Suggestions for a CHRIST-CENTERED CHRISTMAS (Updated)

 I BEFORE THE DAY BEGINS:  

  1. Invite dinner guests with musical ability to bring their musical instruments
  2. Have family members set DVR to pre-record Football Games; pre-record or purchase/rent CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, or other cartoons, or CHRISTMAS MOVIES.  These will be handy for intervals such as between main meal and desert or as alternate After Meal Activities.
  3. Community Games to Have on Hand:  Charades, Pictionary, Balderdash
  4. Music via CD, Spotify, Pandora, YouTube (See item VIII below)
  5. POST-ITS with #s on them, coordinated to # of guests.  Separate #s for Adults and # for Children.  Have each guest take a #. (Children’s # on one color post-it; adults, another)
  6. Display and have available a Bible & Children’s Bible opened to Luke, Chapter 2.
  7. A Book(s) or Copy of Clement C. Moore’s THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS and the poem/song THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS.  Have these available for After Dinner Activity. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/visit-st-nicholas
  8. http://www.wikiwand.com/en/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_(song)
  9. Christmas Carol Music Books or Song Sheet or PowerPoint copies displayable on TV (If your TV & computer are integrated, have the “tech” in the family work on this in the weeks prior to Christmas.  Otherwise, make copies of Song Sheets or just the lyrics.)

I             CHRISTMAS EVE (or Morning) – Replace the colored Advent Candles from your Advent       Wreathe with White Candles, and add a fifth White Candle at the center of the Wreathe.  

              Prayers for the Occasion available in Catholic Book of Blessings and online at

http://www.ewtn.com/library/LITURGY/adbless.htm

II CHRISTMAS MORNING: A Short Prayer before Opening Gifts: “Thank you God for the Gift of Christ in our lives. May the beauty of his birth bring new life to our faith and help us to appreciate all life, all children throughout the world. Thank you for the gifts before us.  Fill us with Gratitude for you and for one another. Keep us young at heart.  Amen.” 

  1. If young children are patient, read Luke 2: 1- 21 and Matthew 2: 1-13, Sing “Silent Night” or “We, Three Kings,” otherwise read and sing AFTER Presents are opened.
  2. Sing “God Bless Ye, Merry Gentleman” if all are receptive for another carol.

III      CHRISTMAS DINNER PRAYER: “Dear God, Here We Are–Our family and friends–and these are the feelings we bring to this Christmas Day.  Helps us understand the beautiful way You accept each us as we are. Make us confident in your love so that we may be at peace and feel your presence among us.  Help us to make the most of this meal, this day, and our time together.”  Then invite everyone to join in the Traditional Grace before Meals, OR if your company is of mixed religions, substitute the Christian Grace with this: “Blessed are YOU, Source of Life, God known by so many names, help us to experience Joy this Christmas Day and lead all peoples on to the pathway of peace.   Bless all our family and guests.  Bless our Meal and our Conversation. Amen.” 

IV    FIRST COURSE ACTIVITY (soup/salad), and /or Hors D’oeuvres:

  1. Ask: What do you remember about the First Christmas Story?  Include both the Biblical, Legend and Folk tales if you wish.   Begin with the children by number, then adults by number. Everyone gets “help” sharing the Christmas Story as needed.
  2. Conclude First Course by having someone Read Luke 2: 1- 21 and Matthew 2: 1-13

V MAIN COURSE:

  1. ASK: What event or circumstance are most significant for me about Jesus’ story today?
  2. Invite each Guest to share his or her memories of the best Christmas that they have ever experienced and why it is an important memory for him or her. TRY TO KEEP THE MEAL AS LEASURELY AND UN-RUSHED AS POSSILBE.
  3. Any Similarities between Jesus’ story and the Christmas memories shared?

VI   AFTER MEAL BREAK ACTIVITY:  Share Birth Stories during walks & pre-dessert clean ups:

  1. During the break, have all guests recall the story of the day each of them was born.  Allow time for the elders to inform youngsters if they haven’t already. Everyone will be invited to share his or her birth story during desert.

 VII DURING AND AFTER DESERT: Share Birth Stories

  • After each person shares say “As the Angels Sang for Jesus, the Angels Sang for you, too!  Everyone’s part of the story!  Everyone’s part of God’s plan!”
  • Invite Spontaneous Prayer: “For Whom and for What Shall We Pray for this Christmas Day?”
  • Sing “Angels We Have Heard on High –Gloria in Excelsis Deo!”

VIIIAFTER DINNER ACTIVITY: Have everyone participate in Clean-Up:

  • Two Teams:  The Kitchen Team verses those who go for walks and/or play in the living room memorizing THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS OR THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS OR LUKE’S GOSPEL CHAPTER 2: 1-20.

IX AFTER DINNER & CLEAN-UP:

  • Together recall all 12 Days of Christmas or ALL the Verses of The Night Before Christmas OR Luke 2: 1-20; Share the story or song together. Which Team Wins?
  • Read one of the many stories and legends about Saint Nicholas

X MORE AFTER DINNER ACTIVITIVITES

  • Gather ‘round a piano and Sing Carols Together
    • Guess each person’s favorite Christmas Album / Cd and Favorite version and vocalist of any Christmas song
    • Have Christmas CDs (Vocalists/ Choirs) and have people sing-a-long.
    • Conclude with Christmas Caroling in the Neighborhood

XI          CHRISTMAS FAREWELL BLESSINGS

Before Farewells or before the first person must leave:

BLESS EACH GUEST individually or collectively: “May the Spirit of Christmas remain in your heart—the joy of life, the gift of family, and angels singing your song as you continue to compose it all the days of your life. May your song(s) give God glory!”

INVITE ALL TO SING “WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS”

PLEASE & THANK YOU GAME with OPTIONAL CHARITABLE COMPONENT TO CHRISTMAS: INVTIE GUESTS TO BRING A SINGLE $ 1. BILL for each member of his or her family or party to participated in a PLEASE & THANK YOU GAME. Designate a charity and let them know what the dollars are for in advance OR have everyone vote on one of two or three choices before Grace (E.G, Catholic Charities for Puerto Rico Relief or Catholic Relief Services or Unicef.) Have some extra $1. bills around for those who forget.). The FIRST TIME anyone forgets to say Please” or “Thank You,” from the beginning of the Meal (after Grace) to end of dinner (i.e. “please pass the potatoes; thank you), he or she gets a WARNING.  The SECOND TIME he or she must surrender their dollar into a basket. Proceeds go to the previously announced charity. At the end of the day, people may contribute the Remaining Dollars or additional $ if they wish to the cause.

BOOKS

Catholic Book of Household Blessings

To Dance with God by Gertrude Mueller Nelson features Great Ideas for Family Rituals & Prayers for Feast Days and Holidays throughout the Year

THE BAKER’S DOZEN story of Saint Nicholas by Aaron Shepherd

Other Resources:

Blessing of Advent Wreathe and Christmas Manger

http://www.ewtn.com/library/LITURGY/adbless.htm

Advent Prayers and Rituals:

http://www.celebratingholidays.com/?page_id=1423

Here’s a fascinating article on THE CHERRY TREE CAROL:

Suggestions prepared by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP     Updated                     December  2021

First Sunday of Advent 28 Nov. 2021

By Fr. James DiLuzio C.S.P.

People of the Covenants – Jews and Christians thought the end of the world was upon them when Rome decimated the Great Temple of Jerusalem. Yet, disappointed that Messiah did not arrive, Judaism and Christianity persevered by the grace of God. Jews were saved because of their confidence in God’s faithfulness; Christians, because they believed that through all the turmoil, their Redemption was at hand.

In every age there are signs for us to interpret that engage our faith. In the Great Religious Revivals of the 19th century, many Americans thought an eclipse of the sun would inaugurate a Messianic Age.  By the “Third Great Awakening” from 1850 onward new forms of Christianity emerged: Christian Science, the Mormon Church, Pentecostal Christianity. Within the main line churches, Methodism flourished, and, within Catholicism, the Paulist Fathers were formed.  All were trying their best to address the turmoil of their times:  industrial revolutions, workers’ rights, and a host of other things.  Through it all, the people were determined to stand tall because of their faith in Jesus.  The legacies of their contributions are still with us, especially in a widely held Christian principle: that Christ will return once humanity has reformed the earth, when our surrender to God is complete and the biblical design of peace and harmony are accomplished.  Indeed, Jesus made it very clear that our heavenly goals will not be reached unless we cooperate with Grace to experience a little bit of heaven on earth.  The KINGDOM must be inaugurated before Messiah returns.  Why else would Jesus say “build my kingdom!”

That vision is for every time and place, but it must be rooted. We must always acknowledge the reality of sin—the human proclivity to cause harm. There is an inherent selfishness in humanity.  Jesus always acknowledged that. One of my favorite biblical phrases comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 2, vs 25: “Jesus did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.”  Knowing this, He came to SAVE.  Amazing how his grace is offered to all who choose to hold steadfast to Him.

ADVENT begins a new year, and the signs of our times are offering new opportunities for renewal, for re-commitment to Christ. Humility is key. We must humbly acknowledge we need a Savior! Keeping our sights on Jesus, let us examine some of our most recent trials and see how we can witness to others that this new Church year is a year of grace. 

In September we commemorated the 20th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11. Back then, most of us thought that, after the shock, and hurt, and cries for vengeance, and, after the wars (has any war ever settled all the issues for which it was declared?), we would have settled down, and taken up the cross of peace-making. Instead, in this 21st century, our nation and much of the globe remains infected with hate mongering, scapegoating, and intolerance. Did you know that sociologists have recorded that although wars unite people against a common enemy, when wars are over, domestic violence, gangs, and scapegoating minorities and others increase at alarming rates in peace time economies? Obviously, the revenge against Al-Qaeda and Osama Ben Laden did not satisfy.  That is a sign for our times worthy of our consideration.

 And now, we have lived with almost two years of the Covid epidemic. People of good will prayed and hoped that international cooperation would have been exemplary; that remedies and established protocols would have assured all humanity access to vaccines — a gift of inspiration from our God to the medical community and the world. But that is not the totality of our experience. Although great progress is being made, sin still erupts; controversy ensues. Except for those who because of health issues could not and should not be vaccinated (a small percentage of the population), there were and are people in every nation boycotting wearing masks and refusing vaccines as an expression of their individuality. A very self-serving defiance rooted in a hostile ideology that cares not for neighbors, or elderly, or apparently the young and future generations. Worse, today’s news highlights new covid mutations and pockets of pandemic spread.  Add denial of the human imprint on climate change, and it is clear the mess we are in.

Indeed, one of the worst sins of our age is denial of the sins of the past, which, in a sense, is like saying “We don’t need a Savior. We’re doing perfectly fine for ourselves.” HA! 

To those who say “Stop telling us about the sins of our past. We’re tired of hearing of the rape of the land, violence against the natives, the terrors of slavery, the abuse of children in church and homes, and poverty and all the rest.”  To those people, we must ask, “Do you or do you not value the Bible as Divine Revelation?  If you do, take note: the Bible offers more examples of sin than of glory.  Most of the Bible’s inspiration comes from naming and learning from sin and selfishness, from very human mistakes to outright denial of God and Covenant.

 Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel—shall we expurgate their stories from the text? The Golden Calf and the rebellion of the Israelites –forget it?  Jesus reprimanding James and John for wanting to get special favors; arguments among the Apostles as to which among them shall be treated the greatest – immediately following the Last Supper and the First Eucharist? Yes, better to delete all of that.  Is there nothing to learn from Jesus calling Peter “Satan,” or from Peter’s threefold denial, or the lukewarm, nausea-inducing mediocre seven churches of Revelation?  

         WISDOM comes from Truth –not half-truths.  Conversion comes from humility. Yet, for all this, the Bible’s most foundational message is how much we are loved.  It takes humility to accept that God’s Covenant comes from care; God’s forgiveness reveals loving patience. Jesus’ humanity reveals we are not only fully known, but we are never alone. Jesus understands that most of our sins are rooted in desperation, fears, and ignorance. With love, patience, and understanding –the gifts of faith—Jesus says, follow me, sin no more, and assist others in accepting love.

Advent prepares us to take stock again as to where we have been and where we are going.  Don’t we want to gaze upon the Infant Jesus in the manger and say, “Dear Jesus, I’m learning, I’m growing. Your love is reaching me, teaching me, transforming me.”

Today, all our readings insist that, no matter the era we live in, no matter the strife in our lives, that love is hope for sinful people.  Yes, our Christian faith offers tremendous redress to all that ails us. This Eucharist, this very day, is yet another opportunity for us to surrender to LOVE.  That is God’s will. To accept it, is to accept Jesus, to follow Jesus, who, as Scripture says, “shall do what is right and just in the land” and take us in that same pursuit.  

Advent.  Don’t wait!  Surrender! Our world is waiting to be loved.

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: It is the Beginning, Not the End

14 November 2021

Scripture Readings may be found here: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/111421.cfm,

From the beginning of human civilization, there were stories of destruction, annihilation of humans, the ends of world, cataclysm of the cosmos.

An Assyrian Tablet found in Nineveh dating back to 3.200 B.C. reveals the first written prophecy of the end of the world

Gilgamesh, Noah, and the Ark – two of the many Great Flood Myths

Sodom and Gomorrah – fire and brimstone

Myths of the Norse folk – RAGNAROK

The Hebrew Prophets – “on that day” is a common phrase predicting doom and gloom (interestingly, also hope and rejuvenation)

Science Fiction Movies of Today:  Avengers, DUNE, The Eternals! (Do we think these in any way are un-related to the biblical prophet Hebrew prophet Daniel and the Christian Book of Revelation?)

Science informs us that there is a reality to come: 4 to 5 billion years from now our SUN will deplete its supply of hydrogen, helium, and collapse into a white dwarf. No sun – no earth

This should not shock us. Our very notion of life is eternal pattern of life, death, and rebirth is everywhere in evidence. WE KNOW THIS! Everything must change. Everything will change.

So, of course, Jesus engages in these ideas and images as well. For people of faith, these statements should be more SOBERING than surprising.

Every generation has its fears, its challenges, its persecutions, and its calamities. These are the sources for the myths, stories, and the apocalyptic literature of the Bible. They still can give us chills –especially today with the onslaught of global warming and an insistence we look at the human contribution to this more-than-just natural phenomenon. Remember, the global flood myths were rooted in actual floods that wiped out specific regions. For them, it was the end of the world.

For people of FAITH – all these warnings are GOOD THING. They are wake-up calls to HOPE and NEW LIFE. Amidst pain and suffering, our daily human crisis, the realities of violence and sin everywhere:  we have JESUS. Even in today’s Gospel, we have his blessed assurance that death gives way to TRANSFORMATION. He will gather His “elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

The Jewish people, Christians in biblical times, as NOW, experience hardship, prejudices, conflicts from within our own ranks and from without. Like our biblical ancestors, entering the struggles of our times has an antidote: Faith, Hope, and LOVE.

As prophet Daniel wrote: “But the wise shall shine brightly
    like the splendor of the firmament,
and those who lead the many to justice
    shall be like the stars forever.”

Why need we be afraid? We know who we are. We know what God has planned for all who pick up the CROSS and “LIVE!”  It is our consecration in virtue, the grace to confess our sins and learn from our mistakes, because God is Compassion. God is forgiveness.

It is the Holy Spirt who gives us courage — courage to take responsibility for our wrongs with conviction for change, rebirth, and renewal. Jesus gives Us HIMSELF in Word and Eucharist and thus dwells in US. So, here we are today, eager for Communion, ready for our infusion of hope and Inspiration to be light for the world. Participate in the Gospel, we have nothing to fear. What we have now will give way to a New Heaven and a New Earth – and it is already in the making. The Holy Spirit of God insists–then, as now, that after all life’s calamities, faith and hope endure, and “the greatest of these is love.”

Homily for the Twenty-First Sunday of Ordinary Time — In POINTS!

Fr. James DiLuzio CSP

In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s THE LITTLE PRINCESS

  • Miss Minchin is a hard taskmaster – bullies and demeans young Sarah Crew, assigns her most difficult household duties with no help from other girls in the boarding house
  • Worse: in rare moments of free time with her friends, Sarah emits such joy and wonder of the world around her. Whenever Miss Minchin comes upon her, she stifles all the fun. 
  • Finally, one day, breaking her demure, respectful, demeanor, Sarah Crew cries out, “Why are you so mean? Didn’t anyone ever love you? Had you no parent, no one to treat you with kindness?” 

GOD

  • Too often people think of God as a demanding task master
  • We hear of the Commandments, and we think of all that we must do to live up to them
  • When we are in that mindset, Faith can feel like a chore, a barrier to JOY. No wonder so many young people do not take the time to explore it 
  • They do not understand that the biblical passages of an angry God were just a metaphor for the seriousness of the situations people get themselves in, and the terrible consequences of sin.
  • People do not understand as Saint Irenaeus (a French Bishop of the early 2nd Century) wrote “The Glory of God is every human person fully alive!” 
  • They do not recall what the disciple of the Apostle John wrote in his New Testament Letter to the Church: “God is love, and whoever remains in love, remains in God, and God in him.”
  • This is an extraordinary proclamation. It goes further than the biblical statements that affirm “God is ‘loving. “GOD IS LOVE.”  (1 JOHN 4) represents a tremendous spiritual development. It cries out to us today as the true underpinnings of the Ten Commandments. 
  •  The more we allow “GOD IS LOVE” –and God CERTAINLY IS as manifested and revealed by Jesus –TO PERMEATE OUR CONSCIENCES, OUR INTELLECT, OUR HEARTS, THE MORE WE BEGIN TO LIVE, because this love is more than a feeling, far greater than any human emotion or sentiment. It is a deep reality- high as the heavens and deep as the sea. 
  • When we are steadfast, secure, and cemented in a foundation of GODLOVE, the Commandments and the Sacraments make more sense. They are not tasks to perform, they are not “holy obligations:” but expressions of GRATITIUDE to God, to Jesus—for the Holy Spirit within and around us. We have come today for gratitude. YES, we may feel distracted, chagrined, impartial to our choice of being here today. Nevertheless, we made the choice for LOVE. Dwell in that love NOW. Allow gratitude to take root. 
  • This week I invite you to take out a photo of yourself from your infancy or childhood – a photo in which JOY is evident in you. Ponder how that JOY is part of GOD, and how God expresses LOVE for you –past, present, and future (whether you are conscious of it or not.)
  • Place the photo on your night table, or in your office, or in your prayer nook, or fix it in your mind throughout your day, and pray with it, give thanks to God for it, for YOU. Let NO ONE TAKE THAT FROM YOU. No matter another person’s state of mind, no matter his or her inappropriate, disrespectful, hurtful behavior. No matter the imperfection of their love. Concretized in GOD LOVE, miracles happen – it becomes fascinatingly easier to see GODLOVE in and for another. Allow that photo of you to imagine a comparable photo of them. See if that reforms the situation, see if your feelings change. 
  • As Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (8:39): Nothing separates us “from the love of God that comes to us in Jesus Christ.”  We must not let others separate us from GODLOVE reality. Indeed, NO! We may, however, bring GODLOVE to them. 
  • “Thank you GODLOVE! Make us trust in You always for YOU LOVED US FIRST! In Love, You created us. In Love we are sustained. In love, we hope. In love, we forgive because we forever are forgiven. In Love, we truly LIVE! I believe that warrants a life of thanksgiving. Do you? 

FYI: Four Kinds of Love in Greek

Erōs
(GREEK: ἔρως) Romantic love; erotic desire; intimacy; infatuation with another’s beauty.
Philia
(GREEK: φɩλία) Brotherly love; friendship; affectionate regard for and loyalty to friends, family, and community, requiring virtue, equality, and familiarity.
Storgē
(GREEK: στοργή) Familial love; affection; natural empathy for one’s family, country, or team.
Agapē
(GREEK: ἀγάπη) Unconditional, self-sacrificial love; charity; God’s unconditional, self-sacrificial love for humankind and humankind’s love for a good God and for others. 

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP

Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20, Ps 54:3-4, 5, 6 and 8, James 3:16—4:3 and The Gospel of Mark 9:30-37

Everyone wants to be the best he or she can be. Everyone likes to come out on top, beat the competition, wind the medal. It’s so human! Yet Jesus chastises his disciples who want to be “the greatest.” He does so because so often “Be our best” degenerates into “Be THE best,” and with that comes a loss of our common humanity.  Jesus offers a solution to such bravado asking us to return to our childhood innocence.  

We may think only contemporary culture is excessively competitive, filled with rancor. Not so!  Were not Jesus’ disciples arguing for First Place–discontent to be one among many, to share and share alike? In every generation, people desire to be the best they can be, the greatest among top competitors. We want respect. We fantasize fame.  Christians are no exception. 

Admirable as these goals may be, Jesus knew that within those perfectly human goals of popularity and renown, there lurks in the shadows of our psyches, a penchant to take offense at another’s accomplishments, to allow our insecurities to feed resentment. We may even desire another’s downfall or find our imagination wickedly planning their demise.

The words from the Book of Wisdom must give us pause:  12Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us. 13He professes to have knowledge of God and styles himself a child of the Lord. 14 To us he is the censure of our thoughts;
merely to see him is a hardship for us,”

 “Child of the Lord,” is the biblical phrase of one who accepts God’s sovereignty, confident in who he or she is, one so rooted in God’s love, grateful for what she has. A child of the Lord does not brood over what he is not.  People long for that kind of peace and often resent those who have it. No surprise that resentment is often the source of conflict within and among families, colleagues, neighbors, parishioners – everyone.

From Cain’s murder of his brother Abel to the Crucifixion of Jesus, the sin of envy, resentment in another’s accomplishment and wellbeing is in rampant evidence in human history, literature and even in our everyday experiences.

Jesus says, “STOP!” Be as you were an innocent child!  Recapture the times in your youth when you were eager for everyone to succeed, everyone to get a prize, a gift, a hug, approval!  (Everyone must have felt that at some point, even if all we remember are our sibling rivalries. Who, after all, wasn’t in some way or other in competition for our parent’s admiration?) We all need acceptance. Acceptance. We may not feel we achieved that, but faith assures us GOD ACCEPTS US even with ours sins and failings.  Unconditional surrender to God brings experiences of God’s unconditional love. It is that simple!  Want to be seeped in serenity, more confident, with a stronger ability forbear life’s difficulties? Surrender to God. That’s the foundation of the kingdom.

Look to Jesus.  Jesus experienced that kind of heaven on earth. He was rooted in an unbreakable, fully sustainable, intimacy with God the Father. It gave him astounding inner peace.  We must remind ourselves the earthly Jesus had qualities every Christian strives for: fortitude, skill in debate, honesty in every endeavor, compassion, strength to challenge the commonplace, a healthy abhorrence of passivity in the face of injustice in Church and State.  We should all know by now that what often sounds like judgment and condemnation from Jesus, was, in fact, an open invitation to move beyond human shadow and come into the Kingdom’s light. This is who Jesus was and is, and his invitation still stands.

Today, and every day, Jesus invites us to ask, “Who is the true source of my confidence, my strengths, my ability to love and be loved? Will I allow the Christ to keep me in a child-like eagerness to be good, to share, to compete with my gifts in ways that do not devalue others or crush their spirits?  How may my honesty allow me to be vulnerable and sensitive to another’s frailties because of my faith in Jesus–the source of all that is good in me and everyone else?” Remember, all good things are contagious.  As we allow ourselves to be more honest, vulnerable, and sensitive with others, they are more likely to open up to us in the same way.   That is living in the Kingdom, where everyone has something to gain, and nothing to lose.  Gracious winners and Gracious losers – it doesn’t matter which, for it’s the loving of the life, celebrating God’s love.

We might enjoy lots of drama in our books and entertainment, in sports and in the news. Indeed, there is a little bit of Cain in everyone; a bit of the crowd yelling, “Crucify him,” in every faithful Catholic. Yet, deep within, is a more authentic desire for peace; hope that resentments will fade away, and we find ourselves laughing at our own frailties, inviting others to do the same. May our communion with Jesus be enough for us today and every day to be Christ to one another. 

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father James DiLuzio CSP

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5

James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-2

During my 6 years as Associate Pastor in a parish in Los Angeles, I had the privilege of being chaplain to 4 pilgrimages to the Holy Land.  The experiences provided me with numerous Spiritual Highs. I was filled with a deeper conviction of my faith–our faith–and a liberating joy. Even when we entered Gethsemane and stood on the places of sorrow and recalled Jesus’ and the Blessed Mother’s agonies and pains, the pilgrims and I meditated on the tragic aspects of sin and Christ’s sacrifice with a foundational hope.  What we discovered, in a new, visceral way, was that as we engaged ourselves in the Holy Family’s sorrows, we more readily united our personal sorrows with those of others.  Stories of sadness and hurts surfaced among us, and as we attended to each one, we found ourselves released from our own hurts, disappointments, fears, and disappointments. Christ was with us.  On the Mount of Olives, or on the meadows where Jesus preached, Compassion overwhelmed us and engaged us in Resurrection experiences –the foundation of our Christian faith.

I need to remind myself of these Holy Land experiences, for now, some 20 years ago, I can detach from those feelings and insights all too readily.  Time and time again I find myself struggling with the Paschal Mystery. 

When Jesus ridicules the religious leaders for rote observance of laws and rituals, for not having conversion of heart, there are times I see myself as one of those Scribes and Pharisees.  It’s not all so bad, this identification.  I imagine they were struggling with the same inner tension so many of us have -conflicts between engaging in outward signs and not always feeling the intellectual and emotional commitment to worship. Am I giving of my true self—in all that I am and am not—as an offering to God, a genuine gift of thanksgiving for my very life? We subsist in God’s life, no other. Our Sacraments engage us in outward signs, yes!  Yet they offer something more: active participation in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. Woe to all when our participation becomes an empty ritual, devoid of conversion of heart. Confident in God’s compassion and infinite patience with us, we must have the courage to be honest that we are not worthy, but we are loved. Who among us isn’t guilty of some aspect of hypocrisy when walking the path of LOVE?    

Moses was recorded in Deuteronomy saying, “Observe (the Laws, the Covenant) carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people,” Today, let’s face it “the nations could care less what we do, what we believe,” for the world is exceedingly secular and humanistic. Clearly, our society is most attentive to signs of our sins and is quick to call out “hypocrisy!”  We have no control over the ways people perceive us as people of faith. We know we cannot be compassionate 24 – 7.  Nevertheless, we are called to public witness.

In the end, the greatest gauge of true faith are not our rituals or prayer practices but our embodying the 2 Great Commandments: “Love God, Love Self (not because of our family tree, our personal talents, and accomplishments but) because each of us are part of God’s design, God’s plan for the generation in which we live — Destined to find our fulfillment in loving others.” It always comes down to that. As disciples of Jesus, Our Lord, it must always come down to that.

As we strive for sincere hearts of faith, genuine commitment to participation in Christ, the true sacrament, we must “Pick up the Cross,” and, essentially, that Cross is The Golden Rule. Ask, “What do I really want from each and every other person in my life?”— Understanding, respect, loyalty, compassion, acceptance?   Well, then, offer each and everyone what we ourselves need. If not, we’re prone to all the dark, inner resentments, the ugly desires Jesus enumerates in Matthew’s Gospel—greed, malice, envy, and the like.

I consulted the Paulist Biblical Commentary on today’s readings, and I found this: “In the Biblical Tradition, the heart is the center of a person’s life, the seat of actions and emotion, (the seat of human) will, and thoughts, and conscience . . .  The heart is the determining factor in one’s standing before God.” 

So, to respond to what we’ve heard today, may we continually pray, “Change our hearts, Lord, change our hearts! Bless us with an ever-deepening conversion.  Ground us in pure and sincere worship, so that your Divine Heart, will secure for us all the joys of faith, in good times and in bad times, for ourselves and for others.  Oh, // Lord, Jesus, Son of the living God, have mercy on us, for we are sinners. // May this humble, honest prayer (modeled for us by Saint Matthew, the tax collector) bring us all to Life, to God, to the Resurrection and all the promises of Christ.”

Consider Faith in God

This article by Ross Douthat MUST BE READ by anyone who engages in questions about God — no matter your religion or struggle with faith in a God who willed Creation into being. So engaging! So beautifully, logically and amazingly articulated! WOW. I welcome all Comments and subsequent Conversation on this piece! God bless!

HOMILY on the ASSUMPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY 2021

By Father James DiLuzio C.S.P.

I enjoin you today to contemplate with me the beauty of this weekend’s commemoration of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption beginning with this recent quote from Bishop Robert Barron’s writings.  Bishop Baron is an Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and Director of WORD ON FIRE ministries.

“When we speak of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother’s body, we are not envisioning a journey through space, as though Mary moved up into the sky. The “heavens” are a rich and consistent biblical symbol for the transcendent, for a manner of existence that lies beyond our familiar dimensions of space and time.

He goes on to say: “The Assumption of Mary means that the Blessed Mother was “translated,” in the totality of her being –

This means she achieved the fullness to which God intends for all humanity –imaged in the Resurrected Body of Jesus Christ –a complete unity of body, soul, and spirit free from all the limitations of biology and physics as we know it. 

Bishop Baron goes on to write that this fulfillment is what we mean when we use the term “heaven.”

He explains further: “Mary, who exists now in this other world, is not so much somewhere else as somehow else, and this helps to explain why we can speak of her, especially in her heavenly state, interceding, helping us, and praying for us and with us.”

Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language.  This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist.  In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what Saint Thomas Aquinas said long before him. Not surprisingly, Pope Emeritus Benedict and our current Pope Francis affirm the same.

In this way, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is inviting us to expand our minds and imaginations and our prayer life with more mystical dimensions, allowing us to become more comfortable with MYSTERY – a primary component of what it means to have a MATURE faith.  

Such Mystical Mystery concepts confirm our communion with all the Saints and all people of faith and goodwill who have gone before us.  The Feast of the Assumption of Mary, All Saints, All Souls, and all the Saints Days give us the assurance that we can, in fact, pray with them and ask for their intercession with God because we are united with them in Christ Jesus, all part of His One, Mystical Body.

We who are Jesus’ disciples have the significant privilege to know and embrace a foundational Christian truth – that through the Holy Spirit CHRIST is extensive, expanding His Essence from Age to Age in people of faith that whether we may deem people as “living “or “deceased,” all are and always shall remain alive. 

Therefore, although we use the language of metaphor to engage our imaginations to try and capture a bit of the profound mystery Jesus’ Resurrection and Mary’s Assumption and the promise of Eternal Life, our faith and our ongoing reception of the Sacraments confirm this reality.  Furthermore, today’s Feast reminds us that Mary is the first great and magnificent disciple leading the way promised to all who live by the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ Beatitudes.

Thus, to pray to Blessed Mary is to pray to CHRIST in her –who not only held the Christ in her womb and in her arms but who lived the WORD OF GOD as Scripture says, as Jesus said, and thus epitomizes Christ LIFE in all of us, just as the Eucharist instills in us not only a consciousness, an image but a deep reality that we are continually being transformed into a CHRIST extension, if you will, in our place and our time.

It’s time we confirmed once again the essential connection between the Eucharist, JESUS and Mary and the Saints because they manifest for us what we are — a priesthood of all believers destined for a new reality which Scripture calls “A New Heaven and a New Earth.”   Through the Holy Spirit, Christ is within us, Christ is among us, Christ inspires us to full cooperation with Him.  Applying His Will, God’s Will, to our hopes, dreams, and goals, just as Mary did, we will join Mary in the pattern of Resurrection Transformation that Jesus set for all.  Thus, Mary’s Feasts are our celebrations of Christ in Us, too. Mary lived the reality of heaven in her life and remains in that heavenly peace now and forever.  So, too, may we!

Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time — As delivered on Sunday 4 July 2021.

Jesus is in trouble.  Why?  He is asking the faithful to “go the distance,” to push beyond the boundaries of the ordinary, to experience spiritual depth.  But they are not ready. Granted, sometimes, going the extra distance feels like “too much!” Yet for those who persevere, eventually, the fruits of their labor are realized. This is the goal for all who desire SPIRITUAL GROWTH. Yet we’re practically WIRED TO RESIST IT – call it our survival mechanism, comfort control, original sin, or simply our flawed humanity.  We pause, we hesitate, we retreat to the old, the comfortable, before we are shaken into advancing the Kingdom.  

The Bible, for example, in its honesty, evidences our continual approach / avoidance relationship with God.  The responsibilities of the Covenant with God started out small because God knew we can only take a little spiritual development at a time.  Yet even as we were spoon fed through the centuries, all too often we resisted spiritual growth.  Thankfully, God was and continues to be persistent. So, first there was God’s promise to Noah:  know that the true God will never harm you!  Then, with Abraham, comes a circumcision here, a loyalty oath there. That was enough for several generations to get the idea that God is for us and not against us.  Centuries later, Moses calls the people to advance: First come the 10 Commandments, and then, eventually, he gives them 613 Laws to expand their constant devotion to God.  Next comes the ongoing interpretation and applications of those laws culminating in Psalms and centuries of Prophets “pushing the envelope,” if you will. “An eye for an eye” evolves to justice with mercy; the old tribal mentalities move from “God is for US, but not for others” expand to, “May Israel be a light to the nations!” an insistence that the faithful welcome foreigners, attend to widows and orphans beyond literal family ties and local neighbors. Yet, even with some ready for more mature growth in living their faith, God sent Ezekiel to “a hard-hearted people.”  For not everyone was ready then, nor are they ready now for change, for awakening to deeper truths to advance on the spiritual path.  You may recall the hostility of civic leaders who threw the prophet Jeremiah into a cistern, saying, “do not impose spiritual values on the interests of the State!”  No?  Well, the Kingdom of Judah collapsed shortly afterwards because the people did not listen.

Today, we find Jesus, building on the Prophetic Tradition, taking a RISK, that the people are ready for more.  As it was then, so it is now:  As Jesus invites his fellow believers to stretch into new Spiritual territory, they, and even we, at times, may find His teaching appealing and appalling at the same time. True faith requires conflict to grow, and yet, so often we will not engage in the hard work of deepening our faith.  The response in the synagogue that day was, “WHO DOES JESUS THINK HE IS?  –a ‘son of a carpenter” could not be a prophet!” They forgot, of course, that the prophet Amos was a herdsman and dresser of sycamores; King David had been a lowly shepherd. 

Today, no Christian would say to Jesus, “Who do you think you are?”  We have learned to pray “My Lord and My God.”  Yet, fifty years ago, when a prophet like Saint Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador called the American President pleading for our government to stop the sale of US weapons to his and other violence-ridden countries, our nation ignored him. The people would not insist our government leaders apply Jesus’ Gospel to the politics of the day.  When Dorothy Day’s urged eccentric ministries to the poor from the times of the Great Depression up until her death in 1980, we patted her on her head and sent her on her way. Too often we value progress over compassion. Today, Pope Francis’ urges a more inclusive, welcoming CHURCH.  Many choose to ignore him and retreat into an older sensibility, insisting that faith means retreating from the world.

Added to this mindset is a rigidity in biblical interpretation that does not engage in contemporary knowledge. Some refuse to dialogue Scripture with the wisdom that comes forth in every decade, every century, every age.  Others insist that Jesus and Saint Paul teachings do not apply to today’s situations. We respond by saying: “Jesus and Paul’s teachings were never meant to be static, rigid, or become archaic. They have the movement of the Holy Spirit within them.  We must be ready to build upon what our ancestors gradually accepted knowing that NOW the signs of our times require an ever-readiness to accept new Spirit, new Divine Guidance for the challenges of our age.”

Limiting Jesus, or anyone, by their family tree, occupation, ethnicity, or culture, or limiting them to a particular time and context, is a ubiquitous sin found in every generation. Spiritual stretching is uncomfortable, we often avoid it through distractions, detours, and, at times, prefer dead ends.  Yet, struggle we must if we are to be a vibrant, relatable, and accessible Church for so many people at wit’s end with the signs of the times.

Today, the Church wrestles, once again, with our understanding of the Eucharist.  Is reception of Jesus’ body and blood to become a litmus test for the integrity of an individual’s faith?  In all honesty, are not most of us continually caught in an approach / avoidance with Christ, the Center of the TRINITY, the ever-living God?   Everyone agrees the Body and Blood of Christ is a gift of grace, that is, God’s benevolence, God’s love. The Vatican Office of Divine Worship, Pope Francis, and many bishops worldwide (except a few) have confirmed Communion as food for a journey, to fortify, assure and bless all the weak, the fallible, and yes, we, the imperfect, and sinful people that we are.  Remember this: Jesus offered His Body and Blood to all the Apostles, including Judas – perhaps a last opportunity for Judas not to be involved in Jesus’ arrest and execution.  That did not work out well, but Jesus offered him the experience of unity with him anyway. For our Faith to continue to grow, we must come to accept that Communion cannot be a reward for good behavior as some insist today, but Jesus’ gracious invitation to reconsider and deepen our relationship with Him on an ongoing basis, not a public statement of judgment as to who is worthy and who is not.  The Eucharist is God’s gift to us to be fortified in Christ, to share in Jesus’ Divine Spirit, to grow deeper into HIS Way of life.  Communion empowers all who receive it to engage the world in reconciliation and forgiveness with everyone, not just a privileged, “Church going few.” True religion is about ongoing growth in faith, hope and love.  Are we ready for it?  

Reading I

Ez 2:2-5

As the LORD spoke to me, the spirit entered into me
    and set me on my feet,
    and I heard the one who was speaking say to me:
    Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites,
    rebels who have rebelled against me;
    they and their ancestors have revolted against me to this very day.
Hard of face and obstinate of heart
    are they to whom I am sending you. 
But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD! 
And whether they heed or resist—for they are a rebellious house—
    they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Responsorial Psalm

Ps 123:1-2, 2, 3-4

R. (2cd) Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.
To you I lift up my eyes
    who are enthroned in heaven —
As the eyes of servants
    are on the hands of their masters.
R. Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.
As the eyes of a maid
    are on the hands of her mistress,
So are our eyes on the LORD, our God,
    till he have pity on us.
R. Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.
Have pity on us, O LORD, have pity on us,
    for we are more than sated with contempt;
our souls are more than sated
    with the mockery of the arrogant,
    with the contempt of the proud.
R. Our eyes are fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.

Reading II

2 Cor 12:7-10

Brothers and sisters:
That I, Paul, might not become too elated,
because of the abundance of the revelations,
a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan,
to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. 
Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me,
but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.” 
I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,
in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. 
Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults,
hardships, persecutions, and constraints,
for the sake of Christ;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.

Alleluia

Cf. Lk 4:18

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel

Mk 6:1-6

Jesus departed from there and came to his native place, accompanied by his disciples. 
When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished. 
They said, “Where did this man get all this? 
What kind of wisdom has been given him? 
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! 
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? 
And are not his sisters here with us?” 
And they took offense at him. 
Jesus said to them,
“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.” 
So, he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Fr. James DiLuzio CSP            27 June 2021

SCRIPTURE: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13; 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

The two lines that shout out at me from our Scripture Readings today are these: From WISDOM 1: 13: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”

MATTHEW’S GOSPEL: “Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”

In this statement Jesus is clear: death is not an end in itself, but a form of sleep, part of Life’s journey. To sleep and to dream are essential to life itself. We need both sleep and dreams to awaken us every day to something new, a movement toward fullness of life.  

Saint Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans: “it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” 

SLEEP – How essential is it to our health and wellbeing!  What a mess we would make of life, our history, had humanity kept working 24 seven without the humbling, physical and spiritual values of sleep. From pauper to prince, everyday people to presidents, emperors and kings, sleep must come, dreams will come.

Sleeping.  Both a gift and a revelation.  Why, even from the beginning of Creation, there is night –rest for all beings, all things, even GOD!  Could any statement be more emphatic than what is essential to LIFE than what relates us to GOD?   And remember how God relates sleep to humans!  Recall Genesis 2:  

21 So the Lord God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, 23 the man said:  “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of man this one has been taken.”[k]

From this powerful story of our origins – of course, we do not take “Adam’s rib” event literally, but we do have a MAJOR metaphorical implication in it: SLEEP brings forth NEW LIFE. That is the passage’s import.  Many have written that “human beings are closest to death when we sleep AND, moreover, closest to eternity at the very moments we drift off to sleep at night and just before we slowly, awaken into consciousness at morning.  

Furthermore, Sleep is the threshold to dreams which, in their joys and terrors, serenities, and fears, offer us connection to heaven and hell – – – connections with relationships, past, present, and future, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.  So important it is that we pay attention to our own dreams, and our experiences of drifting into sleeping and awakening:

Consider the life-Giving Import of dreams in Biblical Revelation.  Joel 3: 1:  It shall come to pass I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will ream dreams, your young men will see visions.

From Adam’s sleeping to the dreams of Abraham, Jacob (Ladder of Angels), Joseph (who interprets dreams for his brothers and for Pharoah), the Prophet Daniel, the visions of Ezekiel and other prophets:

Dreams are not limited to the Hebrew Scriptures, alone, but prove essential in the life of Jesus and the Church through the dreams of Saint Joseph, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul – all of whom have significant revelations in their dreams.

Dream’s depth dynamics invite us to explore the MORE of Life and Faith as we say in the Creed “things visible and invisible.”  Dreams extend our relationships into THE WORLD OF THE NUMINOUS while affirming both body and soul.  Our own experience in DREAMS verifies that the spiritual is fully integrated into the material.  Dreams confirm our relationship with our own bodies as well minds and spirit, and dreams connect us with other people.

Jesus told the crowds: “The child is not dead but asleep.”

He was not speaking metaphorically here but referring to the deep reality that death is a temporary dynamic, that death, like dreaming, keeps us connected to God and to others, to all relationships in our life, both with the living and the dead.

Contemporary Theologian, and prolific writer Gerhard Lohfink wrote this in his book: IS THIS ALL THERE IS? – Meditations on Resurrection and Eternal Life (pp 175) offers us his convictions that all relationships continue after death:

Every individual is linked to others with a thousand threads.  . . . No one can be an “I” without a “you.” Individuality, being oneself, personhood do not exist without a living connection to others. Living as a person means “living in relationship.” Existing means “experiencing others.”

in fact, it is necessary—to call the resurrection of the dead “new creation,” that is, to bring it into relationship with the creation of the world, because that makes it clear that the resurrection of the dead is not something added, something that could be or not be; even though it is pure grace it is part of God’s plan for creation. Creation, from the beginning, points toward its perfection, toward glory, toward being at home in God.

The book of Wisdom relates: “God did not make “death” –that is finality, oblivion, extinction, alienation forever.  In God all is held in the palm of God’s hands.” All relationships continue whether we are conscious of them are not in our dreams or daily lives.  I have noted before, how the DNA of dinosaurs is still living in birds; that we moderns continue to have Neanderthal DNA in our systems. Nothing, and no one, is fully extinct, nothing is wasted.  God who is Relationship itself (Father, Son and Spirit) brings all to fulfillment and calls all relationship onward to eternity.  SLEEP and its bedfellow DREAM offer us insights in the interconnectedness of all things.  

I once read of a scientific experiment in which scientists were able to split an electron (one of the 3 components of an atom).  One half they place in a space capsule with a monitor of some kind and sent it in a satellite beyond our solar system.  The other half they maintained in their earth-bound laboratory. They found that whenever they manipulated the electron in their lab, the electron in space reacted and adjusted in exactly the same way as the earthbound one.  In other words, space dimension made no difference in the intimate connection of one part of an electron to the other.  They were intimately tied, united from earth unto the heavens. Amazing.  In this scientific experiment, faith finds a bedfellow in science, not necessarily “proof,” but an invitation to mystery. We need to be open to connections such as these.

Remember, Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead is the foundation of the Christian faith. Scholars tell us Resurrection – that in death, life is changed not ended — was the primary motivation for all the early converts to Christianity.  Oh, what Jesus knew and manifested 2000 years ago!  Still, all this is a matter of faith which is why Jairus’ faith and the faith of the Woman cured of hemorrhages are so intricately linked.  Faith saves us. We continue to make Jesus’ Wisdom and these Gospel events to feed us and bring us into communion.  And so, as an act of FAITH, we are welcome to this table of Death and Resurrection:  dying from sin and fear and unto New Life — NOW and forever.