Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What would you say in a Christmas homily?

I have been praying about my Christmas homilies for a little while now, and feel confident with what the Spirit has been preparing me to say. But, I thought it would be good to ask the group at Bible Study last night to give me some more ideas for the homilies. I asked, ‘what would you say to those who come to Church only a couple of times a year?’ It was a fruitful exercise with some insightful answers. A main point of the group was to stress what God does for us, namely Christ’s birth. Christmas is an event that celebrates a gift from God, but we should regularly celebrate the blessings that God gives us throughout the year.

I had been already thinking this, mainly with the idea that people want to be inspired. The best way to “win over” any of the “Christmas-Easter” Catholics might be through inspiration. Certainly, an inspired (i.e., from the Spirit) idea or thought that will stick with them might help to convert their hearts or minds. But, I find it is inspiring stories which give people images of living the faith that bear the most fruit. It’s pretty much like St. Jerome said about the saints: “the saints are to the Gospel what sung music is to written music”. In other words, the lives of the saints sing the Gospel, and the Gospel comes to life so much more through living examples.

So, my hope is to present some stories from (the saints at) St Andrew’s in the past year, and how God has been with us and giving to us. Some cool things have been happening! The hope is that people will be inspired to be a regular part of the scene here, a community that is experiencing the presence and generosity of God on a regular basis.

How about you bloggers: what would you say in a Christmas homily? Would you start off with a joke or cute story (like # 1 below)? Would you tell an inspiring story or stories (like #2 and #3 below)? What would be your main point about Christmas / Christ’s birth (like #4 below)?

1) My daughter asked me where she came from. We sat down and I gave her an age appropriate response that included marriage, an expression of love, and a baby growing in a mother’s womb, etc. When I asked if she had any questions, and she said, “Kind of- I need to know where I came from.” She showed me a school paper that outlined a new assignment- a cultural family history. “Where she came from” was supposed to be Italy, Ireland or Poland.

2) There was an athlete who had cancer and had one leg amputated when he was 1-1/2 yrs old. Of course, his parents were distraught, but only one day after his surgery, the mother awoke in his hospital room to see him grinning at her from his crib as he was standing on his one leg. Several years later, his friends began playing soccer, and he too wanted to play soccer. Everyone was nervous as they watched this young kid play while wearing modified crutches. He became the leading scorer on his soccer team (and the footage of him playing was amazing). The next year, his friends began baseball. He played catcher and learned to crouch on one leg. Then too, he became the leading scorer (and I held my breath at the footage of him sliding into home plate). The next year- flag football. Can you guess? He became the quarterback. When he was asked about how he knew he could do all of these things, he responded, “I trust that the good Lord will give me the strength to use my abilities instead of worrying about my disabilities.” His faith was about knowing that God would give him all that he needed. This athlete was 8 yrs old.

3) A few days ago, I met a 5-year old little boy at my place of work and spent a short period of time with him. This child had apparent hand, leg and feet malformations. Each of his hands had only four fingers and each hand curved somewhat inward. He also walked with an unusual gait and was considerably smaller in size for his age. In the course of our time together I had to take him through a building and down 2 sizable sets of stairs. On our way down, I noticed that he used his hands as hooks almost, wrapping them around the banister and lowering himself from one step to the next. Before going back up, he and a classmate began running towards the steps, became entangled in one another and fell to the ground. Still on the ground, he turned to his friend and asked if he was okay…As he went up the first set of steps he started off rather fast, and then began to slow down considerably. By the second set, it looked as though he was struggling and might fall backwards. I asked if he needed my help. His answer? "No. I am climbing a mountain."

4) My daughter asked me why we get presents at Christmas. She likes the “loot” but asked a valid question. She said that everyone always says Christmas is about giving not getting- so why all the presents? I should preface, “giving” in my home means doing for others. My husband and I do buy presents for special occasions, but the kids do something for one another at those times. My daughter may do my son’s chores for his birthday week, or my son will read to his younger sister at night, etc. Christmas is the only time of year when I take each of them to actually buy something for each other, and my daughter asked the question when it was her “turn” to go shopping. Here’s my rationale- that first Christmas we were given an actual gift. The way we live each day (our giving) should be an expression of our gratitude for it. When my children shop for one another they set aside the time to stop and think about what is special for someone they love and want to give to. I think it is an appropriate expression of what Christmas is about- being given a great and special gift simply because we are loved. So, while giving is how we show that we live Christ, receiving is an important point at Christmas too.


At 12:43 PM, Blogger CynthiaBC said...

As a church musician who has to be at more than one service for some occasions, I've often listened to a homily multiple times. I don't mind a second (or third) hearing because I may pick up a point I missed the first time around...well, most of the time, anyway.

Fr G's consideration of opening his homily with a joke brings to my mind the following memory from the early 90s:

Pastor L had recently returned from a conference and opened his homily with a joke he'd heard there. When he paused for the expected chuckle, he received instead from the 8:30am parishioners blank stares. I was standing in the back with the handbell choir, and looked at my stand partner.

Him: I don't get it.
Me: Me, either.

So, the 8:30 service went on, there was coffee hour, and the 11:00 service started. Pastor L opened his homily with the same joke, and this time when he paused, the 11:00 parishioners (perhaps more awake, and fortified with coffee) were able to manage a polite chuckle. I looked at my stand partner, and he looked at me.

Him: I STILL don't get it.
Me: Me, either.

So...if you're going to open with a joke, make sure it's a really good one! That people will get.

At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I learn a lot from how children understand matters of faith. Their are stories are among my favorites to hear as well as to share, so I’ll share this one-

I think God gave me a healthy number of them b/c I need to learn certain things at their level. Recently, my family went through a hard time and one of my children had a particularly difficult time of it. I didn’t know how to console her, so I did what I could think to do- I googled. I read all kind of info from child counselors, self-help sites, but an idea came to me through a Catholic mom’s site. She had a list of suggestions of how to help children experience God in their lives. One of the suggestions was a “God Jar.” It was perfect for her age. So, we decorated Mason jar, and I explained that each day we could write down our thoughts, concerns and fears on paper, place in the jar and when the jar was full, we’d light a fire, say a prayer and “send” all our worries to heaven where God would take care of them. The child for who this was targeted burst into tears b/c she can’t yet write and thought she couldn’t participate. I explained that she could draw a picture b/c God always understands what she means and what’s in her heart. It broke my heart when she drew a picture of herself with a black heart and tears (that’s when I then added my own little note to the jar). I guess I didn’t realize that my kids understood that I’d been sad too. I thought I put up a good front for them, but when we lit a fire and threw in our notes, the construction paper my daughter used made a good amount of black smoke. When my daughter saw the black smoke, she said, “Mommy, that one must be yours b/c you have bigger problems than we do,” and she actually patted me on the back. It was all I could do not to burst into tears, but when I looked at her, I could see that she believed that God would take care of everything- THAT WAS CLEAR. My little five year old taught me something about faith. It was suggested to me that the birth of Christ was the birth of our peace. My daughter was “at peace” because she invited God to do for her what she couldn’t do for herself.

(Then, we made s’ mores. God, chocolate and my kids- three things that make everything else bearable)

Interestingly, there’s a movie coming out about someone who was born old and grows young. There is a love story in the midst of it all with the premise that the two characters would grow in age and meet in the middle. Sometimes I feel like that with my kids- like there’s this growing-up on their part and growing-down on mine to meet in the middle in learning certain things. Faith is one of the things I learn from my kids “in the middle”.

At 1:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Omt- I neglected the question at hand. My main point would be that the birth of Christ made everything possible.

At 4:33 PM, Blogger fran said...

I think these reflections [Every Day is A Gift, prayer book, 12/22 and 12/23 ] offered by St. Leo the Great and St. John Chrysostom are quite beautiful. If one can grasp the magnitude of it all, perhaps they will be inspired to "Come, Adore Him," more frequently throughout the year.

"In adoring our Savior's birth, it is our origin that we celebrate. Christ's temporal generation is the source of the Christian people, the birth of His Mystical Body.

All of us encounter in this Mystery a new birth in Christ."

"Jesus Christ, the God-Man, was born in a manger and is spiritually reborn on the altar. He suffered on Calvary and continues to offer Himself on the altar.

In His earthly life He spread His teaching and worked miracles among the crowds. In the Eucharist, He spans the centuries and communicates Himself to all."

At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After reading FG's post, I thought about being one of those people who was a two time-a-year church goer at one point.

For those who’d now ask me why I go to church, I’d tell them I go to Mass b/c Christ comes to me at Mass. When you think about it, every Mass is really like Christmas Eve all over again, because we can see, actually see, that He is still wandering through the days and nights seeking out comfort- our comfort, the comfort we find in Him. I look back on all the years when I only went to church on Christmas and Easter, and I realize I was basically saying, “I’ve no room for you in my life, but I'll give you the stable.”

FG- I pray people open their hearts to whatever you have to say in whatever format you say it.

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's make a deal:

I asked my 3 oldest kids, ages 16-20, to read your post and offer their thoughts. Number one; no insight. Number two, "It's only one hour; it's not a big deal." Number three, a conversation.

Number three's first comment was that he thinks parochial priests face a big hurdle when it comes to delivering a homily with a message that reaches everyone. He feels it would be much easier to address a congregation of people that are all around the same age; i.e., a college campus, a nursing home, etc.

In terms of homilies, my son said he really can't relate and doesn't like the gushy, extreme or "one of a kind" stories; he finds them hard to believe. He also said he doesn't really like the jokes, although, I think he needs to lighten up a bit! I know he isn't attending church as regularly as he did while away at college last year so I asked him if he could figure out any difference in his perspective on or about life this year vs. last year. He referenced an experience from last year.

While flying home over one of his breaks last year, my son said he was standing in a line to buy some food and wasn't sure he'd have enough money, so he hesitated on his order. Two people in front of him offered to give him the amount of money he needed, if he was short. He hadn't talked with either of these strangers and was caught off guard.

While waiting in line, he entertained his mind at the expense of the two people that offered him help. My son said his thinking had drifted off to stereotyping these folks based on their looks and body language. The stereotypes he imagined were not complimentary; rather, they placed these two people on the periphery and made them less than desirable in his heart.

His take on the difference between his thinking between last year, when he was attending church regularly and this year, where his attendance is haphazard, lies in his perception or awareness of his thoughts. When the two people offered him help at the airport last year, he got the message loud and clear; his thinking or daydreaming was way off, it was simply put, wrong. Given the same situation now, he said he can understand how he or others might fail to realize their immoral thinking; they don't spend as much time with Christ and Christ doesn't spend much time with and in them. If you distance yourself to His life and His thoughts, He becomes distant in your life and your thoughts. It's only an hour, but it is a big deal.

At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 2 min. video on the following link says a lot.


At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Katherine said...

My parents are actually coming tonight... I know my dad would like to hear a good joke, or a funny story. I like #3 on your list of topics. The whole family's coming to the 8 pm mass with me. Yay, they get to see my new parish! I'm so happy!


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