An Ivory Horn

(Homily for Christmas)

I have to admit that this year I feel a little bit like the college student who was ill-prepared for his economics exam. Seeing the test in front of him, he drew a blank. Since it was right before Christmas vacation, he wrote on his paper: “Only God knows the answers to these questions. Merry Christmas!” When the college professor graded the test, he added this note: “God gets a hundred. You get a zero. Happy New Year!”

I hope my homily does not get such a low grade, but whatever happens, give God a hundred. That is the percent he gives to you and to me. Christmas is the proof.

In preparing for Christmas I did get some help from the movie, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I went to see it with the fourth graders of our parish school. Afterward, I asked the children what character they liked best. Some mentioned Lucy, the young girl who first entered Narnia. Others mentioned a goat-legged man named Tumnus the Faun. A few of the girls said they like the oldest boy, Peter, because he was brave – and cute. Finally, one of the children said he liked “Father Christmas.” After a century-long winter, he returned to Narnia bringing presents. To Lucy he gave a bottle with a liquid strong enough to heal wounds. Peter received a sword and shield for the coming battle. And to Susan, Father Christmas gave an ivory horn which brings help in time of trouble.

Those are pretty good gifts. Jesus came to bring us similar gifts: healing for our deepest wounds, protection in our spiritual warfare and, above all, help when we call upon him. Jesus was born for one reason: that we be reborn in him. St. Paul states that by appearing among us, “he saved us through a bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” On the day of our baptism, Jesus placed an ivory horn in our hands. When troubles come, we can use it to call upon him and he will send us unexpected help.

Some of you heard that I just celebrated my 34th anniversary as a priest. One of the beautiful things about being a priest is that many people have shared times when they called upon the Lord for help. What they told me was often so intimate, so personal that they never told anyone else. The person sitting next to you may have a power you never imagined.

We saw this power in our parish during the past you. Most of you are aware that our buildings have been in great need of repair and that we had been going deeper into debt. The Parish Council recommended that we do a Capital Campaign. In some ways it seemed impossible, but for four months we said a prayer for the Campaign in every Mass. You can see the results in the bulletin. Some 501 households made pledges and donations. This has enabled us to undertake some significant projects. We are not, however, in the clear. Yet we do have confidence that if we call on the Lord, he will help us.

This past year was a dramatic one not just for our parish, but our world and our Church. In April Pope John Paul died. There was a tremendous outpouring of love: the population of Rome actually doubled. Young people flooded the city to honor the only pope most of them ever knew. Still, eight months later, it is easy for people to forget about him. That would be a mistake. He taught us so much and one of his biggest lessons was how to call to Lord in difficulties. The phrase which ran from the beginning to the end of this papacy was, “Be not afraid.” He wasn’t just whistling in the dark. He confronted three powerful political systems, two of them among the worst in human history. As a university age student, he struggled against Nazism. Then as young priest and bishop he fought totalitarian communists. When he was pope, he saw communism in the West fall. But he also pointed out the dangers in a third system: secular relativism which often reduced the human person to the level of a commodity or a product. The pope showed that the greatest weapon we have in these struggles is prayer. He himself prayed for two or three hours every day. It was amazing considering his enormous responsibilities, but he knew the true source of power.

At Christmas time a lot of people dream about going to Bethlehem, praying at the very spot where Jesus was born. Today I would like to offer you something even better. Across the street we have a twenty-four hour a day adoration chapel. We have repainted it for Christmas and it is very beautiful. But what is most important: Jesus is present there as much as when he was born in Bethlehem. The Eucharist is Bethlehem. The Mass is Bethlehem. Come to the Lord with all you needs. With that in mind, I would like to conclude tonight with the words Pope John Paul spoke in one of his Christmas homilies:

When darkness and evil seem to prevail, Christ tells us once more: Fear not! By his coming into the world he has vanquished the power of evil, freed us from the slavery of death and brought us back to the banquet of life.

May God bless each of you and your families on this Christmas day.


Earlier Version

From the archives (Christmas Homilies):

2014: There is More
2013: Forgiving God
2012: Why Jesus Was Born
2011: The Gift of Freedom
2010: Let Him Come In
2009: When We Were Gone Astray
2008: The Tiny Footsteps of Jesus
2007: No More Fear and Hiding
2006: That Sacred Jest
2005: An Ivory Horn
2004: A Christmas Poem
2003: The Weakness of God
2002: The Word
2001: The Abundance of God
2000: I Am One of You Now
1999: Bigger on the Inside
1998: How to Receive a Gift
1997: Someone is Knocking at the Door
1996: The Gift We All Desire

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Bulletin (35th Anniversary thank-you's, Simbang Gabi, Recommendations: Nativity Story and Thrill of the Chaste, Upcoming Events)


Pictures from the Simbang Gabi and 35th Anniversary

Bulletin (Happy Holidays, Booklets to understand God's Plan for You)


From Mark Shea:

If you cover up the rape of a minor and you are a Catholic bishop, this is what is known as "crime".

If you cover up the rape of a minor and you are Planned Parenthood, this is what is known as "heroism".

Preaching Schedule (through May 2006)

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus on the Happy Holidays controversy:

It is true that the full and authentic celebration of Christmas is to be found only in the proclamation and liturgy of the Church, the eucharistic community that is always in contrast to, and in necessary tension with, the surrounding culture. But neither Christian faith nor the Constitution discourages the exuberant reverberations of the gospel truth in the public square as well.

And as Amy says, "durn funny": Brokeback Goldmine (SNL video)

Bulletin (35th Anniversary thank-you's, Simbang Gabi, Recommendations: Nativity Story and Thrill of the Chaste, Upcoming Events)


Pictures from the Simbang Gabi and 35th Anniversary

Mark Shea's insightful Review of The Nativity

Bulletin (Mary Bloom thank-you, boy with achondroplasia, Anthony Flew - There Is a God)


Quilts for Orphans Girls

made with love by beautiful people in Whatcom County

Preaching Schedule (Dec '07 - Jun '08)

Wonderful Christmas reflection from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus

It is not a matter of revving ourselves up to experience again the wonder of the Christ Mass. There is no point in trying to recapitulate Christmas as you knew it when you were, say, seven years old. That way lies sentimentalities unbounded. The alternative is the way of contemplation, of demanding of oneself the disciplined quiet to explore, and be explored by, the astonishment of God become one of us that we may become one with God...

Washington state priest brings natural family planning to Peru's highlands Catholic News Agency article about the Mary Bloom Center by Benjamin Mann

Pictures from Peru

(Diego - boy with eye disease. More information in bulletin.)

Report on Diego's operations - with pictures (pdf file)

Washington state priest brings natural family planning to Peru's highlands Catholic News Agency article about the Mary Bloom Center by Benjamin Mann

Educan en regulación natural de la natalidad en sur andino del Perú Latin American Press (aciprensa) article on the Mary Bloom Center with video

St. Mary of the Valley Album

(surrounded by vices, even in a country parish)

Parish Picture Album

(December 2010)

40th Anniversary Celebration

(December 17, 2011)

Parish Picture Album
(December 2012 - Christmas in Peru)

Parish Picture Album

(December 2013)

Parish Picture Album


MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru