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. Afterwards, 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.

We need to call upon Jesus, now more than ever. This current year 2005 has been a dramatic one. When Pope John Paul died in April, his death brought to the surface the concerns, fears and hopes of many people. At the same time, the population of Rome doubled because so many people, mainly young people, flooded the city.* While they honored Pope John Paul – some calling him John Paul the Great – they also prayed that God would give us the right man to replace him. The choice was a surprise, but since April Pope Benedict has impressed the world both with his great learning and his humility. God does answer our prayers when we call on him.

God not only answers prayers on a worldwide level, but also in your life and mine. By his birth Jesus has given each of us an ivory horn. Pope John Paul often spoke about the power of prayer, the great things which happen when we put our trust in Jesus. In one of his Christmas homilies he had this to say:

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.

The man who spoke those words had faced two of the greatest evils in human history: As a college age student, he struggled against Nazism and in his early years as a young priest and bishop, he fought the evils of communism. None of us can say, “Oh, the pope lived a sheltered life. He didn’t know the troubles I have to deal with.” It is true he did not know your specific troubles, but it is hard to imagine that you or I – members of this favored country – could ever face something more horrendous that did Pope John Paul. Yet he spoke to us those powerful words, “Be not afraid.” Pope John Paul not only told us to not be afraid, he explained how to overcome fear, how to use that ivory horn Jesus places in our hands. I would like to conclude with the words of that same Christmas homily:

It is up to us to draw from the power of his victorious love by appropriating his "logic" of service and humility. Each of us is called to overcome with Christ "the mystery of iniquity", by becoming witnesses of solidarity and builders of peace. Let us go then to the cave of Bethlehem to meet him, and to meet, in him, all the world’s children, every one of our brothers and sisters afflicted in body or oppressed in spirit.

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


*Praise came from many quarters. Person of the Year, Bono, described Pope John Paul II as “the best front man the Catholic church ever had. A great show man, a great communicator of ideas even if you didn’t agree with all of them, a great friend to the world’s poor which is how I got to meet him...We would never have gotten the debts of 23 countries completely canceled without him.

Final Version

Spanish Version

From Archives:

Christmas 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

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)


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