Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holy Family Sunday: Joseph, the Man Closest to Jesus


Homily for Holy Family Sunday, December 27, 2020. Gospel of St. Luke 2:22-40. Theme: Joseph, The Man Closest to Jesus
We cannot think of Christmas without, of course, thinking of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And while Jesus is - and must be - the center and focus, Mary is always close at hand, right there beside him. But it seems to me that St. Joseph is too often treated as the "forgotten member of the Holy Family". To some extent I guess it’s understandable given that from a theological point of view, he seems to be out-shined by a wife who is the all-holy Mother of God and an adopted Child who is the very Son of God. But I think that if we look at it from a different point of view, from the practical instead of the theological, we might better appreciate St. Joseph and grow in devotion to this man who was closest to God. 

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, wants to bring St. Joseph out of the shadows and so has declared 2021 to be the Year of St. Joseph. He has asked us to deepen our understanding of this man whom God appointed to be husband and father, provider and protector of the Holy Family. We know very little about St. Joseph. Scripture doesn’t say much about him and not a single word of his is recorded for us in the Gospels. But from what little is said about him, we can learn some basic facts about his life and draw important conclusions about his character. 

We are told that he was a descendant of the great King David of Jerusalem who had lived 500 years before him. But by Joseph’s time the royal family had disintegrated socially and was mixed in among the common people. Thus, we learn that Joseph was among the working class, a tradesman, a laborer, a carpenter. This didn’t, however, change the fact that Joseph was a branch on David’s family tree and the prophets of Israel foretold that the Messiah would be born from this House of David. You see, according to Jewish Law, when a man officially held and named a child at the 8th Day circumcision ceremony, that baby became his very own son and legally inherited his family line. No questions asked. The boy – called “Jesus” by his father – now became, like Joseph, a son of Judah and a member of the House of David. 

Our introduction to him begins with the Gospel of St. Matthew who gives us only a two-word description of the man. But it is a compliment that is of the highest regard according to Jewish standards. Matthew calls him a “just man”. In our modern language, we would translate this as a righteous man, a holy man, a virtuous man, a man who always did the right thing even at personal cost. For example, when Joseph was informed of Mary’s inexplicable pregnancy, he could have made a big deal out of it. He could have played the victim. He could have embarrassed her and her family. But Joseph was willing to let it go and chose the option of a quiet divorce. His self-forgetfulness and compassion is then rewarded by the sending of an angel dream, assuring him that the Child was of God and so Joseph reaffirms his commitment to the bond of marriage. This example of St. Joseph calls us to be people of integrity, people of our word, people who think of others and do the right thing no matter what the personal cost. 

Another thing that I notice about Joseph in the Gospel stories is his contemplative spirit of prayerfulness that allows him to hear and recognize God’s voice. We are told how he was able to receive the Lord’s message in dreams and be so convinced that it was indeed God speaking that he did exactly what they said. He takes Mary as his wife because of a dream. He flees with the Mother and Child to Egypt because of a dream. Years later he returns to Israel with them because of a dream. It seems to me that the only way Joseph could awaken and immediately do what his dreams command is because he had trained himself to hear and recognize God’s voice in prayer. This tells me that he must have spent quality time in silent prayer, prayer of the heart and meditation nurturing a contemplative spirit, a sensitivity to the Divine Presence and Voice. Through this example, I see St. Joseph calling us to also become people of deep personal prayer and silent meditation, people who learn to hear and recognize the voice of God whispering within us. 

Finally, I am deeply moved by the self-sacrificing love that St. Joseph shows for Jesus and Mary which characterized his entire adult life. His plans for marriage took a turn he didn’t expect when Mary conceived Christ. He was most likely simply expecting to live a normal Jewish life, wit a normal Jewish wife, in a normal Jewish village. But such was not to be God's plan for his life.  Joseph sacrificed his sexuality and biological fatherhood, two things deeply dear to every man for the sake of Mary’s unique role as Mother of the Son of God. And amazingly, it was this ordinary and yet extraordinary Joseph of Nazareth, whom God himself chose to become his male role-model when he came to live in the flesh on planet Earth. The generous and selfless heart of St. Joseph invites us to learn from his example what it looks like to truly love and generously serve those who are entrusted to our care. He devoted his whole life to simply being the best provider and protector, the best husband and father for the Holy Family. 

So, during this special Year of St Joseph, let's do our best to grow in our understanding and devotion to him as our Holy Father asks. Let’s ask him to help us become virtuous people, prayerful people, people wholly dedicated to loving and serving those with whom we live, work and socialize. Let’s form the habit of turning to St. Joseph in prayer in our own times of need and with the same confidence that Mary and Jesus had in him. And then just like them, I am sure that we will never ever be disappointed! Pope Francis as shared with us a special prayer that he recites daily for this very purpose. It goes like this: 

Glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph, whose power makes the impossible possible, come to my aid in these times of anguish and difficulty. Take under your protection the serious and troubling situations that I commend to you, that they may have a happy outcome. My beloved father, all my trust is in you. Let it not be said that I invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show me that your goodness is as great as your power. Amen.


Friday, December 25, 2020

MERRY CHRISTMAS! The Promised One Has Come!


Homily for Christmas Day. Gospel of Luke 2:1-20. Theme: The Promised One Has Come! 

In celebrating Christmas, we Christians rejoice that the Messiah, the Promised One, whose coming was foretold since ancient times, was born into our world. We bow down in spirit before the manger-crib of the Savior who chose to come among us as one of us, to share our human experience in everything but sin. And we praise God for being a Father who always keeps His promises, especially those that He had made about the coming of his Son as the Liberator of humanity.  

Even though millions of people celebrate the Christmas holiday, enjoying the sights and sounds of the season, the majority I encounter seem to have an historical and religious ignorance about the uniqueness and facts concerning Jesus. They assume that He was simply one spiritual leader among the many who have entered human history.  But, if we take the time to investigate the facts, we discover that God prepared the world his coming for over 1,000 years before it actually took place. He sent prophets who foretold many things about him, from his miraculous conception to His rising from the dead. 

As a matter of fact, the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament can be called a “book of promises” because they contain over 70 of these prophecies about the Messiah.  This is just one of the many unique things about Jesus. And it is something that is not true about any of the other world religions. There have never been any prophecies alerting the world to the coming of Muhammad (Islam), Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Siddhartha (Buddhism) or any of the other figures in the various religions of the world. So, what do these ancient Jewish prophecies foretell about Jesus the Messiah?  

* He would be conceived and born of a virgin and would be Emmanuel, which in Hebrew means “God-with-us”;  
* He would be born in Bethlehem, the city of his ancestor King David;  
* A star would announce his birth and foreigners would coming bearing gifts;  
* Bitter agony would grip the mothers of Bethlehem, which happened with Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents after Jesus’ birth;  
* He would live for a time in Egypt but return to israel and become a resident of Nazareth; 
* His mission would be like a light shining in darkness, with great signs of God’s power and presence; 
* The Messiah would die a sacrificial death on behalf of the people, a death that would heal us; 
* Finally, and marvelously, He would not remain in the grave but would be given glory and praise. 

These ancient prophecies began to see their fulfillment on that very first Christmas in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. This Baby in the manger - whose birth was proclaimed by angels and announced by shepherds - was indeed the Messiah, the Promised One. He alone is the Way to that leads us to Heaven. He alone teaches the Truth that sets us free from spiritual wandering and ignorance. He alone gives us a full and abundant Life that never ends. 

Because of this Baby in the manger we no longer need to live in morally dark places or in spiritual blindness, groping and searching for answers to life’s deepest questions. 

Because of this Baby in the manger we can each be transformed from the inside out, embracing a new way of thinking, a new way of living that leads to a sense of wholeness and to real happiness, both here and hereafter. 

Because of this Baby in the manger, we no longer need to live lives that are so easily dominated and crushed by sin and selfishness. 

Each and every one of us can allow the him to become real in our own lives and carry out his mission as Savior within us, transforming us from the inside out. All we need to do is to trust in Jesus who is mercy and love, and express our desire to have Him live and reign in our hearts always as Brother, as Savior, as Messiah and as King.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Case for Christmas: Conclusion


The Case for Christmas: Audio Clip for the Conclusion.  I hope you have both enjoyed the book study course and have grown closer to Christ in the process! We have seen that Jesus is God become flesh, who fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament and whose words and deeds have been faithfully recorded for us in the Gospels.  Now what remains is for US to become the most important Gospel anyone will ever "read" by the way we act, the words we say and the example we give among those with whom we live, work and socialize. THAT'S a much harder Gospel to produce that one printed on a paper!

I mention a few books in the audio clip that an interested student of apologetics might want to look read. Here are the titles and authors (all are available from Amazon).

A Map of Life, Frank Sheed
Waking Up Catholic, Chad Torgerson
Rediscovering Jesus, Matthew Kelly
Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly

May Our Lady bless you with her Child and may St. Joseph be your watchful protector and guide!
Deacon Dave

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The Annunciation: A Message of Hope and Promise


Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 20, 2020. Gospel of St. Luke 1:26-38. Theme: The Annunciation - A Message of Hope and Promise 

Today’s liturgy has a strong central optimistic theme of hope and promise, something we stand in such great need of during these times of medical and political turmoil. King David of Jerusalem, the most beloved of all Israel’s rulers, is highlighted in the first reading and his connection to Jesus is an important part of God’s message to Mary in the Gospel. You see, David was and remained a sign of hope to the Jews because he was the one who brought them from division and struggles into an era of earthly peace and prosperity. The Messiah was always prophesied to be a King like David however his peace and prosperity would not be earthly and temporary, it was to be interior, spiritual, and eternal. 

But by the time Mary was receiving the message of the angel in her village of Nazareth, the kingdom of David had deteriorated and the people of Israel were living under cruel Roman oppression. Once more they found themselves in a difficult time of turmoil and there seemed to be no political ruler like David to whom they could look with hope for rescue and liberation. The Jewish leadership had decided to coexist with Rome as best they could while the lives of the ordinary everyday citizens were lived under the suffocating laws and taxation of an over-reaching government. The world as they knew it was ripe for the Messiah. 

From a totally human and worldly outlook we too are living in times of turmoil and oppression. Greedy government caused the Jews to live in economic struggle and increasing poverty. Arrogant government over-regulated their lives while their Roman troops monitored their movements to control the population. Their puppet-leader, King Herod, gave religious lip service to Judaism for popular approval while cooperating covertly in the oppression of his people. This sounds oh so familiar to me as we experience a dark period in our history in which we have a government that seems to put the freedoms and rights of the constitution on hold. So many states are arrogantly ruled by politicians who heartlessly cause workers to lose their wages and cause the dying to face death alone. And with seemingly Herod-like duplicity, we have a president-elect who publicizes his Catholicism to attract the religious vote yet advocates the most anti-Christian and anti-life policies the nation as ever seen. 

I don’t know about you, but more than ever I feel the time is ripe for us to yearn for the Messiah as well. And so, we need to receive today’s Gospel with joy because it reminds us that it was into a dark and dreary world like ours that the bright light of the Annunciation’s hope and promise took place. It calls us to keep our eyes on that light and to latch onto that hope. I find the Annunciation to be something astounding, something beyond belief, something that cannot be ignored. it is something so completely opposite of everything we human beings would imagine or fabricate concerning God and religion. 

According to the way we humans think and how we have defined religion in our long and varied cultural history, it’s not supposed to happen like this! If we look at ancient records and artifacts we see that throughout human history pagan gods laughed at humans in their tragedies, they didn’t come to help them. And they certainly did not become human and vulnerable, living as humans do. No, the religious stories of those make-believe gods had them living selfish lives of gross hedonism, as they thrived on war, thirsted for blood, and lusted for pleasure. They were strict and demanding of their measly human subjects whose lives they were said to hold or crush in the palm of their hands. They acted with arrogant superiority over human beings, treating them like pawns on the chessboard of life. 

No, there’s no way we would have ever imagined that the God who is almighty and eternal would love each one of us so much, so passionately, that it would break his heart to remain apart from us. We would have never imagined that God would break through the darkness of fear among the people to became one of us, a God who could be seen and heard and touched. But that’s precisely what the Annunciation proclaims. And that’s why Christmas has always been and will always be so very special and endearing to the human heart. It always brings a message of hope and promise even in the most difficult of times. For it reminds us that our God with us as Emmanuel, which means: God-among-us, God-like-us, God-who-has-become-one-of-us.

The Annunciation to Mary

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Case for Christmas, Chapter 4: The Fingerprint Evidence


The Case for Christmas, Chapter 4: The Fingerprint EvidenceCongratulations! We have reached the fourth and final full chapter of our book study!  In this chapter the author has us consider the evidence of how Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the myriad of ancient prophecies about the Messiah whom God promised to send, through his Chosen People, to the human race.  I will be commenting on the Jewish roots of our Catholic Christian Faith and pointing out a view (hopefully) helpful things to know and do.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

The Real Holiday Cheer


Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Dec. 13, 2020. Isaiah 61:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; Gospel of St. John 1:6-28. Theme: The Real Holiday Cheer 

Today is Gaudete Sunday, that is, Rejoicing Sunday. It marks the halfway point in Advent and reminds us that Christmas is drawing near. For the rest of this Third Week of Advent, the rose-colored candle of the Wreath is lit instead of a purple one, and the clergy may wear pink colored vestments to visually proclaim that even in the midst of difficulty, our hearts can find joy in God our Savior. 

It’s pretty hard to miss this theme throughout our liturgy this Sunday. The Old Testament reading from the prophet Isaiah tells us to “rejoice heartily in the Lord” and St. Paul in the second reading calls us to “rejoice always.” And in case we didn’t get the message of joy found in these two Scriptures, the responsorial that ties them together comes from the newly pregnant Virgin Mary herself and proclaims, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” 

To truly grasp God’s message of joyful hope in these readings, I think it helps to know that when Isaiah spoke about rejoicing heartily in the Lord, the people of Israel were being crushed by an oppressive government and economic disaster. They strained to see hope for their future. And St. Paul’s upbeat words about rejoicing were not written from some posh ancient villa in Greece, but while he was on the run for his life, having narrowly escaped a mob in Thessalonica that was bent of killing him for preaching that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. 

I think these facts from Isaiah and Paul are important to remember during this holiday season because we often look for joy to come to us from unrealistic expectations. For many people, this is a time of year when the promise of joy is shattered by occasions for anxiety, family frictions, emotional and physical exhaustion as well as financial debt. There is a great deal of stress for many because preparations for the holidays can get so out of hand. It’s all too easy for the “classic storybook Christmas” found inside of greeting cards and dramatized in Hallmark movies to become a noose around our necks and a nightmare in our dreams. 

The sights & sounds of the Season can easily put into our heads the false image of a perfect Christmas, as if such a thing exists. They tell us that we must be surrounded by perfect presents, that are perfectly wrapped and artfully placed under the perfect tree. Then we will gather as the perfect family to eat the perfect meal, while enjoying perfect conversation which is shared by all in perfect harmony. This seems to be our culture’s definition and expectation of holiday cheer. 

But what the Scriptures we hear today are urging us on to experience is not this elusive and transient “holiday cheer”. That kind of superficial cheer is created by our surroundings and so it can change in a moment. Rather, God wants us to be people of authentic joy, of true happiness and peace of heart which emerges from within us. It’s something that nothing from the outside can give us and which nothing from the outside can take away from us. 

We can have this kind of joy because the Scriptures assure us that God loves each one of us unconditionally. His love is eternal, unchanging, guaranteed. This can be so very hard for us to grasp because our love is so very conditional. We may not always feel it and life around us might not show it, but the decision to trust in God’s love and to rejoice even when it’s hard to do pays off in the long run. This is a truth that we see more clearly in hindsight. 

But once we experience and become convinced of God’s personal love, of the truth that he rejoices over us, then there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can take it away. This is the true rejoicing of Gaudete Sunday. This is the authentic holiday cheer of Christmas.

Monday, December 7, 2020



The Case for Christmas, Chapter 3: the Profile Evidence. As we enter into the third week of our Advent book study course the author has us considering the evidence found in the Gospels and New Testament about the divinity of Christ. In my commentary I will also comment briefly on some of the same things but I focus mainly on what is the #1 evidence for the divinity of Christ - his Resurrection fro the Tomb on the first Easter Sunday. We will also ponder the truth that God is love and this is something that Jesus did not give up upon becoming human, even if he did chose to leave behind the manifestation of his divine attributes. Let em know what YOU think!

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Covid Curse or Advent Blessing?


Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 6, 2020. Gospel of St. Mark 1:1-8. Theme: Covid Curse or Advent Blessing? 

Well, here we go again. Into a shutdown ordered by those in authority who refuse to take into consideration the enormous negative ramifications that their edicts have upon the financial, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being of the people. They are obsessed with just physical health, frightening people into submission by overemphasizing the reach of a virus that is seriously dangerous to only an extremely small percentage of the entire population. 

But really, their behavior and dictates should not surprise us because we know from Christ that the spiritually blind simply cannot see the truth that sets us free. Those who are caught up with the pursuit of prestige, power and position see only the material world. They cannot see the bigger picture of human life and the dignity that belongs to every single human being. They step on the needs and rights of others to climb the ladder of worldly success and too often seem to rule with contempt for the ordinary citizen. But you know, this sounds so very much like the world in which Joseph and Mary started out their budding family life. It sounds so very much like the world into which Jesus was born. 

When the Roman mandate for a census disrupted their lives, requiring that Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem, they could have chosen to ignore it. After all, Mary was nine months pregnant and in no condition for the arduous journey. They could have spent their time grumbling over one more intrusion of Roman oppression into their lives and ignored the edict. But instead, they chose to obey and trusted that God who is all-powerful would fulfill his plan in their lives despite this political proclamation. So, Joseph saddled up the donkey, picked up his walking staff and they made their way to King David’s City. 

Their choice to obey and trust turned an annoying curse into an awesome blessing because it was how the prophecy was fulfilled which foretold that the Savior would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem. So, it seems to me that we have a choice, just as Joseph and Mary had a choice. We can see the present restrictions and infringement upon our lives as a curse, and allow it to give rise to anger and frustration within us. Or, without condoning it, we can nevertheless obey and trust turning it to our spiritual advantage. We can choose to see this latest Covid Curse as an Advent blessing that enables us to engage in a more Christ-oriented focus to our preparation for Christmas. We can choose to see in the shutdown an opportunity to have more time for reflection on God’s Word, more time for silent meaningful prayer form the heart, more time to focus on the Giver of Gifts and not on the purchasing of presents and the planning of parties. 

I think this would be very much in line with what St. John the Baptist is telling us to do in today’s Gospel. He calls us to prepare the way of the Lord into our hearts; to make straight the crookedness in our lives and clean up the wastelands in our thoughts. In other words, he is challenging us to acknowledge our sins and then repent of them. If we are truly sincere in wanting to better prepare the way for Christ, then we can take advantage of the extra time the shutdown will provide for us and put it to good spiritual use by heeding the message of St. John the Baptist. 

And what exactly is this message? To turn away from selfishness, from the refusal to love and show mercy; to admit that we need God in our lives to straighten things out; to open our hearts to the cries of the poor and suffering; to ready ourselves to receive the power and presence of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed One, will send us. 

So, let’s use the opportunities provided by this latest shutdown to spend some time during this Advent honestly asking ourselves some real and meaningful questions about the crooked highways and wastelands in our lives. Let’s ask for the intercession of St. John the Baptist to help us do what is needed to level the road and make straight the pathway of Christ to our hearts. Let’s ask for the grace of Advent repentance and Christmas conversion so that we can take on a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at life, and a new way of living, that is a true and life-transforming preparation for the coming of Jesus, who is both Messiah and Lord.