Luminous beings are we
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY (Christmas), December 25, 2022:
“The [Holy Spirit] is my ally and a powerful ally He is. [He proceeds from the love of the Father and the Son and His presence] surrounds us, binds us, and makes us grow. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Holy Spirit around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere.”
Now, I don’t know if any of you recognize this quote. I’m actually channeling my inner geek, my inner nerd, on this one. I’m a huge science fiction fan, and this is actually a quote, not by a famous theologian, a well-known holy figure, or a popular saint. It’s actually something said by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. The only difference is I have placed the “Holy Spirit” where the Jedi master speaks of the Force. But, this quote kept coming to me this week as I thought about our gathering in the darkness of this night to celebrate the entrance of Christ the Light into our world – I think this reminder that we are luminous beings speaks to us – especially at the Midnight Mass.
Light is a precious commodity at this time of year; as our days are so short and the light so slim, the night so long and so dark. It’s a big part of the reason why we cover everything with lights at Christmastime. We look for as many ways as we can to bring light into our homes, into our neighborhoods, and into our communities.
This custom of Christmas lights has an interesting history. Christmas light displays, as we know them, harken back to a 17th century German tradition of hanging lit candles on trees in front of people’s homes as symbols of faith and signs of hospitality. Eventually people began bringing these trees indoors. That tradition spread from Germany to England in the mid-19th century when German Prince Albert married the British Queen, Victoria. Illuminated Christmas Trees and Christmas lights became a popular tradition in the royal court. And when a London newspaper printed a photo of the Royal family sitting around a lit Christmas tree, that was enough for everyone else to want one too. That same photo was widely published in the United States, with a similar effect.
In 1880, Christmas lights took a giant leap forward when Thomas Edison created the very first electric Christmas light display around his New Jersey lab, as a stunt to win the electricity contract for Manhattan. A few years later, one of Edison’s protégés, Edward Johnson, had the idea of stringing Christmas lights together. He strung 80 red, white and blue electric light bulbs on a Christmas Tree and placed the tree on a revolving pedestal. These strung lights became an instant success and were soon seen in displays across the country. Today an estimated 150 million light sets are sold in America each year and consume 6% of the nation’s electrical load every December. And I don’t think this merely superficial, but rather a true longing for light at this dark time of year. The darker the world gets, the more important it is that we find the light and bring more light into the world.
“Luminous beings are we.” Scripture tell us that need for light is ultimately a need for God Himself. We need the light of God’s truth in our mind and the light of God’s peace in our hearts. Without them we really don’t know how to live, at least not as effectively as we could. The Bible itself begins with light. “God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. And God saw the light was good.”
My friends, on this holy night, we celebrate the Babe born in Bethlehem, who was born to be the light of the world; the light of our lives. This encounter with Him is meant to transform each of us into luminous beings; not the crude matter that this world wallows in. But maybe, as we gather tonight, you don’t feel particularly luminous. Instead, you may be walking in darkness right now because of illness that you or a loved one are experiencing. You may be walking in darkness because you have lost a loved one and can’t find your way through the grief. You may be walking in darkness because of marriage or relationship issues. Maybe you’ve hit a dark spot and the way forward is unclear. You may be walking darkness when it comes to parenting. You love your kids and want them to succeed but they don’t always make it easy; and especially today they can be very far away from God and the Church. You may be walking in darkness when it comes to work or finding a meaningful job, or challenges with a co-workers or a superior. Maybe your darkness is your finances; a struggle paying the bills or lifting yourself out of debt. Maybe you just feel lost wandering in the darkness and don’t know why. The list could go on and on, but in your hearts tonight you know what darkness your carrying that cries out for the light. It is no fun walking in darkness. It is scary. Its uncomfortable.
But tonight we remember – luminous beings are we. God wants nothing more than for you to know this. He sent His Son to shine brightly into all of the dark places in our world and in our hearts. God does not want you to live in the darkness of discouragement or doubt, of fear or failure; the darkness of conflict or confusion, or of shame or guilt. He wants you to experience the joy that comes from the light of His Son. He wants you to experience the confidence that comes from living in the light of His Truth. How? You know the answer already, “A child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
Luminous beings are we. A few years ago, the BBC did a story on St. Mother Teresa at a shelter that she ran for the dying in the slums of Calcutta. The shelter where they brought the TV crew was poorly lit inside and the crew thought it would be difficult to get any usable footage. To everyone’s surprise, the footage turned out spectacular. The whole interior of the shelter was bathed in a mysterious warm light impossible to explain. Writing about this, one journalist said, “Mother Teresa’s shelter is overflowing with love. One senses this immediately on entering. This love is luminous, like the halos artists make visible around the heads of saints. I find it not at all surprising that this luminosity should register on film.”
Pope Francis once said, “Light does not illuminate itself. Be the light to illuminate the world.” There’s a wonderful line we pray each week in the Creed. When speaking of Jesus, we refer to Him as “light from light, true God from true God.” Jesus receives the light from God – He is literally light from light, but then He comes to earth and brings that same light to us. If Jesus is light from light; then you and I are meant to be light from light from light.
My friends, luminous beings are we. Your journey into luminosity can begin tonight right here, in this holy Mass. On this holy night, simply ask the Lord to be your light and to light your way. Ask Him – beg Him – to conquer whatever problem you are facing, whatever challenges are unfolding; whatever darkness you need to conquer. Our world can often seem dark. The darkness can fill our minds and our hearts; and feel like it is overtaking us. But Jesus came to conquer the darkness; invite Him to conquer your darkness tonight.
Let me end with the Prayer of St. Francis which serve as a good description of how God’s light conquers the darkness:
Lord, make us instruments of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4tH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 18, 2022:
A kindergarten teacher was telling her class the story of Christmas complete with the angels’ glorious announcement to the shepherds and the Three Wise Men recognizing the star in the sky and travelling a tremendous distance to see this new born King. At the end of the story she asked, “Now tell me, of all these people, who was the first to know about the birth of Jesus?” A little girl raised her hand and answered simply, “Mary.” How many of us missed that? Sometimes we can miss the obvious because we’re expecting more complicated answers, all the while the real answer is simple and obvious, and right in front of our eyes.
We can do this with God too. We have a tendency to associate God with the phenomenal and the spectacular, like the host of angels or the guiding star, so much so that we fail to notice God’s presence and action in the ordinary and normal moments of life. The child’s simple answer reminds us to look at the regular moments that we take for granted every day and see God’s hand in them. Especially at this time of year, we can get so caught up in the busyness of gifts and travel and parties, that we might miss the simple and profound reality right in front of us – that truth that God loves us and that God is with us.
Our gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” For the average person of Jesus’ time this statement would be a shock because popular belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be born in a normal way, born the same way as you and me. Though they knew the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, people believed the Messiah would arrive unexpectedly and in an extraordinary way. The Messiah was to somehow suddenly arrive in all His divine power. He would arrive on the Temple mount – at the very heart of Jewish worship – in thunder, in glory, in majesty and in awe!
People found it hard to reconcile these expectations with the reality of Jesus who they knew was born and raised in their midst, like a regular kid. As we hear in John’s Gospel, “We know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” They found the ordinary way of God’s arrival to be too simple, too obvious, to underwhelming to possibly be true.
We too are waiting for the arrival of God among us. How do we expect God to arrive? Sometimes when we feel that God is not with us, the reality is that He is standing right by our side, but we don’t recognize His presence because we’re looking for something different. Can we accept God the way He chooses to be present, the way He hopes to speak His word; or do we insist that He conform His presence to our desires?
Just think of how often we treat our experience of the Holy Mass as commonplace, as ordinary. And yet, God is with us – right here, right now. God is with us as we gather in His holy name today. God is here as His Word is proclaimed from Sacred Scripture. And, so profoundly, God is here among us as ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus – not a symbol, not a reminder, but the Real Jesus, right here on our altar and right here in our hearts as we receive Him. St. Francis of Assisi said, “O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the simple form of bread! Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.”
It is often hardest to see God in the people, places and situations that are most familiar to us, not to mention how hard it is sometimes to see God even in ourselves. But if the birth of Jesus is a bridge between heaven and earth, between the sacred and the ordinary, maybe we can see the presence and action of God more and more in the ordinary moments of our daily lives. Remember, when God did the most spectacular thing in the history of the world – becoming one of us – He did it in the most ordinary way. And He comes to us today in the same ordinary ways.
Today, in these final days of Advent, as we prepare for the great celebration of Christmas, we are challenged to open our eyes to the God who comes to us in ordinary ways, through the person on our left and on our right and in the everyday, normal, ordinary moments of our lives. My brothers and sisters, God is with us. Do you see what I see?
May the Lord give you peace.
HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, GAUDETE SUNDAY, December 11, 2022:
We call this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is the Latin word for rejoice, and it comes from the entrance antiphon for Mass today. Taken from Philippians, it says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
Now, what kind of rejoicing are we talking about? Well, we can really minimize the power of this celebration if we only think about rejoicing in a superficial way. For example, at this time of year we can enjoy things like a holiday concert, or a really nice dinner. We rejoice in and enjoy Christmas parties, and holiday sweets, and Christmas music, and so many of the other traditions that are popular and typical at this time of year. We enjoy many things at this level – we enjoy music, art, entertainment, food, friends and family. This list could go on and on because the things that we enjoy and rejoice in on a more superficial level are many and great.
Somehow, I don’t think this is the point of our celebration today. Somehow, I think Jesus is calling forth something greater from us then these things which are, in the end, really trivial. “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
The kind of rejoicing we’re called to actually came into clarity for me a few years ago. I was celebrating the funeral of a 92 year-old woman of deep joy and deep faith. She had a hard life. Born during the Great Depression, she lived through the Second World War. She got married and started a family with five children, then her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at just 50 years old, and she was left to carry on.
Just before the funeral began, I learned an important detail about the woman and her family. When her husband died so suddenly, one of her sons attended the funeral dressed in a bright white suit. He dressed that way because he knew in his bones that even though it was a tragic moment to lose your Dad so young, that the resurrection is real; Jesus is real; all that we are promised in and through our faith is real. It was a moment of sadness for him and his family – but it was a moment of rejoicing for his father, who now enjoyed the very presence of God. He was rejoicing in the Lord.
Jump ahead back to the funeral of the woman and the church was full of pink flowers and just about everyone on attendance was dressed with some pink – a pink scarf here, a pink flower on a lapel there. Shirts, jackets, and more. The church was filled with the color pink.
When it came time for my homily, I ignored the text I had prepared and instead said, “I don’t think I am going out on a limb today if I would suggest that pink was Mom’s favorite color?” Now, I know the family did not intend that pink to be a reflection of Gaudete Sunday, but I couldn’t resist making that connection for them. What I realized in that moment is that our celebration of Gaudete is not merely a reminder that Christmas is right around the corner.
Our pink flowers and pink vestments and the pink candle of our wreath are not meant to give us the message that there are only 14 shopping days left! No, these things are all meant to speak especially into those profound moments in our lives; the moments that define our lives, define who we are; the moments that form us and shape us – like the one that that family faced as they laid Mom to rest, “Rejoice in the Lord always” because your salvation is at hand!
We all see the bumper stickers, posters, and memes on the internet that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And a true sentiment that is. But, what is the reason for Jesus? The reason for Jesus is the forgiveness of our sins. The reason for Jesus is to open the gates of paradise. The reason for Jesus is to show us how to live in harmony with one another and with our God. The reason for Jesus is to let us know profoundly in our hearts that our God is with us – right near us, by our sides, in our hearts, making sense of our tragedies, holding us in our sadness, comforting us in our trials, and multiplying and magnifying our joys.
We rejoice and are excited today because something is so very close to us – not presents and parties and the Christmas goose! What is close to us is the salvation that the Babe of Bethlehem came to bring. This is Advent. This is Emmanuel – my friends, God IS with us! And if you know this; and if you really, truly know God – you can do nothing less than rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again – rejoice!
God wants to speak to us not only in the joy and celebration of the season – He also wants to speak to us in the sadness and loneliness and challenging moments of our lives. Especially when our hearts are heavy with grief or closed in anger or wounded by the words and actions of others – Jesus wants us to know how close He is to us in all of those moments. It is there and then that He wraps us lovingly in His strong and comforting arms.
So my friends, today above all days, we rejoice in the Lord because our salvation is at hand. We rejoice in the Lord because our God is ever near. We rejoice in the Lord because He is with us in our sadness and grief; He is with us in our sorrows and pains; He is with us in our joy and triumphs. He is with us - always.
Jesus said to them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” All because our God is near.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Testify to the light
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 4, 2022:
Last week, as we began this journey of Advent, I spoke about the importance o light in our lives. As the days get darker, and the nights longer, we more and more recognize our need for light. Light is life. We need light for our physical and emotional well-being, and we also need it for our spiritual well-being. We are born with a need, a desire, to be enlightened by the light of Christ. Without Christ’s light, pride and anger, selfishness and greed and all kinds of dark things can dominate our hearts.
There is a beautiful thing that happens when we let the light of Christ into our hearts – we also become the light of Christ for others. Pope Francis spoke on this theme reflecting on Jesus call that we be the light of the world. He said, “It’s curious to note that light is for others, not for oneself: light does not illuminate itself. We must be the light that illuminates the world.” Christ is the light for our lives. But even more than that, our lives are to be light for others so that they move in God’s direction.
We have no better example of this illumination than the one presented to us in our Gospel today – St. John the Baptist. Scripture tells us, “There came a man who was sent by God; his name was John. He came to testify to the light.” All four Gospel’s tell us about John, and he is one of those Biblical characters that always help guide our journey during Advent. John is considered to be a transitional figure – the last of the Old Testament prophets heralding in at last the age of the Messiah; and he was a cousin of Jesus. But his lineage wasn’t his claim to fame. His mission was. The Gospel of Matthew tells, “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’”
What a strange way to begin your mission - in the desert wilderness. There were not a lot of people out there. But John begins preaching there. Why? There was powerful symbolism to his preaching there. By going to the wilderness John is rejecting the status quo; he’s not beginning where you think he would, like in the Temple. But the wilderness was also symbolic of John’s uncompromising service to God. And no one at the time would have failed to recognize the historic significance of John’s desert setting. Over and over again throughout the Scriptures, the wilderness is the place that God accomplishes his greatest work in people he intends to use. Abraham, Moses, David – in fact, Jesus Himself – all had desert experiences preparing them for the great work, the great impact they would eventually have.
Even more important than the place, was his message. John had a specific message to point people towards the light. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Repent is a word often misunderstood and certainly overused. It sounds intolerant and judgmental. But, repentance is about change. Repent means a change of mind which leads to a change of heart that results in a change of direction. John challenges people to change their direction back to God because He is near.
Crowds of people came out to the middle of nowhere to hear John preach. He was incredibly popular. He was one of the most celebrated and well-known people of his generation. But, he used his popularity not for himself, but to point to Jesus. Where John lived, how he lived and what he had to say all worked together to point people to the light Christ.
In the same way everything in our lives are meant to do the same – we too are meant to point people to the light of Christ. It begins with where God has placed you. Wherever you are right now, God has not placed you there by accident. God has placed you wherever you are to be His light and to point others towards Him.
You are not where you are by accident – not the family you are part of, the church you go to, the place you work, the school you attend. God has put you there to be a light. So, it is important to see where God has placed you as an opportunity. I think about some of the early assignments I had as a priest. It took me a while to learn to be obedient to God. Early on, I never once wanted one of my assignments. I always thought I should remain where I was and could do so much more. I eventually came learn to trust the Lord because each assignment has been filled with blessings and encounters I never could have imagined. God always gives us opportunities to shine His light in unexpected ways.
Wherever you are, you are there to show people, point people, even convince people that Christ is the Light of the World. Like John, your life, the way you live, says something, maybe quite a lot, at least it should, about what you believe. Just as John had a unique message and manner and platform to point to the Lord, so do you. Like John, you have influence. Some people look up to you and value your opinion. It maybe because of your position, it may be because of your personality or humor.
Whatever influence you have God has given it to you to point people to His Son. Your life can take on a whole greater meaning when you look at the influence you have to bring people into a relationship with Christ. It will impact and influence your relationship with Him too.
So the question is how do we point others to Christ? First of all we have to recognize that is a priority. That means when we enter the spaces that are part of our daily life, we look to see how we can be a light. There are some simple things you can do to influence people around you. No matter who you are, what you are, where you are you can influence other people.
First, Smile. I know that sounds ridiculously simple and it is. When you smile at someone, what happens? They smile back. When they smile back that means you had an impact on them. They did something joyful because of you.
Second, Call people by name. Notice the good they’re doing. The sweetest sound to anyone is the sound of their own name. Recognition and encouragement of the good things we do are a close second.
Third, engage in small acts of service and kindness. Open the door for someone. Help someone carry something heavy. Offer your support on a project. Pick up someone’s check, tip extra generously.
Finally, invite someone to Church for Christmas. No one is ever insulted to be invited and many people are very much alone and lonely this time of year and would love to join us if they knew they were welcome.
This world can often seem dark. The darkness can fill our minds and our hearts. But God’s invitation for us this Advent is to come out of the dark, and walk in his light. He invites us to walk in His ways, his peace, and His truth. There is no life without light and there is no light without God.
My friends, we are luminous beings and God has placed us where we are to shine His light to those around us. Let us testify to the light through our lives.
May the Lord give you His light and His peace.
*This homily is based on the preaching series, "Let there Be Light" from Rebuilt Parish.
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