Sunday, December 25, 2016

CHRISTMAS - We Are Made For the Child

So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.

What is it about babies?  Why are we saw drawn to them?  I suppose not everyone is, but it seems that most people are instinctively moved by babies.  In saying this to you, perhaps you might verify these thoughts from your own experience – you have seen how people react to a baby.  This response is not only an adult response; children respond to babies as well.  I recently observed my 2 young nephews interact with another friend’s baby.  All other play came to a halt as they were transfixed by an infant.  Even babies respond to other babies, they are drawn to the face, the smile and the eyes of one who is so similar to them. 

Not too long ago I read an article that researched this question from a scientific perspective.  The article acknowledged that it was Charles Darwin who originally pointed out that there is something about infants which prompts adults to respond to and care for them which allows our species to survive. A zoologist further proposed that it is the specific structure of the infant face, large head, big eyes and cheeks that elicit a parental response. But a study from 8 years ago took this hypothesis a step further, finding a key difference in the brain activity of normal adults when they viewed infant faces compared to adult faces.  Their study showed that a region of the human brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex (I guarantee you – no other Christmas homily is using the phrase "medial orbitofrontal cortex") becomes highly active within a seventh of a second in response to infant faces but not to adult faces.  The study determined that these responses are too fast to be consciously controlled and are therefore perhaps instinctive.  This study gives us the ability to acknowledge that we are biologically made to respond uniquely and positively to a baby.  -- I guess God knew what he was doing.

Is not our celebration of Christmas a faith expression of what may also be a biological reality?  We are made to respond to the child.

In a few moments we will profess our faith.  Together we will say…
He came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day.

As we gather to celebrate the birth of the Lord, we are professing that what we ultimately see on the cross, we see first in the manger. In the cross, the mystery of God’s plan for salvation is fully revealed; by his act of sacrificial love, granting us hope through the power of the resurrection.  In the manger we see a child who engages the instincts of our biology and our faith and from this very moment the world is transformed

The child is mystery.  No matter how much knowledge we have about biology, genetics and reproduction, a newborn child is a profound mystery.  We stare in amazement, because we can’t quite wrap our minds around the full mystery of the birth of a new life.  We need mystery in our lives, making us aware that there is something beyond what we see through eye and mind.  Mystery impels us to continue to seek, to wonder and to be filled with awe in the presence of God.  The child born in mystery sets us on the path of the mystery of our salvation.

The child is Love.  We love babies. We caress them and hold them, expressing the depth of our affections.  But children evoke in us a deeper love, a sacrificial love.  The baby needs the sacrifice of the sleepless nights of parents, who work two jobs to support him.  The sacrifices of time, energy and finances are just some of the ways in which the parent offers loving sacrifice.  The child in the manger needs the sacrificial love of parents and in so doing prepares the way for the sacrificial love that he offers of himself on the cross.

The child is hope.  We have big dreams for our children.  In them we the solution of world problems, joyfulness in the simplest of things, and a passion for knowledge.  A child gives hope to the generations that precede her, trusting that she will provide the care for them as they provided for her.  The child in the manger is the hope that God has not forgotten his people, that all is not lost and that sin and death ultimately have no power over us.

What begins in the manger, is fulfilled in the cross and his lived here on this altar whenever we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  Through mystery, love and hope, the one born in a manger, the one who is raised from the dead, is the one whom we encounter today and every day in the Holy Eucharist.  We are made to respond to the child, who comes to us.  Let our innate desire for him, awake in us an awareness of his desire for us.  For he longs for us to embrace the mystery, love and hope of his presence, and so share in the building of His Kingdom.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 09, 2016


Twenty years ago, on December 9, 1996, I received the Sacrament of Holy Orders for the first time when I was ordained a transitional deacon by Bishop John R. McGann, the second Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.  On the day of my ordination I wrote the following, in a journal I was keeping:
Everything is new.  All of life is different now.  God let me enter into this awe and wonder more and more.  Let me let go and experience the mystery of your presence.Thank you. I love you and love what you have done for me.  Thank you for this sacrament, this grace, this love.  Keep me from being jaded, arrogant.  Let me always be the servant that I am called to today.
It was good to read these words again today as I reflected on these twenty years.  They renew me in the fervor that I had and remind me of the mission I understood myself being called to by God. The sixth months between that day and my ordination to priesthood were an opportunity for me to "fall in love," with my identity as clergy - one who is ordained to serve.

It was with particular joy that on this the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate, Pope Francis announced his appointment of our new diocesan bishop, Bishop Joseph O. Barres. Bishop Barres episcopal motto is "Holiness and Mission," derived from a phrase from the final section of the encyclical Redemptoris Missio written by Pope Saint John Paul II.  In the document, His Holiness identified the Church’s missionary spirituality as "a journey towards holiness.”  In Bishop Barres appointment today I am reminded that my mission of service to the church is intimately tided to my own journey toward holiness.  

May I ask all who read this blog to pray that I may be faithful to his mission and that our new bishop will lead the church on Long Island to holiness through his own personal journey to holiness.