Bottom line: By his birth Jesus brings the gift of freedom.
Merry Christmas! Don't be afraid to say it. Merry Christmas!
I would like to begin this homily with a Christmas story from Fr. Pete Byrne - a Maryknoll missionary in Peru. He once observed a nine year old girl named Juanita selling cookies on a Lima street corner. A car pulled up to the curb and the girl ran over, hoping for a sale. However, instead of making a purchase, the woman went to her trunk, took out a beautiful doll and gave it to the girl. Juanita put down her cookies and clasped the doll to her heart. Father Byrne remarked, "The joy on her face as she looked at her doll was beyond words. The unexpected gift – isn't that what God gave us in the person of Jesus on that first Christmas?"
By his birth Jesus gives us beautiful - and unexpected gifts: hope in the face of despair, light in a world of darkness, comfort for troubled hearts and forgiveness of sins. This Christmas I would like focus on a specific and important gift: freedom. Jesus came to bring true freedom. You know, there is a difference between superficial freedom and profound freedom. It might surprise you, but someone who understood this was Steve Jobs. When he introduced the iPad, he made the decision not to include access to pornography. A man challenged him by quoting Bob Dylan and saying that "Revolutions are about freedom." Steve Jobs shot back:
"Yep, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom. The times they are a changin', and some traditional PC folks feel like their world is slipping away. It is."
Steve Jobs was no saint, but he understood that freedom does not mean doing whatever you want, whenever you want.* Freedom means the capacity to become the person you were meant to be. That's the freedom Jesus came to bring.
To illustrate this freedom I would like to recount an incident from someone who is a canonized saint: Terese of Liseux. Maybe you saw her in the Catholicism Series, which has been on public TV (as well as EWTN). Fr. Bob Barron tells about how her childhood was shattered when her mother died. Terese was only four years old. She was the youngest of nine children, her father babied her. Therese became hypersensitive – at the slightest setback or criticism, she would burst into tears. If she even imagined someone was criticizing her, she would start to cry. Then she would cry because she had cried! In spite of her extraordinary intelligence, it seemed she would always be emotionally crippled. She prayed to Jesus, but there was no answer. For over eight years she received no answer.
Finally on Christmas Eve 1886, when Therese was almost 14 years old, the answer came. Shortly after saying a prayer to the Infant Jesus, she overheard a comment by her dad. Normally any negative word from her father would cause her to break into tears. But she didn't. In an instant God made her more sensitive to her father’s feelings than her own. This was the turning point in Therese’s life. Here is how she described that moment in her autobiography:
"On that blessed night the sweet infant Jesus, scarcely an hour old, filled the darkness of my soul with floods of light. By becoming weak and little, for love of me, He made me strong and brave: He put His own weapons into my hands so that I went on from strength to strength, beginning, if I may say so, 'to run as a giant.'"
The Holy Child, she said, had healed her of undue sensitivity and "girded her with His weapons." It was by reason of this vision that she became known as "Therese of the Child Jesus."
St. Terese of Liseux experienced true freedom: Freedom from fear, freedom from anxiety, the freedom to become the person God meant her to be. She spent the next ten years of her life in a Carmelite Convent. To some this seems like a narrow, restricted environment. As she was dying of tuberculosis, however, she wrote a book that has influenced, literally, millions of people: The Story of Soul. Here is a great New Year's resolution - to read (or re-read) that amazing book. It speak about the profound freedom that Jesus came to bring.**
Our Christmas carols often take up the theme of freedom. On one level they are charming songs about the baby Jesus. But if you listen more carefully, you will hear some challenging words. For example, we have all heard the Christmas hymn, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." It has lovely images of angels with "harps of gold." But, then, it addresses the darkness and misery of our world - and speaks about the hope that Jesus brings. I would like to conclude with a stanza from that hymn. (Don't worry, I won't sing it.):
And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.
*And perhaps because he was an orphan, he had a greater sensitive to family - and recognized that porn is destroying our families and making our young unfit for marriage.
**By a nice coincidence, Archbishop Sartain (my twin) gave his priests a wonderful Christmas present: Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe:
"This book is about a basic theme of Christian life: interior freedom. Its purpose is simple. Every Christian needs to discover that even in the most unfavorable outward circumstances we possess within ourselves a space of freedom that nobody can take away, because God is its source and guarantee...
"In the area of morality, freedom appears very nearly the only value about which people still agree unanimously at the beginning of the third millennium. Everyone more or less agress that respect for other people's freedom is still a basic ethical norm. Undoubtedly this is more a matter of theory than practice, as western liberalism becomes progressively more totalitarian. It may be merely a manifestation of the underlying selfishness of modern man, for whom respect for the freedom of the individual is less a recognition of an ethical law than a declaration of individualis - nobody can prevent me from doing what I like! Yet this aspiration for freedom, so strong among people today, even though it includes a large dose of illusion and is sometimes fulfilled in mistaken ways, contains something very true and noble."
General Intercessions for the Christmas Day - Cycle B (from Priests for Life)
From the archives (Christmas Homilies):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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40th Anniversary Celebration
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(December 2012 - Christmas in Peru)
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Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru