Baptism of the Lord – Homily (Fr. Smith)

As a celibate only child I have little practical advice to offer couples who are getting married. My only suggestion has been that they have a pre-natal bucket list. List the things they will not be able to do when the child or children arrive and do the most important ones. I have heard of some interesting selections: a picture safari to east Africa, explorations of Tuscan Hill towns and, early in my ministry, following the Grateful dead for a few months. Yet a wise woman has suggested that I add a specific one; get lots of sleep now. This is not only or even mostly because of sleep deprivation with a newborn but that once a child arrives parents will never quite have an anxiety-free moment. He, she, or they will always be on the parental mind one way or another. This is not a sign of neurosis or something unique to a particular marriage: this is love and it is also the best way to understand Baptism and indeed the Synod. 

First some history and theology. 

The good news of Jesus is that because we are sinners he died for us, came back to life, and offers us new life indeed a new way of being human through membership in his family, the Church. 

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Epiphany- Homily (Fr. Smith)

The book of Numbers is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. All literate Jews would have known this passage, and the others would have known of it. Because of it Messianic expectations included that a star would be a sign of his arrival. 

This is the primary background for today’s gospel but there is one other dimension. Matthew calls the visitors from the east magi. For many of his readers these would have been the court advisors and magicians who confronted Daniel in the court of Babylon. They had an extremely negative connotation. Using Magi is not neutral like simply saying king or wise man. We should see them like the Samaritan in Luke’s gospel. It was shocking that people who were not only not Jews but hostile to them would have an insight into the nature and actions of the Messiah. 

For centuries people have tried to discover what the Star was and from where did the Magi come. Some of the answers were ingenious but most rather silly and all distracting. A great principle for bible reading is the best interpreter of scripture is scripture.  We should always first look at the scriptures for the meaning of a bible passage. In this case we would very definitely be rewarded with the story of Balaam.

It is found in the book of Numbers and is set during the invasion of Canann by the Israelites. Under Moses they had been wandering and fighting for 40 years and had become a fierce and disciplined fighting force. The king of Moab, Balak, realized that he was about to be attacked by Moses and that he could not win by force of arms. He decided however to use different means and sought out Balaam a “seer” from the east to curse the Israelites. This was about 1400 BC and seer, or prophet, meant not someone who could predict or envision the future but someone who could change it. Balak wanted to hire Balaam as a supernatural hit man. Balaam is contacted by the emissaries of Balek and somewhat reluctantly he follows them to Canann. Though he tried to curse the Israelites, the LORD puts words of blessing in his mouth and the Israelites steadily improve their position. His final utterance however goes far beyond just this one battle”  
I see him, but not now; 
   I behold him, but not near— 
   a star shall come out of Jacob, 
   and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; (Nu 24:17). 

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Christmas and the Holy Family – Homily (Fr. Smith)

St. Luke was very much a Roman citizen and knew that the ultimate competition for Jesus was the emperor. He had lived through the reigns of several emperors and realized that the first – Augustus – was the most formidable, and so he begins the story of the birth of Jesus with him. We are meant to make comparisons.

The emperor was born Octavian in 63 BC. He came from a solid family but was not of the highest nobility. He was however the adopted son of Julius Caesar and demonstrated such military and political skill after his death that he became the most powerful man in Rome. He also understood how to use symbols and what we would now call public relations.

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3rd Sunday of Advent – Homily (Fr. Smith)

Stories of conversion have always held a strange fascination for me. I am a cradle Catholic and although looking back on my life I can see times of change and growth and alas more than a few times of spiritual retreat there is no single moment when I knew I had crossed a line from unbelief to belief. One of my favorite stories is of C.S. Lewis the great Christian author to wrote everything from the Narnia Series for children to Mere Christianity for basically everyone.

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2nd Sunday of Advent – Homily (Fr. Smith)

The first part of today’s gospel is far from riveting.  A list of obscure Roman officials and a Jewish priest is not as compelling as the ministry of John the Baptist. Yet it is extremely important, and it is necessary for us to examine it closely because it tells us that Luke is writing a history of a Jewish prophet, indeed 2 prophets. 

He first outlines the political geography of Jesus’ world, noting the date through the reign of the emperor and the emperor’s representative in every place that affected Jesus. He then adds the current local religious leader. This is critical. He does not begin with “once upon a time” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.  Luke is writing history and we must read his gospel and the acts of the apostles accordingly.

This is not a myth or legend which may give us a window into truth such as the first chapters of the book of Genesis. It tells the story of a real person, Jesus, who lived at a certain place, Judea and Galilee, who preached a message, the coming of the kingdom of God, and who was killed for this teaching. Should any of these not be factual, then Luke is either a dupe or a liar. His concept of writing history would not be the same as ours. The speeches for instance will all sound the same, because he will make them conform to certain rules. They are not verbatim, and would not be expected to be. But his audience knew what was important and could not be made up for any reason. His immediate audience would have especially understood that if Jesus did not literally die and rise this book is meaningless at best and malicious at worst.  

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1st Sunday of Advent – Homily (Fr. Smith)

Advent is an unexpected and unwanted liturgical season. Yet, although no early Christian would have created Advent it is necessary, helpful, and potentially joyful. Let us look at why.  

Advent means coming. It is often assumed that this is the coming of Jesus at his birth. This is less than half correct. Most of the prayers and readings for Advent are directed to Jesus’ return. Advent is divided into two sections “Early Advent” which extends from today to Dec 16th. Here, the attention is clearly on the Jesus’ return and the establishment of the Kingdom. As you have probably noticed, the Sunday readings for the last two weeks have also dwelt with this theme. The Nativity is emphasized only from the 17th to the 25th of December. We are clearly being called to look at and for the return of Jesus.  


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Homily – Christ the King (Fr. Smith)

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. It was created by Pope Pius XI, Achille Ratti, in 1925 and to understand the feast you will need to know the Man. Let me tell you a story about him that occurred earlier that year.

The dust had settled from the First World War and revealed a changed world, every institution including the church was uncertain how to proceed, indeed, how to connect with people. Since the 1890s the Popes had realized that the rise of industrialism and the form of capitalism that supported it as well as the socialism and communism that opposed it had created unprecedented problems for a church that depended upon monarchial government and agricultural production. Pope Leo 13th in 1891 recognized the need for a just wage and the right of working people to organize to provide for a dignified and productive life. He sought to bring the church to accept this new reality and to embrace clerks, merchants and most importantly factory workers.

His call was not heeded by most bishops in the world and indeed was at some times and places actively resisted. The split widened between working people and the Church. One exception to this not very benign neglect was a young Belgian Priest, Joeph Cardijn. He not only saw the need to minister to young workers but to minister with them. He formed groups which eventually became the Young Christian Workers not only for catechetical instruction and prayer but for education and social action. He believed that they should control their own funds and decide on their own projects and causes. The motto of the group, which was taken up by Pope St John 23rd in the Second Vatican Council and Pope Francis in Fratelli Tutti was “See, Judge Act.”

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