Monday, December 28, 2015

A Christmas Reflection

A Christmas Reflection
December 25, 2015
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
   for he has come to his people and set them free"  Luke 1:68

These words begin the Canticle of Zechariah, which is said as part of the Liturgy of the Hours Morning Prayer every day and which is part of the opening words of today's Gospel for the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord.  In these words we are reminded of God's love for us, that while we continually enslave ourselves to sin, God is always there to free us.

Advent is over; let the celebration begin! But, just as after the birth of a child there is a need for rest and quietness, so should it be in our lives as we enter into the Christmas season.  It is a period of joy, but it should also be one of awe.  God has come to us - not as a powerful commander but as a helpless infant, a spark of life, incarnate.  For those of you who have had a child or who were present when a sibling was born, you know of the hushed fascination, the sense of love, that you had when you gazed upon that child.  So should it be now as you contemplate the birth of Jesus.

Until we meet again, I ask that you pause each morning and recite the two lines above. Then, spend a moment in quiet contemplation of the God-child Jesus, and how, every day of your life, He comes to you, ready to free you from the burdens and cares which you may face during that day. Make room for the silence.  Make room for God.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Encountering Jesus

Encountering Jesus
December 20, 2015    Fourth Sunday of Advent - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the land,
   People were worried, wringing their hands.
What should I buy, what should I get?
   Will my expectations of Christmas be met?
Mom in her apron, in a very foul mood,
   Worried about cooking, would there be enough food?
Dad, too, was cranky, showing ill-will,
   Worried about paying those after-Christmas bills.
And the children were impatient – the girls and the boys,
   As they thought only of presents: the gifts, the toys.
But then, what to my blood-shot eyes should appear,
   But an angel of God, with good tidings to share.
“A child will be born in just a few days,
   That, if you will let him, can change all your ways.”
“The gifts He will bring are joy, mercy and love,
   Sent by the King of Kings from above.”

What kind of gifts do you want for Christmas this year? Are you hoping for a Big Gift?  An Expensive Gift?  Maybe LOTS of Gifts?

Or are you the gift-giver?  Well, there’s less than a week to go – I hope you got your shopping done. 

In today’s first reading and in Luke’s Gospel, we see that God’s gifts come from sources that would be considered insignificant by human standards: 
•  Bethlehem - The smallest of the clans of Judah
•  Elizabeth - An old woman beyond child-bearing age, and
•  Mary - A young girl, not much more than a child, married to a carpenter

And yet, none are as unimportant as they may seem.
•  Bethlehem - Who will be the source of a great ruler.
•  Elizabeth - Who will have a son that will be a great prophet.
•  Mary - Who will be the mother of the Son of God.

But more than gifts, today’s Gospel is about an ENCOUNTER.  An encounter With JESUS.  Through MARY.

Let’s look at the Gospels from last week that lead up to today.  We began the week with various passages focusing on the encounters between the Jewish leadership and John the Baptist, as seen through the eyes of Jesus.  Then we began to shift focus, to Joseph’s and Zechariah’s encounters with the angel Gabriel.  And today we witness the FIRST person to encounter Jesus – Elizabeth.

Elizabeth knew her child was special in God’s plans, and yet at first she hid herself, going into seclusion – Why?  To avoid questions about a “baby bump” appearing?  After all, she was well past child-bearing age.  And with Zechariah now a mute – he couldn’t help explain what was happening. 

Or maybe it was because at her age she might have needed the time to adjust to her unexpected situation?  She was only secluded for 5 months so maybe she didn’t want to build false hopes.  After all, they didn’t have the tests to confirm early pregnancy like we do today.  Maybe she just wanted to make sure everything went according to a normal birth.  Interestingly, it’s at about 5 months  that the baby begins to move.  Or maybe she just didn’t want to see anyone while she suffered from morning sickness.

In any case, by the time Mary encounters the angel Gabriel and receives the Good News that she will bear a child, Elizabeth has just returned home.  Mary will spend the remainder of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with her.  Interestingly, it doesn’t say that Mary was there at the time of John’s birth, although the timing given would suggest that she was there right up to that point.

So today, we see an important encounter between four people:  Elizabeth; her soon-to-be-born son, John; the Virgin (yet pregnant) Mary; and her newly-conceived son, Jesus.  And what an encounter!

Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit by the mere presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb.  She breaks out into spontaneous prayer and knows immediately that Mary is carrying the Messiah, her Lord.

John responds to the presence of Jesus, “leaping for joy” in Elizabeth’s womb.

Yet, it has been only a couple of weeks at the most since Mary conceived Jesus.  He’s barely there, physically.

For those who don’t believe that life begins at conception, or that it has to “develop” enough to be “viable”, they should read this Gospel passage.  The preciousness and the power of God’s gift of any life begins the instant that God sends that gift to Earth.  The gift of life IS an encounter with God – from the very moment of conception.

And an encounter with God – with Jesus – is what Christmas is all about.  Elizabeth accepts the gift of a new life – a son – who will prepare the world for an encounter with God.  Mary accepts the gift of Jesus, an encounter with God Himself, who will open the doors of mercy and restore our ability to encounter God for all eternity.  Mary brings Jesus to Elizabeth and John in an encounter which rocks them with enlightenment and joy.

There’s a lesson here for us today.  Like Mary, we are called to bring Jesus to others.  But first we must encounter Jesus.  And like Elizabeth and John, we can encounter Jesus through His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Through her example and intercession, she shows us the way and helps us when we fail. 

If we do – if we help others to encounter Jesus through our words and actions – then they too will be filled with the Holy Spirit and leap for joy.

Today’s Gospel ends with Elizabeth proclaiming: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  Jesus told us that whenever two or more are gathered in His name, He is there with them.  Jesus is here, with us, now, waiting for us to encounter Him.  This Christmas, let us believe what He has said to us.  Let us seek to encounter Him. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us accept the gift of mercy He offers us, and also share that gift with others – a gift more precious than anything wrapped and placed under a tree.

Will you encounter Jesus at Christmas?  Will you bring Jesus to others?  I hope so.

And so let us exclaim, as we prepare for this week,
   Merry Christmas to all; Christ comes, whom we seek
– and who seeks us.


Rejoicing in the Big Picture

Rejoicing in the Big Picture
Homily for December 13, 2015    Third Sunday of Advent - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

One of the top-selling items, if not THE top selling items during Black Friday sales, were large-screen flat-screen TVs.  They’ve been top-selling items year after year, and the sets just keep getting bigger and bigger.

And yet, just because they have a bigger picture, it doesn’t mean that we can SEE the bigger picture on them.  Images may seem bigger than life, but the messages they convey are often narrow and misleading, even destructive to our very soul.

What did all four prophets in today’s readings – Zephaniah, Isaiah, Paul and John the Baptist have in common?  They all saw the bigger picture.  And their message?

REJOICE in the Lord Always!  I shall say it again: REJOICE! The LORD, our God, is in our midst even now; He has not abandoned us to our troubles and tribulations but extends His Love and Mercy with the promise of better things to come.

Today we celebrate Gau-de-tay’ Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent.  Gaudete means Rejoice!, and so we should, as we have passed the half-way mark of our journey toward Christmas.  We pause in our Advent preparations to remind ourselves of the promise of joy that is to come. We light the rose-colored candle in our Advent wreath, and we don festive rose-colored vestments.  (Yes, these are ROSE, not pink. Like in that old 80’s movie, girls may be “Pretty in Pink”, but not clergy.  Besides, have you ever heard of “pink” wine?)
So, this may be a good time to ask ourselves – are we still excited about the coming of Christmas?  Are we joyful?  Or are we being worn down by the minutiae of our preparations and the false messages of despair that seem to come to us from every direction?

If we are not careful, we can lose the joy of what we should be anticipating.  After all, we are surrounded by evil in the news – so why should we rejoice?  We know of friends and family members who have died and we miss those who cannot share the holidays with us – so why should we rejoice?  We cannot afford to celebrate the holidays in a matter that is being emphasized in the commercials we see and hear – so why should we rejoice?  We have so many things that are pressing in upon us – challenges to our health, our families, our well-being – so why rejoice?

Because God IS with us.

In our first reading, the prophet Zephaniah encourages Israel to sing for joy and to rejoice in anticipation of God’s mercy.  Written around 650 to 600 BC, Zephaniah had previously prophesized that Israel, by rejecting God, were going to suffer the Assyrian invasion, but that God remained with them and would restore their kingdom.  God loved them, He would show them His mercy.

St. Paul is even more insistent.  REJOICE ALWAYS!  And yet scholars are pretty certain that Paul himself was in prison when he wrote this, either in Rome, or possibly in Caesarea or another city of his travels.  In any case, Paul tells the Philippians that he was fairly certain that his execution was close at hand, yet he was at peace with the Peace of Jesus Christ, which surpasses all understanding, and that through Jesus he had no anxiety over the problems that he faced.

And then in the Gospel, we listen to John the Baptist tell us about how we should prepare for the presence of Christ in their lives – to continue to live our lives and to carry out our jobs in honesty and integrity, with a charitable heart.  And despite his exhortations about what NOT to do, John continued to preach the “good news” to the people that Christ is coming – God is with them.

Last Tuesday, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis opened the Door of Mercy at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, beginning a Jubilee of Mercy, a year for us to encounter and share in the Divine Mercy of God.  THIS is something worth rejoicing.  God’s Mercy has always been there for us; God’s Mercy will always be there for us.  God’s Mercy is infinite.

The people that Zephaniah spoke to couldn’t see what the future held for them. In the responsorial for today the prophet Isaiah spoke to a people in exile.  The Jews that John the Baptist preached to were oppressed by the Romans, and St. Paul was headed to his death.  But all preached an attitude of joy in the LORD, and all looked to the big picture of God’s infinite mercy.  The evils of this world WILL pass away.  The troubles we face today we do not face alone.  Emmanuel, God with Us, is here, offering us love, mercy and peace.  During this Year of Mercy, may we accept that God loves us, cries with us, laughs with us, rejoices with us.

I shall say it again.  Rejoice!  Christ is near – let us go out and welcome him.