Monday, December 28, 2009

Feast of the Holy Family

My parish celebrated its feast day this weekend, unfortunately it is hard to make a parish celebration of it when it falls a few days after Christmas.  The other disappointing thing for this new pastor was that the deacons were scheduled to preach.  So I did not even get to preach on the parish feast day.  So I thought I would share one thought that would have been a building block for a homily.

Last week I brought communion to a homebound parishioner.  She could not get over the idea that the PASTOR came to her home.  She was so honored to have the PASTOR visit her.  I felt unworthly of such adulation but was uplifted by it.  That evening my associate told me that a parish teen told him that he did not like when I preached, because I was too long.  I have never been told that before but perhaps that is the grace given to pastors -- long preaching.  Talk about being exaulted only to be humbled.

These two experiences got me thinking about the role of the family in the human experience.  Families should build us up and validate us.  Families also keep us honest and challenge us when we miss the mark.  As a pastor, I pray that I may receive both the validation and the correction that will help me to serve this family well.  And as the father of this family I hope I will be granted to wisdom and courage to validate and correct with love.

Happy Feast Day Holy Family

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas 2009

Not too long ago, I saw a headline for a story online that grabbed my attention. I cannot remember the specific wording but the headline called attention to an article about an atheist who was promoting the telling of the Christmas story in public schools. This intrigued me so I clinked on the link to the article and found that the woman’s premise for teaching the Christmas story was that children should be taught the fables of various cultures so that they might have a deeper appreciation of literature. I thought to myself, “No thank you.” The Christmas story does not begin, once upon a time, in a land far, far away. The Christmas story as it is presented in the scriptures is presented within the framework of human history. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the genealogy of Joseph’s family relating it to the various epochs of the Jewish people. Luke’s gospel sets the scene by noting the political and social milieu of the Roman world. There is also the tradition of chanting the Proclamation of the Birth of Christ, which sets the birth of the Lord in both its political and religious context. These historical references not only make the birth of Christ more tangible but help us to understand that real events change the course of history. With the birth of Jesus we acknowledge that something has changed, it was not always this way.

We have been telling this story for some two thousand years. We have grown up with these events already incorporated into the human experience, but it wasn’t always this way, something changed. It was not always this way for the Jewish people. The people of the covenant, throughout their history, were seekers. The searched and longed for the opportunity to be reconciled with God, through infidelity, war, failed kingdoms and exile. What changed is that the searchers have been found by the God who humbled himself rather than those who were subject to him. What has changed is that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light as Isaiah prophesized. Because of the newborn savior, there is eternal hope.
Just as something changed in the life of this people of faith, something changed in the life of a people who had no faith. The shepherds, who are drawn to the manger, had no faith and no relationship with God. The Magi who will come had not expectation of a savior. Something has changed; it was not always this way for them. Something changed in the personal history of Mary and Joseph; two real human persons who were called to live a life beyond their expectations. Through their encounter with the Son of God, they gain an essential role in salvation history.

As we celebrate this Christmas we are encouraged to recognize that an encounter with Christ means a change in our lives as well. Our annual celebration of Christmas is very much about keeping traditions. Some of us are even charged with being the standard bearer of our family traditions. However, the faith experience of Christmas is something more than an unaffected routine. We do not celebrate this Eucharist, simply because attending Christmas mass is a tradition. This is an encounter with Christ in our current historical context and it changes us. Every event of our personal history changes us and makes us something we were not before. The people we encounter, the joyful and sorrowful experiences, as well as our successes and failures change us and we must acknowledge that we were not always this way, this than is true for our encounter with Christ this Christmas. In an examination of our lives we know that encounters with Christ have changed us. It may be through our faith journey, our personal prayer, the presence of Christ in others, moments of reconciliation or the overcoming of addictions but something does change, we cannot say it was always this way, when we have an encounter with Christ.

Christmas then is neither “Once upon a time,” nor an empty tradition. It is about accepting the possibility of change. At this moment in history, Christmas 2009, God is with us in a new way. None of us have always been this way; we are different this Christmas because of what we have encountered in the past year. May each of us discover the real true presence of Christ, at the celebration of the Eucharist and in the historical moments of our lives.

My brothers and sisters, it has not always been this way, God is with us, yesterday, today and forever. Merry Christmas!