Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Day

[Please note:  the following is the homily that will be delivered to a number of
Jeuite Alumni and their families at Georgetown Prep at midnight Christmas Day.]

Good morning!  Merry Christmas!  Peace be with you!

Let’s begin with just who am I since this hallowed campus was never a part of my history.  Former Jesuit priest; now priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, retired and doing more than when serving as a Pastor etc.; with you this evening because my dentist bartered a hygienist appointment and a dinner.  So now let’s get to some serious thinking about this nativity feast that brings you together in prayer and fraternity. In true Jesuit style, the remarks that follow will be presented as “three points.”  See:  Still very much the Jesuit at heart.

The First Point:  This Christmas let me call you, “miles Christi” —
a soldier of Christ if you have forgotten the days of Latin.  You were trained to be with Ignatius Loyola a follower of Jesus Christ. I call you “miles Christi” because your Church needs you to see and become involved in the renewal.  And true Jesuit that he is,  Pope Francis through word and action, again so Ignatian, has given strong impetus to the universal call for a new evangelization. Along with the Holy Father, we, all of us, are called to be one with the Holy Spirit in this new 

Pentecost, this new renewal that is being born in the Church.  The drive for the renewal that the Holy Spirit has put into the mind and heart of Pope Francis actually had its foundation in Bethlehem when Jesus began what might be called the first renewal.  This is what Jesus’ birth was all about: his accepting the Father’s will that from this pauper’s birth scene to the horror of a Good Friday with the purpose of bringing salvation to humankind.

True sons of Ignatius, as most of you are, you called by this newborn Son of God to invest time in learning and sharing what it means to carry the gospel to those who accept it, to those who reject it and to those who do not know it.  Let the gospel become for you a style of life that challenges so much of the lifestyle in our society today.  Come to know the gospel messages of a Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Let their heartfelt words become a source of true joy in your life; words of the man Jesus that are meant to make a difference in your life and mine.

The Second Point:  As Pope Francis wrote recently, “Goodness always tends to spread.”  It is the notion that goodness cannot be repressed that has encouraged the Bishop of Rome to discuss with the Church at large that evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations …”  I believe that we should take note of this command.  However we must recognize that it is nothing new.  In the birth of Jesus Christ we see the beginning of genuine missionary activity that will become the basis, the foundation, for the efforts that mark the lives not only of the Church but of each of you and all others who seek to follow Jesus Christ.  On this day when Jesus was born, the name Christian became ours not in a courthouse but in a simple stable.  The title is akin to a universal passport as well as a universal responsibility to all our sisters and brothers.  In this early hour of the morning we quietly in our hearts renew our commitment to follow the Jesus.

As missionaries, aligned with the Son of God, we might look to this annual celebration of his birth as a calling to discern and pledges to  follow the path the Lord points out for us in going “from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the gospel.”

Let the celebration of Christmas be an occasion when we can renew  our own missionary vocation that comes to us as an invitation from Jesus Christ in our Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.  Furthermore, take some time to consider these words from the First Letter of St. John.

Whoever is born of God conquers the world.
And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

The Third Point:  Our faith is a particular experience that is peculiar to each of us here this morning.  I encourage each of you not to confuse “our faith” with “our religion.”  Faith is my personal relationship with God the Father, Jesus his Son and the Holy Spirit.  When I look upon a manger scene today, at the young child lying on hay or in his mother’s arms, and find myself praying or placing myself with Jesus in Bethlehem, actually I am affirming or reaffirming my personal relationship with God.  

Now fear and distress did not shake Mary or Joseph in their faith or in fulfilling their God-given vocation.  It did not shake St. Ignatius in all that he endeavored to accomplish.  It was not their religion that enabled them and many like them in the centuries since the first Christmas to live their faith.  We are no different:  I believe faith is a matter of a personal relationship with God.  Our faith is what gives us the strength for fidelity and loyalty to Jesus Christ.  Let this night and this encounter with Jesus Christ be for you a renewal of that fidelity to your faith, your personal relationship with God.  Again hear words from the Evangelist, St. John, that stress the importance of our faith. 

Who is victor over the world
but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Let me begin to conclude now with a challenge to all here present on this Christmas morning, again using the heart and mind of Pope Francis.

The Holy Father wrote that the Catholic Church is not a fortress.  Only when we have the fortitude and courage to move outside its walls, when we meet the poor, the lonely, the mentally challenged, the elderly sick, the confused and frightened immigrants of our generation, the gays, lesbians and transgendered among us, the hurting divorce, the marginalized of so many different kinds, only then we reach out to them as true missionaries, men and women of faith, can we share in the true freedom of God.

This is what we are challenged to consider when we look at a new-born child, resting on straw in a manger, who would in just a few years after his birth would become a man who would bring salvation to every human being from his throne atop Calvary Hill.  This is the mystery we celebrate today.  This is the gift God the Father has given each of us.  This is our faith; this is our challenge.  When you lift high the cross of Jesus Christ, you authenticate the mission of the Son of God for yourself and for others.  Let this Christmas Day be a day when once again you renew the pledge all Jesuit students learned:  Ad maioren Dei Gloriam … All for the Greater Glory of God.

Again, Merry Christmas and, please God, bless all who are here early this morning and their families.