Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!!

Here is my homily from last night's Vigil Mass:

A few weeks ago on a Saturday evening, I returned to the rectory after hearing confessions. It was about 5 pm, and I had about a half an hour to relax before the next activity. I turned on the TV, hoping to find some sports on, maybe college basketball. And, there was nothing good on! We have the basic cable service which is now like 800 channels, and nothing good on! Of course, now with the Redskins making a playoff charge (yeah, Skins!), there is plenty of fantastic stuff on these days.

So, I get to the movie channels, and see that “The Nativity Story” is showing. I don’t know how many of you have seen it but I’ve always heard great things about this movie. Now, I was just looking to relax and take a short break from religious stuff. But, then I began to think, ‘you know, I am a priest, I probably should watch this’. It was about halfway over, but what I saw was really powerful. It was a beautiful depiction of the feast we celebrate today. I especially was moved by the wise men who were older men and very much respected for their wisdom. They had come from so far away to worship a baby, a little kid! Then, of course, there’s Mary and Joseph who went through so much to have Jesus born. And, the light that shines down from heaven on the manger scene…oh, if I just ruined the ending to those who haven’t seen the movie, I apologize. It was so powerful that I just lost it. I was balling, saying, ‘Lord, this isn’t fair. I’m just trying to relax here’. The magi really moved me. They had come to worship a kid, “the one who would save his people from their sins”.

Now, I haven’t always been interested in movies like this. Growing up, I would get into “Jesus of Nazareth” during Holy Week but that’s about it. I was raised Catholic, went to Church on Sundays, and attended Catholic schools. But, I never really ‘got it’ about faith. In fact, I was pretty clueless. I didn’t have much of a relationship with God; I only talked to Him when I needed something. Looking back on the first twenty years of my life, there wasn’t really a friendship there with Christ. I knew about Jesus, but I didn’t know Him. It wasn’t until I began to get to know Him that our faith became real to me.

There are some here today who haven’t been to Church in a while. To you I say, welcome. You are always welcome here. There are some who are struggling in their faith, questioning their faith, maybe asking, ‘what’s the point?’ or saying, ‘I can’t relate to any of this’. Wherever we are in our faith, I would suggest looking at your friendship with Christ. That’s where it all starts. The Catholic Church herself says that it’s not about a religion, it’s about a person, Jesus Christ. If there’s no friendship with Christ, then this is all pointless. But, when we get to know Christ, that’s when it becomes personal. That’s when it becomes real. He saves me from my sins. He wants to have a friendship with each one of us.

Many of you know that it started with the Eucharist for me. For whatever reason, I thought for the first twenty years of my life that the Eucharist was just a symbol, just a piece of bread. It wasn’t until I was twenty one that I got it. A priest said to me, “Greg, ‘this is my body’ means this is my body”. It was then that I realized, ‘wow, we really believe this. We really believe that the bread and wine is really Jesus’ Body and Blood’. The Church has believed from day one that the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It’s really Him!

One of the first prayers that I said to Jesus when I began my friendship with Him was, “Lord, I am sorry. I didn’t know”. I thought about all of those times I had received Holy Communion and had done who-knows-what the night before. “I’m sorry, Lord”. There are many who feel that they can’t even approach Christ because of things they have done in the past. Nonsense. Throughout the Gospel, Jesus invites us to come to Him, no matter what we’ve done. If there are serious sins from our past, we can go to Confession, and get them cleared up quickly. Our Lord truly wants us to come to Him in friendship.

Now, if this is true about the Eucharist, that the Lord will be in front of us in a few minutes, then we have the same opportunity that the wise men, the shepherd, Mary and Joseph had at the Nativity scene. We will be able to see our Lord who will be born on this altar in a few minutes. Like the wise men, we have “come to worship Him”. Through the eyes of faith, we will worship our Lord and Savior. We will see the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace, the reason for the season. We will see our Lord, our Savior, our friend, Jesus Christ.


At 12:27 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

The 5:30 Christmas Eve Mass reminded me of this-

In the summer, at the Fun in the Son concert, FG was on the stage encouraging the kids to get up, and he was actually dancing- ALL ALONE on that big stage. I was standing over near Jim Boccabella, the summer seminarian, who was talking with a couple of the visiting priests. They were all watching him dance. He was doing this finger pointing/snapping thing, and I remember thinking, “Oh my!” In his kind of dry and quiet way, Jim said, “He has an unusual amount of self confidence.” One of the priests, with this incredulous tone said, “Self confidence? That’s not it. The man has no shame!” And everyone started to laugh- not AT him, but at the fact that we were all standing there watching this PRIEST dance in front of all these people.

He got everyone’s attention then, and he most definitely got it again last night- although his moves seemed to improve. Everyone had smiles on their faces leaving that church- what a great way to begin Christmas! Thanks, FG, for always going above and beyond. You have a knack for making things memorable.

p.s.- you should post the link, but either way- Merry Christmas again to you- woo hoo!

At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very struck by that story because it's hard for me to imagine a single conversation having such a profound, life-changing effect on a person. A person accepted the the supernatural on the force of one sentence. Hundreds of things have been said to me (and others with whom I commiserate) that are similar and . . . . . well, it's a very different experience. It sounds like a foreign language that only a few people can speak or understand. Some of us must be made of stone or are just closed up. Or maybe . . . dare I say it? . . . . it's not true. I know everyone is thinking, "Why would someone crash a Catholic blogsite with unbelief?" But realize that many people who are on the fringes stay on the fringes and keep believers on their horizon because there is a longing and maybe even a faint belief.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger fran said...

Anon 12:27 pm

There was a great article/essay in the Washington Post on Christmas Eve, Style section. The title was "A Road to Faith, Lined With Questions" and it was written by Tom Lange. It is his first person account about how he was raised in a Christian home, and how he began to question all kinds of things on which he had been raised, when he entered college. Here are a few of his questions:

"How can 2,000 year-old Scripture be accurate? How can a loving God allow so much suffering on Earth?
How do I know Jesus is really the son of God?" He goes on to say, "These weren't small questions; they undermined the cornerstone of my faith. And while I knew that I no longer wanted to believe halfheartedly, I was terrified of what I might find as I searched for answers. What if I discovered the God I believed in DIDN'T exist?"

After a LOT of searching and reading and MORE questioning, this was the conclusion the author came to:
"I soon realized God's existence is not a matter of fact. Scripture, theology and personal testimonies provide plenty of evidence to support Christianity, but it could all be explained away if I looked hard enough. I needed to decide if I was willing to accept the evidence as true, even in the face of reasonable doubt. I had been a Christian for more than a decade, but I was just now learning what having faith really meant."
"Finally I made my decision. After a restless Sunday afternoon spent reading and staring at the ceiling, I leapt from my upper bunk and with my head lowered to the carpeted floor, prayed. I admitted to God there was no way for me to understand everything about Him. But while I would continue to ask hard questions and seek answers, I would also choose to accept the evidence and believe."

The essay is much longer than what I have quoted here. It is, I think, extremely well written. Perhaps you would like to check it out for yourself. :)

At 8:26 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

I thought the Eucharist was a symbol for much of my life. When my eldest child was preparing for First Communion, I heard the words that the belief was about the real presence. It wasn’t an automatic that I accepted it.

I was on the "fringes" for some time. The “why’s” of faith becoming important to me are personal, but eventually I wanted to have greater faith. I didn’t know how to get there alone. Because I wanted it, I made a conscious decision to put aside my ideas and start listening to those who I knew had the kind of faith I wanted. I built rapports with those who I knew could help me in this, and in that process also developed trust in their direction.

Initially, I believed in their beliefs, or more honestly- I believed that they believed what they were saying, but as I began to embrace the possibilities in some of those beliefs, those very ideas (eventually) became mine.

I believe we’re given what we ask for, and if we look to be “right,” then that’s what we’ll get- for as Fran's author alluded to- faith is about believing, NOT proving. Conversion is a process. It may begin with a one event, but it’s progressive in nature and happens as a result of maybe even a small desire to come closer to God. God gives us His grace through communication on some level and in varying degrees, but the process is fueled by one thing- love. He does speak to each of us, but we have to be open to hear Him. If you open your heart to the possibility of some things even just a little bit, change happens.

At 10:43 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

A person accepted the supernatural on the force of one sentence.

I don't think that's quite right. He had always accepted the supernatural, he just hadn't realized how far into the natural it reached.

It wasn't, I gather, that the twenty-year-old Greg Shaffer obstinately denied the Real Presence until one day he heard one sentence that changed everything. It's that he never even knew that the Real Presence was the belief of the Church.

The reason that one sentence had such a profound, life-changing effect was not because he came to believe some astonishing thing, but because of what, exactly, he came to believe.

The dogma of the Real Presence is not at all subtle in its implications. For conversational impact, "'This is my body' means this is my body," rivals, "There's a bomb under your chair, you know." They're both statements that, if true, require a response. And coming to believe the first sentence is as life-changing as a bomb going off.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At one of the children's Masses some time ago, one of the priests was speaking to the kids about the Eucharist. He asked the children is Jesus was a liar. The kids, of course said "No! Jesus never lied." The priest then explained His saying "This is my body" means exactly that. It's rather simple in child's terms.


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