On behalf of Fr. Pete Peterson, our Parochial Vicar and all of our parish staff and on my own behalf (I am your pastor Fr. Phil Bloom) I wish to express our wishes that you have a beautiful Christmas.
Christmas has become a time for gift giving. This is partly driven by commercialism, but it can have a deep significance for us. The great Catholic theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas asks what makes a gift a good one. He says that a gift must have an aptitude for both the giver and receiver. That is, it expresses something of both the one who gives and the one who receives. And, if it does that well, it actually becomes a bond between the two.
In my own family, as I am sure is the case with many of yours, we draw names at Thanksgiving time and thus each have only one present to purchase for Christmas. I got the name of my 22-year old nephew. I spent yesterday morning walking around a mall trying find something that would express part of me his uncle, but also that he would enjoy receiving. If you are like me, hesitating back and forth, you know it is not easy to get just the right gift.
Now, I did not find a perfect present for my nephew. (In fact in desperation I wound up getting him some sausage and cheese.) Every gift falls a little short, but each one is nice. Sometimes the most simple one can be the most beautiful of all.
The beauty of a simple gift was driven home to me in the years I was a missionary in Peru. Commercialism hadn't yet entered into that mountain town and most parents were too poor to buy their children gifts. But when children came to visit the baby Jesus on Christmas, they did hope for something. A group of ladies in our parish prepared a huge cauldron of hot chocolate and the children brought their cups and lined up, several hundred of them, to receive hot chocolate and a roll of bread.
A few days ago I called down to Peru to talk with my old friends there. I asked them if they were going to have a chocolate party for the children. They said "Yes" and that they were going give out the stuffed animals and children's clothes donated by parishioners here at Holy Family.
A cup of hot chocolate, a bread roll, a stuffed toy, a child's dress--these are small gifts, but beautiful because they speak of something more--caring, protection, love. And every good gift in some way points to the best gift of all, the one we all desire.
St. Thomas also spoke of this when he asked what a good gift is. There is, he says, one perfect gift, the one God the Father gave to his Son Jesus from all eternity. I am speaking about the Holy Spirit, the bond of love between Father and Son. Jesus came to this earth, was born in stable in Bethlehem because he ardently wanted to share with us the perfect gift.
The big question for us tonite is how can we receive that great gift, the only one that really counts in the long run. The profession of faith which we will make shortly points the way, "for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven." and then we say, "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the forgiveness of sin."
I want to speak clearly to you this Christmas: the way we receive the Holy Spirit is by the forgiveness of sins. That is what Jesus came to give us, nothing more, nothing less. His very name "Jesus" means "God saves us from our sins." When the great English writer, G.K. Chesterton was asked why he became a Catholic, he responded "to have my sins forgiven."
This year in the United States we saw another high profile convert, Dr. Bernard Nathanson. He was founder of the Abortion Rights League and himself performed thousands of abortions. He felt he was doing a service for the women seeking that procedure. But Dr. Nathanson began to see the ultra-sound images of fetuses, how their tiny hearts beat and they had detectable brain waves. The tiny arms and legs are moving well before the mother feels any kicking. And when the abortionist's long steel knife is inserted, the small human form draws back. All this made him realized he was removing more than a bunch of tissue, but a living human being. Overwhelmed with the enormity of having taken not one, but thousands of innocent human lives, he joined the pro-life movement. This year at Easter, he was baptized into the Catholic Church. His greatest joy, he said, was knowing his sins were forgiven and he was no longer destined for eternal condemnation.
Perhaps you and I do not have as dramatic a story as Dr. Nathanson, but we too can have the great joy of the forgiveness of our sins. In having our sins forgiven we receive the most precious gift of all, the Holy Spirit. That is what Jesus wants to offer each one of us by his birth.
There is a Christmas song which says, Even if Jesus were born a thousand times in Bethlehem, I would lost, eternally lost, if he were not born in me. When he is born in us, we are reborn.
At Holy Family parish we want to offer you a second birth. This year we have a large group of adult converts who will be reborn at Easter in water and the Holy Spirit. But those of us who are already Catholics can also experience a second birth. We do this by confessing our sins and professing our faith. Many did exactly that by participating in our Advent penance last week or the earlier services for first reconciliation. Others came to the regularly scheduled confessions.
Holy Family is a beautiful parish and I am proud to be your pastor. We have great school, youth program, wonderful parish organizations like the Knights of Columbus and Legion of Mary. We want everyone here to be part of our Sunday worshiping community, especially we are inviting young adults, age 18-35. This coming Sunday, Holy Family Sunday, there will be a special outreach to that vital group.
I ask you tonite as part of your Christmas giving, to consider a generous gift to this parish. We are celebrating this year our 75th anniversary; this celebration makes us aware of our debt to the past and our responsibility to the future. Those who went before us have entrusted to us four beautiful buildings: our church, school, rectory and convent. The rectory and convent serve for offices and meeting rooms. Together with the school and church they were so well used this past month, that I felt like a traffic controller at Sea Tac. But I am happy these buildings can be at the service of our parish family and community groups. We need your support to keep them up and improve them.
Also we have a tremendous outreach to the poor in the White Center area. Our St. Vincent de Paul society helped more families this month that you can imagine. The second collection of today's Mass will go to the St Vincent de Paul to continue assisting the poor right in our own neighborhoods, to really work with those families so they can stand on their own feet.
I'd like to say a final word to those who are visiting us tonite. If you live in this area, join us for Sunday Mass. If you are not a Catholic, consider entering our program for adult converts. If you live far away, find out about your local parish. If you are a university student, for example at Western, the U of W, or WSU, get in contact with the Catholic Campus ministry.
What we want is that you receive the great gift, the only one that really matters. The same one God the Father eternally gives to his Son Jesus. The gift of the Holy Spirit we receive by the forgiveness of our sins.
God bless you and have a beautiful Christmas.
From the archives:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Review of Dr. Nathanson's Hand of God.
Pictures from the Simbang Gabi and 35th Anniversary
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
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...
Pictures from Peru
(Diego - boy with eye disease. More information in link below.)
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
Parish Picture Album
40th Anniversary Celebration
(December 17, 2011)
Christmas in Peru
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru