Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Nativity of the Lord

Mass at Midnight

December 25, 2021
St. Patrick’s Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Isaiah 9: 1-6
Psalm 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
Titus 2: 11-14
Luke 2: 1-14

We listened moments ago to Saint Paul’s Epistle 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, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who 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.”

Lawlessness. We are tempted to be frightened by growing lawlessness in our society today. Yet, the contemporary lawlessness that we are facing is as old as the serpent in the Garden of Eden. It is currently marketed on the post-modern practice that we can change history not in the sense of making history through our future and heroic actions but rather that we can change history by manipulating facts and past actions through their dishonest reinterpretation. This contemporary rubric holds that we can do this if we each make ourselves to be the ultimate authority. In short, if we make ourselves to be God, we can ignore some facts and we can even invent some other facts that never occurred. We can blur the lines between facts and opinions. We can ignore the rule of law as the ordinance of reason for the common good of human beings by selectively enforcing only some laws at some times. We can ignore science selectively and we can redefine human life and its beginning and ending. We can redefine marriage and gender simply by the alteration of pronouns.

The ultimate destination of this dishonesty is meaninglessness and the violent domination of the weak by the powerful. We soon cease to flourish in life and then come to flounder in mere existence and act as if nothing has meaning except what we impose upon all that is or what others impose upon us. This is because the problem that soon follows is — when each of us confronts others who rival our lies by falsely making themselves the ultimate — violence and chaos is the only inevitable result.

This lying that has infected our public discourse and interior thoughts is part of the lawlessness from which God has saved us by the birth of Jesus Christ. He saved us from this lawlessness in history 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. He saves us from lawlessness today in Fort Worth whenever we tell the truth, whenever we love God by helping our neighbor, and whenever we “reject the godless ways and worldly desires and live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age.” He saves us eternally from the lawlessness of Hell because in His giving of Himself eternally and in history, “He has made us for Himself a people as His own, eager to do what is good.” Since Jesus Christ is truly divine and truly human, we can truly proclaim with Luke the Evangelist, “Today is born our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.” The grace of God has appeared and is present; it is now given to us and saves us from sin. This is both the truth that governs history and is a fact within history.

Saint Augustine explained this in one of his Christmas sermons: “in this yearly feast we celebrate that day when the prophecy was fulfilled: ‘truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven’. The Truth, which is in the bosom of the Father has sprung out of the earth, to be in the womb of a mother too. The Truth which rules the whole world has sprung out of the earth, to be held in the arms of a woman … The Truth which heaven cannot contain has sprung out of the earth, to be laid in a manger. For whose benefit did so exalted a God become so lowly? Certainly not for his own, but for our great benefit, if we believe.”

“If we believe…” There is the catch. We are here tonight not to be counted as subjects of Caesar. We are here tonight not to redefine ourselves. We are here tonight not because we have been mandated by Caesar to appear. We are here because we have been given the gift of faith and we have walked in darkness and have now seen the great light. In this light we have found the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. We believe Emmanuel. We believe God is with us.

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