Our Prior, Fr. Joel Macul celebrated the Holy Mass and give the homily for the Christmas Vigil and Midnight Mass at the St. Benedict Center. Below is a copy of his words.
Midnight! There is something attractive about that hour. Midnight seems to fascinate. Why? It is though we must have the light shine in the midst of the darkness. It must be that we have to struggle to stay awake. Or we have to get up and greet this light in the middle of the night. God’s word must be heard in the midst of deep silence. The creative power of his light, the new day of his creation, must be greeted just when it seems that darkness will win out.
Perhaps the tradition of midnight Mass is more than just a “Well, this is just the way we always did it.” Perhaps the tradition is grounded in the human hope that God will break into this shield of darkness and we need and want to be there to experience it and to be touched by it again. In the ritual of gathering in the middle of the night, more is happening than just a pleasant memory of family or monastic traditions. What is happening is that we are proclaiming a victory over everything associated with darkness. We are saying that the world is not grounded in the night but in light. And we will break our sleep; keep vigil in the very heart of darkness to greet the coming of light.
There is something of a mystery here. We dare to say that the darkness makes the light shine out all the more. Or the silence makes the sound of the word all the more clear. It is not when things are going OK that light is announced and conquers darkness. God’s light comes when humanity seems lost, covered with a shadow, a pall of hopeless and fear. It is then that God breaks in and starts to work his wonders and reversals.
A family is asked to move just when the wife is heavy with pregnancy. It seems like a poor time to be going anywhere. A wise person would stay put. But no, the mother must give birth in the right place, a place without much human hospitality, a place cold and damp. And the only straw to be found is the straw that animals will eat. What is God doing? What is God saying?
The least he is saying is that he wishes to be seen among the least. He is at least saying that being God has something to do with taking on the human situation at is worst. God is saying that the peace he brings must begin with those who know no justice, who have no real hope. What God is doing is becoming Emmanuel in the least likely place: in the cover of darkness, in a family that is being forced to move; and God finds a bed in a feeding trough.
Christmas appears to be about God taking humanity for what it is: displaced, powerless, without shelter, wandering in the dark; hungry and fearful. All this describes our situation today as much as it does that of Jesus’ time. We do live in a world where some like to generate fear of others, of those who are different. We find ourselves more suspicious, judgmental and critical of others. And we also find ourselves in a world where more people are displaced and uprooted than ever before; where the number of victims of disease rises rather than slackens despite advances of modern medicine; where exploitation of natural resources continues to render people powerless over their own lives. We still live in a world that is governed by power and super powers. We do live in a world where greed, racism and lust seem more normative than exceptional.
All this makes our gathering at midnight in the year 2017 more urgent. We are assembled to hear again a birth story that has much more to it than a baby born 2,000 years ago. The child whose birth we celebrate is not limited to being a baby from long ago. We are here because this child has brought with him a new way of living. It is not that he is born in the middle of the night that is important. But it is that we have seen the light and glory that he brings with him. We are attracted to midnight because there is a glow around it and we want to be in that glow. We are attracted to the midnight child because he changes everything around him. Sure there is still darkness, corruption and abuse and oppression. But there is vision of something different, vastly different and it cannot even compare. There is the vision of something good and beautiful. There is a glimpse of the truth and a word spoken without deceit and a promise made that is kept.
It is not just Jesus that is born. It is a whole new order, a new Kingdom, a new way of relating that is coming to birth. Peace is not just a word about an ideal, but something that God is bringing about. Jesus will be about connecting all that is disconnected and discarded. Jesus will be the peace between all human beings. What is being remembered tonight is that the child that is born for us brings with him all that humanity is about in its deepest desires and longings.
At our midnight gathering, we are blessed to connect with the Child and his kingdom no matter where our life’s journey has taken us. But in coming here to connect with the Child born for us, we are really connecting with our humanity at its best. Humanity as God truly offers it to us. And when we connect with our deepest selves, we are also connected with every other human being. When we do that consciously and with love, we will discover that God’s kingdom is being formed in our time. And the glow and attraction of that kingdom is a peace that arises from justice and integrity. To be at Christmas midnight Mass is not only to wait and see the light. It is to be overcome by it. We are here tonight because we want to give ourselves over to that Kingdom of the Child which is vast and forever peaceful.
Prior, Fr. Joel Macul