Sunday, December 14, 2014

Homily – Third Sunday of Advent - Christmas Truce

Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
1st Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

            John the Baptist is a light shining in the darkness of a bleak world.  His words and actions bring hope in a time of heartbreaking despair.
The Jews have endured a thousand years of enslavement and domination by the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and now the Roman Empire.
The average Jew in Jesus’ world probably wondered, what have we done to deserve this?  What sins are bringing about such awful abuse?
In the bleakest of days, in walks John, a vagrant, a bum, offering his people the forgiveness of their sins through repentance and the cleansing waters of baptism.
            He was preparing a way for the Lord.
John was a light shining in the darkness. But, in John’s humility, he reminds the people, “He was not the light, but came to testify to the light.”
            This is Gaudete Sunday.  The rose colored candle of the Third Sunday of Advent is here to remind us all to REJOICE!  That’s what Gaudete means: REJOICE.
Jesus is almost here. 
            In the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah (written 500 years before Christ) we hear the comforting words to the Israelite people returning from exile in Babylon.
            For most of us, we recognize these words from Luke’s Gospel and a scene in which Jesus comes to a synagogue in his home town of Nazareth and is asked to open a scroll and read from it.   He shares these words from Isaiah and then proclaims the prophecy is fulfilled in his reading.
            Jesus was telling the people his public ministry was the fulfillment of Israel’s prophetic tradition. 
            This fulfillment of all Jewish hope is about to be born in a humble manger. The light of Christ is about to shine on a cold, dark world filled with heartbreak. 
This same light of Christ shined on a cold, dark world filled with heartbreak exactly 100 years ago this Christmas, producing one of the most powerful moments in world history.
On the battlefields at the start of the First World War, in what was supposed to be “the war to end all wars,” something miraculous happened.
A light shone in the darkness reminding all to REJOICE!  Jesus was coming.
            Dubbed “The Christmas Truce,” it was a moment our world would remember forever.
            The incident made popular worldwide the song Silent Night, for it was the song sung in English and German in frozen foxholes that Christmas.  Allied troops and German troops singing together in earshot of each other.
            A cold snap had plunged temperatures to below freezing. Snow was falling. The battlefield looked like a picture postcard of a white Christmas.
            One press report said, “Their trenches were a blaze of Christmas trees, and sentries were regaled for hours with traditional Christmas songs.”
            One British soldier’s letter home captured the details of the miracle:

"As I told you before our trenches are only 30 or 40 yards away from the Germans. This led to an exciting incident the other day. Our fellows have been in the habit of shouting across to the enemy and we used to get answers from them. We were told to get into conversation with them and this is what happened:
From our trenches:
"Good morning Fritz." (No answer).
"Good morning Fritz." (Still no answer).
From German trenches: "Good morning."
From our trench: "How are you?"
"All right."
"Come over here, Fritz."
"No. If I come I get shot."
"No you won't. Come on. Come and get some (cigarettes), Fritz."
"No. You come half way and I meet you."
"All right."
One of our fellows thereupon stuffed his pocket with (cigarettes) and got over the trench. The German got over his trench, and right enough they met halfway and shook hands, Fitz taking the (cigarettes) and giving cheese in exchange."
            On Christmas Eve 1914, German and Allied soldiers laid down their guns and crossed trenches to exchange Christmas greetings, share food and souvenirs, play soccer, hold joint burial ceremonies and swap prisoners. Roughly 100-thousand troops took part in the Christmas Truce.
            It was considered by some historians as “one of the most remarkable Christmas stories in 2000 years.”
            The light of Christ broke through the heartbreaking darkness and every man on that battlefield would forever REJOICE! for their moment of peace in the midst of a bloody war.
            Like John the Baptist, these troops heralded the coming of the Savior on Christmas Day by an act of love toward one another that Christmas Eve.
            It was nothing short of a Christmas miracle, a beautiful silent night, when the guns of war were quieted, but for a brief moment.
            This same light shines on those living in darkness today. 
Think of the actions of ALL of the doctors, nurses, religious and other volunteers from around the globe who are working on the front lines of the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.
            These brave souls risk their own lives to save the lives of the poorest of the poor in countries with primitive medical care.
            Many have died serving “the least of these” sisters and brothers.  
For their bravery, these men and women were honored this past week as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.
And then there this...  an Alabama grandmother was caught by a police officer shoplifting three eggs so she could feed her two grandchildren.  They hadn’t eaten in two days.  They were hungry. She was desperate.
Instead of arresting her, the police officer bought her a dozen eggs. And now the officer and community are coming to her rescue and making sure the family has plenty to eat.
She says, “this is not food, this is manna from Heaven.  This is the best thing that has ever happened to us!” She says her home pantry has never been so full.
Not that it matters. But the grandmother is black. The officer is white.
The woman says in a time of riots and allegations against police officers, she hopes this officer’s loving kindness will have an impact. 
              All of these acts of love, yesterday and today, are illumined by the light of Christ. They are voices crying out in a desert of our humanity, sending glad tidings to the poor, healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to captives and release to prisoners, announcing a day of vindication by our God.
            Through their actions we find joy in a world of heartbreaking sadness.
The great Catholic writer Henri Nouwen said JOY is something much deeper than sadness.
He writes, “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death – can take that love away.” 
       Jesus is coming in 10 short days. He’s coming to show the world He loves each and every one of us.
For this, we should REJOICE ALWAYS!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Homily - Archbishop Murphy High School Thanksgiving Mass

Deuteronomy 8:7-19
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

What in your life are you thankful for?  Do you live always with gratitude?  Or are you just walking through this life oblivious to all that’s been given you?
I’m grateful for a video I saw in 2007.  It was the same year I was discerning whether to apply for a difficult and demanding five year program to become a deacon.
God spoke to me through this video and helped change my view of the world and my role in it. But most especially, God gave me perspective of what’s expected of his disciples when it comes to building up the Kingdom.  He kicked me in the backside and changed the trajectory of my life forever.
At the time, I had a cushy job, making good money. I was quite comfortable. But it wasn’t enough. There were times when I still wanted more. I was falling into a dangerous trap. I was on a fast-moving treadmill and felt trapped with no way to jump off.
But in February 2008, I put in an application for the diaconate, did a series of interviews, and out of 350 people, was selected as one of 35 called into deacon formation by Archbishop Brunett.
In 2012, I was blessed with ordination along with 21 of my fellow deacons who survived our nearly five year, grueling ordeal.
            Now about that video I mentioned – the one that changed my life’s course, the one delivered by God, the one I’m so thankful for. It's by a guy named Rob Bell. He's a Christian pastor. And it's called "Rich." 


            This perspective of how richly blessed we Americans are changed everything for me. 
            Halfway through formation, I shocked everyone (except my wife and family); by quitting the best job I ever had.
I’m here today to tell you that you are all richly blessed.  
You live in the most blessed nation on the planet. 
It doesn’t matter how much money you and your family have, you have so much more than most people on this planet. You are rich.
            But God has high expectations for us all.  He commands us to be thankful for these blessings and to use them to bless others.
            God also commands us who are rich to put our hope not in wealth, but put our hope in God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.
            That smartphone you have: It’s a gift.  That house you and your parents live in: gift.  That car you drive or drive in: gift.  The clothes you wear: gift. This school you go to: gift. 
            That breath you just took:  It’s a gift from God. 
            As we heard in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: “when you … are satisfied, you must bless the LORD, your God, for (what) he has given you.”       
            So, thank the Lord for all these gifts in your life. 
 But thanking God isn’t enough. Now what can you do to bless others?
            Jesus commands us to give, and give, and give. And when we give, when we offer our lives for others, something amazing happens.  We are transformed by God. “We take hold of life that is truly life.”
             We become content with what we have. We begin to realize “that the kinds of people we are becoming matters to God. It’s has eternal implications. It’s about our future. It’s about our forever.”
            This is the perspective that rocked my world and changed my life forever. (PAUSE)
            Our two sons Sean and Connor graduated from Murphy. When I ask them what they are most grateful for in their lives, almost always they name people:  Mr. Wright, Mrs. Alkire, Mr. Clapp.
            In fact, as our son Connor was about to head back for his junior year this year at Gonzaga, we asked him what he wanted to do on his last night home. 
He said, “I want to have Mr. Clapp over for cigars and a steak dinner.”  No joke.  And we did.  Here’s the proof.
            When our family traveled to Italy and France during Christmas break in 2011, our boys were our walking, talking Church travel encyclopedias… thanks to Mr. Clapp.
As I scaled the Scala Sancta, the sacred staircase Jesus walked up and down to be condemned to death by Pontius Pilate, our son Connor was recalling to my wife Mary all Mr. Clapp had shared with him about this sacred relic taken by Constantine’s mother St. Helena from Jerusalem to Rome in the 4th Century. 
When we were in Assisi, they regaled us with little known facts about St. Francis and St. Clare. 
            While we were in Lourdes, our sons remembered what they learned in Mr. Clapp’s class about Bernadette and her encounter with the lady who called herself the “Immaculate Conception.”
            Our son Sean credits Mr. Wright with steering him along his career path, giving him a passion for scholarship and showing him how a quiet person can command respect by giving respect to others. 
Our son Connor says Mrs. Alkire helped open his eyes to the wonders of math, science and physics. This Thanksgiving break, he’ll be reading a biography on nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer – for fun, not for school.  All because of a special teacher.
On the final night of our trip, as we sat overlooking Sacra Coeur Basilica, our boys told my wife and I how grateful they were for the sacrifices we made to send them to Catholic schools and give them the life they live.

They get it. They understood everything about their lives, about their experience at Murphy was a gift. And they are thankful.
Do you look at your time at Murphy that way? I know someday you will even if you don’t now. 
And I want you to remember this day, remember this homily and remember something I shared with you today.
I want you to go to that teacher who made an incredible difference in your life here at Murphy and say, “Thank You.” 
Be like the lone cured leper who returned in today’s Gospel, “fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.”  

No need to fall at the feet of your teacher.  Just say, “Thank You.”  That’s all. 
Don’t be like the other nine who are given these amazing gifts and walked away without saying a word of “thanks."
Then I want you to go into the world and bless others the way these teachers have blessed you.