Archbishop Lori’s Homily: Christmas 2020

Christmas 2020
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen – Livestreamed & T.V. Broadcast
December 25, 2020

A Trip to the Grand Canyon

If you have ever been to the Grand Canyon and gazed in wonderment at its immensity and its beauty, then and there you may have been struck by the immensity and beauty of the Creator of the Earth and the stars. If, on the other hand, you have not visited the Grand Canyon, then, the next best thing is to watch Ken Burns’ documentary on our national parks.

With his usual artistry, he gives us a glimpse of the Grand Canyon in all its wonder and unpacks the deep significance of this “sacred space” on the American landscape.

He does this by skillfully weaving together the perspectives of many people – from park rangers and geologists to philosophers and theologians, past and present. Some of them contrast the vastness of the Grand Canyon with the smallness and insignificance of our day-to-day concerns and preoccupations.

Others contrast the natural authenticity of the Grand Canyon with the falseness of the scales upon which we weigh what is important and what is not. Still, others compare the vast expanses of the landscape surrounding the Canyon with the restricted canyons formed by buildings in large cities, and the limited vistas of daily routine made all the more limited by the pandemic.

What Is Man That You Care for Him?

Some commentators, though, go a step further. They contrast the greatness of the Canyon with the smallness of the human person.

In the face of nature’s wonders, they question the significance of our human lives. Some even assert the “smallness” of religious faith in comparison to the beauty of nature.

For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson, in effect opined, that the beauty of nature puts religious faith to shame.

Perhaps, on this Christmas, this where we must beg to differ.

Throughout this past difficult year, when the usual props in our lives were kicked out from under us, we may have found ourselves wondering more profoundly about the meaning of life and the purpose of our existence.

If we took time to pray and to reflect, we may have discovered, without leaving home, something vaster, something more enduring, something more breathtaking than all of nature’s wonders put together.

Here I am referring to the expanses of our interior life – the gift of intellect and free will, our emotional life, the immortality of our soul, the stunning truth that you and I are created in God’s image.

Giving praise and thanks to the Creator, Psalm 139 exalts:

“You formed my inmost being
you knit me in my mother’s womb
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works! (vs. 13-14).

The Psalmist adds, “My very self you know” (v. 14).

Not only did God make us in the divine image, but he also cares enough to know us deeply and intimately, more intimately than we know ourselves.

The Interior Chasm

Unlike the Grand Canyon, however, which ought to remain untouched by human ingenuity and enterprise, the vast expanses of our soul need to be filled, or better yet, need to be fulfilled.

As we peer into our inward landscape, you and I, we will see to our regret that it is littered with things unworthy of the God who made us and unworthy of our human dignity We will also find there are good relationships, healthy interests, and notable successes. Yet, none of those things fully satisfies our longings, our deepest aspirations.

Our souls are waiting to be filled – but with what? For nothing and no one on this earth seems capable of filling that vast expanse at the core of our being, created like God and for God. In St. Augustine’s immortal words, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions, Book I,1-2).

On a star-lit night long ago, when the universe itself seemed to stand at attention,
a tiny child entered the world in a crude stable in a far corner of the Roman Empire. But for the angels’ song and the shepherds’ amazement, an onlooker might have seen only a young couple down on their luck. Faith and history have told a different story.

“… a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulders, dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. [And] his dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Isaiah 9:5-6).

Conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, this tiny baby is the Incarnate Son of God, indeed, the Word made flesh, the Word that perfectly reflects the Father’s glory (Hebrews 1:3), the Word through whom the universe in all its wonder was created (John 1:3) – not only the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, and the Great Barrier Reef, but indeed worlds light years away which we can only glimpse from afar.

Entering human history as Savior and Lord, this tiny baby also proposed to enter into the hearts and minds of people of every time, place, and condition.

He proposed to reclaim and restore our vast interior spaces, no matter how contaminated by sin, no matter how sad or discouraged we may be… and to fill the emptiness at the core of our being with the only thing that satisfies: his infinitely beautiful, powerful, intimate, redeeming love, a love he would fully reveal when he poured out his life for us on the Cross.

Some 2,000 years later, men and women all over the planet pause this night and day to own for themselves the great mystery of the God ‘who so loved the world so much that he gave us his only begotten Son’ (John 3:16).

Let us join them, bending our knees in adoration of the Christ-Child, our Savior.

Doing so impresses upon us the immensity and beauty of his love for us, an immensity and beauty that makes us once again sense our smallness.

With the Psalmist we say, “Lord, what is man that you take notice of him?” (144:3).

Yet the Lord does not mean for the greatness of his love to belittle us, or our faith, but rather to cleanse our hearts, raise them up, and fill them beyond capacity with a love that overflows for our families, our friends, our enemies, and the poor.

Not Just at Christmas

But why do this only on Christmas?

After all, the Lord’s entry into the human scene was not a “one and done”. Through the preaching of the Word and the Sacraments of the Church, the Lord remains with us every Sunday and every day of the year. The Lord is with us continually to reclaim and restore those vast interior spaces in the depth of our hearts, and to fill them with his love.

Whether you are fully churched or unchurched, disaffiliated or discontent, I invite you, in the grace and joy of this feast, to look into the depths and expanses of your interior self. Allow the One who reveals the Father’s love also to reveal you to yourself. Then, come, let us worship.

May you and your loved ones experience, perhaps as never before, the true and authentic joy of Christmas and may God bless you and keep you always in his love!

 

 

 

 

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori

Archbishop William E. Lori was installed as the 16th Archbishop of Baltimore May 16, 2012.

Prior to his appointment to Baltimore, Archbishop Lori served as Bishop of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., from 2001 to 2012 and as Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington from 1995 to 2001.

A native of Louisville, Ky., Archbishop Lori holds a bachelor's degree from the Seminary of St. Pius X in Erlanger, Ky., a master's degree from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg and a doctorate in sacred theology from The Catholic University of America. He was ordained to the priesthood for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1977.

In addition to his responsibilities in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop Lori serves as Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus and is the former chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.