Sunday, December 26, 2021

HOMILY– Holy Family – Our Holy Families


Merry Christmas.

I pray you will find time this Christmas season to spend with your family. Our holy families are where many of us find signs of God’s love in our own lives. Even if our family life is complicated.

Christmas is also a blessed time to celebrate how God’s love broke through our human existence to shine a light on the outcast, the broken, the rejected, the oppressed and the marginalized in our world.

Jesus was born into the world in the humblest of settings: a manger – a feeding trough for animals. Not a place where many would expect the Son of God to be born. But it was here he came to us all the same. This is an important point for us all to ponder.

Today we commemorate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. 

          Today, we also remember St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr and one of the first seven deacons in the Church.

As I reflect on my life, and especially my call to the diaconate, I see how my holy family helped God to help me to become a deacon. More on that in a moment.

A lot of people are not familiar with deacons. Deacons have been with the Church since the dawn of Christianity. Permanent deacons were men and women who served the Church for the first millennium. But somewhere early in the second millennium the diaconate became “transitional,” as a year of service before someone was ordained a priest.

In 1967, Vatican II restored the permanent diaconate to the Church, but not all Bishops around the world embraced the idea. This is why there are no permanent deacons in some parts of the world.

          St. Stephen’s story is told well in the Acts of the Apostles.

He was one of the first seven deacons called to the Church and was killed after giving powerful preaching on Jesus to his persecutors who stoned him to death for blasphemy. He died using similar words to those of Jesus on the cross, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

The Catechism teaches what a deacon is in the Catholic Church.

Here’s what it says,

“Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (a ‘character’) which cannot be removed, and which configures them to Christ, who made himself a ‘deacon’ or servant of all. Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity.” (CCC, 1570)

           When I was in the final year of my five-year formation, I was struggling with my call. I was asking God: Is this really what you want for my life? I would have to give up all my hopes and dreams for retirement. I had already walked away from my favorite job to have more time for formation and ministry. I was in a low place, a dark night of the soul.

It was then I experienced something that helped me to see God’s plan for my life.

In October 2011, my mother-in-law was in the hospital and not doing well. She had buried her 41-year-old daughter, my wife Mary’s baby sister Beth, earlier that year and was still mourning the loss of her spouse eight years earlier.

My brother-in-law was in Hawaii with friends to celebrate Beth’s life and to spread some of her ashes at her favorite beach on Maui.

When Mary’s mom went into the hospital, my wife dashed to her hometown of Spokane to be with her. But after a week there, work demands forced her to return to the Puget Sound area.

I went to be with my mother-in-law until my brother-in-law returned from Hawaii. I arrived on a Monday night and spent time with her at the hospital. She seemed fine.

But the next morning the doctor called at 5 AM to say Marge was going to die that day. I rushed to the hospital to be by her side, to pray with her the prayers of the dying, and hold her hand and talk to her in her final hours.

When she passed, I called my wife immediately and we prayed the prayers for the dead together.

It was then I realized what day it was, October 4th, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, perhaps the most famous deacon in the Church. 

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Lord, you let me witness birth in person for the first time on the Feast of St. Stephen when our first son was born. And now you let me witness death in person for the first time on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. These are the book ends of our life: birth and death.

The path to my life was clearly put before me. I was to become a deacon. I no longer had any doubts.

Today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and today’s Gospel give us hope. Despite the fact that we might not understand all things, we know that God has a plan for our lives.

God’s ways are not always our ways. This is why today’s celebration is called the Holy Family and not the Perfect Family.

           God creates us uniquely and our differences are what make us holy. We humans live into God’s plan. Our lives develop in mysterious ways.

           Let us journey with Mary and Joseph and Jesus. Let us cast aside our hopes and our expectations and seek to live God’s will and remain open to where that journey might take us.

           Let us give thanks for our holy families who help us to see God alive in our lives.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

HOMILY– 3rd Sunday in Advent – Dawn On Us


This Advent, Fr.  Bryan and I are exploring the topic of being beacons of hope in challenging times.

This weekend, Gaudete Sunday, we called to rejoice.

But how do we do that?

In today’s Gospel, we see John the Baptist approached three times by three different groups seeking the answer to the question: “What should we do?”

Don’t we all ask this question of God sometimes in our lives?

What should we do to be better follower of Christ?

It is a question that has the potential to lead us disciples to take the next step in living our faith with integrity.

Real faith is not about how we pray or feel or about our personal relationship with Jesus. Real faith is about how we live our faith by what we do.

This is the secret to discovering hope in our lives. 

Hope can be a tricky thing.

Sometimes hope lies in the weeds and hides from us. Sometimes hope sneaks up and knocks us for a loop.

In these moments when hope breaks into our reality, we discover Christ in our lives, and our hearts are finally able to rejoice! 

I hear a beautiful line in the Divine Office morning prayer during Advent that touches on this reality: “Your light will come Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.”

This is how the hope of God works in our lives. Hope dawns on us in radiant beauty.

Advent is a time of expectant hope as we prepare for Christmas. Gaudete Sunday is a time of joy. It’s why we wear the color rose symbolic of the rising of the sun.

But for some, the hope and joy of Christmas can be blunted by a tragic event or painful memory or a major health challenge.

I’m sure there are some of us here this weekend who are finding it hard to feel that expectant hope or joy in these challenging times.

I don’t remember how I lost the hope and joy of Christmas early in my life.

Sometime during my teenage years, the annual Christmas feeling disappeared from my heart.

Perhaps it happened after my father’s tragic death when I was fourteen. Or maybe it was an angry teenager shedding all things heartfelt from a painful childhood.

I don’t remember Christmas having the same impact as I trudged into adulthood.

Christmas meant nothing to me. My heart had little or no compassion for people in need. The people John the Baptist is pointing us to today.

I know I’m not the only person who has had a personal tragedy silence the hope and joy of Christmas in their heart. 

Christ was born to turn our despair into hope. Christ was born to fill our hearts with love and joy. Christ was born to bring “Peace on Earth, Good Will to all.”

It’s just sometimes in our lives when we experience too much pain, we become numb to hope. 

But God can grace us with a moment when we realize the many blessings we do have and count them all. 

In other words, there are times when we are graced with a moment where Christ dawns on our lives in radiant beauty! 

For me, joy and hope returned Christmas Eve 1986.

It was a foggy, still night. My new wife (the one true Catholic in the family at the time) wanted to go to Midnight Mass.

I begrudgingly went along not sensing what was about to happen.

As we drove to the nearby parish, Mary popped in the new cassette of Mannheim Steamroller Christmas music (she has a near obsession with Christmas music).

As we rode along the song Silent Night came out of the speakers. I remembered this song being a favorite for my baby sister back when we were little kids.

Every Christmas, my sister Erin, my brothers Dan, and Jim, cousin Annie and I would reenact the manger scene at family gatherings.

My sister Erin loved Christmas. She was born with a congenital heart defect and found joy in only a few things thanks to hundreds of doctor’s visits and numerous heart surgeries.

           But love Christmas she did. And she loved her beloved toy piano she got in the final months of life.

That Christmas in 1967, a few months before she died, Erin unwrapped the toy piano after we had regaled the family in the true story of Christmas. I can still hear her playing it in my head.

As I daydreamed while driving, the closing strains of Silent Night snuck up and knocked my cold, stony heart for a loop.

At the end of the song, after the rushing of what sounds like some celestial wind, the song concludes with a child’s toy piano playing the opening stanza of Silent Night.

As I drove, tears streamed down my face. And I felt it!

The joy and hope of Christmas returned. God’s loving mercy penetrated my heart. And I have never lost that Christmas feeling.

           I pray you experience the expectant hope and joy that comes with Christmas. I pray your heart rings out with the love of Christ, and you show mercy to others. I pray Jesus dawns on your life in radiant beauty! Rejoice!

            The Lord is coming. Let our hearts be ready.