18 December 20164 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
4 Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent - A Cycle - Matthew 1:18-24

A child was terrified of the dark. Her father tried to calm her by saying God was in the bedroom with her. She still was upset. She told her dad, "I want a God with skin on Him." The Christmas season for most of us is speeding in the fast lane miles above the speed level. It is bearing down on us like a truck out of control. Theoretically these last few weeks should be spiritual quality time between the approaching Christ and ourselves. But preachers are spitting into the wind. Many Catholics will first touch Jesus when, exhausted, they put the chipped plaster Infant back into the shoe box after the Epiphany. Then they put it in the dusty attic for the next year. The malls that ring our towns decree that gift-hunting season opens the day after Thanksgiving's turkey find its way into the soup pot.

Malls can't wait to get their hands on our wallets. This is one of the worst times of the year for many. Depression before the holiday arrives as faithfully as credit card bills arrive after it. The University of Utah School of Medicine has reported that ninety percent of us suffer from emotional reactions brought on by Christmas stress. In Chicago, three hundred counselors operated a hot line one year from December 21 through 27. They clocked two thousand calls from depressed people. Suicide rates rise significantly. Death from heart attack and natural causes peak on Dec 25 and 26 and Jan 1. (A sacramental confession this week is a good investment.)

Alcoholics, who have been dry for years, will find their way back to friendly, neighborhood liquor stores. "Spare me Christmas wrapping," they will snarl. Children suffer anxieties about Santa's existence. They become greedy because of too many gifts or envious because of too few. "I want," said a boy, "any kind of gift as long as it's expensive." Non-Christians feel shut out since they are told Jesus is the reason for the season and wise men still search for Him. Even Norman Rockwell's blue-haired grandmother is hiding in a Florida condo where kids are as welcome as hurricanes. This we are advised is the season to be merry, but the above suggests many of us would be wiser to be wary. Jules Feiffer puts it this way: "Every Christmas the family gathers together and fights about presents and why we don't get together more often. And it occurs to me the Bible must have the dates wrong.

Christ was born on Good Friday and crucified on Christmas. Isn't everybody?" But Jesus the Christ whose birthday we celebrate can hardly be enthralled by the style of many of us who claim to be authentic Christians. If you want to better understand what it cost God to become one of us, think how you would feel becoming a cockroach. (CS Lewis) One is more inclined to look more kindly on Ebenezer Scrooge. There is an awful lot of humbug in Christmas. Yet, Jesus is not humbug. The birth of Christ brings the infinite God within reach of finite man. (Unknown) The girl who began this homily is going to get God with skin on Him. When you look into the stable, you witness the Absolute in swaddling clothes and Omnipotence in bonds. (John Newman) The Incarnation is superb poetry, exquisite painting, and sublime music wrapped into one gayly wrapped package. One never tires of Jesus as a subject.

The cover stories of both Time, Newsweek, and US News & World Report regularly mark His nativity. One reason for featuring Him so often is that their circulation invariably increases. Born twenty centuries ago, Jesus still sells. Mel Gibson broke all records with his DVD version of The Passion of the Christ. He sold nine million copies in three weeks at $22 a clip. The first book published by Pope Benedict XVI is called "Jesus of Nazareth." It quickly found a home on the Best Seller list of The New York Times. As you read these lines, dozens of writers, unknown to one another, work at their computers around this cosmos to produce still one more volume on Him. This despite the fact that the Library of Congress already has twice as many books on Jesus as any other subject. Artists at their easels struggle to paint His portrait again. Have you seen Andy Warhol's Nativity? Composers struggle to salute Him with a fresh musical score. Will it ever be otherwise? I believe not. Tell others of Jesus. But firstly allow Him to be born in you. He can't be born again, but we can. (James Tahaney) If you want to be considered subversive this week, answer "Merry Christmas" when people wish you "Happy Holidays." 
Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
4 Advent
Fourth Advent: Celebrate the Child

The readings for this Sunday are an immediate preparation for Christmas. Instead of hearing about the Second Coming of the Lord as we did the First Sunday of Advent and instead of hearing about the instructions and the mission of John the Baptist, as we did the Second and Third Sundays of Advent, we are brought to the events that take place within nine months of Jesus' birth. We come upon Joseph. A very disappointed Joseph. The beautiful young girl he would soon take into his home was pregnant. His life was falling apart around him. We don't know the exact time that Joseph was aware of the problem, but obviously Mary was showing. What was Joseph thinking? Would he have forgiven Mary a supposed indiscretion if she were not pregnant? But she was pregnant. The child was ruining everything. And then the angel came in the dream and told him that the child will make all things wonderful. He is the Savior.

Mary has remained virtuous. And Joseph was given the opportunity to take the Messiah into his family. Basically, Joseph was told to celebrate this unexpected birth. It seems that just about every Sunday I notice another one of our ladies is going to have a baby. As a man I have no clue at what it is like to have a baby inside you. As a priest, I have no experience of the excitement a husband must feel when his wife tells him that they are expecting. Those first few months, when it is their secret, must be wonderful. Then when they are ready to share their secret, family and friends celebrate the coming child. And every child has a right to have his or her coming celebrated. That right extends also to those children whose coming, like the Lord's, is not expected, whether their parents thought they were done have children or whether their parents did not even consider that their actions could would lead to their conception.

It makes not difference. Once the coming of a child is learned, the child should be celebrated. A few years ago we had a wonderful experience of a girl who chose to celebrate her coming child. She had moved out to the Tampa area to begin college and to get away from a relationship which had turned physical. She sought a second virginity, a term saying, "I am going to reconsecrate myself to the Lord and stay celibate until I marry.” She had sought out our parish because she had been involved in Life Teen in her home parish and wanted to stay involved in Life Teen. What she didn't realize was that she came out here already pregnant. The relatives she was living with demanded that she destroy the child. Through our Youth Minister, Bart Kovacic, myself and our Upper Pinellas Pregnancy Center, she got the support she needed to plan her future and her baby's future. When she took my advice and called her family, she received further support, including from the baby's father. She decided to go back home. The day before she left, I took her to lunch.

The entire time she talked about her plans for the baby. He's going to learn Spanish. He's going to do this or do that. It was wonderful. She was celebrating the unexpected, but coming baby. Next weekend we will sing sweet carols about the Babe of Bethlehem. Although we know that this is the Second Person of the Trinity, the All Powerful One, we also know that he chose to become one of us, totally one of us, even being conceived and carried in a womb and being an infant, toddler, child, teen and young adult before revealing himself to the world at his Baptism by John the Baptist. And so we focus on his infancy. We tell him in song to "sleep in heavenly peace.” We sing of the unexpected joy. Every child has a right to be celebrated with love. Every child has a right to be carried inside and outside the Mom with deep love. Every child is a joy, whether a planned joy or an unexpected joy.

Every child has a right to be carried and to sleep in heavenly peace, not in emotional turmoil. We have a responsibility as Christians to celebrate the pregnancy of our girls and the arrival of our babies. They are all our babies. They are part of our family. They are made in the image and likeness of God. They will receive the indelible imprint of God at their baptism. They will radiate his presence in a way the world never experienced before. They will be capable of being saviors, saviors to their parents, saving them from selfishness, saviors to those whom they will love in their lives. It is wonderful that we have our Pregnancy Center to help new and/or poor mothers.

But the materials that you so generously provide, the counseling that is offered, the testing and referrals that are made are not enough. Babies need more than that. Babies need warmth and love. It is clear from the scripture that Joseph provided for more than Jesus's external needs. He loved the child. He took him into his family. He named him. And, I feel certain, he held him and rocked him to sleep when Mary was exhausted. He celebrated this unexpected child and in doing so celebrated the presence of God's love on earth. We pray to St. Joseph today to help us to do what he did. We need to care for, to love and to celebrate our babies. In doing so we are celebrating the arrival of yet another reflection of the presence of God on earth.
Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
4 Advent
Resisting Happiness Week 4: Look for the Mess (December 18, 2016)

Message: Life is messy, but nobody can take your hope from you. During these four weeks of Advent I am using a book titled Resisting Happiness. (hold up book) Resistance wears a thousand masks: Laziness, procrastination, fear, doubt, instant gratification, self-loathing, indecision, escapism, pride, self-deception and self-sabotage. Resistance stands between you and the person God created you to be. Resistance stands between you and happiness. Overcoming resistance requires having a goal that matters. A pilgrim travels with a goal in mind. On the other hand a tourist goes from one experience to another. When things don't work out the way he imagines, a tourist gets upset and starts making demands. He makes life miserable for himself and the people around him. A tourist explodes; a pilgrim asks for patience. Patience costs something: self-denial, delayed gratification.

The ability to delay gratification enables a person to attain substantial happiness. It also brings better results in this life: finances, child rearing, marriage and careers all improve. You can read about it in Matthew Kelly's book - Resisting Happiness. I am going to conclude this series on surprising note: To attain happiness look for a mess. As Matthew Kelly says, "Life is messy...As children of God we are called to go looking for the mess and make a difference in some way." Matthew Kelly's organization, Dynamic Catholic, invites people to send prayer requests. As you can imagine the requests reveal the pain and difficulty people experience. Matthew Kelly also relates the pain in his own life. Among other things it includes an embarrassing eating disorder. The point is not to get hung up on ones weaknesses, but to recognize God uses trials to reach people. So look for the mess in your own life - and help others in their struggles - that's where God works most intensely to overcome our resistance to him. Today's Gospel shows people dealing with a mess. Joseph had his life mapped out when God threw a curve ball. Mary, his betrothed, "was found with child." St. Matthew gives only a few details but we can imagine the anguish and turmoil.

We can learn a lot from the quiet steady way Joseph dealt with this crisis. What matters is his openness to God's voice and God's will. The crisis makes him realize he belongs to something much bigger than himself. We'll see more next weekend as we celebrate Christ's birth. I will have a present for every family - a gift-wrapped copy of Resisting Happiness. If you read this book and put it into practice, it will transform your life. If a family member reads the first thirty pages, I'm convinced he will not put it down - and it will bring him back to the Catholic Church. Matthew Kelly does not offer some program of escape, but he does offer real hope. For sure, life is messy, he says, yet no one can take away your hope.

Don't run from life's messiness. Instead look for the mess. In doing so we want to follow St. Joseph's example of firm gentleness. As Matthew Kelly writes, "Be gentle with people who cross your path. If someone is grumpy or rude, if someone makes a mistake or does something wrong, give her the benefit of the doubt. You never know what she is carrying around inside." "Life is messy, but nobody can take your hope from you. And if there is one thing that resistance hates, it is hope. So hold on to your hope no matter how messy life gets, and share it with everyone who crosses your path." Amen.
Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
4 Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Classic Sunday, December 18, 2016
Matthew 1: 18-24

Gospel Summary
Having sketched the human provenance of Jesus (vs.1-17), Matthew now presents his account of Jesus' divine origins. Unlike Luke, Matthew tells the story from the perspective of Joseph. It is Joseph who is distressed over Mary's pregnancy and it is he who has a dream, which resolves the matter. As one who hears God's message in a dream, Joseph is connected with the patriarch Joseph who communicated with God in dreams (Gen 37:1ff), for Matthew is intent on showing how the Hebrew Scriptures were fulfilled in the story of Jesus. When Joseph's rather inept attempt to resolve his dilemma is cut short by a message from God, the primary point of this passage is revealed, namely, that God controls all the critical moments in the real human history, which involves God's gracious plan for human salvation. Virgin birth is an obviously divine act and such an intervention cancels human attempts to control everything. It also puts Mary in touch with the unnamed virgin in Isaiah (7:14) whose childbearing re-asserted God's intention of being with his people, come what may.

Life Implications We are constantly being urged to take charge of our lives and to make things happen according to our wishes. If we fail, it is usually assumed that we just didn't try hard enough. In a word, our secular culture prizes control almost as much as it prizes money. In this gospel, we learn that God takes charge in really critical situations and that we are asked to acquiesce in this assertion of divine control. For the confirmed secularist, this is really bad news. But for those of us who believe in the goodness and wisdom of God it is truly gospel, that is, the ultimate good news.

For it demonstrates that our history is an arena, not just for our exploits, but also for the display of God's love. It is also a reminder that there can never really be any doubt about the ultimate victory of God's goodness. It is incredibly consoling to know that a good and loving God is in charge of history. Our challenge now is to trust the goodness in life so that we may be part of that victory. Joseph was confused, as we often are, but he trusted God's mysterious ways and found incredible blessing in what he had not planned. Christmas is the feast that celebrates God's love and goodness. There could hardly be a better way to prepare for Christmas on this last Sunday of Advent than to imitate Joseph in his willingness to be positive and hopeful at those times when life does not seem to make sense. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.
Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
4 Advent
Fourth Sunday of Advent Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS

We are now in the period of immediate preparation for Christmas and the scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent reflect this with the first reading being an extract from Isaiah which explicitly predicts the Virgin Birth. This text is chosen by the Church for the liturgy this Sunday in order to highlight the fact that it was not just the coming of a Messiah that was foretold in the Old Testament but even some of the circumstances of his birth, most especially the fact that he was to be born of a virgin mother. The Gospel text then provides us with the account of the immediate events leading up to the birth of Jesus and explicitly quotes the prophecy of Isaiah which we already heard in the first reading. The key character in the extract set before us is Joseph to whom all the circumstances are revealed in a dream. Matthew's Gospel contains more about St Joseph than any of the other Gospel writers. St Luke mentions him seven times but none of these tell us very much about Joseph himself. He only gets one brief mention in the Gospel of Mark and two passing references in the Gospel of John.

Matthew is much more explicit and we are told about the four extraordinary dreams of Joseph the first of which is presented to us in today's reading. In a further dream, he is instructed to take his family into Egypt to escape King Herod's wrath and then once the danger is over another dream informs him that it is now safe to return home to Israel. The final dream warns him to go to Galilee instead of Judea. About the only actual description of Joseph in the Bible is also given by Matthew in today's reading where it simply states that he was a man of honour. This says a very great deal about Joseph and anyone would be quite proud to have those words said about them as a final epitaph, that they were a person of honour. I suppose it is because Matthew was a Jew that he tells us more about Joseph. It was important to the Jews to be able to identify one's father for it was from your father that you were able to establish your legitimacy. Anyway, the main point is that Joseph did the right thing. The true paternity of Mary's child is revealed to him in the dream and he does what he is asked by the Angel and marries Mary and protects her and the child Jesus, returning only to his own village once things were safe for them. These are indeed honourable actions for which he is to be highly commended. We admire Joseph because he does not question the Angel; he simply does what he is asked to do recognising that these instructions come ultimately from God.

We would do well to imitate Joseph in our own lives especially when we are faced with circumstances which are far from ideal. We should take him for our model and do the right thing at the time when it is needed. And the fact that Joseph does his duty and protects Mary and Jesus in time of danger is something else that he ought to be commended for. A husband protects his wife, a wife protects her husband and both protect their child. These after all are the principal duties that fall to those who are married. Carrying out these responsibilities is important for the welfare of each family and indeed serves the good of society as a whole. In these final days of Advent we prepare ourselves to celebrate the feast of Christmas. Let's not focus on all the practical preparations, all the shopping, all the decorating and all the cooking. What we have to understand is that it is far more important for us, who profess ourselves to be Christians, at this particular time to focus on the actual events of Christ's birth. As we come to the end of the Advent season we ought to be spending time in thinking and meditating on the Christmas mysteries. We ought take a little time out to read for ourselves the Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus and let them speak to us.

Our prayers in this immediate pre-Christmas period should be centred on the coming of the Saviour of the World. And as we do these things, as we meditate on the birth of Christ, our hearts will be filled with hope for all that he represents. We realise that this was not just any birth, miraculous enough as all births are in themselves; but our recognition is that this is the birth of the one who has come to redeem and save the world. The coming of Jesus is the coming of our salvation, it is the coming of the one who forgives our sins and it is the coming of the Son of God who invites us to share in the life of heaven. These are weighty things. These are matters of the greatest possible significance. What was achieved through the birth of Jesus was nothing less than the irrevocable first step in the salvation of the entire word. For some people, most notably those who do not profess the Christian faith, the story of the birth of the Christ Child is nice but not significant.

For many it is a beautiful story but of no greater consequence than a legend. Many of those who do not subscribe to the Christian faith simply don't know what to make of the Biblical accounts of the virgin birth; for them it is an event whose significance is totally unclear. But for us Christians the events that took place on the hillside in Bethlehem are earth shattering because they open up for us the road to glory. These events are what make eternal life in heaven possible. For us there is nothing that could surpass their importance. This explains the joy in our hearts as we celebrate the feast of Christmas. This explains why we want to make up with those we have offended. This is the reason we want to confess our sins. This is the motive behind our celebrations. This tells you why we want to give each other gifts. This tells you too why we come to Church and give praise to God on this most special day of the year.
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