Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homily Christmas 2009

Over the past few weeks…
We have endured the insanity of department store checkout lines
that resemble the queue at a Disney ride
the gridlock that has brought northwest Canton to a halt since Black Friday
the stressful panic of uncertain shipping deadlines
and not finding what we’re looking for in the 7th store we’ve tried.

But now all this has come to an end…
has given way to the moment we have anticipated.

Also reaching its fulfillment tonight is our spiritual preparation
through the Church’s celebration of the Advent season.

We have recalled the writings of the prophets announcing the coming Messiah.
We have celebrated the Virgin Mary’s eager anticipation of Jesus – her son and God.
We have prepared our hearts and souls for the coming of Christ,
both at Christmas and when He should come again in His glory,
through our prayer, our confessions, and our Advent traditions.
Tonight our preparing is done…our anticipation is fulfilled…
and tidings of great joy are announced to us: a savior is born!
We gather in the peace of this night to celebrate that divine gift
that gives meaning to all we have been doing…
indeed that gives meaning to our spiritual life and our humanity…
the moment of the Incarnation.
The extravagant love of God…manifest in the gift of His Son…
is revealed in utmost simplicity and silence.

After all this waiting…after Israel has longed for the Messiah…
like Mary in labor…impatient to give birth…the time has come.
The whole universe seems to collectively gasp…catch its breath…
and pause in silence to adore the simple magnificence of God.

It is indeed the most powerful of pregnant pauses…
in which a virgin gives birth to a child who is our saving Lord.

Tonight is a silent night.

In the Gospel accounts of the Christmas story,
there is no record of a single word spoken at the stable where Jesus was born.
Neither Joseph nor Mary, neither the shepherds nor the wise men,
dare to break the silent splendor of God’s incarnate entrance into the world
with the inadequacy of human utterance.

Tonight we are gripped by the power of this awesome silence.

It was in 1818, on a cold and snowy December 23rd,
that the famous Josef Mohr, assistant pastor of Saint Nicholas Church
in the village of Oberndorf, near Salzburg,
with the help of his church organist,
put his simple poem about Christmas to music.

They wrote a melody that could be sung with guitar accompaniment
because their church organ was in disrepair.
Within a matter of a few weeks, the hymn was being sung across Europe,
for kings and crowds of worshippers alike,
and soon it had captivated the world.

“Silent Night” is a Christmas icon, and arguably the best-loved carol of all time.
Its words speak of the tenderness, the simplicity, the awesome stillness
of that first Christmas night.

All is calm as the world beholds the holy infant, so tender and mild.
Shepherds quake at the sight, as glories stream from heaven afar.
Love’s pure light appears as radiant beams from the divine face
as redeeming grace dawns upon our human sight.

And all creation rests in heavenly peace.

About 100 years after the composition of “Silent Night”
in 1914, in the midst of bloody combat on the Western Front in WWI,
on a snowy, frozen, miserable Christmas Eve,
the German troops began to sing its beautiful words from the trenches.

The British men recognized the now-famous melody and joined in.
Soon an unofficial truce had broken out as the enemy armies celebrated Christmas.
Into the chaos of war, “Silent Night” had indeed brought heavenly peace.


In our own day, Amy Grant has put her own twist on the theme
in her Christmas ballad “I Need a Silent Night.”


Reflecting on the commercial theme with which I began tonight, she sings:
Too many malls, too many storesDecember traffic, Christmas rush
December comes then disappears
Faster and faster every year
Look at us now rushing aroundTrying to buy Christmas peace

What was it like back there in Bethlehem
With peace on earth, good will toward men?

Finally, she concludes:
I need a silent night, a holy nightTo hear an angel voice through the chaos and the noiseI need a midnight clear, a little peace right hereTo end this crazy day with a silent night

All our preparing and planning has brought us to this silent night,
this holy night, filled with the peace and joy of Christ's birth.


Our love for God and His love for us draw us together
to rest for a moment in heavenly peace.

Hustle and bustle is not just a Christmas-time experience.
Every day of the year, it seems, is consumed with overwhelming busyness.
Our hearts long to capture a bit of this night’s beautiful silence,
and we are left begging for a little peace and silence in our lives
amid the chaos and the noise of our world.

This is not nearly as impossible or outlandish as it sounds.
Psalm 46 declares “Be still, and know that I am God!”

In the quiet time we set aside each day for prayer
we can capture the holy peace we feel tonight.

Indeed it is in the quietness of contemplation that God speaks to our inmost being
revealing His love, His direction amid life’s challenges, His will for our lives.

Saint Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
If our hearts are restless…if we have everything and we’re still stressed out…
it is because each of us desperately needs a silent beginning to our mornings
and a silent end to our crazy days.

Trying to live without daily quiet prayer
is worse than a Christmas light display with one bulb missing:
without it everything goes dark.
We cannot possibly complete all that is expected of us on our own.
We need to pause, listen, and absorb the word of God that nourishes and sustains us.

If we begin and end our days in holy silence,
even though the burdens and demands of life remain,
we will accept and fulfill them with the comfort of heavenly peace.

We can truly make the spirit of Christmas live on after the tree has lost its needles
by capturing the beautiful silence of this night
in the beautiful silence of our prayer.

The Lord Jesus breaks through the chaos of our world
in the stillness of our prayer – tonight in this holy Mass and every day –
touching our hearts with love’s pure light
and enveloping us in heavenly peace.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Homily Immaculate Conception 2009

Mount Saint Mary’s University and Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland,
has operated the National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes since 1875.
On the grounds of the grotto is a 120 foot tall tower and gold-leafed statue
of the Virgin Mary.
Illuminated by giant flood-lights,
the statue can be seen from a distance even at night.

Over the hill behind the university campus is the presidential retreat at Camp David.

When, for financial reasons,
the university could not afford to light up the statue of Mary,
the bill was promptly picked up by the Federal Government.

For years now, Mary – gold-leafed and shining brightly –
has provided a landmark for pilots
on the approach to the airstrip at Camp David.

Mary shows the way, safely, through the darkness, to the intended destination.

In the beginning of God’s plan for the universe,
man and woman were perfectly in harmony with one another and with God.

They served God with complete fidelity
and enjoyed with pure intentions the abundance of His blessings.

That perfect harmony and worship was shattered in the moment of the original sin.

Rather than receiving the abundant gifts God showered upon them in the Garden,
Adam grasped at the fruit of the tree God had said was not good for man.
In sharing the fruit of the tree with Eve,
he brought her to share in his disobedience.

This first great act of selfishness,
this grasping at what we desire rather than receiving God’s will
is mankind’s original turning away from God: the original sin.

Adam and Eve’s turning away from the will of God
has left all mankind in the grip of a tendency toward sin.
From the moment of the original sin,
mankind has wandered without clarity of purpose,
struggling to re-discover our identity
and being pulled in opposition directions
by the whims of the world and our own desires.

The Incarnation of the Son of God is a new beginning for mankind,
and the initiation of the divine process of restoration for the whole world.

For this moment, the Virgin Mary was prepared by God in a unique way.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary was God’s plan
to preserve her from the contamination of original sin
as a worthy vessel for the incarnation of Jesus.

In the moment of the angel’s appearance,
Mary humbly submits herself as the handmaid of the Lord
and accepts the will of God for her life.

The Gospel story for today reveals that
our Blessed Mother is perfectly in harmony as a human person.
Her desires are ordered to a holy purpose, her life is focused on Christ,
her will is in tune with the divine will, and her first love is the Lord.

Mary s the life of the human person before the original sin, as God intended:
worship of God, love for others, and the pure use of God’s gifts.

Sin remains a reality for us, and we are all struggling to follow God’s will...discover our purpose...and return to the truth

In uncertainty, sadness, temptation…Mary lights the way!
She shows us how to live and how to pray:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

With these words and with her whole life…like a gleaming, towering image…
Mary shows us the way, safely, through the darkness and troubles of life,
to the destination which perfectly fulfills the heart of every human person.
That destination is Jesus Christ.

In Jesus Christ, and with our lives finally consumed by love for Him,
we shall find the magnificence of what God has designed for our happiness
and the fulfillment of our human existence.

We find it all in Jesus Christ...
and it is Mary who shows us the way!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Homily Second Sunday of Advent 2009

In the well-known 1977 Franco Zefferilli film Jesus of Nazareth
John the Baptist, expertly played by Michael York,
is shown crying out from the desert hills:
“Repent! Change your ways! The kingdom of God is at hand!”

At his proclamation, great crowds stream toward him,
arms outstretched as they beg for mercy
their hearts yearning for the baptism of repentance John has preached.

John baptizes them with water, calling them to change their hearts
and predicting that there is still one who is to come after him: the Messiah.

As he continues to baptize great numbers of men and women,
at one point we see him head on…and he looks up…
uncharacteristically for an actor he looks directly into the camera.
With the music escalating for effect, his eyes meet ours…as if we are there.
Then the camera turns and we see that he has noticed Jesus coming down the road
and the appearance of the divine face creates a solemn stillness.

But we have been struck.
John the Baptist’s eyes have pierced us…as if we were in the line for baptism…
with all the other sinners begging for mercy…and also with Jesus.

Indeed we are there…precisely there…in the midst of a great throng of sinners…
and in the company of Jesus our Savior.
John the Baptist is the last of the prophets,
who appears not for his own sake but to prepare the way for Christ.
He recalls the words of the prophets Baruch and Isaiah…
every lofty mountain shall be leveled
every valley shall be filled in
winding paths shall be made straight and rough ways smooth.

All flesh shall see the salvation of God…shall behold the face of the Messiah…
and the terrain of our human existence
shall be impacted and changed forever.

The impact of Christ's coming shall humble the proud…
shall raise up the poor and lowly…
shall bring mercy and love to smooth the hardness of sinful human souls.

Notice the details of Saint Luke’s Gospel account of John’s preaching…
and the similarities with the Christmas story.
The historical details are nearly overwhelming.
Luke records every name and city…every governor and civil jurisdiction…
lest we forget not only that this story is real…a spiritual watershed event…
but that it is also a moment that changed the course of the world’s story.

Our encounter with Christ changes us for good as well.
We are there…with the sinners…and in the company of Jesus.
Jesus invites us to repent of our sins
and He has left us the marvelous gift of the Sacrament of Penance
as the instrument of His divine love and mercy.
There is none here who does not desire to be freed form the burden of sin.

The Lord speaks through the prophet Baruch…
to Israel of old…and to the Church…the new people of God:
“Take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever…
God will show the whole earth your splendor.”

Each time we go to confession…
God’s love divests us of the heavy burden of the robe of misery
and replaces it with a garment of purity and splendor.

In confession we encounter Christ, who loves us, and who makes us whole,
who reveals our splendor as His sons and daughters to the whole earth.

The beauty of a cleansed and forgiven child of God
is a light that shines to the whole world…revealing the love of God.

God’s invitation to confess our sins is nothing to fear
but instead is a moment of grace to anticipate with eagerness, hope and joy
just as the crowds, wide-eyed, open-armed, and excited
longed to see the face of Christ.

Every week so many faithful people come to confession in our parish.
Would that we all shared in the joy of their encounter with the mercy of Jesus!


One of the great American Christmas traditions is A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I’m sure we have all seen it and can recall its numerous lessons for life and faith.

The struggling and insecure Charlie Brown is on a path to knowledge,
and his best friend Linus accompanies him,
revealing to him the real meaning of Christmas.
Once Linus recalls the Christmas story…
Charlie takes his sad little tree and sets off into the snow.
He takes an ornament from Snoopy’s prize-winning Griswold-style doghouse,
and hangs it on his little tree,
only to have the tree droop under its weight.
“I killed it,” Charlie says with sadness. Nothing goes well for him.

Linus comes along and declares: “I never thought it was such a bad little tree.”
“Maybe it just needs a little love.”
With Linus’ blanket for support and decorations lovingly added by all the Peanuts,
Charlie’s tree stands tall and beautiful.

The crooked tree has been made straight.
The lowly tree has been exalted.
The sad and barren tree has been clothed in beauty.

The advent of Christ into our lives through His sacramental grace
smoothes the rough places of our hearts
lifts up our drooping spirits
and clothes us in the beauty of holiness
that we may be found pure and blameless on the day of the Lord.