It was an Extraordinary Christmas, Missa ad Nocte, Aurora, and al Die, all in the extraordinary form. The last one was held during a rainstorm.
A few years ago, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, reminded us that what was once sacred in the past, was also sacred in the present; that which nourished the saints that have gone before us, is what is going to nourish us as well. That which was spiritual in the old covenant, remains even more intense in the new. There is a coherence between the two; in fact, they are the same.
People often tell me I am moving backwards and going backwards. No, it is all the same. Faith, piety, prayer, fasting, patience, chastity, charity, psalm singing, the Eucharist; all of this has increased rather than diminished. So therefore, you find Zechariah uttering a prophecy in the form of a hymn after his long silence, and reflecting on all the hopes and dreams of generations after generations of fathers and mothers. “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David. Through his holy prophets, he has promised from old…”
It is the morning prayer of the Church. We are at dawn, we are at the beginning, we are at the opening up of the heavens, and the Savior descends. Some might look at what Zechariah said, and think it a bit ridiculous that Zechariah might speak thus to an eight day-old infant. But he had heard the Magnificat of Mary and he had the disposition to rejoice as well, and he takes us all the way through; all the way to the promises of the Old Testament, and then, he changes this one thing. It is not “longed for, off in the future,” it is here and now. It has been accomplished. The Dawn from on high shall break upon us.
And so, the Church –all of you, and all of us, and everybody who has been here for the last hundred years, or everybody who has been in the Catholic Church for the last two thousand years – these are the words that form our prayer every morning, because every morning we are at the beginning again. The dawn has broken upon us, and none of us has a grasp of the end of the day. We do not know what this day is going to bring, but we know that God has visited His people; we know that we are free, we know that we are saved, we know that we are loved.
We do not have a clue about the end of the day. I know what my schedule is, I know what I am supposed to be doing, but God may have other plans. Has it not been wonderful? We are ready now, we are ready for this. We are ready for the experience, yet we still have not quite grasped; actually, we are still not amazed enough.
So, Zechariah has faith now, after nine months of silence, to say to us – Look, look at what is coming. The past is now present. The future is now here. We head toward the eighth day.
When you come to Sunday Mass, you think it is either the beginning of the week or the end of the week; either the first day of the week or the seventh day of the week. Actually, Monday feels like the first day of the week, does it not? So that would make Sunday the seventh day of the week, except, Sunday is the first day of the week in the Scriptures, and it is the eighth day of the week. The eighth day is outside of time. When we are here at the Eucharist, we are at the crib. We are there when the angel announces to Mary, we are there when Zechariah utters his Benedictus – Blessed be the Lord! We are there when Jesus raises the dead and cures the sick. We are present when the Wise Men come; all of it, in God’s eternal “now” – the eighth day. This is the moment when the blood and water flows from the heart of Christ as a font of mercy for all of us. This is the moment; the eighth day outside of time, and on our lips must be this prayer: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, he has come to his people and set them free!”
Preparation day means something different this year, when the inside of the Cathedral is decorated, but also the "outside" Church where most of the masses are held.
There was a word in this morning’s Gospel which I repeated over the last few days. First of all, I asked if you were amazed. Yesterday, we reflected on how amazed Mary was. Today, everyone was amazed. Amazed! Significant things were happening, unusual things, and surprising things.
They gathered on the eighth day for His circumcision. This was an ancient tradition. That eighth day was stepping outside of the regular time, to reflect on and insert oneself into the covenant which was beyond time. This is a tradition that has carried over to today, but most Catholics are unaware that when we are at Sunday Mass, we are not on the seventh day of the week; we are on the eighth day of the week. I often ask Catholics if they have heard of this eighth day, but nobody has heard of it.
Here is a little secret. Traditional baptismal fonts have eight sides. This is an insertion of the eighth day – outside of time, a moment of wonder, a moment of grace, a moment of awe. This is not our expectation, this is not what we looked for; this is not anything that we even imagined. “No eye has seen, no ear ever heard, what God has planned for those who love him.” This is a foreshadowing of the release from death for all of creation, on the day of the resurrection. This is a day outside of time.
This birth of John the Baptist, the last prophet of the Old Testament, is a miracle. He awakens a dead womb and he comes to us, to call us to awaken a dead world. What the angel in the temple had bound up in Zechariah, now this birth opens up, and Zechariah begins to speak. It is an extraordinary reversal of expectations. Everybody is amazed. We should name him Zechariah. “No, his name is John,” and they were all stunned. What then shall this child be? They had no idea.
There needs to be in us, a bit of that wonder, surprise, and reverence, for each other. Original sin makes us fundamentally selfish; we always have to fight against it. Often when you are with your spouse or with your neighbor, it is about your own values, your own needs, your own expectations, your own hopes and dreams. This may be new, but your spouse is not there to fulfill your expectations. As the people of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s time were supposed to receive this great mystery in wonder and awe; we are supposed to be doing this with each other as well. I am not here to fulfill your expectations either; I am here to give you the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, that may not be what you need to hear, or want to hear, or hope to hear, but it is what God wants you to hear. It is what God wants me to hear. It is supposed to be a spiritual surprise. John did not fulfill anyone’s expectations, and neither will we.
We are approaching a great mystery. Tomorrow night, we will enter into a celebration of the Incarnation of the Word of God. You and I have no idea yet, still; we keep doing this year after year after year because we still have not gotten it. And maybe this year, maybe this Christmas, we will have a glimpse; a glimpse of heaven, a glimpse of mystery, a glimpse of wonder and awe. Maybe we will fall silent; be reverent, and hopeful and joyful. It is the appropriation of a great and holy mystery, and we can only really scratch at the surface and wonder at what God is doing in us, and for us. “And they were all amazed, and they said, ‘What then shall this child be?’” They had no idea and neither do we. So, wait for it. It is Jesus who is coming. The Creator of the universe is going to enter our lives as a little child, and the moment of birth is a time of wonder and grace. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Try to understand it, but it is not about understanding; it is first of all, about love. God first loved us, so that we might slowly but surely, learn to love Him and one another.
‘Tis the longest night of the year; the winter solstice is upon us. You may have noticed, that “my heart exalts in the Lord my Savior.” This song of Mary, and song of Hannah, has been reserved for this day. Because when it gets the darkest, we sing more insistently of a light that never fails. Mary was amazed. She was struck with wonder and awe and amazement. The greeting that Elizabeth had given her when she arrived was, “How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” And then there was the triple blessing: “Blessed are you among women,” “Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” “Blessed are you who believe that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled.” Mary, in response to this triple blessing, erupts into an aria; a wonderful song of praise. St. Ephraim, in the fourth century, reminds us that here is the moment she sums up everything there is to know about the work of salvation and her place in it. She is not God; she is the mother of God. This is not anything about what she accomplished. It is about everything that God asked of her, and her “yes”. But it was God who did all this. All these things have happened, she knows, in spite of the lowliness of her position. This humility. “He has regarded the low estate of His handmaid. And from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed.” Blessed are you among women.
So, Mary proclaims the new kingdom. The new kingdom is this: He will do great things, He will be mercy for those who fear Him. The proud will be confused in their innermost thoughts. And humility is the queen of all the virtues. This is what she sums up for us. Now, we have not done a great job of explaining this to our Protestant brothers and sisters, and it is unfortunate, because they think that we worship her. I once saw on the Internet that if I put a picture of my mother (who passed away in 2011) up on the wall, put a rose in front of it, and lit a candle and asked her to pray for me, no one would think twice of it. If I did this for Mary, most of the Christian world would think I have lost my mind. But she is our mother. She is our mother in the order of grace. We give ourselves to her because Jesus chose her as the perfect means to unite Him to us and us to Him. That is who she is; she is the perfect means to unite us to Jesus and Jesus to us. We come to her because she gives us Jesus. It is entirely the initiative of God that we celebrate her. It is entirely the initiative of God that our salvation should be born of her and from her; that our salvation comes through her. So, if we reject Mary, we reject Christ. If we reject Mary, we reject God. We reject God’s work, we reject God’s will. If we reject Mary, we reject grace. But God is our only desire and His grace is what we need, and this grace is given to us first, through Mary; she is the one who gave Him birth.
So Mary, unknown, from an insignificant part of the world; – no one knew who she was. But in the midst of this humanity, God acted. God conceived in her the Living Word of God. She gave birth to God in our world. She, with Joseph, raised Him, and gave Him to us. So, she was amazed! She was struck by wonder and awe. So, the question is: are you? Mary erupted in a song of praise that from the depth of her heart, she rejoiced in everything that God has done. And the question remains, is that us too? Will we do that? In spite of the darkness of the world – because the world impresses that darkness upon us – are we willing to continue singing? To continue praising? To continue rejoicing in everything that she gave us? This is our task. This is what it means to be His people; that we have the same love, joy, and appreciation in her that even Jesus has.
When was the last time that you were amazed by this? Have we forgotten how it is – we should be amazed by what God has done! Maybe it is time for us to recover a sense of wonder, awe, and amazement. Are we like the old world; do we expect God to show up with indescribable and unapproachable and inconceivable majesty? Throughout all of history, God has impressed Himself upon us in very, very small ways.
Today’s first reading; the wonderful Christmas prophecy about the descendant of David: Jesus, who would rule forever. David was settled in his palace; the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies on every side. There is this brief summary of the last twenty-one years of David’s life, and during those years, David had lived like a renegade to avoid being murdered by his predecessor, Saul. Then he fought a civil war against Saul’s followers, and then another ongoing war against the foreign power, the Philistines. And although he was usually outnumbered and under equipped, God always gave him the victory.
Perhaps, David’s most famous victory was the first one – remember that story? The Israelites were at war with the Philistines. The Philistines had this gigantic warrior by the name of Goliath. Goliath had challenged Israel to let the war be decided by one combat of himself and Israel’s greatest solider. The war was at a standstill; they had fought for days with no movement on either side. So, let us decide it now; bring your greatest soldier and we will fight it out. So what did the Israelites proffer? They sent forth a teenager, a little kid – a shepherd boy. He said to Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of the armies of Israel that you have insulted.” And sure enough – you know the story – David took his little slingshot and with one volley, embedded a stone in the forehead of the giant, who fell over dead. God: inconceivable, indescribable, living in unapproachable light, and yet, His greatest victories are very small indeed.
So, there is this young woman in a far off place. Not in the centers of power, certainly not in Rome. Insignificant, unknown; who knew her? She was not known by anybody outside her village, but this is where God visited. She recognized the words, “Do not be afraid” – this is what God had said to Abraham, to Joshua, to Daniel. She had heard the echo throughout the centuries: God was building a house. She did not realize it was going to be her. When we think of God building His own house, that God said to David, “I will build a house,” we are thinking of a huge temple even bigger than St. Peter’s; we are thinking of grandeur. But this is where God came – Mary.
You and I are asked to imitate Mary. Each one of us must be that spiritual house. There has to be times every day when we close the doors of that house and leave out the world and all its distractions. Look inside that house and see. Has it been filled with all sorts of garbage from the world? Have you forgotten to be amazed that God wants to dwell in you? This is where each and every one of us offer worship and spiritual sacrifices. This is how each of us carry Christ into the world. The world, you know, already rejects everything that we say about the dignity of the human person. But you and I know, that He alone is our salvation and He has come to save us. And, with Mary and all the saints, we will build ourselves into a house of God: chosen.
You know what all the world is amazed by; you know that grand concerts and wonderful conquests in the field of battle – all designed to amaze us. Go on YouTube and look at it; it is all there. But God wants to be small for us. He wants to come to us in such a small and insignificant way that, if we are not paying attention, we are going to miss it. Remember, in Bethlehem, everybody was going about their business. They had no idea that a little child born and placed in a manger, would be the Savior of the world, would free us from our sins, would bring us light and life, and beauty and truth. We had no idea. When you come into this church and chat with your neighbor and greet one another with jovial kindness and bright faces, do we forget in Whose presence we are? Are we no longer amazed that we are in the throne room of the King? Do we fail to pay attention to Him, to His presence? The world tries to distract us, but He waits. He waits for us to turn to Him. He has become very small; we might miss it. He takes hold of the smallest piece of bread in the house and even the smallest crumb, becomes God: indescribable, unapproachable, inconceivable; living in unapproachable light. We would be destroyed by it, if we saw it all. Instead, He wishes to hide Himself in the womb of a virgin, in a tiny infant, in a condemned criminal, in a tiny piece of bread. He wishes to hide Himself so that we would not be afraid. Come to Him. Close the door on the world, let the distractions fall away. This is a time to come to Him.
In the past few days, we have examined the virtue of faith; to be able to walk in the darkness – the assurance of things unseen. We have examined the virtue of hope; the expectation in what God can do, not what we can accomplish. Today, it is the virtue of love, of charity, which is very different from the love that our world celebrates.
Often times when we think of love we identify the emotion, the feeling of love. Emotions are spontaneous. They are morally neutral until we do something with them. Emotions have everything to do with what we want, what we need, what we expect. Emotions often have to do with our individual values. When we make decision based on our emotions, those decision are fundamentally selfish, examining what other people do based on how it affects us.
Love, true love – the love that is the love of God, the friendship of God – This love grows over time. We take the focus off of ourselves and onto the other. It is seeking the good for the other. Decisions based on the virtue of charity are often selfless. It is about giving to the other.
Today we celebrate the gift of God’s love; that act of the will in which God seeks to capture us, to entice us. God gives Himself, God loves us first. Charity is to give as God gives, always selfless. “Hail, full of grace,” the angel said. She had already offered to God the gift of her virginity; the question that she asked the angel would not have made sense otherwise. She was to give birth to Him who Himself was the fullness of grace and truth. She herself, would become the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. He, whom the world cannot contain, was now found wholly and completely, in her womb. She, with love beyond all telling; she gives herself even more.
You have to wonder at how small God becomes for us. The great mystery of God who is grander, larger than the universe that we can imagine (and we only know a portion of the universe), Often times at the end of Mass, as I am purifying the chalice, you see these little tiny crumbs, these little tiny crumbs! And I am in awe that God has become that small again.
So, what is God doing in your life? Where is God asking you to give of yourself; to be for others in the way that everything you are about is best for them? What is God asking of you? God is asking of you, but do you know what it is? It is different for each of you. Where is God asking you to love, to grow, to expand your heart to include all the world, because then we will know the language of love.
In the Scriptures, the language of the devil is very clear. It is any action that is “non serviam” – I will not serve. That is the whole ethos of the devil. With God it is the complete opposite – Here I am, send me. Let it be done to me according to your word. What can I do for you? Who can I be for you? Let me open my heart and my life that you may come. That is the language of love. That is the language of charity. It is very, very different from our emotions. You can see in charity, emotions have no effect on the action of the will because we will give and do, no matter what we are afraid of, no matter how we are in doubt, no matter where we think God has abandoned us – whatever it feels like – it does not matter what we feel, because we have decided to give of ourselves. The emotions lead us to an unholy trinity: me, myself, and I. The virtue of charity leads us to the most Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gave Themselves completely to us that we might learn to give ourselves to Them and to one another.
What is your deepest desire? What do you long for the most? What would make you the happiest and would fulfill all your longings and hopes?
There are many things in our life that grab our attention: a spouse, an education, a job, peace at work and at home. Yet we must remember that as Christians our deepest desire must be for Jesus and the life of glory with him in heaven. It is possible we may need to begin to change your priorities. Today we turn the page to the Gospel of St. Luke and hear the announcement to Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah is fulfilling his duty in the temple as a Jew of a priestly cast. As priest he is praying for the coming of the Messiah, as a man he is longing for a son. Both of his prayers are answered.
The Angel bore witness to grace. Zechariah, as priest offering incense is praying for the coming of a Messiah who would be the true sacrificial offering for the world. The angel beside the altar of incense was a herald of a new Covenant. Zechariah in the middle of the sanctuary represented the old covenant that had now been struck silent. Zechariah and Elizabeth are a faithful remnant of Old Israel. They believed and trusted in God. Yet, they were deeply disappointed. He had heard the promise of God but he was convinced now of its impossibility.
Faith means we need a new set of eyes. Faith – the assurances of things unseen. The lights do not go on; the lights go out and we learn how to walk by faith, in the dark. Here in the darkest, coldest time of the year, we begin to sing of a light that never fails. Faith is walking with a certain firmness and strength, even if you don’t know where the next step will lead.
Are we a lot like Zechariah? God promises us great things and we think: when? or how? or what? What was his prayer? The promise was given; and Zechariah was not optimistic. There is a basic difference between our optimism and the virtue of hope. Optimism has everything to do with what we might accomplish. I’m optimistic that we may be successful. Hope, on the other hand, is a real confidence in what God is doing, what God is accomplishing. God is given to us in His fullness and we are often unaware of it.
What is the deepest desire of your heart and when it is promised to you, will you hear it? Will you believe it? What is God doing in your life? What is God accomplishing in your life? I’m optimistic that all the gifts will be wrapped and the ingredients purchased for a lovely Christmas and a magnificent dinner. But I am hopeful too. Hopeful too, that we each experience more and more every day what God has, from of old, longed for each of us, wanting to lift us up to Himself. And indeed, in this gracious Mystery, He will accomplish that very thing.
Omnia Christus Est Nobis
Christ is everything for us!
Burying the Alleluia
Sacristy Art I
Sacristy Art II
Sacristy Art III
Sacristy Art IV
Sacristy Art V
Sacristy Art VI
Years in Review
Decade in review
I am a Roman Catholic Priest from California. I spent 13 wonderful years years as a member of the Province of the Pacific in the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. The outline of my life can be traced here.