Fr. Bryan Howard
The Nativity of the Lord – 25 December 2018
Merry Christmas! We’ve finally made it to another Christmas and are once again gathered around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the incarnation, the becoming flesh of Jesus Christ and His coming into the world. For Christianity, today is perhaps the second most important day of the year, second to Easter, but culturally, and, of course, economically, it’s probably the most important day of the year. It’s almost like there are two different celebrations of Christmas, the Christian one and the cultural one which is influenced by Christianity but is participated in by many non-Christians as well.
The incarnation is one of the great acts of God’s love for us, along with the Creation of the universe and the death and Resurrection of Jesus. The incarnation is a sign of God’s love for us, showing us that God desires so much to be with us, to be close to us, that He came down to become one of us and open the gates of heaven so that humanity sits at the right hand of God in the person of Jesus Christ. When you love someone you desire nothing more than for them to love you in return. So, why should we love God?
Should we love God because of everything that He’s done for us? We should certainly be grateful to God for creating us, redeeming us, sending His Holy Spirit to be with us, and calling us to heaven, but that’s not why we should love Him. I say that for two reasons. First, if I love God because of what He’s done for me, then I might stop loving God when bad things happen to me. More to the point, though, is that that’s not what love is. If I love God because of all the good things that He’s done for me, then it’s not God that I love, it’s myself. Love isn’t about what I can get from you, but what I can give to you. Love always seeks to do good for the beloved, not to take from them.
Should we love God because of His majesty and power? We should respect God because of His majesty and power, but that’s not why we should love Him. The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s the beginning of wisdom, not the end of wisdom. When we’re immature in the faith we need to learn the Ten Commandments and the punishment due to sin to begin to learn discipline, but if we stop there we remain immature in the faith. As we mature in the faith we move on to the Beatitudes, the virtues, and the laws of love. We avoid sin and strive to do good not because we’re afraid of being punished, but because we’ve grown in our love for God. It’s like the difference between respecting your parents as a child because they’ll punish you if you don’t and respecting your parents as an adult because you don’t want to hurt or disappoint them.
We should love God for the same reason that we should love anyone, because of Who He IS. God is the source of life, goodness, and truth. He is all good, all loving, all powerful, all knowing, and all present. He is perfectly just, giving to each one what they deserve, but He is also all merciful, showing mercy to all. He cannot be contained by the entire universe, and yet He was contained in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and held in her arms. He is more powerful than all the armies in the world, and yet He came to us as an infant. He is the king of the universe and all riches are His, and yet He was born to a poor carpenter and lain in a feeding trough for a bed. He is no fairy tale that happened a long time ago in a land far, far away. He was born to Mary and Joseph, in the city of Bethlehem in the land of Judea about the year 2 B.C. and lived and died in Palestine, and yet He is the unchangeable God, the same yesterday, today, and forever. If we can learn to love God for Himself, then that love will be an immovable rock, and when the wind and rain of the trials of life come, that rock of God’s love will always be there.
So, get to know who God is. You cannot love what you do not know, but the more you get to know God, the more you will love Him and want to be near Him. We get to know God first by spending time with Him. Though He ascended into heaven, He didn’t leave us, but He left us His presence in the Most Holy Eucharist. We have Eucharist adoration here every first Wednesday from 8:30 AM to 7:00 PM and every Friday from 7:00 AM for an hour before the 8:00 AM Mass. You also get to know Jesus by talking to Him and listening to Him, that is by praying. Spend some time in prayer every day, and try to do it at the same time every day. Make that God’s time. Read the Bible or pray the Rosary or just talk to God, just pray. Finally, make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we hurt someone we love we have to go apologize to them and try to repair the damage we’ve caused, and it’s the same with God. God has given us the Sacrament of Confession so we can be assured of His forgiveness and receive the grace to be strengthened against sin in the future. There are many other ways to grow closer to God, but these three, staying close to the Eucharist, frequent confession, and daily prayer, are the most important and the most powerful. We know that God loves us, not least of all because He came to live and die for us, so we should also learn who God is personally, so we can learn to love Him better.
The world experienced 200 years dominated by revolutions beginning with the American Revolution in the middle of the 18thCentury, continuing with the French Revolution at the end of that century and ending with revolutions in South and Central America and Africa in the middle of the 20thCentury. These were political revolutions aimed at overthrowing old regimes and setting up new governments. Some of them were successful and others failed. Some of them resulted in more freedom and rights for the people and some in oppression and terror. However, all of them were political revolutions. The celebration of Christmas offers us a chance to join a spiritual revolution.
Jesus Christ may have been born the child of a poor carpenter, but an army of angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of the new king in the city of David and proclaiming him to be the “Christ the Lord.” This was during the reign of the first Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, who was hailed as the Lord of the world and commanded the strongest army in the world at that time, the Roman legions. Jesus of Nazareth was the true Lord of the world, and He commanded an army of angels. Caesar Augustus came to conquer and obtain power for himself, and Jesus Christ came “not to be served but the serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28). The legions of Caesar came with swords, but Jesus told St. Peter, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Mt 26:52).
Christmas is an invitation to join this spiritual revolution, which we do by imitating Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus, and set us free from the tyranny of sin. Let your kingdom come and your will be done in our lives and in the world as it is in heaven. Arm us with the sword of the Spirit and armor us with the helmet of salvation. Do not let us give any space to the enemy in our hearts, but allow Christ to reign in every corner of our lives.
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, take the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
May you all have a merry and most blessed Christmas.
At Mass about a month ago a made a comment about the reason that we do so much kneeling, sitting, and standing at Mass, and I got so many comments about it that I decided to expand on that a bit more in this article. It amazes me that this is one of the most common complaints about the Mass and is used as a reason for people not to go to Mass. The Mass isn’t something that we passively sit through but is something that we have to actively participate in. It isn’t just about what God is giving us, the Eucharist, but it’s also about what we are offering Him, our own lives, even if His gift to us is far greater than our gift to Him. That’s why we need to actively participate in the Mass in different ways: mentally, by paying attention to the readings homily, etc., spiritually, by praying along with the prayers, and physically, by using our bodily posture and gestures.
We kneel, sit, or stand at specific times in the Mass based on what’s happening in the Mass at that time. We sit down during the readings from the Old and New Testament and the homily to show that we are receptive to what we’re hearing. We stand during certain prayers and during the readings of the Gospel to show reverence and respect and that we are actively participating in those prayers, not just letting someone else pray for us. We kneel during the Eucharistic prayer and after receiving Communion because we recognize that Jesus Christ is now present with us in the Eucharist and desire to worship Him.
This shows that we worship God with both our soul and our body. Yoda may think that we are really only our souls, like he said to Luke in Star Wars, episode V, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” but Christians believe that God created us body and soul, that the body is good, and that our bodies will be resurrected at the end of time. If our bodies are gifts from God, temples of the Holy Spirit, and destined to be raised up to heaven after the Resurrection of the Dead, then we should use them even now to worship God.
Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Advent – Year C – 9 December 2018
During this time of year we are tempted to indulge ourselves in all of the things that we like, and to indulge ourselves to excess. At Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, if we don’t eat to the point of barely being able to move, then we feel like we failed. Consumerism and consumption are the rule of the day. Of course, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but we are all tempted by our consumerist culture and can easily be tempted to overdo it. We need to get the newest smart phone, even though last year’s model was probably more than sufficient. Some of the companies even design the phone so that you can’t just replace the battery and so have to buy an entire new phone. And it’s not just phones, lots of companies design their products to fail or go obsolete after a certain amount of time so you have to buy a new one. Did you ever wonder why car companies come out with new models and designs of cars every few years? Well, GM started the practice in 1924 as an incentive for people to buy a new car even though their old one was still working just fine.
Over-indulgence is always bad. Drinking too much alcohol, eating too much, gambling too much, and spending too much eventually lead to problems like addictions, health problems, and damaged relationships. Virtue is in moderation: not too much and not too little. Courage, for example, is the mid-point between cowardice, not enough courage, and recklessness, too much courage. Temperance is the mid-point between lust and gluttony, excessive indulgence, and puritanism, the excessive denial of bodily pleasure.
We usually fall more on the side of excessive indulgence and not enough on the side of self-denial, but we need both in order to be balanced both physically and spiritually. The Church has a lot less rules about fasting than she used to. We are no longer required to abstain from meat every Friday, just in Lent now, but we are still required to do some sort of penance or to fast from something, whether that’s meat or sweats or television or something else of your choosing. It should be something that you’ll actually miss, a real sacrifice for God. Through these acts of self-denial we train ourselves to be able to say no to our desires and impulses. If we only ever give in to those temptations then our desires will begin to rule over us. If I can learn to say no even to good things, things that aren’t sinful, out of love for God, then I’ll be better able to say no when I am tempted to sin.
What is the most important thing in life? Money, pleasure, prestige are temporary and fleeting. They last a little while and then they’re gone. We can’t take them with us when we die, and they can’t even give us true joy here on earth. Don’t let the things in your life distract you from the purpose of your life: to love and serve God in this life and to praise Him forever in heaven. In today’s Gospel we’re encouraged to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” and to fill in every valley and level every mountain. The valleys and mountains are the things in our lives that keep us from God. Advent is about preparing to welcome Jesus at Christmas, so let’s really prepare to welcome Him.
The first way you can do that is by fasting and self-denial. When you fast, increase your hunger for the Lord.
Another way you can do that is by buying someone an anonymous gift or doing something for them in secret. That way, they can’t pay you back or return the favor.
Also, after Christmas when you’re putting away all of the things people gave you, pick out one or two of your older things to donate to good will.
Finally, if you have children, come up with a family charity to donate to this Christmas. Let the kids help pick it out and contribute to the donation from their own money.
In these ways we can all learn that Christmas isn’t about the things that we receive; it’s about the love that we receive from God and that we give back to God and one another in return.
If you are a baptized Catholic, then you have a patron saint. He or she was picked for you when you were baptized, but you may not know who it is. It may be that you share your first or middle name with a saint, or maybe some other saint was picked for you. If your parents didn’t pick a patron saint for you by naming you after a saint, then the priest or deacon who baptized you probably did; we often choose St. Joseph for boys and the Blessed Virgin Mary for girls. I share my middle name with St. Joseph, and I picked St. Joseph for my confirmation saint as well. If you don’t have a patron saint or don’t know who it is, then hopefully by the end of this article you’ll be determined to pick one, to learn about them, and to develop a relationship with them.
First of all, your patron saint will act as an example for you to show you how to live as a follower of Christ, show virtue in difficult circumstances, and grow in your relationship with God. The first step to being declared a saint is for the Church to examine someone’s life to see if they lived with heroic virtue. The Church will examine their life, any records that they left behind, and interview people still living who knew them. If they pass this step they are proclaimed venerable, like Venerable Mother Henriette Delille. When the Church canonized someone as a saint it doesn’t mean that they were perfect or that they never sinned, but it does mean that they make a good example for Christians today. That’s why it’s important to actually learn about the lives of the saints, especially your patron saint. Learn about their life and read any writings they left; you may learn something that will help you in your own life.
The saints aren’t just examples, though, they are living in heaven, and we’re still connected to them through the Holy Spirit. We, the saints in heaven and the members of the Church on earth, are all members of the one Body of Christ. We should ask the saints to pray and intercede for us because they are closer to Christ than we are, since they’re already in heaven and see God face to face. We underestimate the power of prayer too often. We believe that God is all powerful, all knowing, all good, and present everywhere. Since He is present everywhere He isn’t limited to helping one person at a time. In His goodness He desires the good for us, in His omniscience He knows the best way to help us, and in His omnipotence He has the ability to do it. “If God can do all that, then why,” you may ask, “do we need to pray at all?” We pray, not to tell God what we want or what to do, but to increase our desire for the graces and blessings that God already wants to give us that we might grow in holiness. The saints can help us by showing us what holiness is, so we can desire it all the more, since they live in the presence of God Who is the source of all holiness.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.