Saturday, December 22, 2012

Homily for Christmas Novena, Dec. 22

Homily for the
Christmas Novena
December 22, 2012
Provincial House, New Rochelle

On the Christmas novena, see

Creche at St. Mary's Church, Fredericksburg, Va. By Fr. Don Rooney.
“You willed to redeem the human race, fallen into death, by the coming of your Only-Begotten Son” (Collect).

Today’s Collect is loosely linked to the O antiphon (, which beseeches the King of the Nations to “come and save man … formed from the dust.”  It also lays out, subtly perhaps, the reason for the Only-Begotten’s coming to us:  to redeem us from death—by becoming totally human himself, even to suffering death himself.
Human beings are frail creatures, but “dust and ashes” according to Sirach (10:9; 17:27); and so Abraham describes himself to the Lord (Gen 18:27).  Our very name, “human,” derives from humus, earth, soil, dirt.

You might think that you can’t fall any lower than dirt.  Somehow we managed that and became a fallen race, a disappointment to our Creator.

Not only the race, collectively, of course, but each of us individually is “fallen into death,” the spiritual death of sin and, eventually, inevitably, the physical death of our dusty bodies, what Paul calls these “earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7).

Deacon Greg Kandra, by Rosalind Chan
Our prayer reminds our Creator, matter-of-factly, that he “willed to redeem” our fallen race.  He didn’t have to, but he chose to.  O felix culpa!  O happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” (Exsultet)  Christmas points us toward Easter!

If there’s any truth in the OT narratives, it was almost a thankless job, a divine choice answered with repeated ingratitude by Israel—and, truthfully, by each of us, so often, in so many little ways at least:  our daily sins and infidelities.  But God willed, anyway, to redeem us; willed so strongly that he persisted at his saving interventions in Israel—thru Moses, thru the prophets, thru John the Baptist.

God’s ultimate intervention, of course, is “the coming of [his] Only-Begotten Son.”  Not was but is; for the Son who came in time thru his conception, birth, public ministry, and passover, and passed from time, yet persists in coming to us in mystery:  thru the sacred mysteries of the liturgy, in the Eucharist and those other saving interventions we call the sacraments.  He comes to us thru our reading of the Scriptures, thru the edifying example of our confreres, thru fraternal correction.  God’s Only-Begotten Son, born in time, gone from time, is yet truly present among us, carrying on his redemptive work of bringing us back from death, restoring to life our humble dust and ashes and our soiled souls.

Since God so ardently wills our redemption, we make our prayer that he effect his redemptive will in us “who confess [the] Incarnation” of his Son “with humble fervor.”  Humble, like human, is a word rooted in humus, “soil,” a reference to our lowly origins.  But our aspirations are high because of God’s will for us.  We aspire to be part of the “company” of those whom the Son redeems, brings back from death, raises from the earth, to be his heavenly companions, even as his Incarnation made him companion to us on earth.  It is his Father’s will that this promise of Christmas be fully realized in us, that this companionship begun on earth be fulfilled forever in his heavenly kingdom.

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