Sunday, January 16, 2011

For the Way Home, Look to Jesus

Homily, 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's, Dalton, GA

I remember when I was about 10 years old I used to pray a lot. Believe it or not, I was a pretty devout kid. I would pray each evening before going to bed, and I remember most especially one prayer that I prayed each night, I said: “Dear God, I love you as much as I love everyone in the whole world.” Now I don’t know if that was a perfect prayer, theologically, but I think God knew what I meant. But then there was another prayer, that I prayed just once, as I remember. For some reason, I prayed, perhaps rather boldly, “Dear Lord, I want to be a part of your plan.”

Well, a few years went by, and I eventually lost the piety of my youth, and I got to the point where I had pretty much no faith at all, and I didn’t practice any religion till the end of college. But, God never gives up on us, and as I was graduating college, I had a conversion experience, and I began my faith anew. And the funny thing about it was this: the first thing I remembered, when I came back into the faith, was that prayer, telling God how much I loved him. I guess he was reminding me that he loved me too and that he didn’t forget the prayer of my youth. But later, when I began to feel a calling to the priesthood, I remembered also the other prayer, asking God to let me be a part of his plan. God is also faithful to his promises and be careful what you ask for.

Well, today we are finally back to “ordinary time” in the Church, and as we begin the New Year, we are beginning again our yearly path through the Gospel. We’ve just celebrated the mysteries of Jesus’ birth, and now, in today’s Gospel, we see the beginning of his public ministry, where John the Baptist shouts out, “Look there! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus was revealed to us in the manger as the Son of God, and now he is revealed to us in public as a Savior who has come to take away our sins.

So, again, this is a time of beginnings, and perhaps it would be good to reflect back on when we first began our Christian journey, when we first encountered Christ, when we first chose to follow him. And, as you have probably learned, no two stories are the same. Some of us were “cradle Catholics”, born into the faith, as it were, where the faith has always been a part of our very being, something we never questioned or doubted, because we never needed to. Others of us probably just went through the motions growing up in the faith, until we had an experience which made the faith real to us. Others perhaps just grew lukewarm over time, until we saw a need to recommit ourselves. Others still, like myself, may have left the practice of the faith for a time, “fallen away” as it were, only to come back later, either after coming to our senses on our own, or after a dramatic experience which brought us back to the faith of our youth. Still others, and I see this a lot, are adult converts to the faith who came to the Catholic faith because of the witness of a Catholic friend or spouse, or perhaps after long searching.

In whatever way we came into the faith, in whatever way our faith began, and no matter where we are on the journey now, the most important thing we need to understand about our faith is that we must first and foremost encounter Christ, and there is no reason why we cannot begin that encounter anew today. If you truly want to live your faith, then you must encounter Christ on a day to day basis - in the big things and the small things of life: in our work, our family responsibilities, and in whatever way God has asked us to serve him.

As St. Paul says, “you have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people.” And that call goes throughout our entire lives. If we have fallen away, the call is to come back; if we are lukewarm, the call is to renew ourselves; if we are still searching, the call is to seek Christ; if we are lost in sin, the call is to “Look there! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” If we are already fervent, then the call is to further consecrate ourselves to Christ, so that he may make us, as Isaiah says, “a light to the nations, that [his] salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany 2011

Homily, Epiphany, Year A, 2011
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., St. Joseph's

The three Magi came to Bethlehem bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The gold represents all that is valuable in the world, material things and comfort we seek in this life. So the gold honored Jesus as King of the World, the Prince of Peace. Frankincense was used to represent prayers rising to heaven, a fragrance which was pleasing to God. So the frankincense was used to honor Jesus’ Divinity, the Mighty God. And myrrh is used for embalming, representing death and sacrifice – Christ was given myrrh mixed with wine on the cross, and he was anointed with myrrh in anticipation of his burial. So myrrh honors his humanity as our Savior who was destined to die on the Cross, Jesus’ supreme gift of self.

So when we come to Jesus today, we come to him bringing gifts as well. The gifts of gold we bring are all that we value in this life; we bring it to the feet of Jesus and make him the center and focus of all that we do, in our work, our recreation, our belongings and material things, our family. By doing this, we show him that we are not attached to the goods of this world and have not tried to serve two masters: God and mammon.

The gifts of frankincense we bring are our prayers, our spiritual life, our relationship with God. If we would have but faith, we would know that our prayers pleasing to God, rising up to him like incense and not stopping till they reach his throne in heaven.

The gifts of myrrh we bring are all of the sacrifices we make for the Lord. All the times during the day that we are called to “die to self” and sacrifice our own comfort, welfare, or convenience for the sake of others.

And when we do make these gifts to Jesus, they should come from our whole selves, and we should not be afraid to give what we have, even if it seems little. For the other gift-bearers in Bethlehem were the shepherds. And while they could not bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, they came to Jesus with what they had: perhaps a lamb for wool to keep him warm, some cheese and milk and butter from goats to keep him and Joseph and Mary well fed. It didn’t matter that their gifts were small; they were precious just the same to our Lord.

Coming to the child Jesus in Bethlehem is a journey of faith. The Shepherds trusted in the word of the angel, and we must likewise trust in God’s word, which we find revealed in Sacred Scripture and in the teachings of the Church. We must stay close to his commandments so that we can avoid those who would deceive us with false and deceitful teachings and ideas. And we must be prepared to find Jesus in the simple things in life, in the poor, the lonely, and abandoned, in all aspects of our lives.

And on this journey of faith, we must persevere, especially when we are tempted to doubt or discouraged by the difficulty of the path. The three wise men followed the star no matter where it lead, and we must do the same. The star we seek, the star we follow is Christ our King who gives light to the world; Christ our Mighty God, who hears our prayers and answers them; Christ our Savior, who suffered and died for us so that our sins might be forgiven and we could experience God’s presence in our lives. And when we find him, we must offer him all that we are, all the gifts we have to give, for in return, he will give us salvation, eternal life, and his very self.