January 4, 2012 | The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 34 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
Text of Bishop Murphy’s Christmas day homily at St. Agnes Cathedral
Five hours ago in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Benedict proclaimed to the city and the world what we have just heard in the Gospel: The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, the glory as the Father’s only begotten Son, full of grace and truth.” That truth for more than 2,000 years has echoed from Bethlehem to Rome to Constantinople to Paris and Rio de Janeiro; from Kinshasa to Manila, from China to America and here to this cathedral and to all joining us through Telecare.
What the prophets searched for has been fulfilled: How beautiful are the feet of Him who brings good tidings … announcing salvation. For the Lord comforts His people … all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of the Lord. Yes! Salvation! That is what the birth of Jesus means. Saved from the darkness of sin and death; saved from the endless passage of centuries wherein hope is dashed and delusion prevailed; centuries of human failure and human conceit. Time and again God sought out men and women who would come back to Him. Many heeded for a while and then fell away. Countless others were caught up in the egoism of self. But God never despaired. He knew our weakness. He created us with the gift of freedom and He knew that freedom brings risk. Liberty can be used for good or ill. He knew words alone were not enough to attract His children freely to turn and be faithful to Him. But He is always faithful for He cannot be unfaithful to Himself.
So He sent His Son, the Word through whom He had made the world. In these last days He has spoken through His Son, whom He made heir of all things. The Son who is the refulgence of His glory, the very imprint of His being and who sustains all things by His mighty word. This Son, the only Son of God, eternal as is God the Father, did more than speak to us. He became one with us. He came as one of us in all things but sin so that He could change the world, change the direction of humankind, change the goal of human destiny by making the children of God His brothers, His sisters!
Our faith recognizes who He is today. He is truly God’s only Son, the eternal Divine Son. Yes He is born of the Virgin Mary and thus shares our human nature. But He is not born of the flesh or of human choice or by man’s decision. He is conceived by the Spirit to be truly born of the Virgin. This is not an appearance or a vision or a quasi divine apparition. Like us He is born of flesh, the flesh of the Virgin who carried Him in her womb for nine months “with love beyond all telling.”
The birth of every child changes the world. The birth of Jesus, the Son of God and son of Mary, changes everyone’s lives. As St. Leo the Great reminds us, no one is left out of this beauteous day. No one is excluded from the manger. All of us are shepherds who hear the angels sing and see the star and kneel in silent adoration looking at this child, like every other child; but one who is more, much more than just a beautiful baby. He comes as the fruit of the Father’s love that took flesh in Mary. He comes to save us. He comes to embrace us. He invites us to embrace Him and to let Him make us like Him who made Himself like us.
On this Christmas Day, let the child who changed the world show us how to be instruments of His life and His love. Let the child who is the Prince of Peace bring us the peace that only God can give to the world. Let the child whom we adore renew our hearts as He shows us that we are not alone, that we need not be distant, that we can give to one another in the same spirit that He gives to us.
There are so many challenges we face in our world and in our communities today. There is so much negativity. We could all make lists. We could all point out the dark spots, the crisis points, the danger signs. But in all of them and through all of them, there is one common thread: it is the egoism of selfishness, the placing of our selves ahead of others and demanding that my desires, my goals, my way must triumph at the expense of others. This is true of nations as well as persons. It is sadly as true within the Church as it is in the secular world.
In the world about us, in our nation and our communities, we have transformed individual and group self interest into angry confrontation and destructive acts that defeat community and turn power into exploitation and profit into greed. We have forgotten that there is a common good without which civilization returns to savagery and human living is placed at risk. The common good stops us from the temptation to seek our own advantage at the expense of others. It is sadly lacking in our politics and our economy, in our society and our culture. Just look at the violations of religious freedom in our own land and the manipulation of politics of self interest and the economy of greed.
The Church, this Church founded by Jesus Christ as the way to God, is the community of communion to which we belong because of our faith in the Son of God made man. We should remember not to think of the Church as a service station that is there for individual convenience or to serve individual desire. The Church is not another commodity, not just any commonplace organization. It is the place where we meet Jesus Christ and we never do that alone. We do it with one another. We do it as a community of faith and of love. How can we be selfish, how can we make ourselves the center, when the person we meet here is Jesus? How can we live for ourselves alone when here we meet Him who freely chose to do the will of the Father, Him who came to serve and not to be served, Him who today accepts to be one like us and one with us?
For today we have before us the great mystery of God’s own generosity, the birth in time of His eternal Son. He shows us who we truly are. He calls us to be brother and sister to Him. He opens up the way because He is the way, the truth and the life. He makes us holy as He is holy and, in so doing we become not isolated individuals but true brothers and sisters, true friends, true companions to Him and to one another. Here is the answer to exploitation and greed. Here is the antidote to our selfish tendencies. Here we find true communion that begins with shared faith and grows into shared love.
As Blessed John Newman reminded his hearers many, many years ago:
“Let us in this season approach Him with awe and love in whom resides all perfection. Let us come to the Sanctifier to be sanctified. We are reminded that we can do nothing and He can do everything. This is the time for innocence and purity and gentleness and mildness and contentment and peace.
May this Christmas find us more and more like Him, who became a little child for our sake, more simple-minded, more humble, more holy, more affectionate, more resigned, more happy, more full of God.
For from His fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace.