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The Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2022

Watch this homily!

    I can’t celebrate Mass with you today without being aware that on this day in 1966 I offered my First Mass as a priest. Fifty-six years is a long time to retain clear and distinct memories (to be honest, I have trouble remembering things from last week!), but one thing I can bring back with complete clarity is the deep joy and gratitude I felt that day – joy at God’s call to serve as a priest, gratitude to God for the call.

      And the years that have passed have only intensified those feelings of joy and gratitude. What a privilege it has been to preach the gospel and to walk with people like you on the path to God. And, you know, it’s really all about the people: God’s holy people – you, and people like you. God working in and through you. With that in mind, I want to reflect briefly with you on God’s Word in the scriptures we just heard. In the reading from the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul waxed eloquently about his call from God, but notice that he did so only while celebrating the call that God gives to all the baptized. “We have received the grace of apostleship,” Paul says. We, not I. And we are “called to be holy,” Paul says. Again, we, not I.

     That was certainly my conviction on the day I was ordained but, to be honest, at that point it was all pretty much in the realm of theory for me. Only after ministering to and with God’s holy people over the years have I come to really grasp what the call to holiness of all the baptized means: to understand that any holiness I may have achieved (and I do mean “may”!) is a gift God has given to me through the people I have been privileged to serve over the years.  All the people: the obviously holy ones and the not-so-obviously-holy ones (or maybe I should say the ones who thought holiness wasn’t for them when it really was. And is!). Thanks to our baptism, we are all God’s holy people, and even though people too often give priests and religious a corner on holiness, we don’t have one. We are on this journey to God - this journey to glory – together!

     In the gospel reading, we met Joseph, the righteous man of God who listened to God even when God’s message had to have been baffling and bewildering. Joseph was deeply rooted in the faith of the chosen people but that didn’t mean he was in any sense backward-looking, frozen, or fixed in the past. Far from it. When God confronted Joseph with something entirely new and unheard-of - that the child his wife Mary was carrying was the work of the Holy Spirit – Joseph opened himself to God’s mysterious designs without hesitation. It couldn’t have been easy for him but he did and, because of that, Joseph will forever speak to us of quiet fidelity, unwavering faith, humble acceptance, and openness to the God of surprises. 

     Over my years of ministry, I have met Joseph – and I continue to meet him - in more people than I could ever count. I have met him in young couples head-over-heels in love; in parents overcome with joy at the birth of a child and in parents drowning in grief at the loss of a child. I have met him in wide-eyed young First Communicants on a first-name basis with Jesus, whose visions and dreams could rival Joseph’s!  I have met him in young people struggling with their faith but holding onto it even when not so many of their friends do; and I’ve met him, too, in sick people fighting their illness bravely, if resignedly, and trying not to ask ‘why me?” I have met him in ‘empty nesters’ looking for new reasons to believe, new reasons to get up each morning, and in elderly people who refuse to let the storms of life douse their light or dampen their spirits. I’ve met, Joseph, too, in people whose lives take difficult, unexpected turns but who keep going anyway, and I’ve met him in poor people who in gentle, sometimes shocking, and always unexpected ways show me the face of Christ. In these and so many others, I have witnessed and continue to witness the faithfulness of Joseph, his idealism, his resilience, his quiet acceptance, his courage, his love.

     Joseph is one of the great Advent saints, along with Mary and John the Baptist. John the Baptist who pointed to the Christ, never to himself, and who didn’t consider himself worthy to untie his sandals. Mary who opened her whole being to God’s tender mercies and mysterious designs, and in so doing gave the world its Savior. Joseph, John the Baptist, and Mary - three Advent saints greater than us by far – more humble, more heroic, more generous – but part of our family, companions along our journey of faith! We should be grateful for their company. How lost we would be without them, and how lonely!

     The Eucharist we are celebrating together this morning brings us as close as we will ever get – on this side of heaven - to a glimpse of the glory that is Christ: the Christ we will soon welcome at Christmas, small and helpless, but also strong and powerful. The Christ who is one of us but so much more than us, the Christ whose love for us knows no bounds, the Christ who calls us to follow, calls us to serve, the Christ who is now and will always be in our midst as one who serves!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
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