They will call down my name on the sons of Israel and I will bless them. The Lord said to Moses: "Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace! So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them."
Refrain: May God bless us in his mercy.
1) May God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation. (Refrain)
2) May the nations be glad and exult because you rule the peoples in equity;
The nations on the earth you guide. (Refrain)
3) May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear him! (Refrain)
When the designated time had come, God sent forth his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted sons. The proof that you are sons is the fact that God has sent forth into our hearts the spirit of his Son which cries out "Abba!" ("Father!"). You are no longer a slave but a son! And the fact that you are a son makes you an heir, by God's design.
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw, they understood what had been told them concerning this child. All who heard of it were astonished at the report given them by the shepherds. Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, in accord with what had been told them. When the eighth day arrived for his circumcision, the name Jesus was given the child, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
[From the Lectionary for Mass, Copyright © 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; © 1969, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. (ICEL) All rights reserved. Used with permission of ICEL. (This resource is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.)]
- Catechism: #'s 963-970 (Mary, the Mother of the Church). United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC: 1994. [As recommended in A Homily Sourcebook (The Universal Catechism), by N. Abeyasingha. The Pastoral Press, Washington, D.C.: 1993.]
- Shepherds and Angels. From The Gospel of Luke, by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. 1975.
- Days of the Lord, Volume 1, pp. 242-247. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn., 1991.
- Among earthly things which are only temporary are our own lives, and those of people around us. So probably one of the things we are all most guilty of is taking one another for granted. (Insert story of some accident to, or death of, someone close to you which affected you.)
- So the lesson for us is that we need to appreciate one another while our loved ones are still with us. We all have persons around us whom we should not take for granted. Their presence is God's gift of himself to us and that gift could be taken away at any time. There was a story that appeared in the newspapers recently which is very appropriate to this reading. In this particular family, there was a tradition that when a child graduated from high school, the father would give them a new car. In this one case, the father and son even went so far as to shop around and had picked a good vehicle. When the big day came, the father presented his son with a fairly large box. He tore it open only to find a bible inside. In disgust, he threw the book on the floor and left the house, never to speak to his father again. Some years later, the father died. The son regretted his actions and attended the funeral. Afterwards, he returned to his father's house, went to his father's room and there on the desk saw the bible. He opened it and inside found a cashier's check for the purchase price of the car they had checked out. So whether it be parents, grandparents, spouse, children or friends, we should be thankful for every moment we have with them.
There is a movie called "Groundhog Day"in which the actor Bill Murray portrays a weatherman who is sent on assignment to cover the annual appearance of Punxatawny Phil, the groundhog, on February 2. He winds up being snowed in by a blizzard and wakes up day after day and discovers that he is reliving Groundhog Day all over again. At first, he takes advantage of the situation as much as possible for his own advantage. However, as the movie progresses, he learns to care about others and changes from a self-centered person to a loving and caring one. Only then does time resume its normal course in his life.
We are not constantly reliving Groundhog Day, but we are constantly living because God has continued to bless us with this gift of life. And yet how often do we get up and go about our daily business without giving God the slightest thought? How often do we just take God's gift for granted, like the nine lepers did in our gospel passage? Do we ever wake up and thank God for the gift of life that he has given us, the gift of another new day to learn to "get it right", as Bill Murray found out in the movie?
In our first reading today, the liturgy quotes the most solemn blessing that can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures: "the Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!" The Hebrews believed that to be blessed meant that one had the favor of God and that divine grace rested upon them and guided their lives. That person was also just because he or she participated in the justice and sanctity of God.
In the beautiful second reading from Paul's letter to the Galatians, he says that "when the designated time had come, God sent forth his Son born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it." In the ancient world the process of growing up was much more definite than it is with us. First of all, in the Jewish world, on the first Sabbath after a boy had passed his twelfth birthday, his father took him to the Synagogue, where he became a "Son of the Law", that is, a "bar mitzvah". The father thereupon uttered a benediction, "Blessed be thou, O God, who has taken from me the responsibility for this boy." The boy then prayed a prayer in which he promised to keep God's commandments, and undertake and bear the responsibility of his actions towards God. In other words, there was a clear dividing line in the boy's life; almost overnight he became a man.
Secondly, in Greece, a boy was under his father's care until he was eighteen. He then became what was called an "ephebos," which may be translated "cadet," and for two years he was under the direction of the state. Once again, growing up was quite a definite process. And finally, under Roman law the year in which a boy grew up was not definitely fixed, but it was always between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. At a sacred festival in the family called the "Liberalia", he took off the "toga praetexta," which was a toga with a narrow purple band at the foot of it and put on the "toga virilis," which was a plain toga which adults wore. He was then conducted by his friends and relations down to the forum and formally introduced to public life.
Paul goes on to say that God sent his Son "to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted sons." So when a child was an infant in the eyes of the law, they might be the owner of vast property but could take no legal decision; they had no control of their own lives; everything was done and directed for them; and, therefore, for all practical purposes they had no more freedom than if they were a slave; but when they became an adult, they entered into their full inheritance. (1)
And in the gospel, Luke reminds us emphatically that Jesus became one like us and subjected himself to the Jewish law in effect at that time which prescribed that every male child be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. So sacred was that ceremony that it could be carried out even on a Sabbath, when the law forbade almost every other act which was not absolutely essential; and on that day a boy received his name. (2)
So what does all of this mean for us? If we look at both the second reading and the gospel, we would see that "time" plays an important part in both of them. Paul says "when the designated time had come, God sent forth his Son", and Luke says that "when the eighth day arrived for his circumcision, the name Jesus was given to the child." You see, Christ left his eternity and entered into our "time" in order to release us from the law of Moses, which had prescribed a narrow set of rules that had to be strictly followed in order for someone to be saved. Christ's coming brought a new law which superceded the old law and which is governed by one over-riding principle: the law of love. As we begin a new year, we need to assess our lives and see if any changes are needed. For so often, our priorities are screwed up and we need to put first things first.
- Raymond Camp, who wrote a column called "Wood, Fish and Stream" for the New York Times, tells of a letter he got from a boy. It read, "Would you tell me where I could find a place to fish that is not more than five or six miles from my house in Queens? I am 14 years old and have saved up enough money to buy a rod, reel and line, but do not know where to go fishing. My father sometimes goes with other men, but he's too busy for me, so I have to find some place I can reach on my bicycle or the subway." The columnist managed to find out the father's name and send him his son's letter with a brief note. He received this reply from the father: "You handed me quite a wallop in your letter, but I am sorry you did not hit me harder and sooner. When I think of the opportunity I might have lost, it frightens me. I do not need to point out that I now have a new fishing companion, and we have already planned a busy spring and summer. I wonder how many other fathers are passing up similar opportunities?" (3)
I don't know about all of you, but hardly a holiday season passes by when I don't watch those two classic films: "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol". In the first movie, George is given a wonderful gift: a chance to see what the world would have been like if he hadn't been born. And in the second one, as you probably know, Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who transform him from a miserly old scoundrel into a kind, loving and considerate gentleman. At one point, he asks his partner Marley's ghost about the chain he is carrying around and tells him that he thought he had been a good man of business. Marley responds that he had forged the chain because, even though he may have been a good man of business, he had neglected mankind and the welfare of others, which should have been his business.
Later on, the Spirit of Christmas Past takes Scrooge back to the death of his sister who had died giving birth to his nephew, Fred. In his real life, he had already left her side, but in the vision, he sees that before she died, she had asked him to care for Fred. And he realizes that for all of these years, he had pushed Fred away and blamed him for the death of his beloved sister, just as his own father had rejected him at first because his own mother had also died giving birth to him.
Now earlier in the movie, and despite all of his uncle's rejections, Fred had stopped by Scrooge's business to invite him over for Christmas dinner. After his transformation, Scrooge goes to Fred's house to see if he can take him up on his offer. The scene which I believe is at the heart of the movie comes after he has entered the dining room and been welcomed by Fred. He approaches Fred's wife and says to her: "Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool for having no eyes to see with, no ears to hear with all these years?"
In an address to the graduates of Wellesley College one year, Barbara Bush once said: "As important as your obligation as a doctor, a lawyer, or a business leader may be, your human connections with your spouse, your children and your friends are the most important investment you will ever make. At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal, but you will regret time not spent with your spouse, your children or your friends." (3)
Today is an important day for all of us, the beginning of another year. In essence, we are emphatically reminded, today of all days, that God has given us another day of life, more "time" in our lives to "get it right". Today, just like George Bailey, we have been given a wonderful gift, the gift of another day, the first day of the rest of our lives. All we have to do is make sure that we don't blow it. Because, like Marley's ghost, if we don't take care of one another here on earth, then it will be too late for us to change it. As we look over our lives and make all of our new year's resolutions, there is one which should take precedence over all of the others: the resolution to do more each and every day of this year to try to love others to the best of our ability.
My wish for all of you as we begin a new year of life is the blessing from our first reading, with all of its inner meaning: "May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!" Or put more succinctly in the words of Tiny Tim: "May God bless us, everyone."
1. The Days of Childhood. From The Letter to the Galatians, copyright 1975 by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.
2. The Ancient Ceremonies Are Observed. From The Gospel of Luke, copyright 1975 by William Barclay. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.
3. Time Marches On, From Storytelling the Word, pp. 212-216, copyright 1996 by William J. Bausch. Twenty-third Publications, Mystic, CT, 06355. [This resource, as well as many others, is available at a discount through the Homiletic Resource Center.
(Copyright 2016 by the Spirit through Deacon Sil Galvan, with a little help from the friends noted above. Permission is freely granted for use, in whole or in part, in oral presentations. For permission to use in writing, please contact the human intermediary at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It was, after all, a mistake. It had been one of the worse nights of my residency. There had been so many admissions that I had virtually lost count, and I barely was able to keep up with the needs of my own patients, much less all the other ones I was cross covering. I was desperately rushing to finish checking labs and ordering tests before hurrying off to morning report.
Later that day, I was struggling to fight back fatigue and finish rounds when I received a page to report to Radiology immediately.
"Oh great" I thought. "Now what's wrong?" However, upon my arrival I was the sudden focus of congratulations and pats on the back.
"Great pickup" they said. "Look at that," one of the radiologists said, pointing to films from an upper GI series hanging on the view box.
"A small bowel tumor, classic appearance!" I stood there dumbfounded; I had no idea what they were talking about. I picked up the chart and leafed through it. Yes, I had ordered the upper GI, but it wasn’t my patient. Then I realized what had happened. In my haste to keep up with everything the prior evening, I had ordered an upper GI on the wrong patient!
Looking closer at the chart I learned that the patient was a priest, and director of a local Catholic college. He had been complaining of cough and fever, as well as nonspecific malaise and therefore, as was common in those bygone days, was admitted to the hospital for an evaluation. After the upper GI revealed a cancer of the bowel, he was operated on the very next day. The surgeon had paged me to the operating room to show me, saying, "You really saved this guy. I've never caught one of these this early before." I was too embarrassed to say anything, so I nodded my head politely and walked out. I didn't tell a soul what had happened.
The hectic pace of residency quickly resumed and the incident was soon forgotten.
About a week later, I was paged to the surgical floor. When I returned the call, a nurse informed me that one of the patients wanted to speak with me. I told her that I didn’t have any patients there. She replied, "It's a priest, and he's quite insistent on speaking with you." I froze and felt a deep sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.
In a near trancelike state, I slowly made my way to his room. As I entered, I had a sudden urge to throw myself at his feet saying, "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned," but instead I quietly introduced myself and took a seat by his bed. A distinguished-looking man in his late fifties, he had piercing eyes that seemed to stare directly into my soul.
"Were you the one who ordered the test on me?"
I nodded my head and said nothing.
"Why?" he asked.
"It was...an accident," I stammered. I told him everything, the words almost pouring out of me, a relief to finally tell someone. He appeared pale and said nothing for a long time, the two of us sitting in utter silence. After a while he finally spoke. "The last several months have been something of a spiritual crisis for me. I had begun to question how I had spent my life, and the very core of my beliefs. I was offered a new and important position, but I didn't feel capable or worthy of it. Then, I began to feel ill and I was going to turn the offer down." He paused, "Since the surgery my symptoms seem to have disappeared. I now know what I should do. You see, my son, I believe there are no accidents. When they came to take me for that GI test, I knew that something was amiss, yet at the very same time I felt deeply that I had to go."
He seemed to sit more erect in bed and his voice gathered force. “The day before I had prayed for some sort of sign to guide me, and now I understand that you were chosen to be its instrument.”
As he spoke, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck rise and a strange sensation came over me.
I sat there stunned, not knowing what to say or think. The priest smiled. "Such talk troubles you, doesn't it?"
I told him of my own inner struggles trying to reconcile reason and faith in the context of my own religious tradition. "Ah," he replied, "one of your people grappled with such questions long ago. I will introduce you to him."
My beeper summoned me. As I rose to leave he asked that I wait for a moment and sit on his bed. He placed his hand upon my head and said, "I offer you my thanks in the words your people once taught us. May the Lord bless you and keep you, may His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, may He lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace..."
Several months later, I was called to the hospital's mailroom to sign for a package that had just arrived for me from Europe. I was shocked to see that it had come from the Vatican. Opening it I found it was from the same priest, except instead of Father his title was now Monsignor, a special assistant to the Pope. Inside was a short note that said, "As you once helped me through my spiritual turmoil, may this aid you through yours." Enclosed was a beautiful bound English translation of the great physician/philosopher Moses Maimonides' monumental work on the struggle between faith and reason, The Guide of the Perplexed.
I walked to the small patient garden next to the hospital entrance, sat, and heard the soft songs of the birds and caught the smell of the spring blossoms in the clean air.
I sat holding the book and was lost in thought for a long time.
Maybe there are no mistakes.
(The Accident. From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living the Catholic Faith, copyright 2008 by Blair Grubb.)
Lord Jesus, you are the Lord of time and of eternity. Lord, have mercy.
Christ Jesus, you became one like us and were subject to the law. Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus, you freed us from the law and showed us how to live out your new law of love. Lord, have mercy.
Celebrant: As we begin a new year and make resolutions to improve our lives, we should also resolve to live God's law of love more closely in our lives. As we seek God's grace in these endeavors, we bring all of our needs to the Father.
Deacon/Lector: Our response is "Lord, hear our prayer".
That the Holy Spirit will guide Pope Francis and the leaders of the Church during this new year of grace, we pray to the Lord.
That the leaders of the nations of the world will actively strive to make this a year of peace, we pray to the Lord.
That the sick, the lonely and those who are grieving the loss of a loved one will find consolation by laying their cares at the feet of the child Jesus, we pray to the Lord.
That the members of our parish community will glorify God during this new year by our acts of charity to those in need, we pray to the Lord.
That all those who are traveling during this holiday season will be renewed and refreshed in spirit and return safely, we pray to the Lord.
That our Blessed Mother will lead all of our deceased relatives and friends, whose passing we remember in a special way at this time of the year, into the loving arms of her Son, we pray to the Lord.
For all of the intentions we hold in our hearts and which we now recall in silence. (Pause) For all of these intentions, we pray to the Lord.
Celebrant: O Gracious Father, your Son became one like us and subjected himself to the law in order to free us from it and establish a new order based on love. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to follow his example more closely in our lives and thus inherit the kingdom which he promised to his followers. We ask this in the name of Christ, your Son. Amen.