December 29, 2015 // Uncategorized
The face of the Father’s mercy
The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Rhoades at the Christmas Mass during the Night at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, on December 24, 2015:
The celebration of Christmas during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is a beautiful occasion to give thanks to our heavenly Father who shows His mercy to humanity in the mystery of Christ’s birth. The face of the infant Jesus in the manger is the face of the Father’s mercy. It is a beautiful and innocent face, the face of a lowly infant; as we sing in the hymn Silent Night: “Holy infant, so tender and mild.”
In another verse of Silent Night, we sing about who this infant is and about His mission: “Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace.” This is the great mystery of Christmas. The Son of God, sent by our merciful Father, comes to us, assumes our human nature, and lavishes upon us His redeeming grace. It is a humanly incredible event, the Nativity of Our Lord: the Son of God lying helpless in a manger. It is an event that never ceases to fill us with wonder and with awe, how much God loves us.
God is not a distant deity, a reality known only from afar. He comes to us in the humility and poverty of a little child. He comes to bring heaven to us. He does not leave us helpless and floundering in our sins. He comes as Savior. That’s what the name Jesus means: God saves! As the angel told the shepherds: for today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. Christmas is a feast of mercy. God in His mercy has come to us to offer us the forgiveness that frees us from the oppression of sin with the power of His grace.
How often we can become shackled by our egoism, selfishness, error, and sin. These things imprison us and bring us sadness and misery. The good news is that the Redeemer comes to set us free, to release our hearts from these things. He does so with His love and mercy if we only open our hearts to His gift, to His Son, and receive the gift of Christmas with humility and sincerity. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds are models for us of this humility and sincerity, examples of faith. As they marveled at what took place that first Christmas night, they knelt in adoration before the infant Jesus lying in the manger. And that is why we are here tonight. We have come to adore Him, the Child in the manger, our Savior, our Brother, and our Lord.
Saint Luke tells us that Christ was born in Bethlehem. The name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Jesus was born in the house of bread. And He was placed in a manger, a place where animals ate their food. Jesus would call himself the bread of life, the true bread come down from heaven. He is the bread of immortality, the food that gives us eternal life. So the manger, according to Saint Augustine, refers to the table of God, to which we are invited so as to receive the bread of God. The manger is like an altar. And on this altar tonight, as at every Mass, the same flesh born of the Virgin Mary, will become present as our spiritual food. The Paschal mystery of the Eucharist is already foretold in the Bethlehem manger. As Mary and Joseph and the shepherds adored Him in the manger, we adore Him tonight on the altar. The One who was concealed in the poverty of the stable in Bethlehem is concealed under the signs of bread and wine. With faith, we adore Him in the Eucharist. We adore the One whom we receive. As Saint Augustine once said: No one should eat this flesh without first adoring it… we should sin were we not to adore it.
The Lord who came into the world as an infant in a manger and who comes to us in the Eucharist brings to the world the gifts of peace and love, grace and salvation. He brings light to a world where there is still so much darkness. 2000 years ago, there was no room in the inn for His birth. The doors were closed. Is there room for Him today? The inn is first of all the human heart. In freedom, we can open or close the door of our heart to the holy Child. The Lord seeks a dwelling place in our souls and lives. He wants to give us His peace and His love, His gift of salvation. Through us, He desires to bring love and mercy to the poor, the needy, the sick, the suffering, the lonely, the oppressed, the marginalized, and the forgotten. The Prince of Peace wants to defeat the violence in our world and the terrorism that threatens the innocent.
To be a Christian is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is true God and true man. To be a Christian is also to believe in the power of Jesus, the power of His goodness and mercy. It is the power we see in the infant lying within the wood of the manger and in the man hanging upon the wood of the cross. This is the true power of Christianity. We must reject all the deceptive ideologies that bring darkness and death and open our hearts to the truth of the Gospel that brings light and life. It is the truth that brings us true freedom and joy. It is the joy born from contemplating the face of the infant lying in the manger, knowing that He is the face of God present forever with us and for us, the face of the mercy that our world so desperately needs. May we be witnesses of that mercy and heralds of joy as disciples of Jesus, our Savior, who is Christ and Lord! May He bless all of you with His love and grace during this holy season of Christmas!
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