Merry Christmas, everyone! A special welcome to all of our guests; it’s great that you’re here!
The happiest time of the year is sometimes the most frustrating time: so many things to do, so many expectations, never enough time. “According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America… three out of four people surveyed reported feeling anxious and/or depressed during the” Christmas season. I remember reading a book about a person who wrote down that they just want to have a good Christmas—I’ve never forgotten that simple desire. This is a desire put in our heart by God.
Whenever life is hectic and we’re frustrated, God calls us to step back and remember the essentials.
Today, let’s consider the big picture, looking at life from God’s point of view. It’ll help put things into perspective, make sense of things, and show us where God wants us to go. We’re going to use all four Gospels for Christmas and break down the homily into four parts (Just so you know, because Christmas is the second biggest celebration, next to Easter, the Church gives us four selections of readings, one for the vigil, one for the night, one for dawn, and one for the day).
1) Here’s part one, from the Gospel for Christmas during the day. The Gospel begins this way: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life” (Jn 1:1-4). What does the “Word” mean here (Don’t say anything if you know the answer)? We talked about this last year. It’s Jesus. So, “In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God. Jesus was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Jesus, and without Jesus not one thing came into being. What has come into being in Jesus was life.” The first part of the big picture is remembering that Jesus exists; He created the world out of love, and that means that we are good and we are loved!
My parents’ marriage, for the most part, wasn’t a happy one. And in 1993, they were going through a financial crisis and my mother was suffering a lot. But during a family get-together, my older cousin, Nadine, said something to my mother that changed her life. She said, “Auntie Julianne, you deserve to be happy.” That woke my mother up, because she had forgotten that Jesus loves us and made us to be happy.
And not just a little happy, but infinitely happy. Look, if you want to be happy for an hour, take a nap. If you want to be happy for a day, go shopping. If you want to be happy for a month, take a vacation. If you want to be happy forever, let yourself be loved by Jesus and focus on Him! If we’re not happy in our marriage, at work, in our life, or tonight, something’s wrong. So, number one is: God loves us and created us to be happy.
2) From the Gospel at night: St. Luke says, “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Lk 2:1-2). Historical records show that Emperor Augustus was called ‘Son of God’ and a ‘saviour,’; he ‘established peace’ and his birth brought ‘good tidings’ (Pablo T. Gadenz, The Gospel of Luke in Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, 61). What’s interesting is that there’s a comparison in the Gospel between him and Jesus. In this passage, Jesus is called Son of God (1:35) and the saviour (2:11), and He brings true peace (2:14) and good news (2:10).
Here’s the point of the comparison: During that time, most of the world was worshiping a false god and couldn’t recognize the true God. We, too, have false gods. I was reminded of this a month ago while on retreat. I still have parts in me, for example, that are still focused on achievement for its own sake. What’s wrong with that? God wants excellence, but not when it takes His place. When a person’s addicted to achievement, thinking that it’ll satisfy them more than God, that’s a false god. When a person chooses which kinds of success are important rather than letting God indicate which are the most important, that’s false.
In our archdiocese, there’s a famous leadership guru named Brett Powell, who loves to say, “Your organization is perfectly structured to get the results it’s getting.” Why is Apple getting great results? It’s structured that way. Why do the Canucks always lose? They’re structured that way. Why are we frustrated in our lives? It could be because our lives are structured around false gods and we let them dictate our lives. The second part is that we have false gods that separate us from God Himself.
3) The third part is from the Christmas vigil Mass: This Gospel lists dozens of ancestors of Jesus all the way back to Abraham—hard to understand for us, but it made sense for Jewish people back in Jesus’ time. One of the things St. Matthew was trying to do is point out how Jesus is the new King David.
At the end of the genealogy, St. Matthew writes, “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations” (Mt 1:17). The key number is 14. Why? Because that’s the number for the name of ‘David’ in Hebrew. This is how it works: If we gave each letter of the English alphabet a number, it would look like this:
A B C D E F G H…
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8…
But in Hebrew, the letters of their alphabet are in this order:
A B G D H V Z Ch…
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8…
Now, in original Hebrew of the Old Testament, vowels were not written, so the name David is DVD, which numerically is 4, 6, 4. If we add up these numbers, they give us 14! Matthew also writes at the very beginning, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1). And David is listed as the fourteenth name in the whole list, and he’s the only person in the genealogy who is given a title.
Just as David was the leader of the Jewish people, so Jesus, the new David, is our leader and the way back to God. And, just as David, Jesus is also a priest, the perfect priest who gave His own life to forgive our sins and take away our guilt! This is what we’re celebrating today: God became man to bring us home and reconcile us to Himself.
Plato, the Greek philosopher, believed that if humans simply know the truth, they’ll be able to fix their lives. Many today believe that: If we simply educate people about right and wrong, the world will be fixed. And there’s something to be said for this. However, as Christians, we believe that simply knowing the truth isn’t enough. Humans are damaged in their ability to choose what’s right; we know we should put God first, sleep more, prioritize our families, take care of our health, etc., but can’t do it by ourselves. We need a saviour; we need help and grace to help us choose the right way. The third part is that Jesus came to save us.
4) The final part is from the Gospel at dawn and it shows Mary, who’s already full of grace. In this scene, the shepherds have gone to see Jesus just born, and when they arrive at the manger and see Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, they tell them what the angels had revealed. And it says, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). Many people at that time were too busy with the census and didn’t realize what God was doing, but she does. So, she’s our model for how to respond to Jesus. She knew she needed a saviour and was humble. The fourth part is that Jesus waits for our response.
Here are three ways for us to respond to Jesus: 1) During my retreat, I admitted to my spiritual director that I have a false god and need Jesus. Then I went to pray and asked Jesus to save me, be my true God, and help put my desire for achievement in its proper place. We can all make a similar prayer to one I made many times, “Lord, I’m a captive. Set me free.” I found so much peace in this prayer, and it got me ready to make changes in my life when I came back! Awesome!
2) When Nadine told my mom she deserved to be happy, that reminded my mom of what she wanted most: to go back to the sacraments. So she made a decision to go to an Advent penitential service after how many years? 14, the number of David. Just kidding, it was 17 years.
Tonight, we have a great gift: Fr. Pierre is hearing Confessions right now and will continue as long as is needed. Fr. Pierre’s the gentlest priest ever! The yellow examination of conscience brochure is on the wall.
I’m so happy everyone’s here, and I want all Catholics to receive Jesus worthily in Communion. If we haven’t been to Mass every Sunday, aren’t able to receive, or haven’t been to Confession in a while, we can’t receive, because we need first to apologize to Jesus in Confession. Either come up for a blessing by putting your arm across your chest, or, if God calls you, go to Confession as soon as you can. And, if you’re non-Catholic, you’re invited to come up for a blessing, too!
3) If you’re looking for a spiritual home, we’d love to have you join us here. We’ve been working on growing as a community for many years now. This is our Vision Statement: “With the Eucharist at the centre, we are a community desiring to be saints, sent out to love like Jesus and proclaim Him in every circumstance.” It’s bold, lofty, but it’s been helping us grow in profound ways. In two Sundays, on Jan. 6, 2019 we’d like to invite everyone, in particular those who are spiritually seeking, to our free pancake breakfast after all our Sunday Masses.
And in one month, on Jan. 29, 2019 we’d like to invite anyone seeking to know more about the faith to try our Faith Studies program, which has been running here for three years. It’s the largest and most robust program for spiritual growth in our archdiocese, and we’ve had 513 people go through the first level; we had 86 people in the last round. It’s just six nights, about one hour long; you’re in a group of five people with one leader, and you get a chance to listen, and, if you feel comfortable, you can share your thoughts, and learn. It’s so helpful!
All of us have an opportunity for a better life. I’ve been doing much better since I started praying, “Lord, I’m a captive, set me free.” After my mom came back to Mass in 1993, I got confirmed a year later. Then my oldest brother got confirmed two years after that, then our middle brother, and I entered the seminary. Then my oldest brother started doing full-time pro-life work, my middle brother entered the seminary, and then we both became priests. And three years before my dad died, he came back to God.
Remember the big picture: Jesus loves us and created us to be happy, but we have false gods that separate us from Him. Therefore, He came to save us, and is waiting for a humble response like Mary’s.
And now I’d like to invite someone to share how Jesus has called her and how she responded.
Good morning! My name is Natalie. I had been away from the church for 9 years, in part because of experiences like the following: Three years ago, my sister and I attended the Good Friday liturgy at Holy Rosary Cathedral. People were squished at the back, a lady aggressively pushed past me, the guy next to me was texting during the homily… all made the experience horrible. So we left early and my sister commented, “I don’t even know why we bother going anymore.”
I thought I wouldn’t go for Easter Mass, but decided to come HERE to get the obligatory Mass out of the way. To my surprise the homily was intriguing and applicable, so, I decided to come back the next Sunday. And the next. And the next.
This time coincided with the first round of Faith Studies. I had a lot of questions about Catholic teachings that I was seeking answers to: WHY do we believe this or that? I even questioned if Catholicism was for me. So I decided to give Faith Studies a try. It was good: It answered some questions, but stirred up more questions. It got to a point that my sister and I had a long discussion about which teachings we stood by and which we did not. The very next Sunday, the homily was on being a cafeteria Catholic and how, when we pick and choose which teachings we follow, we demonstrate that we really do not have faith in God. This was a turning point in my journey. I DID have faith in God, and He just directly answered me. I left Mass that Sunday, calling my sister to say “God is eavesdropping on our conversations!!!” So, I prayed, “Yes, Jesus, I hear You, I understand, and I trust in You.”
Confession, however, was tougher for me… I went through the Examination of Conscience and knew where I had failed to live like Jesus. That was the easy part. The hard part was taking the plunge to make the commitment to stand by the teachings. I feared failure. And then I realized, I was not trusting Jesus anymore, and relying on myself. It was a long journey for me. I finally went to confession during Lent this year and it allowed me to see that I can LOVE better. Because Jesus could forgive MY sins, I was able to forgive other people, and finally let go of the anger and resentment I was holding on to.
And that’s just part of my story. Each of our journeys will be different. As Father just said, Jesus waits for our response. So I’m inviting you to come BACK to Mass, to our Pancake Breakfast on January 6th, and to Faith Studies on January 29th.
My life before was happy and good, but it is HAPPIER and BETTER now since rediscovering Jesus. I found prayer again and have experienced the peace it can bring. I went to Confession and learned how to forgive. And best of all… earlier this Advent season, I finally came back to the Eucharist.
Thank you, and Merry Christmas!