Sunday, January 28, 2007

Familiarity breeds...the Gospel!

(4th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given on 28 January, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Jeremiah 1:4-19 and Luke 4:21-30)

In St. Luke’s Gospel this morning, we hear about one of the saddest and most perplexing events in the public ministry of Jesus: the rejection at Nazareth. In one of the other gospels, Jesus’ reaction to their rejection of Him is described in terms of amazement: He was amazed at their lack of faith (Mark 6:6).

The scene is amazing and perplexing because Jesus reveals Himself not to the pagans, or to strangers, or those who are ignorant of the things of God. He makes Himself known to His own people, in His own hometown, and He is rejected because He is altogether too familiar. They know Him all too well…or so they think. They ask themselves:

Isn’t this the son of Joseph?
—Luke 4:22

In other words, we know this man. And Jesus responds, sadly, that:

No prophet is accepted in his own native place.
—Luke 4:24

That is one of the reasons, incidentally, that priests are almost never assigned to their own home parish after they are ordained. The Church, in Her wisdom, seeks to avoid a repeat of the kind of rejection we hear about this morning. But nonetheless, one of the challenges our gospel communicates to us today is that God makes Himself known, often times, in things familiar.

Two of my biggest supporters in my life and vocation are my parents. They have never ceased to offer prayers and encouragement before, during and after my ordination.

About one year after I was ordained, I went home on my day off and my mother said to me, “Oh, Christopher! We heard the most beautiful homily the other day.”

I said, “Oh, that’s nice. What was it about?”

She replied, “The new priest was talking about Jesus, who was asleep on the boat when a big storm came up.”

I said, “Yes, I remember that from last week.”

She continued: “And he was telling us how the disciples waited too long to wake Jesus up. They should have woken Him up before the storm began. Father said that Jesus wants us to wake Him up, and talk with Him, and watch the sunrise with Him and . . .”

It all sounded very familiar. And suddenly I said, “Wait a minute. Mom, was that last Saturday’s Mass?”

She said, “Yes.”

I said, “Mom?! You were in my parish last Saturday. That was my homily!”

She said, “Oooh. Yes, that’s right. It was good.”

I said, “Good! A minute ago it was the most beautiful homily ever! Now it’s just good?”

I think we all have a tendency to react that way when it comes to our own family. And let’s not forget that it’s a two way street. I would be a lot better off in my life if I listened to my parents as much as I listen to other people.

But the point is this: God can choose to reveal Himself any way He wants to. Yet so very often, He chooses to do so in things—and especially in people—that are familiar. God can, and does, reveals Himself in the Scriptures, in the mystery of the Eucharist, but He also makes Himself known in our parents, and in our children. Are we open to that? We need to be careful that we do not reject Christ, like the people at Nazareth, simply because He makes Himself known in things familiar.

Our Winter Book Club is about to begin again, and this year we are studying C.S. Lewis’ classic fiction novel, The Great Divorce. The title itself is a bit misleading; it’s not about marriage and divorce, but about the divorce or separation between heaven and hell. The main characters in that book find themselves on a bus ride somewhere between heaven and hell. It is not at all unlike purgatory. As the story unfolds, they come to discover that God has sent them helpers from heaven, to guide them on their way to Him.

The main character suddenly recognizes that the one sent to him is the great Christian author, George Macdonald. He is familiar with the writer’s works, his books and essays, even if he hasn’t really followed them in his own life. But Macdonald becomes a faithful and effective guide simply because he is known to the main character already.

Now, not all the people in the book are that fortunate, or that open. In one of the more famous scenes there is a woman who has never learned to let go of the things of earth; she had been far too possessive. The one sent to her is her own brother, who died years before and has already made it to heaven. Her reaction to him when he comes on the scene is quite revealing. She says:

“Oh…Reginald! It’s you, is it?”

Not exactly a warm welcome! You can tell there has been a little history there. But he patiently and lovingly tries to guide her anyway. He tells her how she has to let go of all the things of earth so that she can love God first, and above all things. Then, he assures her, she will get everything back that she had left behind. She will have all things in God.

It is a beautiful message. Unfortunately, she’s not buying it! She says:

“Oh, you mean religion and all that sort of thing? This is hardly the moment…and from you, of all people.”

As the scene ends she is still unable, or unwilling, to listen to the message, partly because she simply cannot or will not accept the messenger.

God makes Himself known to us in things familiar. Are we able to receive that message? Are we able to overlook the faults and weaknesses of our family members, members of our Church, or the people we work with—and I am not talking about grievous sins; that’s something completely different—are we able to overlook the common faults and weaknesses that we all experience, and receive the Good News that God wants to give to us? Are we able to receive God’s perfect message through the imperfect people He so often uses to communicate it?

Because, ultimately, we are not only called to listen to that message and hear that Good News. We are called to proclaim it, and very often to those who are closest to us. In spite of our own faults and weaknesses, God wants to use us to proclaim His gospel.

In the opening chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, where our first reading this morning is taken from, the prophet is complaining to God about his inability to carry out the mission he has been given. He has already told the Lord how he is too young, he’s too inexperienced, too weak. God’s response to Him is completely unsympathetic!

He says, basically, “Jeremiah, I don’t care how young you are, or how inexperienced or how weak. You will go where I send you, because it is my word and my message. It’s not about you, Jeremiah. It’s about me, and my word to my people. So stand up and tell them what I command you.”

As Jeremiah himself relates it:

Stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass…for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.
—Jeremiah 1:17-19

The word of God is that powerful; it is able to change our lives and transform the world we live in. But, in His infinite wisdom, God chooses us—even in the midst of our imperfections—to spread that word and proclaim that gospel.

This week, who are the people that God will use to speak His word to us? And who are the ones, in our own families, businesses and schools, that God is sending us to, to share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Most Excellent Theophilus

(3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given on 21 January, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Nehemiah 8:2-10 and Luke 1:1-4)

Have you ever been disconnected—physically—from the places and people that you feel closest to? I think many of us have had that experience; whether it be going away to college, or perhaps our profession takes us away from our home for long periods of time.

One of the opportunities I am most grateful for is to have studied four years in Rome in preparation for the priesthood. I consider it to be among the happiest years of my life. And yet, there were also many challenges that accompanied that experience, being so far away. While I was there, both my parents had emergency open-heart surgery. Thankfully they made out all right, but it was hard to be so far away, missing so many events—good and bad—and missing so many people.

I remember the first time I came back, on break, after about two years of being away. I stood on the back deck of our house, and looked out into my own back yard: I was looking at a lawn, trees and a home that I had grown up with. And I had this overwhelming sense of peace, this sense of joy. I was finally re-connected with the people and places that were most dear to me.

That is something like what we find in the first reading this morning, from the Book of Nehemiah. The people of Israel had just returned from Babylon. They had not been studying abroad and they weren’t there on business. They had been dragged off in exile, and they lived as slaves for over 50 years. Finally, when the Persians came and defeated the Babylonians, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem; they went home to a land that was so familiar and so sacred to them.

But nothing in that place could signal their re-connection and their identity as a people more than the book of the law: The Torah, the writings of Moses, the prophets, the covenant and the promises God had made with them.

Nehemiah describes their reaction to that reading of the book of the law, how they became emotional. They began to weep. They recognized that they, and their fathers before them, had not listened to the word of God, they had not been faithful to the covenant. That is the reason they had been in exile.

But Nehemiah and Ezra the scribe intervene and say to the people: “Do not weep.” The time for sorrow and sadness is over. The period of exile is over. You were not faithful to the covenant of God . . .but He was! This word of God is meant for consolation. It is given to them to build them back up again, and reconnect them to God and to each other. And so, Nehemiah and Ezra say to the people:

Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.
—Nehemiah 8:10

Our readings for this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time speak to us about the power of God’s own word in the midst of our everyday lives. Like the people of Israel, we, too, need to listen to God’s word and let it transform us and reconnect us to God and to each other. God’s word to us is every bit as personal and intimate as it was to the people of Nehemiah’s day. In the Scriptures, God speaks to us as children; He speaks to us as friends.

St. Luke, in the gospel this morning, begins his account of the life of Christ in the form of a personal letter. He writes:

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us . . .

He is referring to the events of the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

. . . I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.
—Luke 1:1-4

Theophilus. That is a strange name, isn’t it? Many scholars say that Theophilus is perhaps the name of the person who is sponsoring St. Luke as he writes his Gospel, the one financing the project. The name “Theophilus” means, literally, “friend of God” or “Lover of God.”

St. Ambrose is quick to point out that the Gospel of St. Luke can be understood as a personal letter to anyone who is the friend or lover of God. All of us are Theophilus, if we are open to and respond well to the word of God and His message of salvation.

I would suggest this morning three ways that we can do that, three ways we are called to be lovers of God by responding well to His personal word for us.

Firstly, we come here to Mass each week fully expecting God Himself to speak to us. Do we do that? Do we really expect God to speak to us in the readings, in the responsorial psalm, and in the Gospel? This word proclaimed has the power to change our lives. Do we come here expecting God to do exactly that?

Secondly, we set time apart each day to read and listen to the word of God. A friend of mine has a great expression he uses to describe this commitment to spending time with God’s word each day, in the morning and in the evening. He says:

No Bible, no breakfast. No Bible, no Bed.

Are we able to spend even a small amount of time each day, perhaps a couple of minutes, reading the word of God and opening ourselves up to what God is trying to say to us?

And finally, something very practical and even entertaining: Christian music. There are so many different Christian artists out these days. Many of them are Evangelical Christians. Several are Catholic, as well. But nearly all of them are entirely focused on the Scriptures. The songs are often renditions of the psalms, or some passage from the New Testament. We can listen to that message in the car on the way to work, or on our ipod when we exercise, or when we are simply sitting around the house.

Just like secular music, that often gets stuck in our heads and bounces around in there, instead of having the Beatles or the Red Hot Chile Peppers, we have the word of God echoing within us. It is another way of exposing ourselves to the transforming word of God, the word that has the power to change us and reconnect us to God and His people.

These are just three suggestions of how we can respond well to God’s word in our own daily lives. Might we continue to open ourselves up to Him and His personal word to each of us as we come to recognize, more and more, that we are “Theophilus,” the friend of God and the lover of God, whenever we hear and respond to that life-giving word.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

God Saves the Best for Last

(2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year C; This homily was given on 13 & 14 January, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-11)

It is called dramatic irony, and we see it all the time on television and in the movies. It is what happens when the entire audience can see what is happening in a particular scene, even though one or all of the characters in that scene cannot. It’s what makes sit-coms work, and leaves us on the edge of our seat, yelling into the TV set, because we can see exactly what is taking place while they don’t seem to have a clue.

St. John the Evangelist uses dramatic irony in today’s gospel to tell the story of Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus changes the water into wine at that wedding in Cana, and immediately He gives it to the servants to bring to the headwaiter. The headwaiter, of course, has no idea what just happened. He tastes that wine and is thoroughly impressed. He calls the bridegroom over, and proudly announces:

Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.
—John 2:10

Of course, he’s wrong. Everyone, including the bridegroom, knows that. But without even realizing it, he praises not the bridegroom but Jesus Christ, and expresses one of the deepest truths of the gospel: that God really does save the best for last!

The fathers of the Church comment on the miracle of the water into wine and they say it represents the relationship between the old covenant—the Mosaic Law and the precepts that followed it—and the new covenant that is Jesus Christ Himself.

St. John describes the scene at the wedding in Cana, and how there were six stone water jars for ceremonial washings. They represent the old covenant, and how the Jewish people would wash and purify themselves in preparation for the wedding feast.

Jesus comes and changes that water into wine, because He is the new and everlasting covenant. He comes to suffer and die on the cross to obtain for us the forgiveness of sins and new life in the Holy Spirit. His sacrifice cleanses not our hands and bodies, but our souls as well. Jesus, who is that new covenant, cleanses us from sin.

Just as wine is so much more substantial than water, even so is Christ more substantial than the old covenant. He is that new wine, flowing in abundance from the merciful heart of God. He really does save the best for last!

It is significant, though, that Jesus reveals this new covenant at a wedding. There is a deeper dramatic irony being played out here, because the theme of the wedding is one of the richest biblical themes in both the New and Old Testaments. Isaiah the prophet, in our first reading today, talks about the marriage between God and the people of Israel.

The background is that Israel has just returned from exile in Babylon. They return to a land that is desolate, abandoned. Many of them had felt abandoned, and struggled to trust in the promises of God. Did God still want them for His chosen people? Would He join them now that they had finally returned home? God answers those questions through the prophet Isaiah:

No more shall people call you “forsaken,” or your land “desolate,” but you shall be called “my delight,” and your land “espoused.” For the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your builder will marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.
—Isaiah 62:4-5

Of course God has not forgotten them. He will always be their divine Husband, watching over them with care. It is truly beautiful imagery, but could it ever be more than that? Israel could never really be married to God. None of us could ever be joined to God in that way. We are not divine. In order for that to be a true spousal relationship, a real and living marriage, God Himself would have to become human . . .and that is what we just celebrated two weeks ago.

God has become man in the person of Jesus Christ so that we could be wedded to God for all eternity. All throughout the New Testament this spousal imagery is used to describe how we, the Church, are the Bride of Christ, and how we are called to an eternal union with our divine Bridegroom. That’s the goal of the Christian life.

Now, that sounds very theological; it sounds like something beyond us, out of this world and our own everyday experience. In some ways, it certainly is. Yet God gives us signs right here on earth that remind us of that union that we are called to in heaven with Him. One of the clearest signs is celibacy.

Celibacy is not a sign that is welcomed or appreciated in the world and culture we live in. People often ask the question: Why can’t priests be married? They want to know what the value or purpose is for celibacy. Whenever I am asked about that, I mention the practical aspects of celibacy. Celibacy allows the priest or religious to be radically available to serve God and His people.

Priests are sometimes called in the middle of the night to go to the hospital and anoint those who are dying, or to pray with a family that has just lost a loved one. Other times circumstances might warrant the priest or religious to drop everything and take care of some pressing need that simply doesn’t fit into the average daily schedule. As a priest I am “on call” 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. To be honest, I love that about my life. That is part of what it means to be a priest. And so radical availability is a very practical and relevant aspect of celibacy.

But when Jesus Christ talks about celibacy—and He does talk about celibacy—he doesn’t mention any of the practical aspects at all. When Christ talks about celibacy, He talks about the Kingdom of God; He talks about heaven; He talks about eternal life.

In chapter 19 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, verse 12, Jesus mentions three reasons why some people remain in a celibate state. He says:

Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so.

On account of some defect from birth, there are some who simply are unable to have marital relations. They remain, from birth, celibate. Secondly He says:

Some, because they were made so by others.

Jesus lived in the time of kings, and the king would often have servants whose entire work was to wait on the queen and serve her hand and foot. Naturally, he wanted to make sure that was all they did! Therefore, these servants would be “made” celibate. They called them eunuchs. But finally Jesus says:

Some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.

Celibate men and women are a sign of the Kingdom of God. They are a reminder to us that God’s plan for redemption and to make us His own forever begins here in this world, but that it doesn’t end there. Celibacy is a sign—and right now, in the midst of the world we live in, a very loud and clear sign indeed—of the eternal relationship and the heavenly calling we all share with God.

This week is Vocations Awareness Week, a time when we focus in a particular way on the vocations to the priesthood and to religious life that God has never ceased to bring forth in every age and time in the Church. I would ask you this week to please pray for two things:

Please pray for the men and women of this parish whom God is calling right now to serve Him in the Church as priests or religious. Secondly, please pray in gratitude to God for all of the men and women whom God has given to this parish in great abundance as priests and religious throughout the years. We are blessed at Our Lady of Mercy to have many religious sisters, Brother Roger who leads us in music so faithfully each week, and the numerous priests that have served here in this parish.

Let us thank God for that, because they are signs pointing us to eternal life. They remind us that this world is not all there is. This is not the final chapter of our lives. We have a place in heaven, and a Divine Bridegroom who is waiting for us. Because God has saved the best for last.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Journey of the Magi

(Feast of the Epiphany; This homily was given on 6 & 7 January, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Isaiah 60:1-6 and Matthew 2:1-12)

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. That word means manifestation or appearance, and what we celebrate is the appearance of Jesus Christ here on earth, the Son of God and Savior of the world.

In our first reading this weekend, Isaiah the Prophet describes that appearance and sums up God’s entire plan of salvation: That Christ, the Son of God and Light of the World would come to redeem and illumine the nation of Israel, and then from there to shine out to all the nations of the world:

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory. Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you.
—Isaiah 60:1-4

This coming of the nations, the great gathering of kings to adore the Christ, the glory of Israel, is the scene we are given in St. Matthew’s Gospel today. The Magi travel a great distance from the east to see that manifestation, that appearance of Christ.

And if it can be said that Christmas is God’s coming to us in the person of Jesus Christ, then Epiphany in many ways indicates our coming to Him. Like those Magi from the east, we come out of ourselves and set out on that journey towards Christ, responding to the manifestation of the Child born for us in Bethlehem.

But one of the challenges to a gospel passage like the one we hear today is that it can become almost too familiar. We have all heard the story of the Magi since we were children. We have seen hundreds of Christmas cards with the three Wise Men on them. But that journey we hear of in St. Matthew’s gospel would not have been an easy one. It would not have been a Christmas card. It would have been long and arduous, a journey involving sacrifice and determination.

And so is the story of our own journey of faith. It is never easy to let go of the things of this world and to seek out Christ. The journey of faith is often a difficult one, involving sacrifice and ongoing conversion.

One of the more famous converts to the Christian faith in the last century was the great author and poet T. S. Eliot. Born in St. Louis Missouri, he enjoyed tremendous success as a writer both here and throughout Europe. He was a student of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, yet converted to Christianity in his late 30’s. That conversion took many of his contemporaries by surprise. Perhaps many of them were not ready for that T.S. Eliot.

Whatever his personal experience might have been, it is a well-known fact that his initial conversion was not an easy one. Less than two months after he was baptized into the Anglican Church, he wrote one of his most profound and personal poems, “Journey of the Magi.” Generally accepted as an autobiographical account of his own conversion to the Christian faith, he describes that journey we heard about from St. Matthew’s gospel:

'A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.

It is a sobering account indeed of how those Wise Men may have experienced that journey on their way to Bethlehem. It describes T.S. Eliot’s own difficulty, letting go of a world that was so familiar, and embracing an entirely new way of life in Christ. He encountered trials and difficulties within and without; opposition from the people around him who no longer understood him, and opposition from within, having to embrace that internal struggle of faith that is indicative of every disciple of Christ. He continues:

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Did the magi ever think to themselves: “This is all folly”? Did they ever doubt the decision they made to follow that star and leave everything else behind? Did they ever ask themselves: “Is it all worth it?”

As a priest, not infrequently people will say to me, “I am trying to follow Christ, and trying to do the right thing, but it seems so often that things get more complicated and difficult instead. Why are things so hard, then, if I am trying to follow Christ and do the right thing?”

I always want to say—I usually don’t, but I want to say, “Maybe things are sometimes difficult because you are following Christ.” Jesus always did the right thing. He always said what needed to be said. And look what happened to Him! They crucified Him! That’s the truth. That is the reality of the Christian life. Maybe not all the time, but often when we follow Christ the road for us is not at all easy. That journey can be a painful and difficult one. Jesus Himself tells us in the gospel:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
—Matthew 16:24

He was not being cynical or negative. He was being real. The Christian life involves suffering. It is worth noting that T.S. Eliot came to that conclusion so early after his initial conversion and baptism. He realized almost immediately the truth that we can never separate the crib of Christ from the cross of Christ. Those two mysteries are always taken together.

He continues that poem by describing the
descent into the valley, into Bethlehem. The Magi are approaching the manger and the birth of the Child, but off in the distance they recognize three trees standing out on the horizon. It is a clear reference to Calvary, to the death that awaits that Baby who came for the very purpose of redemption and atonement for sin. We can never separate the birth of Christ from the death of Christ.

The conclusion of Eliot’s poem is haunting, as one of the Magi looks back on that journey with troubled introspection:

All this was a long time ago,

I remember, And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: 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.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

What the Magi in Eliot’s poem experienced was the death on an entire way of life. All they had previously believed, about gods and religion and their own lives, had come to an end. They had met the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and nothing was the same.

So it is with us. Once we have truly encountered Christ we must inevitably come to see that our old self, our old way of living, our old way of looking at life, must die. We come to the end of our own life, and then see that new life in Christ is just beginning. When we meet God, everything changes. We are never the same again. And that is where St. Matthew ends his own biblical description of the journey of the Magi. He tells us that:

Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
—Matthew 2:12

Once we have encountered the Living God, we are never the same again. We walk “by another way.” Like those Magi, we do not walk the same way; we do not follow the same paths we used to. We do not see things the same way. We are changed, because we have met Jesus Christ, the Living God.

We come here to this place today, like those Magi, to adore and worship Christ. We bring here to this altar not gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the gift of ourselves. We bring before God all the struggles and difficulties that make up our own journey of faith. We bring those things in our lives that need to die in order for Christ to truly live in us.

Might we make that offering to God this day, and receive from this altar the strength we need in the Eucharist to follow Christ with newness of life. May we leave this encounter with a new perspective, walking in a different way, for we have met Christ and been touched by Him.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Integritas and the Mother of God

(Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God; This homily was given on 1 January, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Luke 2:16-21)

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Mother of God. That title is one that goes back to the early centuries of the Church, and was disputed towards the beginning of the 5th century.

At that time there was a great deal of controversy about how we should refer to Mary. Some said that she was the mother of Christ, the Son of God, so she should rightly be called the Mother of God. Others said that “Mother of God” was going too far. She gave birth to His human nature, and should simply be called Mother of Jesus of Mother of Christ.

To resolve that dispute and answer that question of what title we should use to refer to Mary, they recognized that what was needed was to go back one step further. They needed to ask the question not “Who is Mary?” but “Who is Jesus Christ?”

In our gospel this morning, the shepherds make haste to see the child born in Bethlehem. Who did they go out to see? Or, as the Christmas carol asks, “What child is this?” Was he just a man? Was He God? Perhaps half man and half God? Who is this child born in Bethlehem?

The Fathers of the Council of Ephesus, in the year 431, looked to the creeds and the foundational beliefs that had been developed centuries earlier. They looked to the Council of Nicea, in the year 325, from which we derive the Nicean Creed which we recite each week; they looked to the Apostle’s Creed. Jesus Christ is not simply human; nor is He only divine. He is fully human and fully divine, true God and true Man.

Furthermore, whenever we look at the person of Christ, we never do so in slices or in pieces. We never say, “Here is His human nature. That belongs to Mary. Now, here is His divine nature and divine personhood. That belongs to God.”

No. We look at Christ in His entirety: fully God and fully man. In Latin, the term for that is integritas. It means whole, sound or complete, and it is where we get the words integrated and integrity.

When we look at Christ we look at the whole person, in all His integrity. Mary conceived and gave birth to a child, and that child was the eternal Son of God. Therefore Mary is the Mother of God.

But when we reflect on Christ and Mary as persons of integritas, we need to look much further than their titles, how we refer to them. They were the most integrated persons who ever walked the face of the earth. In everything they did, Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary were persons of integrity.

Look at the gospels. Jesus always does the right thing; He constantly speaks and acts in the most necessary and integrated way. He knew when to be patient, and when it was time to act. He knew how to be silent, and still, and at prayer; and He knew when it was time to speak up and be heard. He knew how to challenge and exhort, and how to listen and welcome and forgive. He was the most integrated man who ever lived.

Mary herself was also a woman of integritas. She always knew when and how to say “Yes,” to God. She knew just how and when to support Christ and to be involved in His life. She was the one who initiated His first miracle at the wedding in Cana. She said to Him, “They have no more wine.” When He replied, “What has that to do with me?” she deferred to the waiters and focused the attention on Christ. She knew when it was time to speak, and time to stand by in quiet attention and love, like at the foot of the cross. Jesus and His Mother were the epitome of integritas.

Today we begin a whole new year in 2007. how is God calling us to be people of integrity? Where do our lives need to be more fully integrated?

One of my favorite theologians and authors is a priest from the Archdiocese of Chicago named Fr. Robert Barron. Many times in his books and talks he uses the example of the rose windows that we find in medieval cathedrals.

Many of the old churches and cathedrals contain large, stain-glassed windows with the image of Christ in the center, often seated on the lap of His Mother. All around that central image are oval medallions, like petals, depicting the virtues of faith, hope, and love, or the prophets of the Old Testament, or other great biblical figures. The rose window represents the well-ordered soul. We are called to put Christ in the center of our lives, and look to Mary for the supreme example of how to live a well-ordered life. The virtues, our plans, our will, our actions and words, these should all be ordered around our relationship with God. That is integritas.

How is God challenging us this New Year to be men and women of integritas? Are there times in our lives that we experience dis-integration, or dis-order when it comes to our relationship with God and others?

This morning we gather around this altar to celebrate the Eucharist, and to give ourselves completely to God in 2007. Might we receive from Him all that we need to live a well-ordered life in this New Year. May we be persons of integrity, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, and His Mother, Mary, the Mother of God.