Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Donkey Speaks

Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family, Year A
I can’t believe they didn’t even mention me. After all, I did just about all of the work – it’s no short trip to walk all the way from Bethlehem to Egypt, let alone to have a heavy load on your back. And then, when the story was written down, the story of Mary and Joseph and their little baby boy, I’m not even mentioned. It would have been so easy to say that Mary rode on a donkey when they went to Egypt – but nothing. It’s as if I weren’t even there. But, then again, the gospel’s not really about me – it’s about the child, the baby boy I carried, the one they call Jesus.

This little family definitely didn’t have an easy life – first, Mary becomes pregnant miraculously, then they have to travel to Bethlehem when she’s almost ready to give birth, and with no room in the inn – well, you know the story. And now, to have to go all the way to Egypt so soon after the baby was born – if I were Mary and Joseph, I’d be wondering what kind of person God is to let so many obstacles be put in my path. But it’s strange – they never complained, they never questioned – they did just what God asked of them. It really was a great privilege to be with them on their journey to Egypt – to see how much Mary and Joseph loved each other, but even more how much they loved the baby. They had to set aside their own plans, their own family, to do what was best for the child, even if that meant walking all the way to the strange land of Egypt, where they didn’t know anyone. You should have seen it – the trust, the faith, the love that filled this little family.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – well, of course there was love and trust and faith, because this isn’t just any family we’re talking about, it’s the holy family. God chose Mary and Joseph because he knew they would be great parents, that they were up to the task he was going to give them to take care of his son. And you’re right – God did choose Mary and Joseph for this special role, but believe me, they were just as afraid as you would be if you were fleeing to Egypt so your baby boy wouldn’t be killed by a crazy king.

But this family does have something that not all families have – they have God at the center of their lives, as the focus of everything they’re doing – literally, the Word made flesh is a part of their family. Not every family has that. Now, call me crazy – I’m just a poor, lowly donkey – but from everything I’ve heard about God and about this baby, it doesn’t have to be that way; you can be just like the Holy Family. You, too, can have this tiny baby and the man he will become as the center of your life – you, too, can have the Word made flesh as part of your family, through the Eucharist and the other sacraments, through prayer and Scripture. Life is certainly not easy, but if you can keep the focus on Jesus Christ – and not on your own plans for success, not on your own possessions, not even on your modes of transportation, whether donkey or more sophisticated – if you can keep your focus on Jesus, then you can be like the Holy Family, because that’s all they did that made their lives so meaningful. But what do I know, I’m just a poor donkey. Read the story yourself to find out the truth.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Prosperity Preaching Questioned

Especially in recent years, a movement has been growing in Christianity in the United States known as "The Gospel of Wealth" or "Prosperity Preaching." The heart of this movement is an interpretation of certain biblical texts to say that God wants everyone to be wealthy, and that if you have a strong enough faith you will definitely prosper in life. For many of us Christians, it is hard to understand the scriptural basis for this Gospel of Wealth - true, God does want people to have the best life they can, but he also takes a special concern for the poor and neglected, those who are as far away from wealthy as can be. Traditional Christianity holds that the greatest treasure in life is our faith, which can lead us to enjoy eternal life with God. The Gospel of Wealth seems to place so much emphasis on personal success in this life that the glory of heaven is diminshed.

The Gospel of Wealth has been spread primarily though charismatic evangelical preachers, most of whom themselves enjoy a great deal of personal success and wealth. Now, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa is leading a congressional investigation into the finances of six religious groups that preach the Gospel of Wealth to some degree. Grassley is looking specifically at the lavish spending of preachers promoting the Gospel of Wealth and their possible abuse of their tax-exempt status. Here is a CNN article on the investigation and the Gospel of Wealth in general.

As we are so close to Christmas and the commercialization that now accompanies this religious holiday, it seems an appropriate time to ask whether material success and the Christian gospel go hand-in-hand. In the United States, at least, it would seem that having a good Christmas is only possible if you are wealthy enough to buy extravagant gifts for family members and friends. And yet, on that first Christmas night, the most important gift was a newborn baby - God's gift of himself. And by the time that baby reached adulthood, he did not have a home, probably had few personal possessions, and most of his friends abandonded him as he was being led to his death. How about that for success?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas at OLPH

Here are some pictures of my parish church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, decorated for Christmas. The Liturgy Committee and Art and Environment Coordinator do a great job of celebrating all the seasons and feasts of the year. A continued Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bethlehem Hospitality

Homily for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Year A
Christmas is a many-faceted celebration. But if there is only one word that can sum up the best of everything that is Christmas: hospitality. Throughout the world, these days of Christmas are a time when people gather, when homes are opened to family, neighbors, and co-workers. Employers, clubs, and really any kind of group of friends have invited each other to Christmas parties. Religious and civic groups reach out to try to provide a meaningful Christmas for those who can’t afford to buy anything extra. And churches everywhere welcome worshippers to celebrate Christ’s birth. By its very nature, Christmas brings people together and inspires a warmth and welcome more than any other time of year. But it hasn’t always been that way. On the first Christmas, so long ago, the city of Christ’s birth was closed off to the people who needed hospitality the most, man and his wife, who was heavy with child.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

If only the people of Bethlehem had known what was happening that night. If only they could see the miracle that was wandering through their dark streets. Of course, there were some who did – like the shepherds who heard the message of the angels and went to welcome this new-born king. This baby was not completely without welcome. Some days later, visitors arrived from the east, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Each one did their part to greet this holy child, to make our God feel at home in this world he had created.

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth;
For Christ is born of Mary; and, gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.

The true blessing of Christmas is that our celebration today is not just about an event of the past. The true blessing of Christmas is that Christ is waiting to be born among us, right here, right now; and we desperately need his presence. When our love seems to fall short, we need to feel the unconditional love that only God can give us. When our courage or patience wear thin, we need to be strengthened by the God who made us. When we seem lost or abandoned, there is only one person who can put us on the right path. The true blessing of Christmas is that God lives with us here on earth each day. And in this season of hospitality, there is only one person we all must be prepared to welcome:

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.

Come, Lord Jesus. We are ready to welcome you.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Joseph, the Silent Man

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A
He never says a word, this man named Joseph. He is silent and still, at least in what is recorded in Scripture. He is really in the background of the story, a story centered around the child of his wife, but a child who was not his own; he is in the background of a story centered around the man this child would become, and the suffering and death he would endure; a story centered around a prophecy of God-made man. We couldn’t imagine a Nativity Scene without this silent man, standing there, leaning on a staff, gazing at the child. We might wonder what is going through his mind, what his perspective on this miracle is. But he never says a word, this man named Joseph. He listens to the angel, he understands, and he does what the Lord asks of him.

And yet the silence of Joseph is fitting in these last days of Advent, these last days before Christmas. Because, really, what could you say? What words could express the mystery of our God who loves us so much that he becomes one of us; what words could express the fact that this tiny child is destined to save all people from their sins? It is a miracle beyond words, a grace beyond comprehension. All Joseph can do is listen to the angel and gaze at the child – no words are needed when you’re in the presence of the Word made Flesh.

It’s fitting, too, that one of the most loved Christmas songs of all time calls to mind the silence of that night, when that holy infant was born. The world was calm and bright in the presence of the holy one of Israel; no words were needed. But we’re not quite there yet; we still have some time before we sing that song. As hard as it is, we have to wait, we have to watch. In just a matter of hours, the joy of Christmas will be upon us; their will be singing and shouting, the clamor of holiday meals and the excitement of unwrapping gifts. The noise may be so great in some places that we can’t hear the cry of a baby, or the sweet song of his mother. In our own joy, we may forget the humble shepherds or the choir of angels. And so today, we step back and look around. Today, we stand with Joseph, the silent man, who has heard the voice of the angel. Today, we wait with Joseph, the husband, who guides and guards his wife, Mary, who is heavy with child. Today, we watch with Joseph, the righteous man, as the miracle of all miracles takes place: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Come to us, O Emmanuel; we are waiting in joyful hope for your coming among us. Break into our silence and fill the earth with your Word. “Dear Savior haste! Come, come to earth. Dispel the night and show your face, and bid us hail the dawn of grace. O come, divine Messiah; the world in silence waits the day when hope shall sing its triumph and sadness flee away!”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The War on Christmas

With only five days left until Christmas, it's time once again for us Christians to stand up and say what Christmas is all about: the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as man. All the other peripherals surrounding this holiday - from the carols to the presents to the pageants to the decorations - can serve to highlight and celebrate Christ's birthday, or they can take on a meaning of their own, devoid of any religious significance. For example, the tradition of gift-giving on Christmas recalls the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh given by the magi to Jesus, and this tradition can also connect very well with the message of "goodwill toward men" that the angels proclaimed and the unconditional love that Christ calls us to show to others. The tradition of a Christmas tree can remind us that, like the evergreen tree, God is always living; and the lights of the tree (representing Christ as the light of the world) and the angel or star toppers (from the Nativity story) can also lead us back to the heart of the Christmas celebration.

Unfortunately, there are those out there who want to separate the religious from the secular to such an extreme that they advocate taking Christ out of Christmas. Earlier this week, the Louisville Courier-Journal published an OpEd titled "Christmas should be more commercial." The conclusion: "America's tragedy is that its intellectual leaders have typically tried to replace happiness with guilt by insisting that the spiritual meaning of Christmas is religion and self-sacrifice for Tiny Tim or his equivalent. But the spiritual must start with recognizing reality. Life requires reason, selfishness, capitalism; that is what Christmas should celebrate -- and really, underneath all the pretense, that is what it does celebrate. It is time to take the Christ out of Christmas, and turn the holiday into a guiltlessly egoistic, pro-reason, this-worldly, commercial celebration."

It's almost hard to take this article seriously, but what it really does is show what we Christians are up against in our world today. The world needs Christ now, just as much as ever, and we need a Christmas that celebrates what he came to give us: unconditional love, joy, peace, generosity, and the hope of eternal life. There is much to celebrate on Christmas, but nothing more so than Christ himself.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Golden Compass, Part 3 - The Movie

December is a busy time for us priests, so I just yesterday had a chance to see the movie version of The Golden Compass, even though it has been in wide release for over a week. In earlier posts, I reflected on the first book of the series by Philip Pullman, on which the movie is based. Here are my thoughts on the movie ...

Overall, I was not impressed. As with most movie versions of books, this movie took quite a few liberties with the plot, and for some of them, I'm not sure why the changes were made. I never really got invested in the movie - there was nothing about the characters that made me care too much what was happening to them. Having read the book, I know that the plot is fairly complicated, but in the movie, most of the complications were taken out, leaving a plot that was so thin that I was never quite sure why we should be interested in what was going on. The best parts of the movie were the visuals of the world that were created, a world much like ours but where people's souls live outside their bodies in the form of animals. There seemed to be so much effort given to the visuals, that there was little time left over to be concerned about the plot. As for the anti-Christian elements - in some ways, they were more visible in the movie than the books (such as a more visible role for the leaders of the Magisterium), but in other ways were so much on the periphery that they did not matter too much.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, recently wrote an article on the movie - a summary and news report can be found here. The article verbalizes well my own feelings after seeing the movie, that "It's a film that leaves one cold, because it brings with it the coldness and the desperation of rebellion, solitude and individualism. ... In the world of Pullman, hope simply doesn't exist, in part because there is no salvation but only personal, individualistic capacity to control the situation and dominate events. ...The spectator of this film, if he is honest and gifted with a critical spirit, will feel no particular emotion, except for a great coldness -- which is not only due to the polar scenes." There is a real absence of love in the movie. Ultimately, I don't think Christians will be led to atheism because of this movie, but rather led to sadness at the world it depicts, and great joy and hope at our own world which is filled with love. For a depiction of a world without love, see The Golden Compass. If anything, it may help you appreciate more what we do have in our God-created and love-filled world.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Stop Light Patience

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 … Imagine … You’re in the car, driving through town – maybe on the way to the grocery store, or to Church, or to pick up the kids at school. Just as you approach a stoplight at a busy intersection, the light turns yellow, and then red. You stop – you’re the first car in line – and you wait. 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 … You’re mind is rushing through all the things you need to do – the places you need to get to, right now, and it’s raining, and you’re already late. 41, 42, 43, 44, 45 … Maybe the light’s not working right – there aren’t any cars coming, maybe I should just drive through and hope the police aren’t around. 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75 … by this time, your patience expired long ago, but, finally, the light turns green. And just as you pull away from the intersection, the next stoplight turns yellow, and then red, and you stop, again. 1, 2, 3, 4 …

Patience. Most of us want it, but very few of us have it. It’s a virtue, they say, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. St. James talks about patience today – “be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.” And it’s not just about waiting at a red light. We look for patience when awaiting results from a medical test, or for college application results. We seek patience during holiday gatherings with those family members we don’t quite get along with. But we Christians seem to especially need patience when it comes to God – it seems that God never works on our time. We pray for wisdom to know how best to love our children, or our parents. We pray for guidance on what direction to take our life. We pray for the heart to forgive past hurts. And all too often, we want those things quicker than they come. The patience to live on God’s time seems nearly impossible.

Patience really is all about trust, and trusting that God will take care of us. It doesn’t come naturally, it is a gift – God’s gift to us to remind us that he is in charge, that he knows what is best for us. In calling us to have patience, God wants to teach us to depend on him, and not on ourselves or others. As with many of the Christian virtues, learning patience must start with something else – we must start by having faith in God, faith that God is guiding our lives, that he really does know what is best for us. Impatience comes from wanting to be in control. If we can realize that God is in control, then we may be able to step back and wait patiently for whatever will come, because we know that God will not lead us on the wrong path. But patience also takes practice – we can’t expect to have the patience of Job right away. It takes regular practice, especially in the little things, and regular prayer. If we work at it, we might even be able to turn times of impatience into opportunities of grace – like using the time spent stopped at a red light to say a prayer, or using the time spent waiting in a doctor’s office to read a good book. Patience takes practice and it takes prayer – it’s not easy. And today, as we wait for a winter storm to pass through, as we wait for Christmas to arrive, we seek patience, because nothing we can do can make time speed up; nothing we can do can make the red light change more quickly; nothing we can do can really make the world revolve around us.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Dream Bars

For the past several months, I have been hosting groups of parishioners in the rectory for sessions I'm calling "Fellowship with Father." These informal gatherings are an opportunity for me to get to know parishioners at my new parish, as well as for them to get to know me, and for me to hear from them their vision for our parish. For each of these gatherings, I have some homemade refreshments, and I have gotten requests for some of the recipes I have used. So over the next several weeks - and perhaps as an ongoing feature of this blog - I'll be sharing some of the best recipes I have found and used. I'm starting with a recipe that is a family favorite. My Aunt Nancy, who died a little over three years ago - was famous for her Christmas cookies - she would bake dozens of dozens of cookies each year, and family members and friends would receive plates of cookies at Christmas time. This was one of our all-time favorite cookies.

Caramel Pecan Dream Bars

Base Ingredients
1 pkg. Yellow Cake Mix
1/3 cup softened butter or margarine
1 egg

1 can Condensed Milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup Heath Bits O'Brickle Baking Chips

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13x9-inch pan. In large bowl, combine cake mix, margarine and egg. Mix at high speed until crumbly. Press into prepared pan. In small bowl, beat milk, egg, and vanilla until blended. Stir in pecans and Heath chips. Pour over base in pan; spread to cover.

Bake at 350 for 25 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown. Center may appear loose but will set upon cooling. Allow bars to cool completely before cutting. Makes 36 bars.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

St. Lucy

Today is the feast of one of the great Advent saints, St. Lucy. Born into a wealthy Roman family, Lucy was proudly Christian at a time (late 3rd Century) when Christians were being persecuted by the leaders of the Roman Empire. She was arranged to be married to a pagan, but wanted to devote her life to Christ. Her rejected groom informed the governor that Lucy was Christian as a way to get back at her for not wanting to marry him. She was ordered to be killed and suffered great tortures, including having her eyes gouged out. The authorities tried to burn her, but as she was preaching the gospel from the fire, the flames went out. Ultimately, she was stabbed to death.

Lucy is a popular saint among young children who dress up for All Saints' Day, usually either because they can walk around with a plate with eyeballs on it or they can have a wreath of candles on their heads, two of the ways Lucy is portrayed in Christian art. St. Lucy was adopted by the Swedes as their patron saint, and there are many customes in Sweden on today's feast day, including baking and eating Lucia bread which is delivered to family members by a girl dressed in white with candles on her head. St. Lucy's name means "light," another reason she has been connected with Advent, the four candles of the Advent wreath, and our waiting to welcome the light of Christ at Christmas. May the light of St. Lucy guide us to Christ, the one who is coming to save us.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Peaceable Kingdom vs. The Brood of Vipers

Homily for the Second Sunday in Advent, Year A
It all sounds so nice, doesn’t it, this vision from Isaiah? The wolf lying down with the lamb, the leopard and the young goat, the calf and the lion together as friends – it’s just like a perfect Christmas card. Peace on earth, even among the animals. Happiness for everyone, love blossoming among enemies, justice for all – you can almost here the soft music playing in the background – and then: bang! “You brood of vipers. … Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. … every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” Your house is in need of a major cleaning – not just your physical house, but the house of your soul. Apparently, John the Baptist had not been reading up on Isaiah before his preaching in the desert. And for the Church to give us such harsh words in this season all about hope and joy – it seems to make no sense. But maybe John the Baptist has a point.

Maybe our spiritual homes are a bit of a wreck. Maybe there’s good reason for this crazy man from the desert to call us to account, to insist that we need to clean house, to beg that we repent. I imagine that just about all of our spiritual lives have some clutter in them. There are corners where dust, and dirt, and trash have accumulated. There are signs of neglect, where the paint is peeling, the carpet is frayed, and the drapes have faded. Windows are grimy; they barely let in the light of the sun. And today John the Baptist shows up and points out to us those things that we have been neatly overlooking for who-knows-how-long. And he expects change – not because of what he has to say, but because there is someone coming after him, someone following in his footsteps who we should care about. Jesus does not even make an appearance in today’s gospel, but we know he’s coming. What are we going to do to get ready for him?

Perhaps we need to start by spending more time with him – maybe our mass attendance has become sporadic, or our prayer life has been swept under the dresser. God has promised us a place on his holy mountain, and we would do well in this life to make sure we know where that mountain of God is. These days of Advent are a time to look at how much time we are spending with God. Or perhaps it’s our pride that needs work, or our anger, or lust, or jealousy – those things that we know are there, deep down inside, but either we’re afraid to live without them or we don’t quite know what to do. Now is the time to dust off the virtues and to practice the gifts of the Holy Spirit, things like wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. We have the gifts – now is the time to unwrap them, put all the pieces together, put in some batteries, and get to work.

If it sounds like hard work, well, it is – no one will deny that. It’s hard work to always choose God above ourselves. It’s hard work to root out pride – it takes practice, daily practice. We can start by spending a few minutes with God each day. In that time, we can examine the nooks and crannies of our lives to see what needs to be swept up or cleaned out – that teaches us humility. Then, for every thing we do for ourselves, we should also do something for someone else – that teaches us love and compassion. And if we have accomplished those tasks – spending time with God each day, showing God’s love to others – then we will be well on our way to be ready to welcome Christ at Christmas, instead of just the gift-bearing magi. It’s hard work, to be sure. But the reward – ah, the reward – remember that vision of Isaiah? The wolf will be the guest of the lamb, the calf and the lion will dwell together, and there will be peace, true peace, on God’s holy mountain. Now that’s something to look forward to. But we have some work to do.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Golden Compass Follow-up

The movie version of the book, The Golden Compass, is being released tomorrow, December 7. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a review of the movie, which you can find here. While this review is only of the movie, it does address much of the controversy surrounding the books. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regularly reviews movies from a Catholic perspective, a great resource for all Catholics, especially parents. The reviews are posted online, here. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Charles Wesley's Hymns

On Monday, an ecumenical evening prayer service was held at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley. Charles and his brother John began the reform movement within the Church of England that eventually became the Methodist Church. The evening prayer brought toegether representatives of many major Christian denominations to mark the anniversary by singing some of the great hymns written by Charles Wesley. Among the 6,000 hymns he wrote are two of my personal favorites, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. A major part of Wesley's genius and art is that his hymn texts are not only beautiful to sing, but also contain great theology. In my mind, there is no better description of the heaven than the last line of Wesley's text, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling: "Changed from glory into glory, till in heav'n we take our place, till we stand before th' Almighty, lost in wonder, love, and praise."

Since this is Advent, here is the full text of one of Wesley's great hymns for this season, and another of my personal favorites, Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending:

Lo! he comes, with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Christ the Lord returns to reign!

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at nought and sold him,
pierced, and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see.

Those dear tokens of his passion
still his dazzling body bears,
cause of endless exultation
to his ransomed worshipers;
with what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture
gaze we on those glorious scars!

Yea, amen! Let all adore thee,
high on thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory;
claim the kingdom for thine own:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thou shalt reign and thou alone.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sacred Silence

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A
Are you ready? There are only 23 shopping days left until Christmas! Are you ready?

Our lives today often seem to be a brief interlude between rushing and waiting. We rush to airports two hours before our flight leaves, only to wait in line; we hurry to take advantage of the pre-Christmas sales, and again wait in line to check out; we even rush around to get to Church, and then wait in long lines to receive the Eucharist. Especially for the next 23 days, our lives have the potential to be so busy that it just becomes one big blur. But the season of Advent calls us in a different direction. For the next 23 days, our Church calls us to step away from the hustle and bustle of the Christmas rush to slow down. For the next 23 days, our faith challenges us to spend more time waiting than rushing – to watch, to stay awake – preparing for the coming of Christ. The waiting that we do so often in our daily lives – in the doctor’s office, the grocery store line, and countless other places – the waiting that we are so used to out in the world becomes the basis of this season, and becomes holy. Advent is all about a holy waiting.

Now, I admit – that’s hard to do. Especially at this time of year when our minds are a-buzz with presents to buy and wrap, houses to decorate, and parties to plan or attend, it’s hard to silence our thoughts and wait for Christ. But that is all the more reason that we need to do it. Our Scriptures during this season give us great guides in our waiting, people like Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Mary. Our music this season is a bit more subdued – no Christmas carols yet, but instead the great songs of waiting, like O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, or The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns. But perhaps the greatest gift that the Church can give to us in these days is the opportunity to quiet our lives, to spend some time in prayerful silence.

For many of us, silence has become such a foreign concept that we’re not exactly sure what to do when we find everything around us quiet. But every time we gather for the Eucharist, the Church invites us to include periods of sacred silence throughout our liturgy. This is a special kind of silence – a silence that should lead to prayer and reflection. There is a short silence following each of the readings in the Liturgy of the Word, and a longer silence following the homily, to give us “an opportunity to take the word of God to heart and to prepare a response to it in prayer” (Lectionary for Mass: Introduction, 28). The silence after the homily is a chance for each of us to make the Scripture readings our own – to reflect on how the word of God speaks to our lives. That’s something that can’t be done in 10 or 15 seconds, it takes time. There is another lengthy silence following communion, but this time of quiet has a different purpose: this is a time for prayer, thanking God for the gift we have received in the Eucharist and asking for the strength to become a Eucharistic people. There are also some brief silences scattered throughout the liturgy, like after the priest says, “Let us pray,” to give everyone an opportunity to gather their thoughts and hearts into a spirit of prayer.

Our world is in desperate need of silence, and the sacred silence of the liturgy can be a gift – a gift to help us unite our own prayers to the prayers of the Church. Sacred silence can help us focus on God’s presence among us as we leave the buzz of the world outside. Throughout the year, but especially during these next 23 days of Christmas frenzy, sacred silence can calm our hearts so that we are ready to welcome Christ once more.