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Monthly Archives: December 2020

Homily for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day)

December 25, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Words make a difference. Words have power!

The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is actually not true. Words have the power to hurt, especially when they come from the mouth of a loved one. Words have the power to diminish and demean, especially when spoken with hatred. Words have the power to wound, as gossip does so easily.

But words also have the power to heal— “I forgive you.” Words have the power to bind one to another in a lasting promise— “I will be true to you until death do us part.” Words have the power to create new worlds—talented novelists do this all the time.

Words spoken at the right time and in the right way bring us together. Words inspire us to step out of our small, self-centered world into the larger, more beautiful world of self-giving service.

Words can lead us to forsake selfishness, to sacrifice for others, and to do this together. Words challenge us to ask not what my country can do for me but what I can do for this country of mine. The right words remind us that the gift of our freedom is not given so we can do whatever we want to do but rather what we ought to do!

Because of the power of words, John’s Gospel gives the Son of God the title: “THE WORD.” John is clear—the eternal Son of God is not just any word, but THE WORD. THE WORD is God, and through God’s Son, life comes to be.

God the Father creates everything in the universe through HIS WORD, with His Son. Not just life on this round blue sphere circling round the sun, but everything in the cosmos.

John’s Gospel is the last of the 4 gospels to be composed. Unlike Mark’s Gospel, which is the first written and focuses more on the humanity of Jesus, John’s gospel focuses more on Jesus’ divinity. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who begin their story on earth with the birth of the babe Jesus, John begins in heaven, before time begins. John wants to emphasize the seriousness of the Incarnation, to move our focus beyond just a baby in a manger to the eternal desire of God to become one with God’s creation.

John’s Gospel may seem less than warm and fuzzy but that’s because this evangelist does not want us to limit Christmas to simply the celebration of Jesus’ birth. When Christians only celebrate the birth of this child, nothing changes in our world. It’s easy to do this for one day and then get on with the rest of our lives.

John, whose words take us on the wings of an eagle to soar above the earth, gives us a different perspective on Christmas. The gospel of John proclaimed today reveals why the Church celebrates this feast for more than one day but every day for eight days as if each of the eight days were Christmas Day.

John’s majestic words which open his gospel remind us that this babe in a manger is the Eternal Son of God, THE WORD OF GOD spoken to all humanity. Through Him all life came to be and in him all life is sustained in being.

That’s why when John says, “THE WORD BECAME FLESH” it’s like an earthquake, an earth-shattering, history-changing event. The eternal Word of God, through whom every-thing has been created, humbles himself to become part of His Creation. The one who is limitless now forever limits Himself to a human body and the frailty of the human condition.

When human beings turned their back on God, God could have simply snapped God’s almighty fingers and said “Saved” and been done with that. But God did not desire to save wayward men and women from afar, but wanted to have a human finger to reach out and wipe away the tears of those who weep.

The Son of God, the eternal word of love spoken by the Father, takes our flesh in order to come as close as possible to us, to save us from inside the human experience of joy and sorrow, suffering and delight.

Yes, God could have said the word, “Saved” and saved us from sin and everlasting death, but instead the Word of God became flesh in order to be our SAVIOR.

To taste the salt in our tears and have his heart broken like ours. To be tempted as we are tempted and still remain faithful to His Father. To suffer and to plunge into the abyss of death.

To experience every-thing human in order to redeem humanity.

The Son of God, the eternal Word of God, becomes flesh in order to speak these words to us: I LOVE YOU! This is not love in a general sense, as in “God loves the world” but in a very specific sense: God loves you, irrepeatable, one in a hundred million billion YOU!

This is not the sentimental, syrupy, sappy love of some Christmas songs or movies but the strong, relentless, stubborn love of the divine Son of God for you.

God loves you and burns with an infinite desire to be with you in everything you do and everywhere you go.

For the Son of God became human so that we could become one with God.

Homily for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Eve)

December 24, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

In Bethlehem, the Roman soldiers stationed there for security for the census do not pay much attention to the Jewish man and his young wife, pregnant with child. All they see is a couple who are not a threat to them or to the Roman Empire.

The innkeeper looks at this couple as a nuisance, for because of the census bringing so many visitors from out of town, he has no place to put them. They are but a problem he has no way of solving, and so he slams the door in their face.

The owner of the humble little shelter for the animals sees a couple in dire need for a place to be out of the elements, so the woman can give birth to her child. He gives them a place to lay their heads.

Only the lowly shepherds, the smelly outcasts of society, see a bit deeper, beneath the appearances to the reality that this newborn child is the Promised One, the Christ. Of course, they have the help of the angels. How appropriate that shepherds are the first to receive and believe the news of Christ’s birth, because the child of Promise is a direct descendant of the shepherd-King, David.

With the eyes of faith, we see that this humble carpenter searching frantically for a place for his wife to give birth has royal blood running through his veins. Joseph, a direct descendant of King David, would be king if the Romans were not ruling Israel.

With the insight of faith, we notice something more than a pregnant teen giving birth, for we see Mary as Mother of God and future Queen of Heaven!

Through the sharply focused eyes of faith, we see in this child, who comes into the world like any other child in a rush of blood and water, the Savior of the World and the King of the Universe. He is God dwelling among us in the flesh!

When we “prettify” the birth of the Son of God, we forget that the Son of God came in the flesh into our world at a very difficult time: a time when His people suffered from Roman oppression, a time when His earthly parents were far from home, a time when the only place available for Him to come was a place where animals lived.

Just as He came in a time of discomfort and challenge for Joseph and Mary, so he comes today into our world of turmoil and struggle.

Into this broken world, Jesus the Christ comes: a world where many cannot gather with family or attend Mass, or are experiencing income loss, or whose loved ones are sick with COVID-19, or are mourning the death of loved ones.

In this land of gloom a light shines which pierces the storms of sorrow and drives away the shadows of fear. Christ is born today and the whole world rejoices!

What can we do to sharpen our sight, to enable us to see and welcome Him now?

By staying immersed in the Word of God on a daily basis and at the celebration of Mass, our eyes are opened to see the Word made Flesh in our midst and to hear His Voice. Our hope grows as we hear how our ancestors in faith persevered through much tougher times than ours, and how God remained faithful to His promises to them. Listening and drinking in the stories of salvation history, our hope strengthens that God will remain faithful to us, too. Sunday after Sunday we are nourished by the stories of how God never tires in searching for his people, who are often lost and need to be found by his love. But in order to hear this saving word of love, we need to cease listening to all the hateful and divisive words on social media, which drown out His Word.

The Eucharist strengthens our trust that “God-is-with-us, Emmanuel.” Being fully human, Jesus understands the temptation to doubt God’s presence and care, especially in tough times. That is why he left us the Eucharist as a solid reminder that He is God with us. As He joins his life to ours in this sacred meal, we see how He is always coming to bring us abundant life here on earth and the promise of life eternal.

The joyful reception of the Living Word of God and the Living Bread come down from Heaven happens most powerfully in the midst of a Community of believers. We need one another, especially in tough times, to be Christ to and for each other. The Church exists because we need others to love us with the heart of Christ and to challenge us to expand the circle of the ones we love. Our brothers and sisters in Christ help free us from slavery to a rugged individualism, reminding us we are only going to make it through this pandemic together, and that we always need others to help us on our journey of faith.

We are a little over 9 months into this pandemic with the celebration of Christmas. 9 months in, and now, more than ever before, we need to give birth to the Christ who lives in us by faith. He is the Hope of the World, the Love of God enfleshed, the Source of our Faith!

With 20-20 vision, we see Him as he comes to save us today from ourselves. With the sharp insight of faith, we see Him as he comes to save us from our isolation from one another and from God. With the eyes of our faith renewed by this celebration of His birth, we see Him coming to set us free from our sin and from the consequences of sin, eternal death.

Jesus Christ, son of Mary, son of God, is the source of our Joy! In Him and with Him and through Him, we rejoice in God’s goodness and Love!!

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 20, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

How humble is God! God asks for a human body in order to save the human race, and then waits for Mary’s response.

How humble is God! While nothing is impossible with God, it would have been impossible without Mary. God will not force her consent, but asks and waits for her reply, and the whole world holds its breath.

Salvation is from above, the gift of heaven, yet it springs from human soil, from a particular human being cooperating with God, being open and receptive to God’s plan.

Mary freely chooses to exchange her limited imagination for the promises of God. She chooses to trust that God can do more for her and for the world through her than she can even imagine.

God the Father longs for His Son to be born by faith in us today by the power of the Holy Spirit. God longs to come more fully to life in us and asks for our bodies to do His saving work.

Imagine for one moment the trust God places in each one of us to do this. God keeps asking for our consent and waiting for our reply, humbly and with great patience.

For the way Christ Jesus comes into the world today is through particular human persons, through specific human bodies.

Too many Christians tend to think of God’s plan in a general way— that God has a plan for the earth and the people of the earth and is working out that plan out there somewhere.

But the Incarnation, God taking human flesh, reveals the “scandal of particularity.” There is nothing “general” about it.

God chooses a particular time (in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy) and a particular place (tiny Nazareth in the back country of Israel) and a particular person (Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph).

So, God chooses you at this time (Dec. 20, 2020) in this particular place (Mustang, which is kind of like Nazareth, an out of the way place) to continue his saving work. God has a plan for you to bring his Son into the world to people and places where no one else can do so—only you can. But God will not force this mission upon you, or me, but daily, with great humility, waits for our “Yes”.

From the beginning of salvation history, God has been a “traveling” God, a “companion” to people of faith who surrender to Him in love. The God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ, cannot be relegated to this or that “holy” place, to a house of worship, but desires to dwell with his people in their houses.

God goes with Abraham and Sarah on their long journey of faith. God accompanies Moses and the rag-tag bunch of freed Hebrew slaves, picking up and going with the people day-by-day on their travels through the desert to the Promised Land.

When David wants to build a “house” for God, God reminds David that God cannot be contained in a house, locked away in a holy place. God reminds David how God had been with David tending the sheep, helped him slay the giant Goliath, accompanied David on his many forays into the field of battle, and been with him as he ruled Israel day by day.

We come to this place to renew and deepen our relationship with the God who walks with us in our daily life. This beautiful place is a waystation along the journey, a place to be fed by Word and Sacrament and Community in order to be strengthened for our mission. For we are to bring the Lord we encounter and receive here into the many nooks and crannies of our daily life. So that the Lord who feeds us with his love on Sunday morning can feed others with his love through us on Monday thru Saturday.

The way the God of King David, the God of the Virgin Mary breaks into our world anew is through each one of us. But the God of power and might can only do this with our consent, with our YES! As Mary’s “Yes” changed the world forever, so the world will be forever changed by our “Yes.”

Can we say YES:
To living simply
To giving generously
To caring deeply
To speaking boldly
To walking by faith and not by sight
To saying courageously with Mary:
“May it be done to me according to your word.”

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

December 13, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

Rejoice always. We hear those words from St. Paul and immediately disregard them as being unrealistic. As the end of 2020 draws near, we struggle to rejoice for a minute or two each day, much less always. How can we rejoice as more people in our country are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 than ever before? How can we rejoice when so many people are losing jobs or have lost them? How can a doctor or nurse rejoice when they are worn out by hospitals overflowing with patients gasping for their next breath?

Then there are those other realities of 2020 which cause sadness, like not being able to physically touch or be touched by vulnerable family members. Or because of the vital importance of wearing a face covering, not seeing a smile on the face of another which might stir up some joy in our heart.

Before this pandemic began, we would have had a hard time putting Paul’s command to “rejoice always” into practice, but now it seems absolutely impossible.

But we should not discard the living word of God coming to us from St. Paul today that quickly.

One reason we Americans struggle to rejoice always is we equate joy with happiness. Happiness is not joy. Happiness is fleeting, it is not lasting, because it depends on transitory things: our emotions, the state of our health, our material well-being. Happiness is like the calm on the surface of the ocean, easily disrupted by the wind or boat traffic. Joy is located deep below the surface that cannot be disturbed by what goes on above. Ultimately for believers, joy is found in God. That’s right, joy is rooted in who God is. Joy also flows from recognizing what God has done, is doing, and will do! This 3rd Sunday of Advent is named, “Gaudete Sunday”, and that Latin word “Gaudete” means “to rejoice.”

The quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians from which this Sunday receives its title is quite clear about the source of joy: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” (Philippians 4:4)

Why rejoice? Not only because the celebration of the Lord’s birth is near, but because by the power of His Spirit He is near to us right now, coming to us right now. Why rejoice? Because our trust lies in the Savior of the World, not in the passing things of this world.

Because we know how much we are loved by God the Father who has given us life, we rejoice even now in these difficult days. Because of what the Son of God has done, taking our flesh and becoming human like us in all things but sin, we know how much we are loved and rejoice in that knowledge.

Because of what God is doing even now in our midst, feeding us with the Body and Blood of His Son, strengthening us by the support and love of others, bringing us to the light of another day, we rejoice. We are filled with expectant joy because we believe the Lord Jesus by the power of the Spirit is present among us even now in ways we do not recognize, that He will come to us in surprising ways today if we are but alert and ready.

Because of what God will do in the future, faithful to his promise to bring us through death to life forever with Him, we rejoice. Because of his glorious promise to send His Son in glory to bring an end to this world and to bring about a new heavens and new earth, where there will be no more sorrow anymore, where death will be no more, we are filled with joy.

For what God has done, for what God is doing, for what God will do, our hearts overflow with joy.

Because we are aware of the suffering of others, our joy is a clear-eyed joy. Precisely because we rejoice always in the Lord, we see what causes sadness in His heart, what is not right in this world, the injustices that others suffer, and we do something about it.

Working to make right what has gone wrong deepens our joy, because we embrace the mission of the Lord Jesus, which is a mission he has entrusted to each of the baptized.

With him and in Him, we have been anointed to proclaim glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to bring liberty to captives, and release to prisoners. The Spirit given us in baptism and sealed in Confirmation empowers us for this mission to the marginalized of our world.

The world does not recognize the Lord Jesus present in the powerless, those who hearts are broken with sorrow, those who suffer discrimination and are not treated as equal, even those behind prison bars. But for we who are Christian, it is in these people and in these situations that we encounter Christ coming to them in his broken, suffering body, and so we receive Him with joy.

The other joy-filled result of allowing Christ living in us to serve Christ living in the least of our sisters and brothers is that those who are poor & powerless are often the ones most filled with joy. Why? Because every day they depend on their Heavenly Father to provide their daily bread, knowing that everything they have been given, especially the gift of another day, comes from God. Their joy is infectious gift to those who serve them.

If we want to rejoice always in the Lord, we need remember St. Paul’s instruction that joy is connected to gratitude and prayer. If we desire to welcome the Lord of Joy, we recall that prayer and gratitude give birth to joy.

Prayer, that ongoing conversation we have with the Lord, awakens gratitude, which then leads to joy. Joy leads back to prayer, causing us to lift up our minds, hearts, and voices with the Blessed Virgin Mary in praise of the God who keeps doing great things for us.

We sing with Mary, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior … who has done great things for me!”

With Mary’s help, we give birth to the Son of God by faith in our lives of joy-filled service.

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

December 6, 2020

Fr. Joseph Jacobi

The Prophet Isaiah speaks to us today of the time when the people of Israel are returning from exile in Babylon after many years away from home. The Babylonian army had leveled their beloved Jerusalem, destroyed their beautiful temple, and taken the people of Israel captive. Uprooted from their homeland, they lived as strangers in a strange land, nothing normal about their life, everything they knew and trusted in before now gone.

As the people finally return home after this long exile, the prophet reminds them it is God who has saved them, God who has set them free from their captivity, and that now it is God who is preparing the way for them to go home. Though the people had been unfaithful to God, had turned their backs on God, the God of Israel had always remained faithful to them.

Now God is leveling all the immovable obstacles which like mountains had blocked their way home. Now God is filling up the valleys of their despair with the hope of new life. The God of their ancestors who had made a way forward where there was no way by parting the waters of the Red Sea, now makes a way for them to return home. Their long captivity is at an end.

How could they not shout out for joy, proclaiming to the world all that God had done to save them! So, the prophet Isaiah urges the people to tell the whole world what God has done. “Zion, herald of glad tidings! Cry out at the top of your voice! Jerusalem, herald of good news!” (Isaiah 40:9)

The same Greek word which expressed the glad tidings and good news of Isaiah is translated by the evangelist Mark as “gospel.” In the very first verse of Mark’s proclamation we hear: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark the evangelist is the first one to tell the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and he is the first one to use that word—gospel—for such an account.

Translating the word “gospel” as good news or glad tidings, fails to capture the power of what Mark is trying to convey. Perhaps the best way to translate these first words from the first evangelist is: A Cry of Joy,” yes, “A Cry of Joy about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Mark’s passion is for us to know Jesus as he knows Jesus, and in doing so, to have our hearts erupt in a shout of joy over what God has done for us in His Son. This joy is like the cry of joy from a man saved from certain death. It is like the cry of joy from a woman giving birth to her child. It is like the cry of joy from a soldier and his family reuniting after a long separation.

Mark uses the same Greek word as Isaiah did for glad tidings and good news to connect the God of Israel with the God of Jesus Christ. The Good News Mark shares is about Jesus, who reveals the good news about who God is and that God’s reign has begun on earth. Isaiah and the people of Israel shout and dance for joy because God has set them free and made a way for them to go home. The people of Jesus’ day and ever after sing and leap for joy because in the very person of Jesus the Good News of who God is has been revealed.

In Jesus, we encounter God acting, God speaking, and the beginning of God’s reign. The Season of Advent is a time to welcome God present in our world in Jesus through the Holy Spirit, to recognize that in the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God breaks into the world and takes root here. Everything, and I do mean everything, has changed forever, because in Jesus God shouts for Joy because of his love for all humanity.

With the coming of Jesus, time is fulfilled, for the moment all humanity has been waiting for has arrived. The rule of God can actually be seen and heard, touched and known, here and now. Jesus gives us a glimpse of heaven where there is food enough for all as he multiplies the loaves and feeds the multitudes; where disease will not destroy us as he heals the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for 12 long years, and where death has no power over us as he lifts up a 12-year old girl from her deathbed.

As we follow Jesus in the year ahead, the Year of Mark, the evangelist wants us to know without a doubt that in Jesus God’s long-awaited reign on earth has begun, continued into Mark’s day and continues into ours as well.

Mark has experienced God’s reign in Jesus’ person and writes his gospel to transfer this experience to us. It is the awesome goodness of God that beats at the heart of Jesus’ mission. It is the mercy of God which propels him into our world to embrace the world’s pain. It is in the person of Jesus Christ that the good news of God actually exists.

Those are some of the first words from the mouth of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: “Repent and believe in the good news.” Thus, we are called by Jesus to believe in this good news, to trust in God’s goodness revealed in his very person. This trust is the foundation for true repentance, not repentance by feeling sorry for this or that bad word or deed, but repentance as a change in the way we think about God, which leads to a change in the way we live our life.

It makes no sense with God now among us in Jesus to do anything except align ourselves, our whole selves, everything we have and are, with God’s rule. To recognize that our politics are not the Gospel and that our politicians are not God!

For the goodness of God in Jesus challenges us to realign our prideful posturing. The mercy of God in Jesus challenges us to recalibrate our ethical thresholds. The love of God in Jesus challenges us to remanufacture our principled priorities.

So, this Advent spend less time with your Facebook news posts and more time reading the Gospel of Mark. Set aside your social media during Advent and pray with the account of the good news found in Mark.

The Son of God is coming to us during this Season of Advent, but we are looking in the wrong direction—toward the “bad news”. Advent invites us to turn around and welcome Him who is Good News and trust that He alone can save us, that He alone can free us from all that enslaves us.

Then as we lean into the glad tidings of God and let go, we trust that we will be caught by the Good Shepherd who will carry us home.