Today we gather to celebrate a Solemnity in honor of Mary – a day on which we remember, give thanks for, and ask for the prayers of the Blessed Mother under the title “Mother of God.”
In the early church there was much disagreement, believe it or not – about who Jesus was – and at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD – the Church declared that this title, Mother of God, was entirely appropriate for Mary.
In doing so they were affirming two things: first, that Mary did indeed give birth to Jesus – and second, Jesus was indeed – God – the second person of the Blessed Trinity.
To say that Mary’s life was remarkable, is an understatement. It was a one-of-a-kind life. And the way she lived out her life did nothing short of change the world.
And yet, there seems to have been a certain kind of simplicity about Mary – a certain kind of focus, a certain kind of humility and openness that allowed her to say “yes” to God – NOT simply once – but throughout her life.
It’s as if God kept inviting Mary to a certain way of living, a certain kind of life – a generous, loving, trusting kind of life – and she was willing to give whatever God was asking for,
was willing to bring whatever it was that God was asking her to bring— to her corner of the world.
And one day – one incredible day – God asked her through an angel to bear a son, the Messiah, the living God who was about to visit his people. We know Mary’s answer and how the story ultimately unfolded. In a very real sense, Mary gifted the whole world by saying “yes” – bringing the Incarnate God to a world desperately in need of him and his saving love.
And aren’t we supposed to do the same?
Sometimes we might think that our lives are radically different from Mary’s. And in many ways they are. After all, she lived a long time ago – when things we a bit less complicated, commercial and technical. . .
However, her life was NOT different in every way – certainly NOT in the most important ways –the ways that make a difference in the lives of others, the ways that change hearts and families and nations and the world. You see, if life is a party, if life is the celebration and manifestation of God’s great love and creative power — then Mary was asked to bring one thing and one thing only to the party — GOD
And she did it in the fullest sense possible.
What are we bringing to the party??
Cynicism? Judgement? Negativity? Despair? Hopelessness? Selfishness? A vengeful heart?
What exactly are we bringing in response to God’s invitation to life – what are we bringing to God’s people?
Like Mary, we are asked to simply bring one thing to all the circumstances and situations of our lives – one PERSON actually – the Lord Jesus – Emmanuel – God with us – and within us.
Of course, the precise way we bring God to others, the way we show them the face of God as best we can, does depend on our own unique strengths and weaknesses,
It depends on our individuality and our personality. But the gift is the same – and the world can never have too much of it – never have too much of God – never have too much love or mercy or kindness or generosity.
And so let’s say yes to God, say yes to the holy invitation – an invitation not unlike the one God gave Mary long ago. Let’s look to Mary to show us how to bring Christ into our lives and world.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us!
So on behalf of all of us at St. Patrick – our parish and school staff: we extend to all of you a very blessed and holy Christmas. And hope that Christ’s love may be very present in your gatherings of family and friends.
A special welcome to all who are visiting us from out of town. Know that when you ARE in town – you are always welcome here at St. Patrick. We hope you enjoy your visit enough to want to come back sometime. . .
So here at St. Patrick, during the homily – we often times have guest speakers- giving us their take on things. Tonight (today) is one of those times. . .
My name is Benjamin Malon – most people just call me Ben.
And for those of you who are fluent in Aramaic – you already have a clue as to why I was invited to be here today. . .
For my last name, Malon, means “a place of lodging for the night.” I was an innkeeper – in a little town called Bethlehem.
And much like the Apostle Thomas continues to be known for just one choice he made – doubting the resurrection of Jesus – old Ben Malon is remembered for one choice I made. . .
Now many people think I am some sort of cruel, heartless landlord: after all, I’m not part of any Nativity set. I haven’t heard any carols about me or seen my likeness on any Christmas cards. And there doesn’t even seem to be any painting throughout all of history that includes me either.
So I am here to set the record straight – once and for all.
First off – it wasn’t me that wanted the whole world counted in a census – lay that at the feet of Caesar Augustus.
He was the one that set all those people on the road! Oh, it was going to be a boon for the economy – all those people needing to find food and shelter on the road.
But Bethlehem?? We’re just a bump in the road. We’re less than a day’s journey from the big city of Jerusalem – now that’s where all the 5 star hotels were to be found. NOT Bethlehem!
And remember, each family was to go to the place where their ancestors were from. Both Mary and her husband, Joseph, were from King David’s branch of the Jewish tree – and thus they came to Bethlehem.
Did they not have relatives that could take them in? An aunt, an uncle, a cousin 5 times removed – that had an extra room, or an extra bed, or someplace they could have stayed? Nobody ever bothers to ask these questions – they just want to blame me. . .
I guess they had no one – and that’s why they came knocking on my door, like so many others.
I must have gotten in and out of bed 10 times that night! Stubbing my toes as I stumbled over sleeping bodies just to get to the door.
“No more room,” I would shout. “Sorry folks – there’s just no more room! Come back in the morning – as I have a couple of families leaving then.”
Those knocking in the search for shelter—would all mutter something under their breath – and then head back out into the night. Most probably ended up sleeping on the ground along the road – or snuggled up against a building somewhere – much like drunken shepherds on a Saturday night after the sheep have been shorn. All because every place in Bethlehem had been booked – months in advance!
But when Joseph knocked that night – it was different. He was a burly man with big arms and strong hands.
And he was quick to explain how he and his wife had travelled more than 100 miles from Nazareth over a rough and rocky terrain.
And his wife was PREGNANT – one look at her, and even I knew it was not going to be long before the census count would go up by one!
And so Joseph, just would not take NO for an answer—my cry of NO MORE ROOM – was not going to work for him.
“Is there any place, anywhere?” he pleaded. . .
I pulled the door closed just a bit, and hastily consulted my wife, Sarah: “Is there any place, anywhere?” I asked. “She’s pregnant.”
Sarah said, “there is already 3 or 4 people in every bed, and people sleeping on all the couches – and you know, yourself, the floors are all taken up with bodies making it an obstacle course just to get to the door.”
We whispered back and forth, racking our brains, trying to come up with some kind of solution.
When suddenly, I thought of the stable – at the back of the Inn. It’s not much, but it is protected from the wind. And the body heat form the animals makes it a warm place – no matter how cold it gets outside, like it was on this particular starry night.
I flung open the door, and welcomed the couple with a broad smile. I explain that I don’t have much – but there is the possibility of the stable – will it do??
Joseph said it will – and it did, as they offered their thanks for a place to stay.
So instead of their child being born on the roadside – he is at least to be born out of the elements.
For that you would think I would be remembered for saving the day –or saving the night – as it was – and deserved at least a line or two in a Christmas song!
But instead, I am remembered only for having no room in my inn!! Gees, the thanks you get!
Anyway, the couple were settled – and so back to bed I crept. And about the time I was drifting back to sleep under the warm covers – I heard a commotion – out back – by the stable!
So I got up, yet again, stumbled out to the stable and was ready to run off a bunch of raggedy, smelly old shepherds that had showed up – who I thought were also looking for a place to stay.
Just as I was about to raise my voice – Joseph motioned me over with his hand and whispered: “It’s okay – they’ve come to see the newborn Christ.”
It was only then that I noticed the child had already been born – need I remind you – in a warm place – not out on the road – thank you very much: and then what Joseph said – hit me:
The newborn Christ? As in the long-awaited Messiah? Who are these people?
I noticed the shepherds, and it seemed – even the animals were kneeling in adoration – so I knelt, too. And watched. And prayed. And listened– to one old shepherd whose face was lined by years of sweat and sin – recount a story of angels and heavenly glory, and a sign of a holy baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, to be found in a stable in Bethlehem – of all places!
And I proudly thought: it’s my stable where this baby was born. My manger in which he rested. My straw, my animals. . .
The shepherds left after a while. Most of them leaned over and kissed the sleeping Christ-child before they departed.
It was then I started to figure out just how important this family was. . . and vowed that even though I did not have room for this child to be born in my inn — I would always make room for him in my heart. AND THAT’S WHY YOU NEED TO DO:
During Advent — the prophets Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah, and Micah – all safely guided and directed you here to Bethlehem – so don’t blow it now!
No matter what – always make room for Christ in your heart. Other things will try to crowd him out – but give him a place to come and dwell in your heart and give him a role in guiding your life — and your life will never be the same! Just like my life was never the same.
So, I’m Ben Mallon, an innkeeper in Bethlehem. And as you NOW know – I’m not some mean, heartless, person. I was there. I saw him. I did make room for him. Which is what we all need to do.
So join me in singing: O Come, let us adore Him. O Come, let us adore Him. O come, let us adore Him – Christ, the LORD!
My name is Micah – your fourth and final guest speaker for Advent! How quickly the time has gone by!
Micah means “like God”, certainly appropriate for me, because like God: I have a deep and abiding love for all people – because of course, all are created in the image and likeness of God.
Like God: I have deep and abiding concern for the poor and the outcast – especially widows, orphans and aliens: foreigners, from other lands.
And like God: I have a deep and abiding disdain for all those who disregard the needs of the lowly and the down-trodden – so could not remain silent before the leaders of Israel – who at the time I was writing –
Were exploiting the poor by taking their land – and heaping injustice upon injustice on them – and then were distracting everyone else from the plight of the poor with threats and rumors of war: dividing the people of Israel, one against another, rather than uniting them. I’m sure you don’t have such problems in your day. . .
So like God: I was speaking on behalf of the downtrodden –a prophet of divine justice for the rights of the poor.
Like my contemporary, the prophet Isaiah: I always spoke on behalf of the forgotten ones – the runts of the litter – and liked to point out that’s where we can so often find God’s actions at work.
When God was looking for someone to be the Father of his great nation – whose descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky – God did not turn to some young, mighty king –
But chose a nomadic, OLD, shepherd – Abraham and his wife Sarah for the task.
When God was looking for someone to lead his people out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land – God did not turn to some eloquent and proven leader –
But chose the tongue-tied Moses for the task.
When God was looking for someone to become King of Israel – God did not turn to the oldest or the brawniest of Jesse’s sons –
But he turned to the youngest and the scrawniest: David – just as God also sent him up against the giant, Goliath – allowing this runt to rise in favor among his people by slaying this mighty foe.
Little wonder, then, that in the fullness of time, when God chose to enter into the world – God chose to come not as a powerful leader of an invading army – but came quietly, and hardly noticed as a tiny, little baby – not born in some great palace in a great city – but in an animals’ feed trough – in the little town of Bethlehem:
“Thus says the lord: you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah – too small to be among the clans of Judah:
From you shall come forth for me one who is to be the ruler of Israel.”
And the mother of that tiny, little baby was no to be some wealthy or prominent woman – but the poor and obscure – Mary — from a bump-in-the-road hill country town of Nazareth – who was not even married at the time she conceived!
Yes, God seems to favor the lowly, the poor, the forgotten, the downtrodden, the runts of the litter. God often appears in the most unlikely of places at the most inconvenient of times – because God is in charge! God is the king of the universe!
All of this having been said – what I would ask of you this week is to deal with a common thought and emotion many people have when it comes to encountering and experiencing God – the thoughts and feelings of being unworthy:
Yes, the thought that when it comes to opening oneself to the great gift of God’s love – you should be passed over – because somehow you don’t deserve such a gift!
Well, you are right in a way – you don’t deserve it – because no one does – and that’s what makes it pure gift – the fact that no one can earn it or deserve it.
If God only came to the just – and if God only came to the deserving, the strong, the wise, and the sinless – then God would be getting pretty lonely in heaven. . .
No, God rains down his love on the just as well as the unjust – on the saint and most especially on the sinner – because that is just the nature of God. God is love!
So get over those feelings of being unworthy. Quit putting yourself down as undeserving. And join in the long list of God’s favor showered upon the lowly, the poor, the forgotten, the despised, the downtrodden – the runts of the litter: Abraham. Moses. David. Bethlehem. Mary.
God is love – and God’s love is to come to you soon in a special way on the feast of Christmas. But God’s love is already present among us. That’s the love you are to carry as good news – to all those who need it – the poor and the outcast – especially widows, orphans, and aliens: foreigners from other lands. Loving words, and compassionate actions which unite the people of God—rather than dividing them. . .
O Come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of humankind.
O bid our sad divisions cease, and be for us our Prince of Peace.
Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel. Shall come to you O Israel!
My name – is Baruch: a Hebrew word which means – blessed. And I do feel blessed in being called by God to proclaim the Good News of his love to his chosen people, Israel.
Perhaps that’s one thing you can do during these days of Advent – as you journey toward Bethlehem – find out what your name means – just to see if you are living up to its meaning . . .
The guy who normally preaches to you, Matthew – his name means, “gift of God”. Is he? Well you have to be the judge of that – but his mother certainly thought he was. . .
So remember the guy who talked with you last week – Jeremiah [who’s name by the way means “Yahweh has uplifted” – see, I do think a name can really nail a person’s personality or purpose sometime – because Jeremiah was sent to uplift the people of God by his words]. Anyway – I was Jeremiah’s secretary – the one who frantically wrote his words down – because when both his pessimistic and optimistic sides got going – man, did those words fly!
Being intimately connected with Jeremiah’s words in this way, gave me a distinct edge when God also called me to prophesize to his people – I had a vast storehouse of wisdom from which to draw —
A deep well of thoughts which grounded me in the ways of the lord – as well as the misdeeds of his people!
But make no mistake – I had my own words to speak – because I had my own task to achieve – preaching at a unique time in Israel’s history. There were similar problems that both Jeremiah and I faced (remember the more things change, the more they stay the same. . .) – but there were different circumstances.
I was writing at a time in Israel’s history when the Babylonian captivity – a time of slavery and oppression and exile for the Israelites – had finally – ended. >>
This great event was the fulfillment of the promise of God Jeremiah was talking about last week – when most of the Jewish people were able to return to their homes in Israel – and thus my words just read to you:
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery – stand upon the heights and look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and west” – all returning home!
It was a glorious time of rebuilding – not just the city of Jerusalem – but of rebuilding the covenant relationship between God and his people.
But those that made it back to Jerusalem were not my concern. . . you see, although most were able to return there – many were not.
Some Jews either stayed in Babylon, or settled elsewhere. They became known as the Jews of the Diaspora – the Jews of the dispersion or permanent exile.
And I was writing to them – the people of God who remained in foreign lands – and mostly took up the issue of how do you remain faithful to God in a hostile environment? How do you resist the idolatrous worship which surrounds you living in a pagan society. . .?
Do YOU ever feel like you are living in a foreign land? You ought to. . . for as St. Paul reminds you in one of his letters – as a Christian – your true citizenship is in heaven – not on earth. . . And that’s why he prays what he does in your second reading today:
“I pray that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ’s coming.”
Again I ask: Do You ever feel like you are living in a pagan, hostile, society? You ought to. . . because the values thrown at you by your culture –
the constant bombardment you get from all forms of the media – are almost always far from Christian values. . .
And I would think that is especially true during this time of year. . . as the frenzy of holiday preparations intensifies around you – you are called to patiently wait and watch during the days of Advent – the forgotten season of your culture.
As everyone around you is out looking for the perfect buy at the ultimate sale – you are to be looking for the free gift of your Savior – already present around you – oftentimes in the most unlikely of places.
So how do you remain faithful – to the God of the covenant who is calling you to much greater things than this world can ever offer you??
Remember the challenge of Jeremiah: realize you need the gift of God’s love –and then open yourself to receive the gift of that love. Because if you think you can remain faithful all by yourself – with no help from God or no help from a faith community – then you are doomed to failure!
The people in my day – those who were living in exile – strangers in a foreign land – remained faithful by reading the word of God – and allowing it to become part of them –
and also relied on their fellow Jews – as they became a tight-knit community which supported one another.
Perhaps you can do the same.
And most of all they remained faithful by remembering that even though they were far from home – they were certainly still loved by God each and every day of their lives.
So that’s my challenge to you this week – reflect on the blessings that God gives you – -each and every day of your life. Don’t take people for granted – your family, your friends, your community of faith. Don’t make the mistake of somehow thinking that you have earned and deserved everything you have in life – leaving God completely out of the equation as the giver of all gifts.
God has blessed – and will continue to bless – each and every one of you – each and every day. And God’s blessings are complete gift. . . No one earns them. No one deserves them. They are just like the dewfall—falling down upon all.
So this week – recall, reflect, and remember – that you are blessed!
O come, O Rod of Jesse’s stem. From every foe deliver them. That trusts your mighty power to save. And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel. Shall come to you, O Israel.
Words are powerful. . .
I am innocent.
I love you.
Someone call 911.
I will never leave you.
Yes, words are powerful. They matter. And perhaps there are no words quite as powerful as the ones we just heard Mary say:
“may it be done to me according to your word.”
Those words almost always give me a chill when I read in the Gospel – maybe it’s because a big part of me wishes I could say them – wishes that I could tell God that I will do whatever he asks of me – no matter what. God, I wish I could pray: may it be done to me according to your word. Small words that mean so much!
And yet, it’s not the words Mary spoke that really mattered. The words were simply a reflection of what was taking place in Mary’s heart.
For Mary these were not empty words – words that sounded good, but meant little. Rather the words were simply an expression of a heart filled with love and openness and humility as well as faith and trust – that is GRACE – God’s very life alive and well in the person of Mary.
This is what we celebrate today – on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – we celebrate and give thanks to God for the grace God poured into the life of Mary from the moment of her conception – a grace not “earned” by Mary – but one given as pure gift from and through God.
God had something special in store for Mary, a particular role for her in salvation history. Mary would be asked to participate in something unbelievably remarkable – and God made sure that Mary would have what it would take to say “yes” to what God was asking.
May it be done to me. Not just words to Mary – but the living reality of what was taking place within her heart and mind and soul – that is, her very being. And we give God the glory God deserves, but we also thank God for Mary – a woman of no particular importance other than her faithfulness helped change the world.
What a generous God we have – and what a mother we have in Mary!
But can we say the same? Can we say that the words we speak in prayer in this holy place and in the quiet of our hearts are more than just words?? Do they reflect what is truly taking place within us? Do they just “sound good” or do they mean more than that??
God had something wonderful in store for Mary. And God has something wonderful in store for each one of us also. But words aren’t enough. May we have the faith and courage to say “may it be done to me” every day of our lives – and mean every word we say.
God will make sure we have what it takes, have the grace to carry out whatever God is asking of us. Of that we can be assured.
And we might just change the world – or at least rock it a little. . .
Mary, the Immaculate Conception – pray for us!
Welcome to Advent!
I thought it was the perfect time to bring in some guest speakers – because each Sunday of Advent, just in this particular year – year C of the lectionary cycle — our first reading – is taken from a different prophet every week. You might remember, we usually hear from the Prophet Isaiah Sunday after Sunday during Advent – but not this time around. . . SO:
My name is Jeremiah – one of the prophets from the Old Testament. As a prophet – my role is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. You get to decide which you are!
I lived a long time ago – a good 600 years before the one you call your lord and savior – Jesus Christ –was even born.
So what might I have to say to you that is relevant in your day? Well, have you ever heard the saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same? I think it might be applicable to what I am about to say to you – but you can draw your own conclusions. . .
Scripture scholars through the years have often called me the most pessimistic AND the most optimistic of the prophets.
I am very pessimistic – that is, not filled with much hope – when I looked at the people around me. They called themselves believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
They were people of the covenant – which meant they were supposed to know how much God loved them – and then were supposed to live their lives in gratitude for that great gift of God’s love.
Well – they certainly must have been suffering from spiritual amnesia! For they were far from being the people God was calling them to be – and that’s what made me so pessimistic – so hopeless, so cynical.
The people around me, my people – God’s people – were living life the way they wanted: filled with greed, jealousy, hate, and injustice. They lied to one another, stole from each other. They were unfaithful and ungrateful – disobedient to God’s love and law.
I once told them they were like a bunch of rotten figs — they may have still looked good on the outside – but if eaten – would leave a horrid, lingering taste in one’s mouth!
AND YET THEY INSISTED ON CALLING THEMSELVES GOD’S CHOOSEN PEOPLE!
My precarious job –and that’s why I once cursed God for giving it to me – was to remind them as bad and as wretched as they were: GOD STILL LOVED THEM! And this is what got my optimistic side ‘reved’ up. . .
Because the God I believed in – the God I followed – the God who called me to be a prophet — was a God of hope, of praise, of power, and of an unstoppable will to make the people of Israel — HOLY!
Now this is when I invite you to be a bit introspective – look around at your world, at your community, at your Church, at your family – and, of course, at yourself. . .
do you see any unfaithful, ungrateful, greedy, hateful, dishonest and deceitful people around you??? Do you see anyone disobedient to God’s law and love??
And yet I bet some of them insist on calling themselves God’s chosen ones!!
You see why I said the more things change – the more they stay same??? But you be the judge of
that. . .
But recall — I was sent to remind the people of Israel that no matter how far they strayed — GOD STILL LOVED THEM! So if any of what I have said rings true for you and the people around you — remember this one thing: God still love you!
Are you, and those around you, living holy and blameless lives, conducting yourselves in a way worthy of the calling you have received – as St. Paul asks the Thessalonians??
Are you, and those around you, — responding to God’s call to justice – living in right relationship with one another??
Are you, and those around you, – allowing your hearts to become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life?
Do you need a little help with it all?? Then remember: GOD LOVES YOU!
How do you deal with the messes you make of your life and the messes life throws your way? Just remember that GOD LOVES YOU!
Because if you try to fix things on your own,
if you think you can figure it out and straighten it all out by yourself — then you are doomed to failure — you have to remember that God – and God alone – will put into your heart and the hearts of all his people – the power to change – it’s his love: THE POWER TO CHANGE ANYTHING IN OUR LIVES COMES FROM GOD’S LOVE FOR US. . .
And just to remind you – God’s love is a GIFT that just has to be accepted with open hands and open hearts. We can’t buy it. We can’t earn it. We cannot deny it to — or take it from someone else— IT’S A GIFT – FREELY GIVEN.
My challenge to you good people of St. Patrick during these first days of Advent as you take your first steps toward Bethlehem, as you allow yourself to be drawn by the light of God made human – is to do two things:
First: realize you need the gift of God’s love. Because in some way shape or form – you have messes in your life – and probably more than just a few. . .
And second – the way to deal with those messes is not to go it alone – but to open yourself to receive the gift of God’s love. Because God’s love – is the power to change.
So two things: realize you need the gift of God’s love – and open your heart to receive it.
O come, O come, Emmanuel. And ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lowly exile here. Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice. Emmanuel. Shall come to thee of Israel. . .