Sunday, December 29, 2013

Gloria in Excelsis: Feast of the Holy Family

Through the holy days beginning with Christmas I’m doing a bit of a series on the four original
Christmas carols from the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. At Christmas Masses I preached on the Canticle of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father who has given us an incredible song that has become the centerpiece of the Church’s morning prayer since the first centuries. The Solemnity of Mary will match the Canticle of Mary, and the Canticle of Simeon is a nice fit for Epiphany.

The other original Christmas carol was sung by angels around Bethlehem. Surely this was a cosmic event, with every spiritual being who may happen to populate the universe singing out among the stars! But that’s just speculation, because Luke only identifies one audience: the shepherds around Bethlehem.

The other three original Christmas carols are prayed daily in the Liturgy of the Hours, but this song of the angels is prayed at Mass on most solemnities and feasts. We call it the ‘Gloria’ and it amplifies and elaborates on the simple song Luke relates: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”

Compared to the three other texts, this is simple enough; two short phrases. The angels start the same place Zechariah did, the same place Mary will, with praise of God. The first reaction the Incarnation is praise, of course! Praise is the heart of worship, the acknowledgment that God is amazing. 

Why does that matter? Why praise God? Is He insecure? Does He get down on himself and need to be encouraged? Will He be nicer to us if we butter Him up?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Benedictus: Christmas 2013

Do you have a favorite Christmas carol? Right now I’d say O Little Town of Bethlehem… not my favorite melody, but I just noticed this year that the text is fantastic. Have a look at all the verses sometime. If this sermon gets boring just pick up a hymnal, it’s in there… that’ll be a good sermon for you. Sometime I'll tell you about the missing verse.

On the less-explicitly-religious side I’m a big fan of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, with it’s combination of melancholy and hope. There’s so much happiness to be found even in our “muddling through somehow.”


But my very favorite Christmas carols are the very first Christmas carols. There were four of them, the originals, that very first Christmas. They weren’t piped into shopping centers and elevators; they were sung in quiet rooms by winter fires, in the Temple, under the stars, and in one case actually out amongst the stars. You can find them in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. Three of them are known by their authors: The Canticle of Zechariah, The Canticle of Mary, The Canticle of Simeon. Priests and religious and those faithful who pray the Liturgy of the Hours pray these three texts every single day! The one sung by angels we call simply call “Gloria,” and you hear it at Mass through most of the year.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Wish Right Now: 4th Sunday Advent

Once time I briefly came into possession of one of those funny-shaped lamps that genies tend to inhabit. I don’t know much about genies except that they come from pre-Islamic Arabian legend, and for reasons that escape me they sometimes sit inside these lamps for ages until somebody comes along and rubs the lamp. And then they pop out and grant a wish, or maybe three wishes, or maybe if you’re in a 1960’s sitcom it’s a pretty girl genie who wants to get married and then you get lots of wishes.

Anyway I came across this lamp, and you can go right ahead and judge me if you want, but I gave that thing a good rub.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Joy Is Not Far Away: 3rd Sunday of Advent



“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” That’s how Pope Francis begins his most significant publication to date. There are lots of reasons that so many people find so much to love about Pope Francis. I’ve noticed a lot of the reasons are wrong-headed, like when Time Magazine praised him for disregarding Church dogma. That's so misguided it's almost cute; to their credit they did correct it. But one of the many right and true reasons for our Holy Father’s charm is that he really does seem to be someone who is filled with joy, filled with the joy of the Gospel.

From this first sentence of Evangelium Gaudii, we know that he wouldn’t consider this unique. The joy of the Gospel comes from encountering Jesus, and it comes to everyone who encounters Jesus. We could flip this into a corollary statement: that if someone’s life isn’t filled with the joy of the Gospel, that person simply hasn’t encountered Jesus Christ. He or she may have read lots of Scripture, may know a lot about church teachings, may have gone to years and years of Catholic school, may have a doctorate in theology… but if the joy of the Gospel isn’t to be found filling this person’s life, he or she hasn’t really encountered Jesus.

Monday, December 9, 2013

At Long Last, Something New: The Immaculate Conception

Probably everybody’s noticed that “NEW” is one of the biggest catchwords in advertising. Sometimes you can’t quite tell what’s actually new about it. “Looks the same… what’s new?” “See, the sticker! We put a sticker on it that says ‘NEW.’ That wasn’t there before!”

Quoheleth, writing the Book of Ecclesiastes, disagrees. He sighs that “there is nothing new under the sun,” and we’ve been repeating that bleak sentiment ever since. The more novelty you see, the more you start to agree with him. The whole story of the Bible, the whole story of humanity, seem to back this up. Everyone thought it an extraordinarily big deal when we started killing each other with iron instead of bronze, but in hindsight, what changed except the names of the tyrants? Now we think we’re so different because we kill with drone strikes. But really, so what? We have more sophisticated forms of slavery. We have more technological forms of despair. But humans are humans.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

No Humbugs Please: 1st Sunday of Advent

I spent five years in seminary in the Chicago area. I hope you’ll believe that I mean nothing against the city when I say it isn’t for me. No surprise there from a small-town boy from the Shawnee. But…there was one time each year that I adored the city. This time. I’d catch a train down to the Loop and walk up and down the big avenues: Michigan, State, all that. The famous lights on all the trees along Michigan, the crowds packing every block… and every single person in a fantastic mood. Everyone thinking about people they love. This is the one month of the year that I really do find that mile to be “magnificent!” You’ve got a pretty good chance that snowflakes will be falling down on the whole scene, and it’s just… well, it’s totally magical.