Homily for The Midnight Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral
December 25, 2018
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas
Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
There is a proverb that says, “You become what you love.” In the Garden of Eden and thereafter, the world loved darkness and became dark. The human intellect became dark with error and falsehood; the human will became dark with lust and anger; the human character became dark with sin and vice. Yet, God loved us and so He became one of us in Jesus that we might through His free gift of freedom love light and become light and one with Him. This is what we celebrate tonight at Christmas.
Today is born our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. He is given the name Emmanuel, the name that means “God is with us.” He is given that name by Joseph who belongs to Him as His foster father; He is given that name by Mary who belongs to Him as His Mother. Yet, the world as represented by Caesar Augustus, to whom He does not belong, rejects Him and chooses to regard Him not by His name but by the darkness of a number—the darkness of the census. The darkness that the world loves is a darkness that prefers to enumerate in the places where God prefers to call by name; these places where God calls humanity to name and to be named. It is not coincidental that the prince of darkness, the prince of this world, is known by a number (666) and not by a name. It is poignant when we consider that in the not too distant history of the world, the Nazis dehumanized the Jews by tattooing a number on them and removing from them the human dignity of having a name. There is belonging in the gift of a name, there is possession in the ascribing of a number. Numbers are added, multiplied, divided and subtracted. Names reveal and conceal the mystery of a person, a person to be known and not a person to be used. The world that loves darkness rejects the Divine gift of humanity, the gift that is made known by the luminous intimacy of a name, Emmanuel—“God is with us”.
Jesus is born that we might love the light and that in the light we might receive again the redeemed gift of our full humanity lost by the sin of our first parents in Eden. Jesus is born that we might know Him and in knowing Him might belong to Him that we might truly know each other and love and belong to each other beyond the temptation of quantifying each other by a number. Jesus is born that we might truly love God by first being loved by Him and not simply love the number of things that we ascribe to Him only from the distance of ingratitude.
Jesus is born as the light of the world that He might free us from our burdens and burden us with His freedom. As we heard in our first reading from Isaiah, “For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.” Christ frees us from the burden of anonymity. He frees us from the burden of ignorance and fear. He frees us from the burden of violence and rage. He frees us from the burden of autonomy and compulsivity. He frees us from the burden of apathy and isolation.
Jesus, the light of the world, burdens us with His freedom to respond to God’s call to each of us to belong and to show that belonging by each of our actions. As we heard in our second reading taken from Saint Paul’s Letter to Titus, “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope.” This is a burden Christ imposes upon us. He burdens us with His freedom to do as we should and not as we simply prefer. He burdens us with His freedom from godlessness by giving us knowledge of the truth. He frees us with His burden of justice and beauty. He frees us with His burden of mercy and forgiveness. He frees us with the burden of belonging to God and others—a burden that requires sacrifice on our part. He frees us with the burden of the Cross—the burden of love.
We witness the burden of His freedom in the love shared selflessly between husband and wife belonging to each other in marriage tenderly committed to fidelity, permanence, and openness to God’s gift of children despite the darkness of such problems as unemployment and sickness. We witness and share the burden of His freedom in the love that a mother offers in carrying her child belonging in her body and enduring the burdens of childbirth despite the darkness of its pains. We witness the burden of His freedom in the love of a father dedicating his life in the protection and formation of his children as belonging to a family despite the darkness of fatigue and worry. We witness the burden of His freedom in the selflessly chaste and obedient life of a priest in service as a pastor belonging to Christ and His Church despite the darkness of temptation to ignore the wolf and to become only a hired hand. We witness the burden of His freedom in the inclusion and generosity that we manifest for the vulnerable and marginalized in our society despite the darkness to quantify and dismiss them as only an abstract problem. The light that shines in the manger of Bethlehem surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and angels, and even the animals—is the inconvenient light of unconditional love. God loves us and becomes one of us in the Holy Child of Bethlehem—willing that we should be saved by the fullness of His humanity. God is swaddled in our human condition that our human condition might become redeemed humanity—freed from burdens and burdened by authentic freedom. He is born that we might truly be free that we might be burdened in the love of God and of each other. Today is born our savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.