People today are starving for spiritual nourishment. They search for God in the most unusual places, in money, material goods, power, and sex, to mention but a few. Their search requires an interior journey into their own hearts where God alone will speak to them. Unfortunately few have any real experience of this gift from God and as a result live partial lives. It is the hope of the author that this book will show the reader that God is already in their world and they need to look again at the world they live in and recognise his presence. Brendan McGuire hopes to break open the Word of God in a unique way, enabling preachers and priests to bring the gospel into conversation with the lives of ordinary people through the use of stories. It is the intention of this book to feed the souls of many who never get to the table of the Lord on Sundays. Each one of the homilies was delivered in Fr Brendans parish, and as such they are not theoretical, but practical in application. The focus of the book is Gods redeeming love, and our response to his love in concrete ways in the ordinary lives of ordinary people.
Brendan McGuire was born and raised in Bray, Co Wicklow. He emigrated to the USA in 1989 and has lived there since. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin in Electronic Engineering and a post-graduate of the Computer Science Department, he worked for five years in the high technology industry before being ordained in May 2000. He is Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish and School in San Jose, California.
This is a book of practical Sunday homilies for the year cycle B.
The author hopes to break open the Word of God in his personal way, enabling preachers to bring the gospel into conversation with the lives of ordinary people through the use of lived events. His basic convictions are that Gods redeeming love is present in all the event of our lives and we need to look again at them to recognise that presence. Each homily is practical has a practical application of that love.
- Chapter One
1st Sunday of Advent
Is 63:16-19, 64:2-7; Ps 80; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37
Actively Waiting for the Lord
Once I was on retreat with the other priests of the Diocese of San Jose (California) and our retreat master, former Archbishop of San Francisco John Quinn, gave us some priestly advice about how to stay healthy. Among other things he told us to always take an annual vacation. He added that we should not only take a vacation but also plan and prepare for it too. He maintained that preparing for and anticipating a vacation is at least half the joy.
To convince us, he told a story about a priest of the archdiocese who refused to take a vacation because he thought he did not need a break. So the bishop reminded him that even if he didnt need the break from the people, the people needed a break from him! So the priest took a vacation. But he never planned or prepared for it. Year after year it would be the same! On a certain day, the priest would decide to go on vacation without telling anybody. He would go to the airport and decide where he would go by seeing which flights were available that day. He gave no warning, there was no note, there was no message! Just gone - he was just gone!
Archbishop Quinn maintains that the priest misses the point of vacation. Planning and preparing is half the joy. He called this preparation active waiting.
Every year the church celebrates the incarnation of Christ on 25 December and none of us need to be reminded about that date. However, the church also supplies a period of preparation because it realises that anticipation is half the joy! Advent is that time, a time to prepare and anticipate the coming of Christ. It is the time when we can get excited about Christmas.
When I say prepare for and anticipate Christmas, I do not mean that we buy more gifts and go shopping. While these things are not bad in themselves, we can get caught up in the consumeristic preparation for Christmas. Instead I am suggesting that we prepare spiritually for Christmas. As we hear in todays gospel, Be Alert! Be Watchful! Today and this week we are being called to prepare and actively wait for the coming of Christ.
We prepare as individuals and as a community. The Advent wreath which we will light in a moment is a sign of our waiting and anticipation of Christmas. In the same way that we anticipate the coming of a vacation, we anticipate the coming of Christ again in glory, and as each week passes we light another candle and get a little more excited. Christ is coming! Of course, we recognise and celebrate that Christ has already come in history as a man. In the same way that we continue doing our work while we prepare for our future vacation, we celebrate Christs presence among us here and now while we anticipate his return in glory. So how do we prepare individually or as a community?
One of the ways we have suggested that we prepare this Advent is through the giving of a gift to a child whose family cannot afford it. And so we have the giving tree in the vestibule and ask that each of us find some way to give to a child in need. (l) We also will be distributing prayer books for Advent, hoping that we will all spend a little more time in prayer. Maybe we can have our own Advent wreath at home and say a prayer before each meal. Or maybe we can find someone in our family or neighbourhood who needs something this Christmas or needs someone to visit them.
We are challenged again today to prepare ourselves for Christ, to prepare a place for Christ in our own heart. This is where half the joy of the Christian life is. We can do this by prayer, giving, or sharing of our time and so actively wait for the Lord.
2nd Sunday of Advent
Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 85; 2 Pet 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
When I was growing up in Ireland, there was a man who sold newspapers outside the front of the church. No matter what the weather, even pouring rain, the old man would be there, selling the papers. He was nicknamed Chicken, because he always called out, Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Extra! Extra! Read all about it! And when he did, he sounded like a squawking chicken. Chicken sold morning papers and evening papers and almost everyone in town would buy their daily papers from him, eager to read the latest breaking news. I know people who did not usually buy the newspaper, but when they heard Chicken they would always get one.(2)
As we hear the scripture for today, the second Sunday of Advent, we can almost hear the people of the day shouting, Extra! Extra! Read all about it! If there were newspapers in Jesus time, then surely he would have made the headline news! The event of God becoming human in Jesus Christ is not just an editorial comment but is, in fact, the headline news. The headline in the local paper would have read something like: The Word has become flesh. He now lives among us! The reason so many people came to the desert to hear John the Baptist was to hear him declare the latest breaking news. God becoming human in Jesus Christ was the event of the decade, the century, and the millennium; it was the event that would change the world forever. Now that is not just regular news - It is good news! And its not just good news - It is great news!
John the Baptist knew the news and he proclaimed it wildly: Extra! Extra! Hear all about it! The Messiah is here and lives among us now! Repent and turn away from sin! John the Baptist made ready the way for the Lord by spreading the good news and sharing the joy of the truth. And we are called to do likewise in our lives. If this news is true, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that God became human and dwelt among us, that he lived and then died for our sins, that he rose from the dead and showed us eternal life, then it is not just news, but rather it is great news. So we need to communicate not only the power of the message but, like John the Baptist, we need to communicate the joy of the truth. We need to proclaim it wildly.
I believe to be authentic pro claimers of the good news we need to be purveyors of good attitude. I mean that in some way we need to be happy people - people full of joy, people who spread joy in the lives of others. Often I think we are lifeless about our faith. We mope around with sorrowful looking faces saying, Yeah, Im Catholic. Or Yes, I believe in God and am a Christian. It is not convincing to our friends, or anyone for that matter, because we dont look convinced! If it is true, and we believe, it is, that Jesus Christ the Son of God came among us and showed us the way, then we are no longer to be afraid of sin or death or life. Christ lives among us, within us now, and we have been saved. That is great news! In that case we need to be on fire with the Holy Spirit and allow the joy of Christ to pervade us. Then, when people look at us they will say we are one of two things - either we are crazy or we are Christians. But we cannot be in between; we need to be one or the other! We are either crazy or we are Christian to believe in Christ Jesus.
As we prepare for this Christmas season of peace and joy, we ought to find some way to spread the joy of the gospel. We need to be on fire with the Holy Spirit! We need to be contagious with joy! That sort of joy only comes from the Lord. Even if it is just to our family and friends, this season let us be purveyors of the good news. Let our lives proclaim the joy of Christ. And when others see us they should say that we are not crazy, but we are Christians. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Jesus Christ is here!
3rd Sunday of Advent
Is 61:1-2, 10-11; Ps: Lk 1:26-54; 1 Thess 5:16-24; In 1:6-8, 19-28
For three decades, every weekday night America heard announcer Ed McMahon introduce Johnny Carson. But Ed McMahon didnt do an ordinary introduction! The introduction was a cheerful call of joy in his voice: Heeeeeres Johnny! Yes. That two-word announcement became part of the American scene and a hallmark of the Tonight Show. Ed McMahon did not host the show. He always introduced Johnny as the host of the show.(3)
In todays gospel, John the Baptist introduces Jesus. John prepares the way for the Lord. John the Baptist is not the Messiah, but he points to the Messiah. He is not the light, but came to testify to the light. Never once does he claim to be the Anointed One! Instead, he announces the new way to be found through Jesus. He does it with great joy in his heart. Maybe if he were here today he would say, Heeeeeeeres Jesus!
When Paul writes to the Thessalonians he tells them to have constant joy. He encourages them to pray unceasingly, with never-ending thanks to God. He guides them not to quench the Spirit of Christ within them, but to recognise the good and turn away from evil. Paul encourages them to joyfully prepare for the Lords coming.
Today we celebrate the third Sunday of Advent and we light the rose-coloured candle in our Advent wreath, the candle symbolising joy. We are called not only to prepare for the Lord in our lives, but also to prepare for his coming joyfully.
Around this time each year we prepare for Christmas in many different ways. We write cards, we buy presents, we visit relatives, we attend parties and dinners, and we decorate our homes and offices. All of this can be great preparation for the coming of our Lord. However, we need to seek a balance with the true preparation - the preparation for the coming of Christ in glory and the recognition of Christs presence in our hearts. If we can find a balance between how we prepare as a community here, in our church, and how we prepare as a community out there, in our homes and offices, then I think we will have lived the Spirit of Christmas more fully.
Sometimes, we may end up preparing for the coming of Christ with reluctant hearts. We may grudgingly write our Christmas cards, grumbling about how long the list gets every year and how the people we write to never return the favour of a card. We may unenthusiastically attend dinners or visit friends or family, complaining about the company. We may resentfully buy gifts for family or friends, suspicious about what we will get in exchange.
Rather than this bleak preparation for Christmas, we should instead live the joyful spirit of the gospel by transforming how we prepare for Christmas. We can prepare with joyful hearts! First, we need to recognise the good in our lives, as Paul says. If we have numerous gifts to get for family members, then we can be thankful that we have a family to care for. We can be thankful that our parents are still alive and we can buy for them. We can be thankful that we have children to whom we can show affection. If we have lots of cards to write or we have too many parties to go to, then we can be grateful that we have so many friends.
This Christmas season we can joyfully ready ourselves for the Lord by transforming the way we already prepare. We can willingly write to our family and friends. We can enthusiastically attend gatherings and visit with friends. We can gratefully buy gifts for family. These last weeks before Christmas may we truly prepare the way for the Lord, and announce with joy by our actions, attitudes and words: Heeeeeeeres Jesus!
Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16; Ps 89; Rom 16:25-27; Lk 1:26-38
Yes, I will Lord
I remember Christmastime three years ago, when I was in my last year of training for priesthood. Many priest friends had said to me that the last year is the easiest. That was not my experience! Actually, I found it to be the toughest! This wasnt because the classes were difficult but because the last year is the final opportunity to out and leave formation and say, No, this is not for me. I cannot or will not become a priest. In January of the last year, candidates for priesthood are ordained as deacons, and it is in this ceremony that we promise celibacy, obedience, and a life of simple living. It is then that we promise publicly to do Gods will as a member of the churchs leadership.
It became difficult for me as I reflected on those promises and I found myself doubting whether I could really do it. That I could really live without a family of my own, live without total control over my own life, live without a high paying job as a businessman. I doubted whether I wanted to do it at all!
In conversation with my spiritual director that week something came to light that struck to the heart of my dilemma. He said, Brendan, if you really believe God wants you to be a businessman then you must go. Do whatever God wants you to do. Priest or businessman, God gives us the help to do his will. Without hesitation I snapped, This has nothing to do with Gods will. I know what God wants. He wants me to be a priest. This has to do with what I want. I want...
I stopped mid-sentence. Suddenly I realised what was going on. As much as I was trying to do Gods will, I was still trying to do it my way. I was still saying I want Lord, instead of saying I will Lord.
I think we all struggle at some time with doing Gods will in our lives. Sometimes we say I want Lord instead of saying 1 will Lord. But this I will Lord is not a once off decision. It is a daily commitment to saying yes to the Lord. Each day we have to choose to say yes. Each day I have to choose to say yes to my priesthood. In the same way, a couple who said yes on their wedding day each day chooses to say yes to each other. Or a single person choosing to remain chaste each day has to say, I wil1. and some days that is not easy for any of us.
Over these last three weeks we have celebrated Advent is a time of waiting and preparing for Christs birth and his return in glory. Today we light the fourth Advent candle that symbolises the transition into Christmas itself. Today we hear in the gospel of the perfect example to how to say, yes, I will. Mary exemplifies what every Christian is called to do. She is the perfect Christian.(4) In her response to the angels request saying, Let it be done unto me as you say, she conceived Jesus within her womb. She said Yes, my Lord - And lived that the rest of her life. I believe we too can conceive the Christ within us, by simply responding Yes, my Lord each day.
While Marys yes brought about the incarnation in a specific time and place, our yes can make God incarnate here and now in our own lives. It is the joyful yes that will transform the commercial reproduction Christmas we see in the world into the real Christmas celebration where Gods will is lived out. So this week, in the midst of all the busyness of our lives, maybe we can bring Christ alive today by saying a joyful Yes, my Lord. I will.
Is 9:1-6; Ps 96; Tit 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Icon of Christ
The icon is an ancient religious art form that the church holds as a treasure. An Icon (from the Greek eikon, image) is an artistic visual representation or symbol of anything considered holy and divine. Many of our old churches are populated with these visual delights, which add sacredness to their spaces. The most treasured religious icons are those depicting images of Mary as Mother of God and Christ the Pantocrator. The image of Christ Pantocrator (Christ, Ruler of All) was one of the first images of Christ developed in the Early Christian Church, and remains a central icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Christ holds the New Testament in his left hand and blesses the viewer with his right. (5)
Icons draw the person looking at them into the art itself. There is something magnificent about their beauty that defies words. When one spends a few moments gazing into an icon, one is drawn beyond its immediate image and into the reality it signifies. One is drawn to God. One is drawn into God and the reality of the divine. Of course, that can be said of any good religious art or any great art for that matter. However, there seems to be something particularly sacred about icons; they are almost windows to the sacred.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of Christ and the reality of God becoming human in Christ. We acknowledge that Christ is an icon of God. Christ gives us a unique window to our sacred God. When we look at Christ, we are drawn to him. When we look at Christ, we are drawn beyond the image and we see the God who sent him. When we look at Christ, we are called to see and know God in Gods own self.
Lukes description of Jesus actual birth scene is like an icon painting. Jesus is in a manger with straw, and Mary and Joseph are homeless in a foreign town. This barren scene highlights the stark poverty, genuine humility, and extreme simplicity surrounding Christs birth. The shepherds are the first to receive the good news of the birth of the Messiah. At the time of Christ, shepherds were despised and commonly held incapable of being witnesses, due to their unsavory reputation among the general public. (6) And, yet, to such as these and through them, God wants the first joyful news to arrive. Jesus, who is God, has now made his message known to all people. Jesus, who is God, is now human in all his vulnerabilities. Jesus, who is God, points to the God who made all humans. Jesus, who is God, is the icon of God.
The angels hymn of praise gives voice to our collective awe and reveals this God of glory and peace, this God of humanity, and this God of heaven and earth. This historic event of the incarnation is Gods greatest moment in human history.
As the first reading from Isaiah says, we come as a people who walked in darkness; we have seen a great light. We come in abundant joy and great rejoicing as if we have received a great harvest. Tonight of all nights we come to acknowledge that fact of faith. Tonight of all nights we come to live that fact of faith. Tonight of all nights we come to become that fact of faith.
Yes, tonight we are called to not only look into the image of Christ the child and believe in God-made-human, but also to look beyond that icon and see God himself. Then we are called to become that image of Christ to others. We are called to become a living icon of Christ, by how we act towards others. This Christmas, as we celebrate the gift of our faith in God becoming one of us, we are called to be the living icon of Christ.
I Is 52:7-10; Ps 98; Heb 1:1-6; In 1:1-18 I
Not Commuters But Companions
Recently I was on a trip travelling to San Antonio, Texas for a conference. While I was on board the plane I looked around the airplane and saw all these people who were travelling to the same city as I was. I realised I did not know them nor did they know me. Yet here we were in very close proximity for hours. Yes, I had casual greetings with some and a small conversation with others. But in reality we were completely disinterested in each others welfare. (7) Here we were, travelling physically close to each other, and yet we remained worlds apart in reality. We were not companions on a journey but mere commuters crowded together for a temporarily mutual goal - to reach our city of destination.
Today we celebrate the anniversary of our new beginning in salvation history, when God became human in Christ. Today we celebrate the birth of Christ and the beginning of a new way of travelling through life. Today we recognise that we are no longer commuters going through life, disinterested in each others welfare. Instead we are co-pilgrims and companions on the journey of life. We are different people from different countries, with different languages and different customs, travelling at different speeds, but we are all travelling to the same God. We are not just commuters travelling together with a common goal of returning to God, but we are companions on that journey who care for each other as we travel. In God becoming one of us we have a new purpose to our journey of life. We know now that our journey will not end in death but in eternal life. We know now that our journey is a pilgrimage to see God. We know now that we are companions on that journey together.
So if today we are visiting this church for the first time, then it is a day to celebrate our beginning of the journey of life. If today we are here after a long time away from the church, then it is a day to celebrate our return to the pilgrimage of life. If today we are here even though we have doubts about our faith, then it is the day to renew our faith in God and his love for us. If today we are here even though we have significant dark places in our lives, then it is the day to allow Christ to shine his light of grace into our hearts. If today we are here after a year full of Eucharistic celebrations, then it is the day to celebrate that so many have joined us as companions. Today is the day to celebrate the gift of our common purpose, to be companions on this journey of life. Today is the day to remember that Christ became one with us, as the companion for our collective journey. So then, what must we do to be good companions on this journey?
While it wouldnt harm commuters in airplanes to be more courteous to one another, if we are to be companions on the journey of life it has to be about more than just courtesy and manners, though these things are important. We need to care about each other in a much deeper way as we travel through this life together. True companions concern themselves with other people for the sake of the welfare of the other person, ensuring that others have what they need for life. The root meaning of companion is to break bread with. It has to do with being one with the other person. Today is the day to think of, pray for and be generous to others who share this same journey of life.
May we celebrate Christmas in a unique way this year by being not just commuters with each other but true companions on our journey of life.
1. The giving tree is a tradition in churches in the USA whereby families-in-need put their wish list of gifts for their children on little cards which are then placed on this tree. The parish purchases the gifts, wraps them and delivers them to the families.
2. Adapted from Patricia Datchuck Sanchez, Celebration: An Ecumenical Worship Resource, (Kansas City, Montana: National Catholic Reporter Company, Inc., December, 2002).
3. Dick Folger, Celebration: An Ecumenical Worship Resource, (Kansas City, Montana: National Catholic Reporter Company, Inc., December, 2002).
4. Walter J. Burghardt, SJ, Tell the Next Generation, (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1980) 199.
5. Definition from http://en.wikipedia.org/ wild / Icon
6. Fr Damien Dougherty, OFM, Scripture Commentaries for Christmas, (Online through liturgy.com)
7. Patricia Datchuck Sanchez, Celebration: An Ecumenical Worship Resource, (Kansas City, Missouri: National Catholic Reporter Company, Inc., May, 2005).