On behalf of Fr. Jennings and myself (I am Fr. Phil Bloom your pastor) and on behalf of all our Holy Family parish staff, I wish each of you a Blessed Christmas.
This year our preparation for Christmas has been marked by the re-enactment of Joseph & Mary's journey to Bethlehem. Our Hispanic and Philippine communities as well as our parish school have dramatized their search for a place to give birth to the Jesus. Joseph knocks on many doors and says, "please give us a place where my wife Mary can give birth to her child." Each time they are turned away, "we have no room for you." Finally they discover a shepherd's cave and, surrounded by farm animals, Mary gives birth to the child Jesus.
Two thousand years later the Holy Family--Joseph, Mary and Jesus--continue to knock on doors and ask, "Do you have room for us?" They come under the guise of different persons seeking entrance to our lives.
In our society as a whole there are three notable persons knocking on our doors. The first--and the most poignant--is the unborn child. Many say "we have no room for you." However, that has not been the case with our young families at this parish. We continue to lead the Archdiocese in the number of infant baptisms. That's a sign that this parish wants to welcome the little child and support their parents. A second person knocking at our doors is the immigrant. This year we celebrated our 75th anniversary--and we acknowledged the great role immigrants had in building this parish. In recent years we have welcomed many immigrants--not just Hispanics, but those from Asia and Pacific Islands--and even Africa, not to mention a few stray Europeans. For us the immigrant family is like Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In fact they also had to leave their homeland when they fled to Egypt. This happened after the slaughter of this innocents by King Herod. The same thing is happening in our world. Yesterday in southern Mexico 45 people were massacred. In a church! And including women and children. People are coming here seeking refuge. Sometimes the circumstances are not so dramatic--but I can guarantee you none of our new immigrants are here on a vacation. At our parish we welcome them as if they were Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
And we have been made aware of a third person knocking at our door. Last year at this time we received the news that our Archbishop Murphy had incurable cancer, leukemia. For six months, right up to his death on June 26, he gave us an example of total dedication. He taught us how to live and how to die. And he told us that as Christians we can have no talk of "physician assisted suicide." True compassion, he said, is to accompany that person as he struggle with his final illness. The terminally ill person is Jesus knocking at the doors of our heart, asking us to rearrange our priorities to make a place and time. In visiting the sick of our parish this past year I have been impressed by how many families are caring for their loved one right in their home. Perhaps thru the hospice program they are enabling the terminally ill person to die in familiar surroundings with friends and family members at their side. It is not always possible to provide that care at home (my own dad had to spend his final days in a hospital) but what is important is that we recognize that person as Jesus knocking at our door.
These three--the terminally ill, the immigrant, the unborn--are asking us, "Will you make a place for me?" There is someone perhaps even more immediate seeking entrance. At Christmas time I always think of a story told by Bishop Nicholas Walsh. He was conducting an Advent Penance Service in a small country parish. Before the people confessed their sins, Bishop Walsh invited them to ask pardon of each other. He said to give a handshake or an embrace to every person present. The congregation froze. There were two brothers who had a falling out over an inheritance and had not spoken to each other for years. One was in the front of the church, the other in the back. While the people stood motionless, the brother in the front got out of his pew and started walking down the aisle. The one in the back did the same. They met in the center and weeping, embraced each other. The congregation broke into joyous applause. It was that parish's best Christmas in many years.
Christmas is a time to let go of past hurts, to make a new beginning. Those hurts can sometimes keep us even away from God. I heard about a guy who carried a hurt like that for many years. When he was a boy, he and his sister were sitting in a pew and, according to him, talking quietly. A woman came up behind them and said, "If you kids don't stop talking, I am going to box your ears." At that instant he resolved that when he was grown he would have nothing to do with the church. Well, one Christmas he was back home with his parents and he did go to Mass with them. As luck would have it, who was seated right in front of them? The same woman who had chastised him. And she was talking to the lady next to her! Well, he smiled at her and--in a moment of grace, he laughed at himself. And he let go of his hurt. Jesus wanted that young man back.
And he wants you. In fact Jesus is calling many people to himself. Our nation has experienced a certain spiritual revival in recent years. In spite of great materialism and consumerism, more people profess belief in God. God is drawing us out of the kind of messes we have created, giving us second chance. Perhaps God is doing this because of the closeness of the new millennium. At any rate tonite he attracts us to the beautiful nativity scene. The child represented there is the very Son of God. In Bethlehem we see God talking such a humble form--a child totally dependent on his mother.
This very nite God takes another even more humble form. In a few minutes Jesus will become present on the altar, not as a child, but as bread. When we come to Mass, Sunday after Sunday, it is like coming to Bethlehem. Jesus comes to us, to heal, to forgive, to give light and hope. Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart tonite.
I would like to conclude tonite with a famous painting. It shows Jesus standing before a door, his hand lifted in a gesture of knocking. When the artist first showed the painting some sharp eyed person noticed that the door had no knob. He said to the artist, "you made a mistake. What kind of door is that without a handle?" But the artist replied, "You are correct, but it was not a mistake. The only handle is on the inside. Only you can open that door to Jesus." Jesus is knocking at the door of your heart tonite. Let him come in.
From the archives:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish
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