extended family or others from their village. This child is now missing, not back home in the familiar territory of the village but on the road and in the throngs of people milling about in Jerusalem at Passover. It does not take much for a parent to identify with the feelings of losing a child, of finding a child gone off somewhere in a shopping mall. Mary says, “Your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” That “anxiety” is a loaded word; it expresses everything about losing someone whom you are responsible for and who cannot fend for themselves. We sometimes label this story the lost child as though it were the child who is lost. But the story is really about about the parents’ experience of losing a child.
This leads to the second theme of parenting found in this Gospel story, namely the emerging adulthood of Jesus. The story does not say that Jesus wandered away from his parents or the pilgrimage group. Jesus chose to stay behind in Jerusalem. Jesus is 12 years old we are told. This is the age in his culture when he begins to assume responsibility for his own life. We can feel the tension that every parent knows when their child starts claiming life for themselves, when they begin the pull away from the parents and make it clear they want their own independence. The parents find themselves in the tension of holding on and yet needing to let go. The child thinks he is ready and the parents are not so sure. Mary seems to scold Jesus for causing them worry but Jesus responds that he has to be about his own life now so stop worrying. A short answer to a parent that perhaps makes us uncomfortable. At least for the moment, Jesus does go back home with them and remains there according to the Gospel. But something has happened. There is a shift in the relationship between Joseph and Mary and their child Jesus. A parent knows it when an adolescent claims adulthood and the separation from the parent begins. The parent feels the self-assurance of their child come forward. Perhaps, like Mary and Joseph, they no longer understand their child. In the end, they will have to find a new way of loving.
This Sunday after Christmas is called Holy Family Sunday. Perhaps the scene from today’s Gospel is meant to enlighten us about today’s family life from the example of the family of Nazareth. It is after all a nuclear family such as we might experience today. But when we look closer at the scene we find that the story is really a story about Jesus. It is clear that Jesus is not lost. In fact, as he says, he is in his father’s house. He is where he is supposed to be and doing what he is supposed to be doing. What we are hearing in the gospel is that Jesus’ life is guided by someone other than his parents of Joseph and Mary. Jesus speaks of his Father’s house. Jesus is at home in the temple among the teacher’s gathered there. The implication he is that he is among equals and yet learning from them and they from him. Jesus is at home in the very house where his story on earth is confirmed and recognized. It is in the temple that we hear about John the Baptist; it is in the temple that the old man Simeon recognizes Jesus as light and glory for the world and his own people and that the old woman Anna sees the redeemer of his people. And his own parents seem dumbfounded. Mary says nothing but keeps it all in mind as though someday she will remember and it will make sense.
Now, at the beginning of his life, Jesus sits with the teachers. And when he returns again for Passover some 30 years later where will he be but in the temple, this time teaching again. And where will his disciples go when Jesus ascends and leaves them; where will they gather but in the temple. There they will teach and there they will be challenged just as their master was challenged. Jesus is in line with a plan of God as well he should as he is God’s Son.
Jesus, says the Gospel, will be obedient to his parents and go back to Nazareth. Here he will grow in age, of course, but also in wisdom. And eventually he will leave Nazareth and we will hear that he will not be accepted there. Should we be surprised? Not really. Today we have heard that “home” and “house” are really not places but relationships. Jesus primary relationship is with God, his Father. And so he is at “home” with his Father. The story of Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel we heard earlier already hints at that. Hannah was desperate for a family, for a home, for a child. But when God gave her a child, she recognized that the child belonged to God. So she gives him to God in God’s house and leaves him there. Hannah contributed to God’s home.
Mary and Joseph have to come to realize the same thing. Jesus belongs to a family in which the primary relationship is with God. Their task is to recognize that and nurture it. Evidently they did that well. Jesus grew in wisdom in their home. And that wisdom led him to call others to form a family but not in Nazareth. He was to form a family around the Father with the Spirit as the binding force and love as the hallmark of the members of that family.
In the face of the fragility and brokenness that we experience in our human families, Jesus comes to call us to a new “home” found in a relationship with him and the Father. As Mary and Joseph discovered that their son was not theirs only but the Son of the Father and that he made home with him, so we too discover that in Jesus we too are children of God. Together we too make a home with God our Father. In that home we are brothers and sisters to one another. Jesus comes to heal and reconcile our broken human families by having us see another “house,” another “home.” In this house we are not lost but found in bonds of love that draw strength from the one who taught us how to be family by loving us to the end. And in this house where we live, the obedience we owe to one another is simply to wash each other’s feet as he once did to us and left as the new commandment.
Being faithful to the will of the Child Jesus will help us to grow in wisdom. That wisdom will guide us in listening to one another, putting the interests of others first, and having God’s mercy as the Spirit that rules our lives. Then we can be called a Holy Family, a home where God dwells.
Prior, Fr. Joel Macul, OSB
The Christmas Day homily by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand
Homily by Fr. Joel Macul, Midnight Mass - 2018
In 2005 National Geographic launched its genographic project. You participated by submitting a sample of your DNA. When it was analyzed you could see how your ancestry followed the movements of humanity in the world; it traced an ancestral journey as it were, taking for granted that humanity began somewhere in today’s East Africa. I have to say the results can prove quite interesting, even surprising. It is a sort of roots project using your DNA. There is one journey for your mother and another for your father. The goal: to find out your ancestors and what part of humanity is in your DNA make up.
Well, today’s feast is about our human DNA. We could say it is about the completion of a DNA search. It will not be found under a microscope; it will be found through the eyes of faith. But what is found will be no less real. Today we acknowledge and celebrate that part of our human DNA, part of what makes up the essence of our humanity is the stuff of the divine. We acknowledge that our DNA has more than merely a trace of God in it; God has become a substantial and necessary component of the human person, the human story. We call that divine DNA trace the Spirit, the divine breath. It was there from the beginning. Today we acknowledge and marvel that we can see this divine DNA as it were face to face in a human being whom the angel announced to us as Savior, Lord and Christ. The Divine DNA has met the human DNA and been born today as one like us in all things but our sin. No sin, because our original DNA, our ancestry, does not lie in sin but in grace and love.
All of Advent we have been calling out “Come”! What we know about the one who is to come is that he concerns justice. We call out for someone to come who will make the world right again. We have been looking for and waiting for someone who can restore harmony among us human beings; we call out for someone who can remind us that harmony among ourselves means harmony with the earth, with the water, with the clouds, with other living creatures. We have kept before us this Advent the images of those who beat swords into ploughshares and children who can play with snakes and lions who will let a child pet them. The DNA of that picture is not false; it lies deep within us and our imagination because that world is part of who we are and what we want our world to be.
We have given this coming one grand names tonight: Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. It looks like we expect a warrior to come and conquer the enemy and put things in order. But tonight, when God hears our cry for help in our distress, what does he give us: a baby, a new-born, an infant barely big enough to hold. Our pain is great, our wounds are festering, the enemy surrounds us, we feel overwhelmed, helpless even, worn out; we are in the dark, as the prophet says. And what does God send out into the dark cloak of night? A baby—a picture of innocence perhaps; certainly a picture of vulnerability, of total dependence, of weakness. But that is what the prophet calls our attention to: “a son has been born for us.” Or as the gospel describes it, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. But the angel makes it clear, in the baby lies the Savior, the Lord and the Christ---all that we have been waiting for and calling out to come, come!
God is full of surprises. No one can deny that we are desperate in our broken world and embittered humanity; it looks like we have lost the means to even speak words to one another. We rightfully call out and God hears. But his answer is on his terms not ours. After all, if it were on our terms, we would control it and be no better off than before. But tonight it is all grace, all gift. We think of might or power, of empire like that of Rome into which Jesus is born, or of some great country. That is what we need, so we might think. But what God gives is different. A child is held out to us. Not exactly the image of strength and victory; not a leader. But this is God’s child and God’s child will conquer through weakness; he will touch what is weak and find blessedness in what is lowly. He will bring justice by becoming the victim of injustice on a cross. But that is the surprise hidden in this child. He will conquer human pride, not by arrogance, but by humility and truth.
What is the surprise in this grace that appears to us this night? Is it perhaps that when I look at any human being, I am looking at someone who is made in the image and likeness of God? A light dawns in me and I realize that the other before me shares with me the same human flesh and the same divine Spirit from the creator God. Is that the surprise? Or is it that when I see a picture of a child standing at my country’s border looking frightened and lost, I suddenly become aware that I am looking at God’s own Son found in anyone really who is hungry, thirsty and without an inn in which to rest? ….Perhaps it is easy to believe in a God who creates the world with all its beauty. But maybe it is more difficult to believe that our God has embraced the world by becoming human in it, not in imagination or dream or some virtual reality but in flesh.
The surprise of Christmas, the grace of Christmas, is that the human person and the human family is of unsurpassable worth and value. To make sure that we realize that, God has joined our race and embraced its story as his own. He has become one with us humans to make sure that no one takes our graced dignity away from us. He has come to give us the story of his life so that we can be certain that any other story than the one he will live is incomplete. He joins us tonight so that we will learn how to be human. He will teach us that the essence of being human is to love, to love others even when their face is marred, scarred by violence and disfigured beyond human. To be human, he will say, is to stop and meet the other where they are on their journey.
Christmas is also about the birth of the first-born. It is clearly said Mary lays her first- born in a manager. Christ is beginning a new humanity; he is first. That is what the angels are singing about. If he is first-born, then where are those who are born after him? Perhaps that is you and I. That old insight is true: Unless Christ is born in you and me, then he is not born in Bethlehem either. Tonight’s birth is not for Christ alone, it is for you and me and all others that share with us a human face.
Tonight God has given us the grace of being able to see his face in that of his Son because it is of our flesh. We say yes to this grace when we turn to another human being and see there also the face of God reflected in that person, the person for whom God’s son identified with and gave his life. When we can see that face in others and approach in humility, then Bethlehem is not yesterday but today.
During Advent we frequently sing “O, Come!” For us, the one who is coming is from God. It is someone who will make the world right. As the prophets put it, it is one who will do justice; that is, put the world back in right order and restore harmony between members of the human family and between us and the rest of creation. The coming one is from God but we believe that the one who comes is human. The agent, the prophet, the apostle who will come from God to set things right will have a face like ours, breathe our air and know our pain and suffering.
It is the appearance of that human face of God that we celebrate at Christmas. God has come in his Son to re-establish creation, to do a new thing with our world. We have heard his grand titles: Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. They sound overwhelming. Yet what God sends us at this time is a baby, an infant. Not grand or domineering, but weak, vulnerable, dependent and poor. That too is Christmas, to recognize God’s face in the infant who is to set things right with us. Perhaps not exactly our idea of how to deal with our broken world. But this is God’s work and it usually is a surprise for us humans.
Christmas celebrates our God not as distant, out of touch but as close, as near. Yes, as near as a child can be to our cheek. Our task is to look at this God-sent child and see his face and ours mingled together in a bond that can never be broken. It is love that moved our God to gift us with his presence in human flesh; may it be love that moves our arms to embrace this love and feel the world begin to be transformed into its original beauty.
Homily by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand
Homily given by Fr. Volker Futter
Lk 3:1-6 Bar 5:1-9 Phil 1:4-6.8-11
Focus: Like John the Baptist’ and Jesus’ contemporaries, we are called upon to repent and to prepare the way of the Lord, within us and around us.
Function: However, we do not have to do everything alone.
Dear sisters and brothers in the faith, 0. a. Homing pigeons are fascinating birds that have long baffled ornithologists. They can be trained to return home swiftly without losing their way from even several thousand miles! It’s clear that they don’t do this by eyesight; the birds can be blindfolded and they still find their way home. Researchers generally agree that it’s probably no one faculty that enables the pigeons to find their home, but a combination of possibilities including magnetic fields of the earth, smells, “reading” the position of the sun and stars, or ultraviolet light patterns in the sky. A factor that has been considered more strongly in recent years is that they are guided by low frequency sound waves that emanate from just about everything, and that they use to map their environment. However they do it: these pigeons are masters at finding home!
At this time of the liturgical year when we consider the end times and our own true and ultimate home, we might well wonder what leads us just as swiftly and surely there.
In our first reading today, the Prophet Baruch describes what God promises to do for God’s people: God will lead them home. This is good news for Baruch’s contemporaries. His book, composed later than most of the other Old Testament writings, gives a vision of hope to a scattered people of Israel.
The Babylonian Exile had happened; and some fifty years later the Persian King Cyrus had given permission for the Israelites to return home and to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. However, many over 200 years later still for various reasons lived scattered in a number of countries.
According to Baruch, the people’s return to their land and to their city, Jerusalem, will come as a gift from God. The Holy One will speak and Jerusalem’s children will be gathered from the east and from the west, from all directions. They will rejoice, because God remembers them.
They will be carried back as on royal thrones: they will experience their royal dignity. God will see to it that the lofty mountains be made low and that the age-old gorges will be filled to level ground. God will make sure that nobody gets lost on the journey guiding Israel by the light of his glory. As the merciful one God will show mercy as well as justice to God’s scattered people.
In today’s gospel, John the Baptist, the latest of the prophets of old, uses the prophetic image of preparing ways, of filling valleys and of making mountains and hills low in a different sense. His message is complementary to the one of Baruch. He makes the point that we humans necessarily have to cooperate with God’s movement of gathering.
Repentance is necessary; then, only then forgiveness of sins can and will happen. Then, only then, all flesh, human beings everywhere, will see the salvation of God.
Later, in his own public ministry, Jesus we become the great gatherer. He will carry out God’s gathering movement and so fulfill Baruch’s prophecy. However, an element of choice is always involved. Once we find Jesus sadly looking toward the great city and say:
“Jerusalem, …how many times I yearned to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling.” (Lk 13:34)
At the beginning of today’s gospel, Luke places Jesus into the historical context of his time. Later it will become clear that certainly most political and religious leaders of Jesus’ time will “not recognize what makes for peace” (Lk 19:42). They will end up rejecting him.
Dear sisters and brothers in the faith, Like John the Baptist’ and Jesus’ contemporaries, we are called upon to repent and to prepare the way of the Lord, within us and around us. However, we do not have to do everything alone.
In today’s second reading, we find St. Paul filled with joy about the Philippians’ partnership for the gospel from the beginning. God has begun a good work in you, he says. What is the good work that God has begun in us? How has knowing the Christian faith, Jesus and his gospel, already made a difference in our lives? We can reflect about good choices that we have made according to the mind and heart of Jesus during the past days and weeks. These were the times when we cooperated with God’s great gathering movement.
Plus, we can ask ourselves: What are the gorges that we need to fill, and the mountains and hills that we need to make low with the help of God’s grace so that our journey home becomes more straight and direct? Homing pigeons follow their instinct to find their way home. We have to make choices in order for this to happen.
Let us pray today that our love may increase; this comes to us as a gift and it is a task at the same time.
Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB