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Month: December 2018

Shining in the darkness

Shining in the darkness

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great LIGHT. Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a LIGHT has shone.” (Is. 9:1) Winter is so dark, but winter darkness is the backdrop for Christmas light.

Did you know that in Bethlehem the early Christians always celebrated Christmas Mass at night? By the fifth century the pope in Rome also celebrated a Christmas Mass at night. What’s behind the tradition?  Why bring people out in the middle of the night during the darkest time of the year?  The first people to learn about Jesus’ birth were “shepherds . . . keeping the night watch over their flock.” (Lk. 2:8) The Night Mass was a way to remember the night-time birth of Jesus.

That was the historical significance, but there was also a symbolic significance. Jesus is the Light of the human race, especially for those who dwell in the land of gloom. “Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a LIGHT has shone.” On Christmas Day John declares, “The LIGHT shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn.1:5)

People in the darkest places hunger for God’s light.  When you dwell in the land of gloom, you yearn for the light. I am thinking of the home-bound or homeless, of immigrants or prisoners, and those with life-threatening illnesses or the dying.   When you live each day with physical weakness or mental frailty, you hunger for the light.  When you are isolated or seen as unwanted and a burden on society, then you crave God´s merciful light to lift you out of that place of gloom.   

People in the darkest places are zeroed in on Christ shining in the darkness. I saw this while serving on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One Christmas in a little mission parish, the people had decorated the church, and a little boy named Larry Brown proudly pointed to the string of Christmas lights that he draped around the crucifix behind the altar.  His eyes were beaming with pride as he asked me, “Do you like the lights around the crucifix, Father?”  I said, “It looks great, Larry,” even though it was not how I would have decorated the church for Christmas! 

However, Larry was probably instructed by the elderly ladies to put those lights around the crucifix.  They know the Light that flows from Jesus.  In their daily struggle, they humbly gaze on the cross or the image of divine mercy.  Those Christmas lights framing the crucifix may not have looked elegant, but they expressed the truth proclaimed by John, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We have had a gloomy year in the Church.  In our weariness, we need to remember that “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We should learn a lesson from the people dwelling in the land of gloom – the home-bound, the poor, the sick, immigrants or the imprisoned. We often ignore these people, but they can help us see the Light of Christ.  In humble faith, they are not absorbed by the darkness, but fix their gaze on the Light streaming from the Risen Lord.

Even more, notice how they are shining in the darkness. When you visit a sick person of faith, the peace of Christ fills their hearts, and you sense it when you speak with them.  The home-bound pray with perseverance.  It’s inspiring to visit them. They illuminate the Church even though they are not here with us. We are strengthened by their faithful prayer.

Some of the most Light-hearted people are the poor who have little or nothing; yet, they emanate joy because Christ dwells in the least (Mt. 25:40).  Ten years ago, I accompanied college students on a mission trip to El Salvador.  After the trip, they said that one of their most memorable experiences was, ‘How joyful the people are, even though they have nothing.’

The Light of Christ infiltrates his disciples, especially the poor and the humble. It shines in the dark world, if only we have eyes to see. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins marveled at the power of this light in a poem, as he wrote: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.  It gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil.” We see the grandeur of God flaming out in disciples who show mercy. 

Ten days ago, I visited St. Joseph’s Church in Cheyenne where the youth group was serving the homeless and sitting with them to offer a listening ear.  The light of Christ filled the hall with their simple acts of kindness.  Think of how many times this happens in thousands of parishes across this nation.  Think of all the disciples “shining as a flame of God’s mercy in the world.” (Pope Francis) 

Although our hearts have been saddened this year by clergy who have stumbled in the darkness, tonight remember all the priests who faithfully serve each day patiently hearing confessions, visiting the sick, celebrating the Sacraments, teaching the faith, mourning with people at funerals and rejoicing with them at weddings.  In the universal church, there are 400,000 priests radiating the Light of Christ.

In even greater numbers, religious sisters are shining stars in a dark world.  In October I met Sister Patricia Murray.  She is the Executive Director of religious women in the world, and she described the work of religious sisters serving on the peripheries – working against human trafficking, teaching in poor missions, schools or universities, assisting refugees and immigrants, serving in healthcare or in prisons.  Worldwide there are more than 700,000 sisters shining in the darkness. They are fulfilling the command of Jesus who said, “Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  (Mt. 5:16)

When we think of all the faithful disciples “shining as a flame of God’s mercy in the world,” it calls to mind the words of St. Paul in the letter to the Ephesians, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.  For light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” (Eph. 5:8-9)

Tonight marvel at the Light flowing from the crib and the cross.  Remember that God’s power is stronger than sin and sickness, Satan and death.  “Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a LIGHT has shone.” (Is. 9:1) See how his Light is shining in the darkness.  It radiates through every good deed you do.  It is multiplied in every faithful disciple. 

Finally, ask the Lord to renew his Light where it has grown dim because of the frailty of flesh, or slavery to sin, or the demon of discouragement.  With humility and confidence, ask the Lord to conquer any darkness in your life and to empower you to walk as a child of Light.

The Light of Christ is the strongest force in the universe.  “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn. 1:5)

Abound in Love

Abound in Love

This Sunday, I celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation with St. James Parish in Douglas.  The homily is below.

As we begin Advent, St. Paul describes well how we are supposed to act.  “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all . . . so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus.” (1 Thes. 3:12-13)  The grace of Baptism and Confirmation empowers you to “abound in love for one another.”  The power of the Holy Spirit “strengthens your hearts to be blameless in holiness before God.” 

 As you look at how you treat the people in your family, are you abounding in love for one another?  For youth, is this how people see you treating your brothers and sisters?  Do you abound in respect and love for your parents?  For parents, do you overflow with patience, gentleness and forgiveness with your children?  In your relationship with your husband or wife, do you overflow with Christ’s selfless mercy?

Paul’s challenging words are helpful to hear as we begin Advent.  He reminds us of our goal as disciples – to “abound in love for one another,” and “to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father .”   Passages like this make us realize how far we have to go.

To be a good disciple is not to be perfect, but to work at it every day.  You can hear that desire in a letter one young person wrote.  She said:  “By being confirmed in the Spirit, I desire to witness and serve others.  You honor yourself, your parish and God by serving others.  It is one of the many things we have failed in our everyday life, and I feel the need to change that.”  She realizes that she needs to work harder at serving others.

To be a good disciple is to never give up….. to keep working the journey of faith.  The Holy Spirit keeps nudging us along each day, urging us to do more.  In a film about St. Teresa of Calcutta, a reporter is interviewing her.  He has observed her serving the poorest of the poor in the streets, but she is barely making a dent.   To him her work seems meaningless.  So he asked her, “What do you want to accomplish in your life?”  She responded with urgency, “More, more, more.  Always more.” 

A good disciple is someone who feels that he or she has never done enough.  She is restless.  She wants to “increase and abound in love.”  But this does not mean doing more so others see how good I am.   And it’s not increasing my good works out of a sense of guilt because this is how I should act.  Rather, a disciple seeking to “increase and abound in love” is inspired by God.  This feeling arises in a person who is close to God.  In particular, it flows from the experience that God is so good to me.  As St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor. 5:14)

This is the feeling that we often get when we are at Mass because we are refreshed in the mercy flowing from the cross.  When a person is confirmed, one of the first effects is to experience the abundance of God’s goodness, even though you do not deserve it.  And God’s blessings are meant to be used.  They are intended for others.  The abundance of grace inspires us to “increase and abound in love.” 

We see how that abundance shines out in the saints.  They abound in love and heroic strength.  One student chose St. José Sánchez del Río who died as a martyr at 14 years old.  She wrote, “He wanted to be part of the Mexican revolutionary way so he joined the Cristeros.  He knew that he had to fight for his faith. . . . His godfather ordered his assassination.  José was offered many opportunities to be set free but . . . he was stubborn to the end.  The federal forces cut the skin off the bottom of José’s feet and made him walk to the cemetery.  Just before his death, the captain taunted José by asking him what message that he wanted to tell his parents, and José responded.  “That we will see each other in heaven.  ¡Viva Cristo Rey!  ¡Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!”

 St. José Sánchez del Río was a martyr because he shined with the abundance of God’s power.  He wanted to do something more than just be a regular person.  That is what God wants from you.  He wants you to abound in his love.

The goal of Confirmation is to set your heart on fire with God’s love.  St. Catherine of Siena said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.”  God created you so that he could pour the fire of the Holy Spirit into your heart.  You are confirmed to bring that fire to the world.

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