Reflections for the Octave of Christmas 2012 *
* These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2008, 2009 and 2011 

                                                                                                         Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
S                                                                                                       Sunday, December 30
2012     Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14

The Book of Sirach is a collection of maxims and commentaries based on the Law. The author, “Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach” (Ben Sira is the common form of his name),,, was a wise observer of life and writes on a variety of topics. Today’s first reading for the Liturgy is a reflection on the Fourth Commandment of God: Honor thy father and thy mother. To honor one’s parents, according to Ben Sira, is to honor the Lord God himself. He wrote around the year 180 BCE, rather close to the coming of Christ as the Messiah.

I meet many people who are caring for their parents. I meet them in the confessional and also in the nursing homes with which I am associated. They are doing their best, but sometimes they worry and blame themselves for not doing a “good enough” job. From time to time they grow angry and frustrated and then feel guilty and ashamed of these feelings. I’ve been in the same boat myself any number of times in the past.

Honoring our parents and caring for them in their old age is something that most of us experience in one way or another. I don’t think my Dad was ever in a hospital as a patient until he had a hernia repaired when he was 75 years old. And the last time, up until the time of her death, that I would guess my Mom was in the hospital, except for a broken hip, was when she gave birth to my brother in 1933. They were healthy people, far more healthy than I turned out to be.

When my Dad was 78 or 79, he fell prey to Alzheimer disease and went through all the stages. This was very frustrating for me at times, particularly when he would hide his wallet, forget where he hid it, and then blame Mom and myself for having stolen his wallet. There were times when I felt like strangling him and then I would feel guilty about feeling this way about a sick person. There were some problems that had to be handled, such as moving him where he could be cared for. He died when he was 86 from pneumonia.

Mom broke her hip when she was in her 80’s. Surgery managed to repair this until shortly before her death when she had a heart attack and stroke at the same time and died nine days later at the age of 87. I looked after my developmentally handicapped brother from 1990 to 2005 when he died at age 71.

I never really regarded any of this caring for my family members as a burden. I loved them all very much and considered any care I gave my Mom and Dad as a privilege and being able to return something to them for all they did for me throughout my life. And my dear brother gave more to me than I ever did for him, He was the greatest gift that God ever gave to me.

Today I see other children serving and helping their parents and doing it with great love and devotion. I am privileged to say Sunday Mass every Sunday morning in a Health Care Center and Nursing Home. How wonderful it is to see families gather together with their family member in the care center and pray with them and worship their God together. They are indeed honoring their father and/or mother and I am sure God is blessing them all with joy and happiness for doing so. This is God’s plan being carried out in a very loving and responsible way.

Fr. Howard

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas
Monday, December 31, 2012     John 1: 1-18

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”

So begins the Prologue of the Gospel of St John. In the beginning ……. Because of his great forgiveness, God is sometimes referred to as the “God of new beginnings.” We are with God, but then offend him and are distanced from him. God forgives us and we start all over again. We have a new beginning.

Where would we be without our many new beginnings? I have no idea how many new beginnings I have had, but I do know the Word, Jesus Christ, is always there for me whenever I need him. There apparently is no limit on the new beginnings we might have. How graced we are! How magnificent is our God!

O God of second chances, O God of new beginnings, Thank You!!

Fr. Howard

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God 
Tuesday, January 1, 2013     Luke 2: 16-21

“The Shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.”

Shepherds are sometimes called the social outcasts of society, but if this was true it was not because they were shepherds but because they were poor. Shepherds were among the poorest people in the society. They were made up mostly of women and children and they literally owned nothing. They worked strictly for hire by others who owned the land and the sheep. And yet it was these shepherds, the poorest of the poor, who were the first to hear the good news. Why should this be so?

What is it about the poor that endears them to God? Why did Francis of Assisi wish his followers to be known as the “Friars Minor,” the lesser Friars, followers of Lady Poverty? Why is this still true of the followers of St. Francis today? We Friars today own nothing just as the Friars in 1209. Things have changed since the time of Francis, that is for sure. But even though I have a 2004 Ford Taurus to drive, it doesn’t belong to me, it isn’t mine. I take care of it, see that the oil, etc., is checked and changed and I drive it to get to my work and the modern day activities of a Friar, but I do not own it. And up until just recently, when we moved to a new locale, the car we were using would stay behind for the Friar appointed to succeed the one moving.

Did Francis of Assisi hate money and property and other temporal goods? Does God? Hardly. Francis had nothing against houses, friaries, churches, clothes, food, means of transportation. The Friars had to have the necessities of life or they would die. But with Francis there was such a thing as enough, and the Friars did not need superfluities. Greed and the storing up of material things for a “rainy day” had no place in Francis’ plan. This sort of thing interfered with the imitation of Jesus who had no where to lay his head. The rich man has to take time to guard his riches so no one will steal them; one without all these things has more time for God and Gospel living.

Today, the first day of a new year, is another opportunity for a “new beginning” that we spoke of the other day. Could this new beginning be an opportunity for us to limit our possessions to the necessary and to do away with the superfluous in our lives so we can pay more attention to loving God with all our strength, mind, heart and soul – and our neighbor as ourselves? Are possessions getting in the way, blocking, my important relationships with God and neighbor?

If I answer “yes” to these questions, perhaps I am meant to limit these attention demanding goodies to the necessities of life in order to be and do what God would have me be and do. Could this possibly be the case? Could God be calling me to this new way of living?

Fr. Howard

Wednesday, January 2, 2013 
John 1: 19-28

“I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

In today’s Gospel, John tells us he baptizes with water. He has told us the one who is coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus are two completely different things. John baptizes with water to show that those he is baptizing have repented, as he indeed asked them to do. “Repent,” was his cry. Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism was a sign of repentance, Jesus’ baptism was a sacrament of rebirth. John’s baptism signified the rejection, a U turn, of a life of sin. Jesus’ baptism signified the reception of a new life of grace, the over-abundant life of Jesus.

All of us have received this gift of new life. We have risen in many ways from hatred, mistrust, selfishness, resentments, anger, lust, envy and violence to lives graced with caring, love, compassion, forgiveness, service to others, gentleness, kindness, chastity and self-acceptance. What a difference between the two! Our new life brings us the rewards of happiness, joy and peace.

In the words of the old hymn: What a friend we have in Jesus!

Fr. Howard

The Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus
Thursday, January 3, 2013    John 1: 29-34

The Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus has been a part of the Liturgical calendar since the end of the 15th century. One of the greatest promoters of this devotion was St. Bernardine of Siena (feast day, May 20), a Franciscan priest who lived from 1380 to 1444. The Holy Name of Jesus means Yahweh is Salvation and was promoted by Bernardine through the inscription of the monogram of the Holy Name, IHS: an abbreviation of the Greek name for Jesus, and the addition of the name of Jesus in the Hail Mary.

Our Gospel passage for today from St. John tells us, in the words of John the Baptist, that Jesus came to take away our sins. John then goes on to testify that Jesus is the Son of God. Indeed Jesus is worthy of our praise and worship.

On this Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, let us join together praying the words of St. Paul to the Philippians 2: 10-11: “At the name of Jesus every knee must bend, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; every tongue should proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord.”

Fr. Howard

Friday, January 4, 2013 
Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious

Elizabeth Seton is the first native born American to be canonized a Saint by the Catholic Church. Born in 1774 in New York City, she was baptized in the Episcopal Church and remained an Episcopalian until her conversion to the Catholic Faith in 1805. In 1794 she married William Seton and they had 5 children. While on a trip to Italy around 1804, William died unexpectedly. Elizabeth then joined the Catholic Faith and in 1808 established the first Catholic School in Baltimore. She and two other young women began plans for a Sisterhood and in 1809 she was professed. From this time on she was called Mother Seton. Their Rule was based on one written by St. Francis de Paul. By 1818 the Sisters built two orphanages and another school. Mother Seton contracted tuberculosis and died in 1821 at the age of 46. She was canonized on September 14, 1975.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us.

Fr. Howard

Saturday, January 5, 2013 
Memorial of Saint John Neumann, Bishop

Today the Church honors St. John Neumann, a Redemptorist priest, born in Bohemia, but an American Saint. He was looking forward to his ordination to the priesthood in 1835 when all of a sudden the Bishop there decided there would be no more ordinations for a while because there were already too many priests and they didn’t need any more!

John, to get around this block to his being ordained, contacted some Bishops in America to see if they would ordain him. Finally the Bishop in New York agreed to ordain him. In New York, after his ordination, he became one of 36 priests for 200,000 people. John went on to labor in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and in 1852 he was made Bishop of Philadelphia. There he worked hard serving the people of the Diocese and the immigrants. He died on Jan. 5, 1860, and was canonized a saint in 1977.

St. John Neumann, pray for us.

Fr. Howard


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