Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday word, 27 Dec 2009

Holy Family (27 Dec 2009)

Sir 3. 2-6, 12-14; Ps 128; 1Jn 3. 1-2, 21-24; Lk 2. 41-52

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Up to Us Now

Celebrating the incarnation of God moves in a variety of directions. On the birthday of our Savior we celebrated God abiding with us and sharing our human nature by being born of Mary. Jesus began his human life, helpless and in need of care, nourishment and protection.

The Solemnity of the Holy Family continues celebrating the incarnation of God. The focus is on us: how we live the mystery of God with humans. The Book of Sirach highlights our interactions with one another urging patience above all. Patience with one another is not merely good manners. Patience with one another incarnates God’s merciful kindness, which more than a virtue, offers us divine life. Scripture connects it with freeing us of sin: patient kind-ness will not be forgotten, [it will be] firmly planted against the debt of [our] sins.

Patient kindness is one way that you and I take part in revealing the mystery of God with us. The incarnation joins us to God through Jesus by their Spirit. Holy Spirit is the revealing power of the mystery of God with us, and Holy Spirit makes this mystery known through us just as the Spirit did through the first Christians.

Holy Spirit widens our scope of family beyond family units to include communities of faith and the human community in its local and wider, even global, incarnation. The mystery of God with us is not imprisoned in the past. It isn’t a sentiment we take out, dust off and decorate once a year at Christmastime. The mystery of God with us is present and has the shape of the people God creates in every time and place. The mystery of God with us is now: so tiny a word yet always bursting the bonds of time! The First Letter of John made that clear: we are God’s children now.

The now of the mystery of God with us is ongoing opening and deepening discovery of being created anew. Jesus’ Spirit Jesus gave us to continue the revelation of God with us. Our choices to act patiently and kindly are part of being recreated; and our choices to act patiently and kindly join God in revealing the mystery of God becoming one with us and our daily progress in becoming one with God.

The mystery of God with us is mutual. The best image I can offer is our response to an infant. Lying on its back and looking up at an adult or even an older brother or sister, what does an infant naturally do? It raises its hands and feet upwards to us, and we bend toward the infant.

In a Christmas homily St. Bonaventure described the incarnation in harmony with how infants and we move together: “the eternal God has humbly bent down and lifted the dust of our human nature into unity with [God’s]own person.”1 With unmatched loving desire, we may say God could do nothing else but approach us and assume our nature so that we might again share the nature of God.

Beginning with the Holy Family and extending beyond family ties to all people, we are invited each day to imitate God bending toward us by how we are with one another. Simultaneously we are encouraged to reach toward each other in our needs, not only for help and for mutual strength but to allow others better to imitate our God of patient kindness. By that mutual enterprise we continue to advance[] in wisdom and age and favor before God and the human family.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause in the presence of our Triune God. Ask Mary and Joseph to present you to Jesus. Allow Jesus to ask you that question he asked his parents: Why are you looking for me? Ask for the grace of honest courage; then in your words speak with Jesus your answer. It may come quickly; it may come after doing your daily 15 minutes more times during the week. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus gave us to shape what we seek, what we speak and how we follow Jesus and find him.


  1. Sermon 2, “On the Nativity of the Lord.” What Manner of Man? Sermons on Christ by St. Bonaventure, trans. Zachary Hayes (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1989), p. 57.
Wiki-image of a scene at Nazareth, the Divine Carpenter, is in the public domain.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas word, 25 Dec 2009

Christmas Day (25 Dec 2009)

Is 62. 11-12; Ps 97; Ti 3. 4-7; Lk 2. 1-20

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.


Christmas can overwhelm. Preparations can overwhelm us. People—both their presence and their absence—can overwhelm us. Some parties can overwhelm us. Of many ways to cope one is to retreat into the Christmas story as remembered in carols, customs, cards and other images; and of course, the scriptures, which shape the carols, customs, cards and other images of this season.

Yet Christmas scriptures overwhelm, announcing God at work for us. The main characters did not have it easy being overwhelmed by God. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, their friends and kin would line up after another to remind us, “Don’t romanticize the Christmas story.” Yet, we have been conditioned to do that. We remark about the stable and its manger with words like: beautiful; lovely; warm; and others, though beauty and warmth do not always deepen devotion or help us be overwhelmed by God.

St. Francis of Assisi created the first creche to deepen devotion not romanticize it at an outdoor Christmas mass where a town chapel was too small to accommodate all who would come to mass. We know he didn’t romanticize because Francis sought permission of the pope: Francis did not want to be accused of casual regard for the mystery of God become human or of novelty, which always endangers tradition.1 He told his brothers, “Hurry and prepare as I tell you. For I want to do something that will recall the little Child who was born at Bethlehem, how he lay in a manger, how—with an ox and an ass standing by—he lay there upon the hay with such inconveniences.”2

I thought of that Tuesday afternoon as I sat before our creche and enjoyed the aroma of the newly set pine trees. From my reverie I recalled one of those inconveniences was an unpleasant odor: with an ox and an ass standing by the first creche was smelly like the one it recalled in Bethlehem so long ago; and St. Francis did it to deepen devotion not to romanticize it.

You and I can enjoy the beauty of our parish nativity scene and our own at our homes. We enjoy with devotion when we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by God and God’s devotion to us. That’s not always easy. Sometimes we have difficulty overcoming distraction and are unable to be distracted by God. At others our pain, uncertainty and fear about what life has dealt us make it difficult to invite God into our lives, untidy and inconvenient as they are. Gift giving helps us focus on others. At times we focus more on gifts—not only presents to give but our gifts which make us the individuals God created—than on the Giver of all gifts.

Enter the main characters of the Christmas story as scripture offers it. Zechariah could not receive God’s word without scoffing. Told he would finally have a son, who would prepare the Messiah’s way, Zechariah dismissed the message: I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.3 Elizabeth was overwhelmed and had to defy cultural norms, family and friends to name her son.4 Joseph was going to end his engagement when he learned Mary was pregnant.5 Mary overcame great fear and anxiety knowing what was said about her—unwed mother—was true. And the shepherds!

The shepherds, who we’d say had nothing to lose because they stood very low on society’s ladder, and the sheep they watched they didn’t own, allowed themselves to be overwhelmed by God. They are good models for us because our status, comfort and ability to move easily in society can prevent us from allowing God to overwhelm us—not to tire or belittle us but to create us anew. Christmas is about new creation.

The first thing scripture mentioned about God creating the world was light. The Psalmist sang to us of new light dawning in human darkness; Luke reminded us Bethlehem’s darkness shone by the light of God’s glory; and St. Paul that Jesus’ birth began our rebirth. To allow God in Jesus by their Spirit to overwhelm us is the beginning of Jesus being born anew in us. His simplicity, poverty and humility recreates us as citizens of a new Bethlehem, David’s royal city. To allow God to overwhelm us recreates us as devoted apostles of glad tidings, who make known far and near God’s overwhelming devotion to us and to all by our actions and by the example we set to overwhelm our world.


  1. St. Bonaventure mention this in his Life of Francis. The paragraph is easily available.
  2. Thomas of Celano, The First Life of St. Francis, pp. 84-85. Citation beneath an image of a fresco by Giotto, entitled, The Manger of Greccio.
  3. Luke 1.18.
  4. Luke 1.59-61.
  5. Matthew 1.18-19.
Wiki-image of the Annunciation to the Shepherds is in the public domain.