Tuesday, February 05, 2019

HOMILY for February 3, 2019: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C

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4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Terranova Hermitage
February 3, 2019

The Creedal Gap
By (Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato 

 

The Big Gap 


This past week, I read an article that really got my attention.

The author points out that in the Creed that we recite together here at Mass, we profess our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. At one point, we say this: “By the Holy Spirit [he] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”

And then immediately: “For our sake he suffered under Pontius Pilate.” So, we jump from the birth to the death of Jesus.

There is no mention of anything in-between. The article that I was reading calls this the Big Gap.

The author asks: is there nothing here in which we also need to profess our faith? There is no mention in our Creed of Jesus’ teaching on love, service, forgiveness, caring for the least among us, and on it goes. 

The point is: don’t we also have to profess our faith in what Jesus teaches us to do – in how we are to live? I think this is an excellent point. 

A Vision Statement

I wonder if we might call the Creed our vision statement.

It is the vision of who God is and what God has done for us. Many groups and organizations have a vision statement about who they are.

But they also have a mission statement about what they are to do. So, for us, our mission statement is what Jesus calls us to do and how we are to live on this earth.

Our mission statement is the Scripture and especially the gospel. I believe we also need to profess our faith in this.

 

A Mission Statement  


Let’s take a look at our first reading today to get just one idea of our mission or what’s in our mission statement.

God speaks to the prophet Jeremiah. God says: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you.”

They are beautiful, personal, almost tender words. And they have some real messages for our mission.

For starters, we are to see not just Jeremiah, but each baby in the womb as already known by God, as special and sacred. This means that we are to respect and value the life of the unborn.

And beyond that, God says to Jeremiah that he has already dedicated him for something. From even before birth, God has a role or mission in mind for him and for us.

This means that the life of each child and teen and young adult and middle-aged adult and senior adult and elderly adult is also special and sacred. God has dedicated each of us for something for our entire lives and we need to respect and value others with this in mind.

Lately, I have been thinking about the expression “whole life” – spelled W-H-O-L-E. I wonder if this term is better at expressing the mission God gives us – our mission statement. 

My thought is that the whole life of the whole of humanity is special and sacred. So, the way we speak to and encourage, the way we guide and provide for those in our personal lives is very important.

Our support for programs that encourage expectant mothers and couples to bring their child to term is important. Our approach to affordable health care for everyone, to today’s refugees and asylum seekers and immigrants, and to all minorities is important.

All of these things and others are part of a whole life morality. Our mission is to treat all persons at all stages of life as special and sacred.

Conclusion

Now, this may be just one area of our mission and mission statement, but it is vital and very central.  

So, here is what I suggest. In just a minute, we will pray our Creed together.

I am suggesting that today, we pause at the Big Gap – to use the expression in the article that I read. So, right after we profess our faith in Jesus’ birth, let’s stop for a moment. 

And let’s silently also profess our faith in the Scripture as our mission statement and in the mission God has given each of us. Let’s make sure that we are also professing our faith in what God calls us to do on this earth. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

HOMILY for January 6, 2019: Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle C

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Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle C
Terranova Hermitage
January 6, 2019     

Birth and Death — A Single Mystery
By (Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato 


T. S. Eliot

When I was in my college years – back in the early 1960s – one of the authors we read was T. S. Eliot.

Eliot was an English poet and dramatist. He died in 1965.  

T. S. Eliot wrote a poem entitled The Journey of the Magi.Obviously, it focuses on the three Magi or wise men whom we hear about in today’s Gospel.  

And, of course, they are portrayed right here in our nativity scene. I want to read just a few lines from this poem – The Journey of the Magi. 

The poem is written as the reflection of one of these three Magi. It is one of the Magi speaking.

It may be a bit challenging at first, but just hang in there with me. We will quickly see what he is getting at.  


The Journey of the Magi

Here are the verses from the poem – The Journey of the Magi.  

“…were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? 
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. 
I had seen birth and death
But had thought they were different; 
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.”

Let me read these few verses just once more. And notice: this Magi is not speaking of Jesus’ death, but of a death or dying that weexperience.

 “…were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? 
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. 
I had seen birth and death
But had thought they were different; 
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like death, our death.”


Birth and Death for the Magi

This wise man or Magi, speaking for all three of them, is saying something very insightful.

They see the newborn Jesus, the Christ Child. They see the “Birth,” as this Magi puts it.

But they realize that they are also seeing a “Death.” It is the “Birth” of Jesus, but it is their own “Death” that they see.

And, it is not their physical death, but rather a spiritual dying. The idea is that seeing the Christ Child, seeing this “Birth” forces them to die to certain things in themselves.

This experience forces them to change, to go home different persons. Maybe that is the real significance of the statement at the end of the Gospel that they went home by another way.

So, the author T. S. Eliot is saying that our seeing and celebrating this “Birth” will probably also involve a “Death” for us. It should involve some spiritual dying to self.  

Birth and Death for Us

For example, as we look at the Christ Child, maybe this “Birth” also means:

A “Death” to any indifference to human life, whether it is the life of the unborn or the life of children who do not have enough food or adequate health care;

Or perhaps a “Death” to some failure to be caring for an elderly parent who is feeling very lonely, or for a young adult who feels lost. 

And, as we look at the Christ Child in relation to these three Magi who come from a different country and a different religious and cultural background, perhaps this “Birth” also means:

A “Death” to being closed to persons who are different from us and our way of living or thinking; 

Or perhaps a “Death” to stereotyping migrants and refuges and those who journey to our country seeking survival or a decent life.
  
Conclusion

I have to say that this is a very different way for me to look at today’s Feast of the Epiphany.

It is very different for me to look at the experience of the Magi as seeing both “Birth” and “Death,” but, it rings true for me. 

How could we see the birth of the Christ Child and not be changed? 

How could we see this birth and not also go through some kind of spiritual dying to self?

Monday, December 31, 2018

HOMILY for December 30, 2018: Feast of the Holy Family, Cycle C

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Feast of the Holy Family, Cycle C
Church of the Nativity
December 30, 2018

Frontiers of S-P-A-C-E 

By (Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato 



The Developing Need for Space

We’re all familiar with a simple fact about childhood growth. An infant begins life in his mother’s arms and immediately begins to wiggle out of those arms. Soon he crawls, then toddles or waddles, walks, and eventually runs.

The movement from arms to running is a trajectory from the isolation of self out into ever broadening circles of space. And space — first physical space that broadens into emotional space, and psychological space, — moving into space is something we all crave, creating larger and larger circles of interaction with the wider world around us.

Families help us do that. Being raised in a family takes much of the danger and risk out of this moving forward in space and relationships. It allows us to become more of who we are through relationships with others, but it does take space. 

In today’s Gospel we see the desire of Jesus reaching out to ever widening circles of space and we see how two parents deal with it.

How theydeal with it can help us, who are parents and teachers, coaches and ministers in our parish, give others the space theyneed to reach theirpotential  

Jesus’ Need for Space

Let’s look at Jesus’ need for space and his parents’ responses. 

Last Tuesday we celebrated Jesus coming as an infant, and in just five days he’s moved through babe-in-arms, to wiggler, crawler, toddler, walker, and runner to the 12-year old we see him as in today’s Gospel account.

The Gospel tells us that the Holy Family is on their way home from the celebration of the Passover in the temple of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem in the south of Palestine to Nazareth in the north, a hefty journey on donkey and foot — 30 hours without a pitstop — and they’re travelling with relatives, neighbors, and friends in a caravan.

Jesus, we hear, hangs back, but his folks are thinking he’s somewhere in the caravan behind them. Not so, we quickly learn, for when they look for him, he’s nowhere to be found. Panic stricken, the two of them leave the protection of the caravan and hurry back to Jerusalem on their own.

After 3 days of worry and frantic searching — imagine 3 days looking for your lost son or daughter — they find him in the temple in the midst of rabbis, listening to them and asking them questions.

This young man of 12 years has moved through lots of space — physical, emotional, and faith development — if you will!

The dialogue is deeply felt: “Why have you done this to us,” sobs Mary.“Your father and I have been worried sick!” Jesus’ reply? “Didn’t you know I must be in my father’s house?” 

It’s all about space and relationships, how our family helps us move beyond ourselves and how eventually the space beckons us to move even beyond our family.

However you define your own family, be it traditional, single parent, extended, blended or a couple without children, the idea of space and moving beyond ourselves with the help of our family can help us be more effective family members.

My remarks regarding space are also an acronym — S-P-A-C-E — that makes it easy to remember what your family provides you or you can provide your family as a way of growing in your faith. 

Our Need for S-P-A-C-E

“S” is for Structure: The Holy Family travels in a caravan with family, friends and neighbors. They share their food and supplies. They have a common hope to get to Jerusalem and to return home safely. There’s a timetable with stops for water and rest. Your family also needs structure.

“P” if for Pray:Joseph, Mary and Jesus are attending the Passover in Jerusalem in order to pray and worship. They’re doing it together as a family. In making this pilgrimage, they are acknowledging a love they have for God. Once in the temple, they will purchase a pair of pigeons as their offering to God. The prayer, hugging, and hubbub in the outer court of the temple would be like interacting on our own concourse or in the Vision CafĂ© before and after Mass.

“A” is for Affirm: Notice Mary, in speaking with Jesus, affirms both her and Joseph’s concern. She might also have said, “We gave you the freedom to wander; we just assumed you’d leave the temple when we all did.” 

It is important to affirm our children’s freedom, as well as their responsibilities. Mary, by the way, doesn’t harp on Jesus’ choice to remain back in the temple. My guess is there had to be a hug or two amidst the dialogue for having found him after 3 days of frantic searching. Kids and parents also need to  affirm members of their family.

“C” if for Communicate:Both Mary and Jesus express themselves with feelings, as well as with words. Mary does not speak out of anger for having been disobeyed, but out of love and concern. So too does Jesus in his response of having to be about his Father’s business. It’s truly heartfelt. We have to assert ourselves as parents and kids must do the same.

Finally, “E” is for Elevate:Both Jesus and Mary, as a result of their heartfelt dialog, seem to have moved to a higher ground where it hasn’t been a win/lose situation for either of them. It is an outcome that is peaceful and serene, and existing on an elevated plain. The same needs to be practiced in your family.

Jesus has widened his circle of space to respond to the Father’s will. Mary has stepped aside to see here 12-year old do what he must do.

Conclusion

So, SPACE: Structure – Pray – Affirm – Communicate – Elevate.

Five actions that create SPACE for us to grow within our family as kids, spouses and parents. And however we define our family, in the process your family becomes still another holy family.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

HOMILY for December 25, 2018: Christmas, Cycle A

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Christmas, Cycle A
Our Lady of Grace
December 25, 2018

 

It’s a Wonderful Life

By (Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato 


The Movie 


I begin with a question for you: Over the years, how many of us have seen the movie It’s A Wonderful Life? I just want to get an idea of how many of us have seen it. (Pause)

It has been the focus of discussion in a men’s faith sharing group I belong to. It’s A Wonderful Lifewas originally made in 1946.

Since the 1970’s, it has often been shown at Christmas time, even though it is not explicitly a Christmas story. In the movie, Jimmy Stewart plays a young man named George Bailey.

George grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, in upstate New York. He has two big dreams for his life: traveling and becoming a great architect.  

Unfortunately, George’s father dies very suddenly and George becomes the President of his father’s Savings and Loan. Faithful son that he is, he delays his own goals for a career in order to save the Savings and Loan and to help the townspeople of Bedford Falls.

George is good, honest and always helping the little guy. One time after another he lets go of his own dreams for the sake of doing what is right and helpful to others.  

When a mistake he makes threatens the very existence of the Savings and Loan, George becomes despondent. He begins thinking that his whole life has been for nothing and he even considers suicide.

At this point in the story, an angel appears and helps George to experience how fortunate he actually has been and how many lives he has touched. 

This empowering insight turns him around; he realizes how worthwhile and meaningful his life really is.  

Yes, George realizes that all things considered, It’s A Wonderful Life.

The Christmas Story and Us 


Obviously, the movie is not literally the story of Bethlehem, but, it is no less a Christmas story because it expresses some of the important messages that underlie Jesus’ birth and how his birth impacts us to this very day. 

There are 3 clear and distinct messages regarding the film, Jesus’ birth, and each of us.

Message 1: God Is With Us

For starters, in the movie, George’s guardian angel appears and stays with him and gets him through a very dark and lonely emotional period.

In much the same way, Christmas proclaims the name of the infant savior to be Emmanuel, literally meaning “God is with us.”  What we celebrate, then, is that God is not in some far off heaven, but instead he’s at the core of our life, and present whether we are up or down.  

We always have this communion, this connection with God.  It’s no wonder that we call the Eucharist “Holy Communion”or to make it a verb form: “Holy Communing.”

The Eucharist or “Holy Communion”brings to life or quickens, if you will, the communion we already have with God who is with us always, so much so that we become what we eat — that is, the very flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Now that’s something!  
    
Message 2: Each Person Is Significant

Second, the angel helps George realize how significant his life really is.

The angel’s point is that even the most ordinary life can have a powerful impact.  And it is this that Christmas proclaims.

Let’s look at it more closely: God becomes human, as a vulnerable, dependent infant. Christmas says that, if God can come to us in this way, then the life of each person is valuable, no matter how small, insignificant, vulnerable, dependent, needy that life may seem.  

This revelation gives each of us a source of self-worth, that you and I and everyone without exception needs to hear. Say good-by to thoughts such as: “I’m not worthy! I’m not good enough! I’m a sinner! and I’ll never get better!” 

Message 3: Peace Comes From Doing Good


Finally, George Bailey realizes that personal fulfillment and inner peace do not come from material things or financial success.

On the contrary, genuine fulfillment and lasting peace come from doing what is right and good.  Faithfulness, sacrifice, truthfulness, honesty and caring for others – these are the things that bring the deepest and most lasting fulfillment and peace.

And this is the very peace the angels announce at Jesus’ birth: “Peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.” 

Notice, peace comes not so much from something outside of ourselves, but on the actions of those “on whom God’s favor rests.” 

It is more the result of doing the right and good thing each day, of living out our inner communion with Jesus. The very act of doing the right and good thing stirs up that presence and that communion we with God goes out to draw others in.

Conclusion


It’s A Wonderful Lifeis not just a memorable movie and great to watch at Christmastime.

It contains the core message of Christmas, a message that you are living out today. 

(1) God is with us.
(2) Each person is significant.
(3) Inner peace comes from doing what is right and good.  

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We are gifts to each other. Merry Christmas!