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Christmas tree glows in St. Peter's Square after lighting ceremony at Vatican

By Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski

Homily for Christmas 2014
Cathedral of St. Michael
Isaiah 9:1-6
Titus 2: 11-14
Luke 2: 1-14

My brothers and sisters in Christ,
Are you ready for Christmas? How many times have we been
asked that question over the past few weeks as the days from
Thanksgiving to now have elapsed? This past September, I
remember walking into a card shop and spotting the Christmas
ornaments on display. My heart felt a bit sad that even before
the leaves had turned to their Autumn colors on the trees that
Christmas was already being thrust upon us. And yet, here we are,
the time of celebration is here, whether we are ready or not. For
these past four weeks, as a Church we have been asking ourselves
“Are we ready for Christmas?” Our readings provided us with the
great figures of Advent: Isaiah, the prophet of hope for God’s
people, Mary, in whose humility and trust we find her “yes” to
God’s invitation to become the mother of the Savior and John
the Baptist, who stirred in his mother’s Elizabeth’s womb at Mary’s

Christmas season artwork: Reni painting depicts the birth of Christ in Bethlehem

Visitation, so near was the time of salvation. In their own way, each
of these servants of God ask us if we are ready for Christmas. We
hear the poetic beauty of the first reading today from Isaiah. When
God’s people were mired in doubt and confusion during their exile,
it is this hope-filled prophet who stirs their hearts with the promise
of a time to come that will restore their relationship with God. And
their deliverance will not come from a mighty army, but from a
child born into the world. The words of Isaiah may have made the
people of his day incredulous at such a promise, but the prophet’s
words are spoken with surety in the mysterious workings of God.
Isaiah is the instrument of hope, trusting in God’s promise to his
people and assured that it would be fulfilled. Isaiah is one who is
ready for Christmas!

Pope Francis uses incense to venerate image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter's Basilica

During the season of Advent, we have celebrated beautiful
feasts of Mary. On December 8th, we recall her Immaculate
Conception, when preserved from the sin of Adam and Eve, God
chose her to be the spotless mother of His own divine Son. And on
December 12th, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Patroness of the Americas and Star of the New Evangelization.

Mary’s role in the history of salvation is assured when she accepts
the words of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation to become the
mother of the Savior. Her life was changed forever in that instant
when she fully put her trust in the will of God, allowing herself to
become the vessel who bore the Savior into the world. Humility and
trust are great signs of Mary, who was ready to do the unexpected
for God and His people at a moment’s notice. And how touching is
this Christmas story, when Mary, with Joseph, are uprooted during
the time she is expected to give birth, not even knowing where her
baby will be born. We can only imagine the thoughts that were
going through her mind as she rejoiced at the birth of Jesus, yet
having no place to give her child a decent bed. Yet,
despite all of this, Mary was ready for Christmas, for she, with
Joseph, the shepherds and the angels, welcomed Jesus into our
world.
The fiery prophet John the Baptist spoke to God’s people in
ways that truly pierced those who were willing to listen to his words.
When asked who he was, John’s answer is pointedly on target: “I
am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way
of the Lord.”

Christ's baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan River is depicted in a stained-glass window of New York church

John’s call was to a spirit of repentance, of preparing hearts for
the coming of the Savior. He did not yield to the temptation of
being the Savior to the crowds, nor did he claim any credit for
his mission and preaching. John truly saw himself as the one
who helped others recognize that the Kingdom of God was at hand
and that they were called, not to stand by passively, but actively
bring about the work of that Kingdom through repentance,
conversion and love. “He must increase,” John says, “and I must
decrease.” What a humble man who knew what his role was
to be in salvation history and to embrace it fully. John the Baptist
also illustrates for the way to be ready for Christmas.

Priest leads blessing of Christmas gifts during the annual Mass at New York high school

Are you ready for Christmas? The presents may be wrapped
so beautifully, the dinner, cookies, cakes and pies may be so enticing
for the feast and the house may be decorated just right in sparkling
lights, tree and wreaths. But are you ready for Christmas? With
Isaiah’s message of hope, Mary’s example of trust in God’s will and
John the Baptist’s humility in pointing the way to the Savior, we are
called to be ready for this wonderful feast. For whether the world
was ready or not, God has become one with our human race.

There may have been a census that caused Mary and Joseph to be
far from home, no proper place readied for the birth of a child and
no one of great position or ranking to welcome Him, yet Jesus has
cometo fulfill the hope of Isaiah, the trust of Mary and the humility
of John the Baptist. And whether we are ready or not, he has
come to us to do the same. Let us rejoice that Christmas does
not so much depend on whether we are ready or not, but that God
is always ready to reach out to us in Love, from the Baby whose
birth we celebrate today, through our loved ones who will gather
to share this feast with us and even in the stranger whom we are
called to greet as our sister or brother in the Lord.
We may not always be prepared for Christmas, but thanks be to
God that Christmas is always ready for us!

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father and son

Editor’s note: Recently we published the reflections of David Peters, who went to the Holy Land with his father and other men from the Diocese of Springfield. Now, David’s Dad, Deacon Joe Peteres from St. Stanislaus Basilica Parish in Chicopee offers his thoughts which he shared with his parish on the feast of Christ the King.

Six months ago a small group of friends told me they were thinking about trip to the Holy Land and was wondering if I had any interest in going. Absolutely I said – This was something– I have always wanted to do – to visit the area where Christ lived his ministry would be a dream come true. I asked my 24 year old son to go along. David – to my surprise – was eager and willing to join the pilgrimage.  This all happened three months before the most recent war broke out between Hamas in Gaza and Israel. During that conflict, our group of eight became six and finally we left on Nov 14th,  returning early the morning of Nov 21st to JFK. I‘m still processing all that we saw and did —  from assisting at Mass in what is traditionally considered to be Christ’s actual tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to watching Dave take a dip in the very muddy and cold Jordan river at the site of Jesus’ baptism. We learned how the Apostles would have tossed their nets on a boat modeled after those actually used in Jesus’ time on the Sea of Galilee and we stood beneath the sycamore tree in Jericho that Zachaeus climbed to get a better view of Jesus on the same day that the daily gospel I read at Mass of the day recounted Jesus calling Zachaeus down from that tree. More than a  coincidence!

kids

While I believe I have enough homiletic material for a long time I actually had to give a homily on the day we arrived back for the Feast of Christ the King. There were so many moments on this pilgrimage when we experienced our faith in very profound ways. But there were also some dramatic and unexpected experiences as you may have heard on the news as tensions continue to flare in this trouble area of the world. One of our fellow pilgrims is a deacon friend who serves on the Board of an organization called the Pontifical Mission of Jerusalem that is dedicated to preserving Christianity and the Holy Sites in the Holy Land.In addition they assist in feeding, clothing and educating the very poor Palestinians who are a struggling to find peace in a society repressed by the policies of the state of Israel.This organization has an office in Jerusalem and helped us plan our trip. Only about 1% of the 4,000,000 people who live in Palestine today are Christian. They live among the Moslems who make up the vast majority in their territory within Israel.We found them to be a very committed and resilient group of people. In the Gospel from Christ the King Sunday Jesus talks about the end time in which those who are there for the least of these will find the Kingdom that he has set out. We saw many of these “least” people during the last two days when we visited some of the many projects supported by the Pontifical Mission.These included a school for deaf children from infancy through high school, a home for the severely handicapped and an orphanage for abandoned babies,many with birth defects who are left in doorways or worse.

fr. savage

All of the amazing places were run by different orders of nuns who reflect Christ in every moment of their lives and struggle daily to find the resources needed to provide this desperately needed care. They get little or no help from the government. On our last day, we visited the only Catholic University in the Holy Land – Bethlehem University  which is run by the Lasalle Brothers.There we met a number of students, only 25% of which are Catholic but interestingly 75% of the students are female. This University is determined to teach Christian Values in this heavily Moslem area and surprisingly there is demand. They can only accept one of three applicants.  They have found that over time these values makes a huge difference in relations between the two religions. Our last visit was with a school run by Salesian Sisterswith 285 students threatened with closure because their land and convent is about to be confiscated by the Israelis to build another settlement in the Palestinian territory, which is considered Illegal by the United Nations. Will you be compensated if they take your land and buildings ?, I asked– No was the sad reply.

selfie

All of this is happening in the land where Jesus walked. Our small group came away from these two days of visiting,humbled and inspired by the work of this small minority of Christian sheep who will surely be at Christ’s right hand when that final day comes. When we hear stories of people so dedicated– it should make us wonder how we can follow their example in our own communities.