Midnight Mass Homily

The following homily was delivered by Bishop Loverde during Midnight Mass, Dec. 24, 2000, at St. Thomas More Cathedral. Recently, I came across a line in a story, which, in its own way, echoes so beautifully the good news of Christmas which we just heard proclaimed in the Sacred Scriptures and which we are reliving this night. The line went: "Yes, God is very fond of me!" Isn’t that what Christmas means? The absolute fact that God is very fond of us, so fond of us that He made it possible for us to no longer be imprisoned in our sins or condemned to eternal death. Therefore, He sent us His Only Son, Jesus, as our Savior, to free us from the permanence of sin and death. God is so fond of us that He sent His only Son Jesus to be our Light in darkness, our Companion on the journey of life, He sent Jesus to remain among us, truly Emmanuel, a name which means "God-is-with-us!" The Christmas readings repeatedly tell us how fond of us is God! "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. … For a child is born to us, a son is given us; … They name Him … Prince of Peace. … Do not be afraid!; … I proclaim to you good news of great joy … today a savior has been born for you who is the Christ and Lord ... And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. … He … gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good." Yes, the history of salvation from the creation of the world up to this very moment proclaims over and over again that God is very fond of us; indeed, He loves us beyond all imagining and His love will endure despite our refusals to accept it or to return it. Yes, God is very fond of us. This is the good news that rang out across the Bethlehem skies on the first Christmas. This is the good news that rings out across the Arlington skies this Christmas. So, we come to understand that the Christmas event is far more than a lovely sentimental account of a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, of angels singing in the night skies, of shepherd hurrying across the fields to find this Child. Rather, the Christmas event is the visible and absolute confirmation that God has kept His promise. The Christmas event — Christ is born, along with the later Easter event — Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again: these proclaim that God has, in fact, saved us in Christ — something we absolutely could never do by ourselves or for ourselves, but something we can be open to receive through our free will. You and I need to remember that our God is very fond of us, that He, in fact, loves us so dearly, so faithfully, so everlastingly! We can become too easily distracted by earthly realities surrounding us — not that all of them are evil, though some are, but even the best of them are limited, temporary, and incomplete. We can too easily forget God’s love and, in fact, we can too easily ignore His love or even reject it. This Christmas, right now, God is speaking to the heart of each one of us! Whether we have been regular and faithful in taking part in weekly Eucharist, in praying daily and in witnessing for Him every day or whether we have not been to Mass since last Christmas or Easter, prayed infrequently and witnessed sporadically, God is saying to each of us: "I love you! How fond I am of you! I sent you my best gift: my only Son to be your Redeemer, Savior, Companion, Lord! Will you not let Christ live within you by grace? Will you not respond to My love made visible in Christ by your daily prayer, by your regular weekly participation in the Holy Eucharist and frequent reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation, by your effort everyday to witness to the Splendor of Truth and the Gospel of Life? Will you not let this Christmas be different for you: different because you will make room for My Son to enter and allow Him to remain within you, so that His love can be reflected through you to others?" The best response of love we can make to God’s love — to His fondness for us — is to let Jesus be born this Christmas within us so that He may be present through us to everyone we meet. The Trappist monk and priest Thomas Merton expressed this so beautifully when he wrote: "We who have seen the Light of Christ are obliged, by the greatness of the grace that has been given us, to make known the presence of the Savior to the ends of the earth. This we will do not only by preaching the glad tidings of his coming, but, above all, by revealing Him in our lives. Christ is born today, so that He may appear to the whole world through us …" Yes, the Christmas readings proclaim how fond of us is our God! This Christ Mass enables our Redeemer and Lord to make his home within us and to remain among us! This Christmas celebration sends us forth to witness to the Good News that God’s love has been made present, visible and permanent, in Jesus His only Son whose Birth we are reliving this day and in us, the community of His disciples, who form the Church. Sisters and Brothers, in response to God’s love, let us make our own in a new way the now-familiar words of the fourth verse of "O Little Town of Bethlehem:" O holy Child of Bethlehem, Descend to us, we pray Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell, O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Emmanuel. The Jubilee year is ending; it has been a year of God’s favor, a year in which we have been reflecting upon God’s fondness, His love, for us. It is important to remember that His favor does not end with this Jubilee year. On the contrary, this year of grace has strengthened us to imitate Christ more closely, to follow His teachings more faithfully, and to love our neighbors more fully. Our Holy Father Pope John Paul II invites us to pray: "You O Christ, are the Only-begotten Son of the living God, come among us in the stable of Bethlehem! After 2,000 years, we re-live this mystery as a unique and unrepeatable event. Among all the children of men, all the children born into the world down the centuries, you alone are the Son of God: in an ineffable way, your birth has changed the course of human events. This is the truth which on this night the church wants to pass on to the third millennium" (Homily, 12/24/99). God’s favor became uniquely visible on the night Christ was born in Bethlehem, and the Jubilee Year that is now coming to a close serves to remind us of this fact. Christ is our only hope, and tonight we look with joy and awe upon him lying in a manger, the all powerful lying totally helpless, ready to redeem us and make us children of God. A blessed Christmas to each one of you! May the Infant Savior make His dwelling within you and give you His peace, His joy and His love, not only this Christmas but in all the days that follow until you see Him face to face!

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2001