Tuesday, January 07, 2020

HOMILY for January 5, 2020: Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle A

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Feast of the Epiphany, Cycle A
Mercy Ridge Hermitage
January 5, 2020

Gifts and Givers; Gifts and Receivers
(Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato

The Magi’s Gifts 

Today’s gospel story is very familiar to us – we hear it every year at Christmastime.

We hear about these somewhat mysterious people called magi who come from some country east of Israel. They apparently are priests or recognized spiritual leaders in some other religion.

And they bring gifts to the newborn Jesus: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts are symbolic in two ways.

First, gold has long been considered as the most precious of all metals and so, in Jesus’ day, it was seen as an appropriate gift for a king. These magi are then recognizing Jesus as in some way a king – the King of the Jews, but more than that, the king of everyone on this earth. 

This must be so because the magi themselves are not Jews. So, the gold symbolizes Jesus’ unique spiritual authority.

Then, the myrrh was a fragrant resin that came from a tree. It was used in making lotions or creams for the body and also in preparing the body of a deceased person for burial.

So, myrrh symbolizes the humanity of Jesus. He is human, like you and me.

And then, frankincense was a substance made from wood chips and fragrant oils. In Jesus’ day, it was used in the temple services and at times, we still use incense here at Mass to worship God.

This gift symbolizes that Jesus is divine. In fact, it expresses that in some amazing way he is God, here on earth, among us.

So, the gifts of the magi are symbolic because of what they represent about the newborn Jesus. But they are also symbolic because they speak of what the magi are giving to God.

The giving of their best material gifts to God symbolizes the giving of their best personal gift to God – the gift of themselves. We also see this giving of themselves in the time and energy they expend in finding the newborn Jesus.

Our Gifts

These gifts of the magi recall for me our gifts here at Mass.

As we begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, bread and wine are brought to the altar. These gifts are also symbolic in two ways.

First, they symbolize Jesus’ sacrifice of himself on the cross. Jesus gave us these gifts at the Last Supper and told us to use them as a way to remember what he did for us.

In fact, these gifts of bread and wine are even more than symbolic of Jesus. We believe that they actually become the body and blood of Christ himself.

And then, these gifts also symbolize the gift of ourselves to God. They symbolize that we, much like the magi, choose to God the very best that we have. 

At this point in the Mass, we are to offer ourselves and our lives to God – how we live, how we relate to others, how we go about our jobs or our studies or household responsibilities, our goals and our sufferings and on it goes.

This is the underlying meaning of the words that the priest speaks soon after the bread and wine are presented at the altar. The priest says: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”

On one level, we are speaking of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But on another level, the words of the priest are a reminder that each of us makes our own gift or offering or sacrifice here. 

That’s why the priest says: “Pray, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable…” The bread and wine also symbolize this giving of ourselves to God. 
  
Conclusion

So, the gifts of the magi say something about who Jesus is and about who the magi are and what they are really giving.

In a similar way, our gifts of bread and wine here at Mass say something about Christ and Christ’s presence and also about who we are and what we are really giving to God. Let’s keep that in mind especially today as the bread and wine are brought to the altar.




Tuesday, December 31, 2019

HOMILY for December 29, 2019: Feast of the Holy Family, Cycle A

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Feast of the Holy Family
Church of the Nativity
December 29, 2019

Family Inspirations
By (Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato 
Inspiration from My Family
As I reflected on the readings for this Feast of the Holy Family, I found myself looking for the inspiration that my family offered me as a child and out of which I live today.
What comes to mind? Well, for starters, our Sunday dinners together. Every Sunday spaghetti and meat balls, followed by veal cutlets, salad and ricotta cheesecake. 
I also remember the one line I had in my 3rd grade play — “Come warm yourself by the fire” — and catching my mother’s eye in the audience, as I spoke those words, and how proud she was of me. 
Today, that eye-to-eye connection and joy return when I congratulate a child or teen on playing a great game, performing in a recital, or winning an award.
And then there’s the night as a teenager, when my dad was laid off from work and I saw him cry for the first time, as he told my mother the sad news. Today, the power of that vulnerability comes back to me when one of the guys in my men’s group shares a painful experience.
These are all experiences from my family that are an inspiration for much of who I am today. 
I’m no sociologist, but those three elements of Sunday dinners, my mother’s pride in me, and my dad’s vulnerability continue in my experiences today.
Inspiration from the Holy Family
Lest I get too caught up in my childhood, let’s look at Jesus, Mary and Joseph and see what made their family tick, see what family values lived on in the man that Jesus became. 
There was Mary’s humility. She wasn’t a pushy mom, but she did speak up and act authoritatively when she needed to, as at the wedding feast of Cana, when they ran out of wine.
And there was Joseph’s care for her, not a patriarchal male oppressor, out to stake a claim or win a war against evil, but a compassionate protector, a constantly committed presence when Mary could have been stoned for having a child out of wedlock or Jesus being lost to them forever. 
Of course we can’t forget Jesus as an outspoken teen who at the age of 13 is asserting who he is and what he must do, things that weren’t exactly his parents’ plan for him.
While theirexperience of family was different, as was mine, I’d ask you, “What values do you espouse today that were the gifts of your family?”
Inspiration from the Sacred Scripture
Adding to mine and the Holy Family’s, what are some other values that the readings would suggest as experiences in your family?

From the first reading from Sirach:
Ø A father being honored by his daughter 
Ø A mother's authority over her son
Ø Children revering their parents
Ø A sibling’s kindness 

From the second reading from Colossians:
Ø Where St. Paul asks us to put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience
Ø To have had a family where bearing with one another and forgiving one another was a regular experience
Ø Where holidays were greeted with a sense of thankfulness
Ø Where gratitude and giving thanks to God were the norm, not the exception
Application
Now — if I may — I’d like to challenge you to name values in you todaythat you received from your family. 
Your family is where the seeds were planted; your growing older is where they flouris,hed and made you who you are today.
Let me quickly add that in some cases our family experience may not have been the best, but as a wise man once said, “We learn from what was lacking as well as from what was present in our lives.”
Let’s take 2 minutes of silent reflection now to name them, to claim them as our own.
(Al Walsh strums Silent Night.)
Conclusion
As a way of celebrating this Feast of the Holy Family by claiming and naming who you are because of your family, I would ask you, “Who needs to know? Who needs to be thanked?” How can we do a better job of living out of what we received?
Your next step in doing that this very day would be the greatest testimony to what your family has given you. 




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HOMILY for December 25, 2019: Christmas, Cycle A

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Christmas, Cycle A
Our Lady of Grace
December 25, 2019 

 

A Guiding Light in the Darkness

By (Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato 


 

O Little Town of Bethlehem 


Back in the nineteenth century, in the 1870’s, there was an American preacher named Phillips Brooks.

One December, shortly before Christmas, Phillips Brooks visited the Holy Land. On that Christmas Eve, he made the 2-hour trip south from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on horseback.

From a distance, Brooks saw the little town of Bethlehem lit up against the darkness of the night. That sight made a great impression on him and a year later it inspired Brooks to write some verses about that night.

His church organist then composed a tune to go with the verses. That hymn has become one of our popular Christmas carols and, as you probably know, it goes like this:

“O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.”

Darkness and Light in Scripture


“In thy dark streets shineth The everlasting light.” These words stirred me this week as I prepared this homily.

For me, they express the contrast between darkness and light that Christmas is all about. In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone.”

Isaiah is looking ahead to a moment when God will penetrate the darkness that can make our lives so gloomy. He actually foresees a moment when God will break through and be a light in that darkness.

We see Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. And yet, the story of Jesus’ birth tells us that even that star which guides the Wise Men does not drive all the darkness away.

Instead, the light of that star continues to shine in the darkness and remains there as a help and guide through it. I would suggest that for us, the light of Bethlehem continues to operate in very much the same way.

Light in Darkness Today

In our gathering this Christmas morning, each of us — myself included — could list a number of points where we are experiencing some kind of darkness.  And it is precisely in those experiences of darkness that you and I are invited to look to the light of Bethlehem.

(1) It may be loneliness after the death of a spouse or close friend. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem assures us of the presence of Emmanuel, God-with-us, as we seek consolation.

(2) Or perhaps it may be the darkness of searching, of wondering why we are living and what we really believe. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem gives us a model in Jesus — the way, the truth, and the life — for where we are going and how to get there.

(3) Perhaps we find ourselves in the darkness of cold, of a relationship with a son or daughter that has grown cold. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem gives us the warmth of God’s love and moves us to extend and accept glimmers of hope for what can be regarding a possible reconciliation.

(4) Or perhaps we find ourselves in the darkness of feeling trapped in some destructive habit or addiction. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem gives us the possibility of human growth and invites us to look for persons or programs that can help us with that growing. 

(5) And finally, in case I’ve missed anyone, perhaps we find ourselves in the darkness of anxiety about our financial security. In this darkness, the light of Bethlehem gives us hope by finding our inner security in Jesus, as we try to work out the difficulties.

Conclusion

So, “In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.”

Yes, experiences of darkness will be there for each of us. But, the birth of Jesus — the Light of the World — can make a difference. 

-->In gathering as a community of faith, in the celebrating of this feast, we at least get a glimpse of light in our darkness whatever it be. Can’t you just feel the presence, the promise, the warmth, and the hope that in this moment is breaking thro

HOMILY for December 23, 2019: 4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C

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4th Sunday of Advent
Cycle A
December 23, 2019
Mercy Ridge Hermitage

 

My Sleeping on a Homily 


Sometimes I find it difficult to get the idea for my Sunday homily.

I reflect on the readings early in the week. I ask myself: what are these passages, especially the gospel, saying to me today, in my life? 

And then, what are they saying to us today, in our lives? Sometimes it just doesn’t get clear. 

And then what I do is re-read the Scripture passages and some commentaries before going to bed, maybe on Wednesday evening. I just sleep on it.

And almost always, I wake up in the morning and it’s clear. Sleeping on it has a way of helping me to see it as I had not seen it before.

Joseph Sleeping on His Dilemma 

I wonder if something like this is what happens to Joseph in today’s gospel.

Joseph and Mary are betrothed. In that culture, this was more than being engaged.

Betrothal meant that they were married but not yet living together as husband and wife. So, betrothal could only be ended by divorce.

Joseph learns that Mary is bearing a child and he knows that the child is not his. He must have been confused, upset, disappointed, and maybe angry.

The religious law of that day calls for Joseph to divorce Mary and for Mary to be publicly shamed and punished. But, Joseph sees no good coming from this and doesn’t want it to happen.


So, he decides to divorce Mary quietly, without any accusation against her. Still, something tells Joseph to take time with his decision.  

He decides to sleep on it and see what he thinks in the morning. He wakes up and now things look different and clear to him.  

Something tells him to trust Mary. In fact, Joseph senses that God through an angel has told him that Mary’s pregnancy is an action of God, that this child will be very special, and that he should go ahead with the marriage. 

Joseph Responds 

In all of this, Joseph is a great example.

He doesn’t just react out of anger or hurt or pride. He doesn’t react hastily.

Instead, Joseph takes time to be with the situation. He gets in touch with what God is saying within himself.

He is decisive and not rash, reflective and not reactive. And, of course, the result is wonderful.

Joseph cooperates in bringing God’s Son into the world. What a wonderful example he is!

I have to ask: how much more of God’s presence and peace can enter our world if we respond to situations as Joseph does? Step back – reflect – pray – sleep on it – get in touch with what God wants – what a helpful, positive approach this is! 

Joseph Respects

Joseph shows one more trait that I don’t want us to miss.

He is a religious man and respects the religious law, but he doesn’t want to expose Mary to shame and disgrace. So, he is going to live up to his faith, but in a way that is not self-righteous and not destructive of Mary.

Well again, what a good example Joseph is! Sometimes, in our world and in our religion, we think that we have to “stand up” for what we believe.

And sometimes, this “standing up” becomes a “putting down.” Sometimes we think that “standing up” for something we believe is right means “putting down” others whom we believe are wrong.

This is an unfortunate approach. It is not the way of Joseph or of Jesus.

It is not the way that Pope Francis is modeling for us. Joseph’s example today is a great example of being able to “stand up” for something and still respect the other person at the same time – a both/and approach.   

It is an example of great strength, not weakness. It is a powerful example for us men today and, for that matter, for all persons as we deal with the situations in our lives. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Daily HOMILY for November 9, 2019: Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, Cycle C

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Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran
Mercy Ridge Hermitage
November 9, 2019

Another Kind of CPR
By (Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato 

 

 

Pope Francis


This afternoon I want to reflect a little bit on Pope Francis.

Our celebration of his cathedral church, Saint John Lateran in Rome, leads me to do this.  I thought it would be a good moment to reflect on some of the things that Pope Francis is saying.  

I have selected three ideas and we might remember them by the acronym CPR – which usually means cardio-pulmonary resuscitation.  CPR here means: Creative, Patient, and Respectful.

Theme 1: Be Creative 


So, first: Be Creative.

Pope Francis says: We need to “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way.’  I invite everyone to be bold and creative in the task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods” of bringing the Gospel to people.

Francis knows that we are living in a different age.  For one thing, it is a more and more diverse and pluralistic culture.

So, we may have to re-think how we do certain things.  We have to ask: “How can we today, more effectively reach our youth and young adults and all people?”

We may have to change some of our mindsets and ways.  Here in my parish of Church of the Nativity we work hard at trying to be as creative as possible in reaching out to and welcoming “Timonium Tim” the individual who is not in church and no longer feeling part of it. 

And creative we are! It’s what drew me there and where I now make my home for a faith community.

Theme 2: Be Patient 

The second theme: Be Patient.

Pope Francis uses one of Jesus’ images in the Gospel.  He says: “An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit because the Lord wants her to be fruitful.  

“It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient with the weeds.  The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting, does not grumble or overreact.  

“They find a way to let the word take flesh in a situation and bear fruit, however imperfect or incomplete.”  And Francis adds this:“the goal is not to make enemies, but to see God’s word accepted.”  

So the Pope does not want us to exclude or label people in a negative way if they do not fully accept the message.  This is why I have felt that the term “Cafeteria Catholic” is simply a bad, inappropriate expression.

Some call others this name if they do not accept one or another teaching of the Church.  They call them “Cafeteria Catholics.”

I think we have to admit that we are all Cafeteria Christians of a sort.  None of us lives the Gospel perfectly and, after all, the living out of it is the final test of following the Jesus.

If we are Cafeteria Christians, then automatically we are Cafeteria Catholics. So then this expression is useless and even harmful.

Pope Francis calls us to include everyone who seeks God (1) in Jesus and (2) through the Church, regardless of their imperfections.  We are to be patient with one another.

Theme 3: Be Respectful

And then the third theme: Be Respectful.

Pope Francis says: “Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, [we] should appear as people who wish to share their joy.  It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by ‘attraction.’”   

So Francis wants us to show what a good thing our faith is and how much it can bring to human life.  When he speaks of not proselytizing, he means that we are not to try to force our faith upon others as the only way to avoid hell.

Instead, Pope Francis wants us to attract others by sharing our story, who we are, and by listening to who others are, to their story and the truth of their lives.  He understands that we live in a secular age.

In this age, some people feel that they have an option to live their lives without religion or without an expressed faith.  Pope Francis understands that the best way to draw others to faith in this age is to be respectful, no matter what, no matter how distant spiritually they may seem from us.

Conclusion

So, CPR – Be Creative, Patient, and Respectful.

That is something of the approach that Pope Francis seems to be lifting up.  He invites us to pray and discern what we need to do to embrace this.

Like the other CPR, this CPR can bring us back to life, new and greater life in Christ!