Archive for December, 2011

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

December 31, 2011

[I’m on vacation, but I am covering one Sunday Mass. This homily will be preached at St. Joseph Church in Lake Linden, Mi.]

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. In many ways, today’s Solemnity is the most important Solemnity that we celebrate in honor of Our Lady. All of the other extraordinary graces and privileges that were bestowed upon Our Blessed Mother were bestowed upon her precisely because she was to be the Mother of the Eternal Son of God made Man. Mary was preserved from all stain of sin at her Immaculate Conception because Our Lord and God was to take His human nature from her and dwell within her womb for nine months. Mary had to be perfectly preserved from all stain of sin in order for her to be a worthy dwelling place for the all-holy Son of God. The Immaculate Conception is necessary when we consider the absolute holiness of the Eternal Son of God Who became Incarnate within her; it also simply makes sense if we stop and think about it: if you were all-powerful and all-wise and you had the opportunity to create your own mother, would you not make her perfect in every way; would you not bestow upon her the greatest gifts imaginable? Of course you would. And Jesus Christ is God: He is all-powerful and all-knowing; and He in fact did create His own Mother and He did bestow upon her many extraordinary gifts: one of them being the gift of preserving her from all sin right from the very first moment of her existence: right from her conception in the womb of her mother Saint Anne.

The Assumption and the fact that Our Lady reigns in Heaven as Queen follow from that most intimate relationship that existed between her and Our Blessed Lord: while on earth they shared that intimate relationship between Mother and Son. No one loves Jesus as much as Mary, His Mother. As His Mother, Mary shared in an absolutely unique way in her Son’s mission on earth. When Mary presented her Son in the Temple Simeon prophesied that a sword would pierce her soul. And a sword did pierce her Immaculate Heart: as she stood by Our Lord as He hung upon the Cross for us. As Jesus defeated sin and death upon the Cross, Mary stood at His side and united the suffering that she endured in her heart to His suffering for the redemption of the world. Mary cooperated in our Redemption: she gave Our Savior the human nature that He would offer to the Father upon the Cross, and she shared in His Passion as the sword of suffering pierced her maternal heart. The early Christian writers (known as the Church Fathers) saw in the Blessed Virgin Mary the New Eve: just as Saint Paul spoke of Christ as the new Adam. Saint Paul explains that the entire human race lost God’s friendship as a result of the disobedience of Adam, but through the obedience of Christ, access to God was once again made possible. Adam stretched out his hand to a tree in disobedience and as a result sin and death entered the world; Our Lord stretched out His hands on a different kind of tree, upon the Cross, and conquered sin and death. The Church Fathers further point out that Adam was not alone: Eve, too, played her part in the Fall. Eve was led into temptation by the instigation of a fallen angel, the devil, and said “No” to God. Mary, at the invitation of the Archangel Gabrielle, said “Yes” to God, and thereby became of the Mother of the Savior of the world. In order to redeem us from sin and death the Eternal Son of God became one of us, like us in all things except for sin; in order for Him to assume our human nature, Mary had to cooperate with the will of God: she had to say “Yes”; Mary cooperated with God’s plan in bringing about our Salvation by allowing Our God to become one of us in the Incarnation. Our Lady cooperated with Our Lord in our redemption and now she continues to be at His side in Heaven; she is already receiving the reward of her fidelity. As she shared uniquely in Our Lord’s Passion, so too, she now shares uniquely in His glory. The Church teaches us that Mary was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory at the end of her earthly life. This, also, is a teaching that makes sense when we think of it in terms of our own experience. Mary loves Jesus more than anyone: she is His Mother; why wouldn’t Our Lord give this privilege to her? Wouldn’t you give your mother such a gift if you were able to do so? Why would Our Lord do less for His Mother?

For Our Lady, her divine Motherhood is the cause of all of the other countless graces and blessings that she received; and those graces were not for her alone. The graces that she received were for our good as well: Mary’s divine maternity is the source of grace and salvation for us, because through her we received the Author of all grace Himself. Mary cooperated with God in His plan of Salvation when she consented to be the Mother of Our Lord and God, and she continues to intercede for us from Heaven. Our Lord chose Mary to be His Mother and He gave Her to us to be Our Mother as well. Let us rejoice this day for all the many blessings and benefits bestowed upon Our Blessed Mother; and as we begin this New Year, let us renew our confidence in her to obtain for us all that we need from Her Divine Son. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Christmas Homily 2011

December 26, 2011

Christmas is probably most widely known in our culture as a time for giving and receiving gifts. The stores and the media have placed the importance of Christmas shopping before our eyes non-stop since before Thanksgiving. Christmas advertising seems to begin earlier and earlier. It is important for us to remember the reason that we give gifts to one another on Christmas: as Christians we must keep our eyes fixed on the reason for the gift giving.

Why do we give gifts to each other on Christmas? Part of the reason we give gifts is to let other people know how much we care about them. That is the reason we give a gift to a person on their birthday, for example. We give gifts to our family members and loved ones on the day that they were born in order to show our love and affection for them, to show them that we are glad that they are a part of our lives and we are a part of theirs. Why do we give gifts to each other on the day when we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ? On Christmas, we celebrate the Birth of Our Lord and Savior in time: we celebrate the fact that God became man. Why do we exchange gifts when we celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ? We give gifts to one another on this day in order to imitate the generosity of Almighty God, Who on this day over two-thousand years ago, gave the world the greatest gift ever given: the gift of His Only Begotten Son. It is said of the gift that God gave in giving us His Son that “Although God is all-powerful, He is unable to give more; though supremely wise, He knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, He has not more to give.”

To help us appreciate the greatness of the gift that God has given to us, let us reflect on this gift from two different aspects: first we will consider it from what God has given to us; second, we will consider it from the point of view of our need. God gave us the greatest gift because He gave to us what He most loves: His own most-beloved Son. From all eternity, the Eternal Son of God existed with the Father in Glory. The Father and the Son live in perfect union and in perfect love together with the Holy Spirit. From all eternity God has existed as a community of divine Persons. Within God there is perfect joy, perfect happiness, and perfect glory. When God gave to us the gift of His Son, He gave that which He loves most and He gave Him freely to us as a gift. When the Eternal Son of God became a man, He came to earth freely in order to reveal God to us and to give Himself completely to us in Holy Communion. God sent His Son, freely; Christ became one of us, freely; and this gift that is freely given to us shows us how much God loves us. In Christ the fullness of divinity is made manifest: God became a man, like us in all things except for sin, so that we could know God and have access to Him. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and He has been sent, He has willingly come to earth so that we might have life and have it in abundance: and the kind of life that He came to bring is not merely the earthly life that we have now but will one day lose; He came to bring abundant life to our souls: to give us a share in His divine life, and that kind of life is life that will never end.

That is the gift from the point of view of what God has given to us; now let us look at the gift from the perspective of our need. As members of the human race, we stand in absolute need of a Savior. That is the reality of our condition: we are fallen; we possess a corrupted human nature. We need a Savior and we cannot save ourselves. Our current state is not the way that God created us. We were created by God to know Him and love Him and to be united with Him: that is the purpose of our existence. Our first parents disobeyed God and thereby lost God’s friendship for the entire human race. Because of sin, suffering and death are a part of our lot in this world: no one can escape suffering and no one can escape death, they are part and parcel of our lives as human beings. Because of original sin, human beings are, by nature, estranged from God. Had God Himself not become one of us to save us from sin and eternal death, we would be forever lost; had Christ not been born for us, we would never have been freed from our sins; we would not have the access to God that we have as Christians, had Christ not been born, suffered, died and rose again from the dead for us. Had God not assumed our fallen human nature in order to redeem it, we would have no hope of ever seeing the joy of Heaven. Jesus, Himself, said that no one comes to the Father except through Him; through Jesus Christ, and through Him alone, we have access to God, through Him and through Him alone we have hope of attaining the union with God in Heaven for which we were created. If God had not become one of us in order to redeem us, the purpose of our very existence would be forever frustrated. That is the reason that God so willingly sent His Son; that is the reason that Christ so willingly shed His Precious Blood: so that we would not be lost in sin, and despair and death, but through Him we might have hope and through Him we have access to divine life.

Jesus Christ is the greatest gift ever given to the world because He is Himself God and nothing greater than God can ever be given as a gift because nothing is greater than God. We should appreciate the gift all the more because apart from Him we would be lost; without His coming among us we would have no hope of attaining the eternal union with God in Heaven that we were created for. Let us be truly grateful for this gift that God has given to the world this day: the gift of His Only Son. “Although He is all-powerful, He is unable to give more; though supremely wise, He knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, He has not more to give.” May our hearts be filled with gratitude and awe that such a wondrous gift has been given to us!

Merry Christmas!

December 26, 2011

A Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year to all! May Our Lord abundantly bless you and your families and fill your hearts with joy during this grace-filled celebration of Our Lord’s Nativity!

Remember that the celebration of Christmas does not end the day after Christmas; the Church celebrates Christmas time all the way up until the Feast of the Epiphany. The Mystery of the Incarnation cannot be adequately celebrated (or contemplated) in one day, so the Church gives us several.

The Solemnity of Christmas is one of those important Feasts within the Church that has an octave attached to it: eight days that are celebrated as one day. Even after the octave of Christmas, Christmas time continues until January 6th.

The fact that Christmas continues to be celebrated after Christmas day can be easily overlooked because the day after Christmas the secular world has already stowed away the decorations until next year. In the stores, the Christmas decorations go up at the beginning of November and come down the day after Christmas. (I assume that the reason for this is to get people thinking about Christmas shopping.) In the Church we do the opposite. We celebrate four weeks of Advent, the time leading up to Christmas in which we prepare our hearts for the Birth of Our Savior, and during that time the Church is relatively unadorned. Then, the Church puts up Christmas decorations the day before Christmas, so that the Church will be ready for Christmas vigil Masses, and the decorations stay up all the way until “Little Christmas,” Epiphany, the day we celebrate the adoration of the Magi.

May the joy of Our Lord fill your heart every day of Christmas time and may He bless you throughout the New Year.

God bless,
Father White

4th Sunday of Advent 2011

December 24, 2011

When a Gospel text is very familiar, we have to put forth extra effort to be attentive and not tune it out. How well we all know the account of the Angel delivering God’s message to the Virgin Mary. How many times have we all used the Angel’s words in our own prayer: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Precisely because we are so familiar with this Gospel, we need to stop ourselves from glazing over it and really meditate upon it with attention and devotion; the Church gives us this Gospel on this, the last Sunday of Advent, in order to stir up in our hearts joyful longing for the coming of Our Savior. The Church puts Our Blessed Mother before us in the Gospel today as a model of that joyful expectation that we are all to have.

It is easy for us to take for granted the way that the account goes: Mary says “May it be done to me according to your word” and the Eternal Son of God became one of us, in order to redeem us by His death and Resurrection. We know the way that the Gospel ends, and therefore we don’t always pay much attention to the details. Let us take a few minutes to really reflect upon this Gospel passage.

The Angel Gabrielle was sent by Almighty God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth. The word “Angel” means: “messenger”. Angels are pure spirits: they do not have material bodies: they can appear in a material form in order for them to convey their message to human beings, but Angels are purely spiritual beings. Gabrielle is known as an “Archangel”: an Archangel simply means an Angel (a “messenger”) with a very important message. Gabrielle is known as an “Archangel” because of the importance of the message delivered: in fact this is the most important of all messages for the human race: the Redeemer of the entire world, the Savior promised from the very beginning is about to come to earth. To us, this message is old news; that was not the case with Mary. When the Angel Gabrielle brought this message to Mary, she had no idea she was to be the Mother of the Eternal Son of God. All of the Old Testament looked for the coming of the Savior; all of the people awaited the One Who would come and set us free from sin and death. We can at times take His coming for granted, up until the time that the Angel spoke the words of today’s Gospel to her, Mary waited and longed for and prayed for the coming of the Redeemer, not knowing that her prayer and her desire would be fulfilled in her Holy Child. What must have been going on in Mary’s mind and in her heart while the Angel was delivering his message? Imagine the joy that Mary must have felt: at long last the Savior was to be born into the world; at long last the slavery to sin that had been the lot of the human race since Adam, was about to come to an end. The One Who would crush the head of the ancient serpent was coming into the world. Imagine the great hope that must have filled Mary’s heart as the Angel placed God’s message before her.

The message itself reveals much about Our Blessed Mother: remember that this Archangel is not bringing his own message: Angels deliver messages from Almighty God. God greeted Mary through the voice of the Angel Gabrielle and greeted her as “Full of Grace.” The original Greek word for “fullness” used there implies that Mary is already full of grace when the Angel greets her, and the tense of the Greek verb implies a constant and on going state or condition. The Angel also tells Mary that the Lord is with her; even before Mary conceived the Eternal Son of God made Man in her womb, the Lord is with her; and she has found favor with God. These lines of the Angel’s message speak to us of Mary’s holiness even before she conceived. Earlier this month we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception: this Solemnity celebrates the fact that God preserved Mary from all stain of sin right from the very moment of her conception. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the official Teachings of the Catholic Church that many non-Catholic Christians have a hard time with, yet it only makes sense if we stop and think about it. If you were all-powerful, and all-knowing (as God is) and you had the opportunity to create your own mother . . . would you not make her perfect in every way? Would you not make your mother beautiful and virtuous and free of all imperfection? If we, who are so limited and imperfect, would give such gifts to our mothers if we could, why wouldn’t the Eternal Son of God make His earthly Mother free from all sin right from the first instant of her existence? The Church Teaches that He did and this Teaching is in continuity with the earliest writers in Christianity.

Another aspect of this Gospel that we can easily take for granted is Mary’s response: her “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Mary was free from sin from the first moment of her existence, which is to say right from her conception in the womb of her mother, but she still had a free will. Sometimes people ask: if Mary was without sin, could she really have chosen differently than she did? The answer to that question is: yes. She was created without sin, just as Adam and Eve were and although they were also created sinless, they abused their free will and turned away from God in sin. Mary received extraordinary graces and gifts from the Lord, but she really and truly cooperated with Him in bringing about our redemption. St. Bernard of Clairvaux has a beautiful passage in which he meditates upon the Angel awaiting Mary’s reply to the message he had just delivered. I would like to conclude by sharing part of Saint Bernard’s meditation with you. He writes: “You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life. Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race. Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive . . . Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.”

3rd Sunday of Advent 2011

December 17, 2011

Today marks the halfway point through Advent. The theme of today’s Mass is summed up in the traditional title given to the third Sunday of Advent: Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word which means: “Rejoice!” “Rejoice” was the first word of the antiphon sung at the beginning of today’s Mass. The liturgical color of the day is rose: today the rose colored Advent candle is lit, today is one of two days of the year on which the priest may wear rose color vestments. The Church, through the prayers and readings of today’s Mass, encourages us to rejoice: the celebration of the Birth of Our Lord quickly draws near.

The Antiphon of today’s Mass tells us to “rejoice in the Lord.” We, Christians, have a very specific reason for rejoicing: we are to rejoice in the Lord. Saint Paul, in the second reading today, tells us to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances. He goes on to say that this is God’s will for us. It is God’s will that we rejoice in Him. God created us to know Him, to love Him and to be happy with Him: not the kind of passing happiness that comes from the things of this world, but real, lasting, true happiness; that is what God created us for.

If that is why God made us, why do we have so many worries, fears, disappointments, and anxieties? The answer is simple: because of sin. Suffering and death were not a part of God’s plan from the beginning. Suffering and death entered the world as a result of sin. The purpose of our existence hasn’t changed (the purpose of our existence is still to know and love God; we are still destined to be happy with Him forever), but ever since the first sin suffering and death have been an inescapable part of human existence on this earth.

Even in our fallen human nature, we are still called to rejoice always. The only way that we can always find cause for rejoicing in this fallen world is by keeping our eyes fixed on God and all that He has done for us. Everything that we have that is good, comes to us from the hand of the Lord. Our life, our faith, our next breath, all of the material and spiritual goods that we have been blessed with are gifts from God and they tell us of His love for us. God has given us so many good things; there are many reasons to rejoice, if we only have eyes that are open to see.

As a result of all of the good things that God has given to us, we owe God a debt of praise. The new words that we say at the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer clearly tell us of that debt. The new translation of the response to “Let us give thanks to the Lord” is “It is right and just.” The priest then goes on to say “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation always and everywhere” to give God thanks. Because of all that God has given to us and done for us it is right, it is a matter of justice, we have a duty to give Him thanks. How offended can we get sometimes when someone does not show gratitude for the little things that we have done for them. How do we feel when a gift that we give to another is not appreciated? God has given us everything and He has given it to us freely: out of pure love. He was not compelled to create us; He did not have to send His Son to die for us; Our Lord did shed His Precious Blood for us against His will. God created us out of love; He sent His Son to die because He loves us and desires to pour out His mercy upon us. Jesus Christ poured out every last drop of His Precious Blood willingly. He freely laid down His life so that we might share in eternal, divine life.

How could we fail to thank God? How could we be so ungrateful as to not have heats filled with thanksgiving to God for all that He has done? When Saint Paul tells us to rejoice always, he says that even though he knew what it was like to go through difficulties in this world. In Second Corinthians Saint Paul says that he forty lashes on five different occasions because he preached the Gospel; he was beaten with a rod on three different occasions; he was shipwrecked three times; he was frequently in danger, and often had to endure hardship that we cannot even imagine in this day in this country. Saint Paul was put in chains for his faith in Jesus Christ and ultimately was beheaded. This same Saint, who knew well what it means to suffer, was able to say “Rejoice in the Lord always.” How could he say that when he suffered so much? Because Saint Paul knew that the sufferings in this life are as nothing compared to the glory that awaits those who love and serve the Lord. Saint Paul knew that as long as he was faithful to the Lord, there wasn’t anything in this world that could separate him from the love of Christ: and that was cause for rejoicing. Saint Paul asks: What can separate us from the love of Christ, anguish or distress, or persecution or famine or peril or the sword? None of those things could take away the joy that Saint Paul had, because none of those things could separate him from the Lord Whom he loved.

If God is in the center of our hearts, we have nothing to fear. Let us keep our eyes fixed on the Lord. Let us use this remaining part of Advent to prepare our hearts and focus on Christ. Let us bring our cares and concerns to Him and entrust them to Him; then let us give Him thanks for all the many things that He has done for us, and with hearts full of gratitude let us rejoice in the Lord always and give Him thanks.

2nd Sunday of Advent 2011

December 4, 2011

This is the second Sunday of Advent; Advent is a period of four weeks that has been set apart for us to prepare our hearts to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord. Advent is a time for us to be shaken awake. As we journey through life, we can easily fall into daily routine and slowly lose focus on the things that are truly important. Advent is a time of the year in which we are called again and again in the readings and in the prayers at Mass to be alert, attentive, awake and watching.

Advent is a time for us to be shaken out of complacency, it is a time for us to examine our hearts and honestly ask ourselves: have we fallen asleep in our spiritual lives? Have we turned on the “auto-pilot,” have we allowed our faith to become a mere routine? Our Catholic Christian Faith demands something from us: our Faith is to be lived; we have to profess our faith both with our lives and with our lips. Being an authentic Christian takes more than just saying: “I was Baptized when I was an infant, therefore I am a Christian.” Christianity is not merely a social club and it is not a cultural label. Being a Christian means following Jesus Christ. What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ? It means to be in a relationship with Him; it means modeling my life on Him and on His teaching.

How do we deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ? First, we have to know Him. We have to know things about Him, but more than that: we have to know Him. We know about Him by studying Sacred Scripture and by studying our Faith. We come to know Him by spending time with Him in prayer, by praying with Scripture and not merely studying it. We cannot be in a relationship with someone we never spend time with. And the most important relationship that we will ever have is our relationship with God. We deepen our faith by putting it into practice. Our Lord said that when we do or fail to do something for someone else, we have done or not done it for Him.

Advent commemorates the historical reality that from the time of the fall of our first parents, God has promised the human race a Savior. Christmas is the celebration of the promised Savior’s birth. But this time of year is also more than a recalling of history. It reminds us also of our current situation. Just as the Old Testament people looked for the coming of the Redeemer into the world, we are called to watch and wait for Christ to come. We are to do all we can to help build of the Kingdom of God on earth; we are to spread the Gospel; we are to allow God’s love to flow through us to those around us: by what we say and by what we do we are to help others to see God in us and come to know and love Him.

In Advent we also call to mind the fact that we are still waiting for Christ to come. In the Preface that we will pray in just a few minutes, we hear that at His first coming Christ assumed the lowliness of human flesh, but when He comes again, He will come in glory and majesty. In the Creed that we pray together each Sunday, we confess our faith that Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Our culture’s favorite Scripture verse is: “judge not.” It is true: we cannot judge the heart of another, yet we can judge actions. Our Lord says that if someone sins, we should correct them. We can judge actions, but we cannot judge hearts. The reason that we cannot judge hearts is because God alone knows what is in the heart of someone else. The thing that our culture seems to forget is: we cannot judge others because all judgment is reserved to Jesus Christ. “Judge not” does not mean that there will not be a judgment, it means that judgment is not ours to make: Christ alone will judge the hearts of all.

Advent looks back to the historical first coming of Christ, and looks forward to the Second Coming which will be the end of all history. Christ’s first coming and His promised Second Coming both call for a personal response from each one of us. Advent is a time to be shaken awake: it is a time for us to reflect on His first coming, and to remember that He will come again. When He came to earth the first time, He came as Savior: He came to reconcile fallen human beings with God, and to show us the way to the Father. When He comes again, in glory, He will come as Just Judge. That thought should help us all to be shaken into alertness. We will each be called to render an account of how we have lived our lives. Each one of us will be judged one day on how we have followed Jesus Christ, how we have cooperated with His grace, and what we have done with the gifts that He has given to us. Let us be awake and watchful, let us use the gifts that we have received to build up the Kingdom of God so that when we go before Christ we will worthy to hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful servant; come and enter into your master’s joy.”