Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, Dec 22, 2013, "Life, Light and Love" Fr. Ken Hughes SJ


St. Mary of the Angels:  Sun Advent IV A     12/22/13

Isaiah 7:10-14;   Romans 1:1-7;  Matthew 1.18-24  


In the opening prayer this morning, we prayed: “Pour forth, O Lord, your grace into our hearts that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection …”


This prayer reminds us powerfully that, even as we celebrate joyfully God’s birth among us in Jesus, Jesus’ journey will lead to the Passion and Cross before it culminates in the glory of the Resurrection.  The road to Bethlehem and the road from Bethlehem was not an easy one.


Coincidentally, the only time that angels appear in the Gospels is around the birth of Jesus and around his resurrection from the dead.  In the infancy narratives, angels appear to Zechariah, to Mary, to Joseph in today’s Gospel and to shepherds in the fields.  In the resurrection stories, angels appear to the women in general and to Mary Magdalene in particular. 


Why do angels appear only at the beginning and the end?  Perhaps, it is to let us know that these two events are so miraculous, so amazing, so filled with God’s intimate presence, that we need angels to prepare us for the unbelievable mysteries about to happen. And these angels all have the same message, “Do not be afraid,” and they express the same hope, namely: the promise and presence of new life.  And both stories end in unsurpassable joy.


About a month ago, we read of that horrific typhoon, Haiyan, which devastated Tacloban City in the Leyte Province of the Philippines. The statistics are overwhelming. As of a week ago: 5,982 dead, 1,779 missing, 27,000 injured, 12.1 million people affected, 3.9 million displaced, 94,000 people still living in some 300 centers.  But, wondrously, last week, a huge Christmas tree was raised up in that city, a Christmas tree made of twisted pipes for trunk and branches, and empty water bottles for ornaments.  It symbolizes the resilience of the Philippino people in the face of such a tragedy and so much suffering. It is a sign of their faith in God. And it is a sign of hope that new life will emerge out of destruction and loss.


That story reminds me of a pilgrimage I made last summer while working in Lithuania.  A mile or so outside a city in the center of Lithuania stands a hill called “The Hill of Crosses.”  On this hill I saw over a million crosses, some new and some old, many small, but some 10, 15, 20 feet tall, and all sizes in between.  During the long, cruel Soviet occupation of that country, crosses began to arise on this hill as a sign of the faith of the Lithuanian people and as a message of protest.  Three times, the Soviet authorities bulldozed the hill and destroyed the crosses.  And three times, in the dark of night, over time, the hill was built up again, and again crosses began to appear. 


Both stories are stories of resilience and courage.  Both stories are stories of great faith.  And both stories express the same hope: the rebirth of life, the return of light, and the triumph of love.


Whether at Christmas or at Easter, we celebrate the same: life, light and love.

At this Christmas time, we celebrate the life of the soon to be born Jesus.

We celebrate light, that light which came into the darkness 2,000 years ago and the darkness still has not overcome it. And we celebrate love: God so loved the world that God sent his only Son into it to make it whole and holy.


At this time, we rejoice at all the blessings we have received from God through Jesus.  We celebrate those blessings. But, we also have compassion for all the suffering people of the world, from the Philippines to Syria, from the Republic of Central Africa to Iraq and Afghanistan.  And we know that, if all the world is to have hope, we must be part of that hope by offering our life, our light and our love, as small as they are, to as many people as we can.


And so we end as we began, praying, “Pour forth, O Lord, your grace into our hearts that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection…”  The glory of the Resurrection begins with the story of Christmas.  We must hold both stories together if we are to glimpse and grasp the depths of God’s love.  God will always be Emmanuel: “God  with us.”




                                                         Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ

                                                         Brighton, Mass.  12/22/13

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