Christmas Homily 2019
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, Homeland
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore
20/20 Vision in 2020
It is a just a bit early to welcome in the New Year, but after all, the birth of Christ is what really marks humanity’s new beginning. And indeed, the year that lies ahead of us is the euphonic 2020. The word rolls off our tongue, like the alliteration that it is, and what’s more we associate the word 2020 with perfect eyesight.
If, like me, you need to wear corrective lenses, you probably regard 20/20 eyesight as something most desirable.
How wonderful it would be to take off one’s glasses, to stand back 20 feet, and still be able to read that eyechart in the ophthalmologist’s office!
As we head toward 2020, we ought to pray for renewed vision in our society so that some vitally important matters might come more clearly into focus. Wouldn’t it be most desirable if our nation were to see – clearly – how destructive the current polarization of culture truly is?
Would it not be most desirable for us, as a people, to focus on the plight, the plight of the poor and vulnerable in our midst: the unborn and frail elderly; the homeless and refugees; victims of drug abuse; those who suffer from violence, grinding poverty, religious persecution, racism, and lack of educational and economic opportunity?
Conversely, what a redeeming moment it would be for us, as a people, to focus on the dignity of each person, to cherish the divine within every human being. Yes, on this Christmas we should pray for the corrective lenses of faith and reason for our nation, for our world, for our leaders, indeed, for our Church.
Sharpening the Vision in Our Eyes of Faith
But let us not fall into the trap of correcting others without looking into ourselves. Jesus advises that before we take the splinter from the eye of another, we should first remove the plank in our own eye… (Mt. 7:5; Lk. 6:42)
The eyes to which the Savior is referring are not our physical eyes but rather the eyes of our heart, the eyes of our soul, indeed, the eyes of faith. On this feast of Christmas, and in the year ahead, we should ask our newborn Savior,
‘the light of the world,’ who ‘enlightens everyone coming into the world’ (Jn. 8:12;1:9 ), to bring the eyes of our soul clearly into focus, indeed, 20/20 focus.
Such a prayer is among the most worthy we could offer on this joyous feast. Did not St. Paul pray that ‘the eyes of [our] hearts would be enlightened’ (Eph. 1:18) so that we might glimpse the hope that is ours – we who have been called by Christ to share with all the saints in the glorious splendor of heaven?
So too, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews urges us to persevere in the faith “while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2).
The Apostle Peter challenges us to keep our eyes fixed on the Gospel of Jesus Christ ‘as if it were a lamp shining in a dark place’ (2 Pet 1:19).
In the ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit, the Veni Creator [Come, Holy Spirit], we ask the Holy Spirit to kindle his light in our minds, such that the light of Christ which Isaiah the prophet saw and saluted from afar might shine in our inmost self.
On this feast resplendent with stars in the sky, the refracted glory of the angels, and the immensity of God’s light and love tucked into a tiny baby in a manger, we do well to ask the Holy Spirit to correct any deficiencies in our spiritual vision, and to give us eyes to see the mystery of love unfolding before us in this liturgy. And, more than that, to have 20/20 spiritual vision in the year that lies ahead.
What, indeed, does the Holy Spirit enable to us to see as we celebrate Christmas? What, indeed, does the Holy Spirit want us to focus on the year ahead?
Allow me to suggest three things upon which our eyes of faith might focus: First, a God who gives himself to us; Secon, a hopeful way of living; Third, a joy to be shared.
A God Who Gives Himself to Us // A Hopeful Way of Life // A Joy to be Shared
First, then, let us ask for the grace to focus clearly, with the eyes of our heart, on the God who gives himself to us without reserve, with total generosity.
Let us ask for the grace to see the gift that lies open before us, and to appreciate its value beyond price or measure.
For what we celebrate at Christmas is the God who created us in love and for love; the God who searched us out and pursued us when we went astray; the God who went so far as to send his only begotten Son into the world as our Savior.
Yes, this is what we celebrate: God sent us his divine Son (John 3:14) who ‘emptied himself of glory (Phil 2:7) and became like us in all things but sin (Heb. 4:15), and did so to preach glad tidings of salvation, to heal the sick, and raise up the dead, to suffer and die on the Cross, and then to rise from the dead, to free us from our sins.
Indeed, so much does God love us that he continues to give us his Son and our Savior, Jesus, who speaks to us when Scripture is read in the light of the Holy Spirit; Jesus, whose forgiveness is readily available to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; Jesus, whose sacrifice of love is perpetuated whenever Holy Mass is celebrated;
and whose Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity is given to us in the Most Holy Eucharist.
With our eyes fixed on the newborn Savior, perhaps we should ask ourselves if we ever have any valid reason to turn away from God’s self-giving love, especially Jesus’ gift of self in the Most Holy Eucharist. With this beautiful gift clearly in focus, may we make Sunday Mass a priority in 2020!
Second, bathed in the light and love of this holy feast, the eyes of our heart can see more clearly how we can live truly hope-filled lives. For, as St. Paul wrote to Titus, “When the kindness and generous love of God appeared…” we were saved.
Indeed, we were saved, but not because we had earned it by our good deeds, but rather because of the grace of Baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the light of Jesus’ love for us, renewed hope should be kindled in our hearts, hope of life eternal, a hope that prompts me & you to live differently, or as Paul says, to live “temperately, devoutly, and justly in this age as we await the blessed hope”, the return of the Risen Lord in glory as our Savior and our Judge.
With the vision of God’s love always before us, we find fresh energy each day to reject evil and to embrace righteousness, even to the point of accepting trials and sufferings willingly, so as to purify our hearts by sharing more intimately in Christ’s sufferings.
What’s more, suffering and self-denial can give us spiritual insight into the needs and sufferings of others, so much so, that we may find ourselves as never before reaching out to the poor and vulnerable.
Yes, accepting God’s gift of his Son, Jesus, the Child in the manger, means embracing a hopeful way of living, a life in which we learn how to love as Jesus loves, and indeed to love as the saints and angels in heaven love: that is the goal of our lives.
In 2020 let our eyes of our heart be focused on that overarching goal, for, as a famous Catholic writer, a wonderfully clear thinker, put it, “There is only one tragedy in the end: not to have been a saint” (Charles Péguy).
Finally, if the eyes of our hearts are focused on Jesus, born to save us, and if the gift of Jesus continues to transform how we live and think, whom we love, what we read, what gets us out of bed in the morning, (Father Pedro Arrupe)
if our inward eye perceives such a transformation underway in our lives … then, we will be “surprised by joy” (C.S. Lewis), a joy we will not want to keep to ourselves.
Rather, we will want to share this greatest of all joys, the truth that love has found us, with spouses, family members, loved ones, and friends, a joy that will daily reflect the glorious song of the angels, heard again this night:
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, peace to people of good will.”
May you have a most blessed Christmas and joyous New Year!