Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Christmas Carol and A Christmas Homily

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Nativity of the Lord

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
December 25, 2016

First and foremost, I would like to welcome all of you here for the joyous celebration of the Lord’s Nativity. Whether you’ve come from far away or just around the corner…whether you come frequently or less so, please know how very glad we are that you are here and how very welcome you are. I send you the Christmas greetings of our pastor, Father Gregory Dube, as well as of our other parochial vicar, Father Richard McLaughlin, as we offer you our prayers that our good and gracious God will fill your hearts and homes with many blessings, good health, and much cheer both now and throughout the coming New Year.

Now since it is Christmas, I’m going to speak about one of the most famous Christmas persons of all time, not counting Jesus. No, it’s not Santa Claus. It’s not Frosty the Snowman. It’s not the Little Drummer Boy or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Dominic the Donkey. Believe it or not, it’s Ebenezer Scrooge. Even hearing the name sends a little chill down our spines, no? He’s the literary epitome of all that’s wrong with humankind and his creator, Charles Dickens, goes to great lengths to paint such a real and vivid picture of so detestable a man that we feel as if we know him personally. His “bah humbug!” really says it all. He is, as Dickens describes him, a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” He’s a harsh, bitter, miserable old miser who is cruel to his clerk Bob Cratchit; cold to his nephew, Fred; and at best unpleasant to any poor creature who dares cross his path. His life is consumed by the accumulation of wealth for himself, and he allows not even the slightest modicum of sympathy or emotion to enter his wretched heart. And yet despite how horrible Ebenezer Scrooge is, despite how pitiable his existence had been, and despite how awful he was to everyone about everything, A Christmas Carol is not a story about sin, but sanctity…it’s not a story about a sinner, but about a saint.

Since 1843, when A Christmas Carol was first published, the ghoulish story of Ebenezer Scrooge had been one of the most popular stories ever told. People from all different ages and walks of life gather yearly to read the tale, to listen to it, or to watch it on stage or on film. It captivates us and draws us in…and not simply because it is dramatic and seasonal, but because – in all honesty – the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is a story that cuts right to the core of humanity. Of course this story has been told, in its many different forms, all throughout human history. It’s the story of St. Mary Magdalene…it’s the story of St. Paul…it’s the story of St. Augustine and of St. Francis of Assisi. It’s the story of a sinner who confronts his own wretchedness and ugliness head on, who allows his cold heart to be converted, and who experiences undeserved, but much needed mercy. Deep down, we all like A Christmas Carol, because it’s a reminder to us that God does indeed have the power to transform what is evil into something good. It’s a reminder to us that the Scrooges in our lives, or even the Scrooge that resides in our own heart, can change and be saved.

When we think about the conversion that Ebenezer Scrooge experienced, and how he came to experience this conversion, we have to remember that he didn’t do so on his own…he was prompted by three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. And although Scrooge obstinately refused their intervention, these spirits persisted and pursued the old man with vigor. They woke him from his sleep and persuaded him to confront a reality he had been blind to. They went after him relentlessly, showing him his life, his choices, and his relationships. Because they invested their time and energy in him, they helped Scrooge to encounter the truth head on…a truth he had denied for so long, and by seeing what the future would hold if he continued to live outside of this truth, he finally gave in. He changed. He converted. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is the story of us all. Like Scrooge, we have all gone astray like sheep, wandering about in our confusion and in our blindness. But like Scrooge, we are being relentlessly pursued…not by three Christmas ghosts, but by God Himself. Since the Fall, God has been running after us, trying to grab us by the shoulders, look into our eyes, and show us the way to truth and life. He sent Moses with the law. He sent the prophets with His word. And then, in the fullness of time, He sent His Son. The eternal Son of the Father, the Word made Flesh, finally caught us…He grabbed us, put on our humanity, and became what we are. With His own fleshly hands He embraced us…with His own real eyes He looked into ours. And because of this, we were given the opportunity to see reality. We saw truth. We saw life. We saw love. We saw the face of God and it changed the world for ever.

The miracle of Christmas is that, because God loves us with a love beyond all telling, because He pursues us night and day with His mercy and grace, and because He has taken on flesh and become man, we can all – every one of us! – be changed forever. Sinners can become saints, evil can become good, and man can become like God…beautiful, good, and true. Even the worst of us, even the most Scrooge-like among us, is infinitely loved by a God of infinite love. And because of this, we can – this day and all days – rejoice and be glad.

As you look upon this beautiful Christmas crib, as you gaze upon the beauty of God-made-Man, know this Christmas Day how much you are loved. Allow yourself to confront that truth this Christmas, and then, like good old Ebenezer, help to make this world a little better, a little brighter, a little more cheerful…and a little holier.

Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Learning How to Wait Well - A Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
December 18, 2016

When I was a kid, my parents did a great job of making sure that my sister and I did not spend a lot of time simply idling around the house. We were a family of adventurers…we did a lot of camping, took a lot of day trips, visited family around New England – in short, we liked to stay busy. But no matter what we had planned, no matter where we were going, every family outing started off exactly the same: dad and I were always ready to go at the agreed-upon time and my mother and sister never were. The car would be packed, everything would be in order, and dad and I would be waiting out in the driveway for a good 10 to 15 minutes before the girls nonchalantly made their way to the car. I remember dad sitting in the driver’s seat, tapping the steering wheel, wondering aloud about what they could possibly be doing. It was annoying at first, but you know, something interesting happened during that waiting period. Since it was just dad and me, we’d start talking and start getting revved up about our adventure. He’d pull out the map, show me how to read it, and then ask for my childish opinion about the best route to take. If we were going to a campground or something, we’d pull out the brochures and start talking about all the cool things we’d do. And if we were visiting family, we’d reminisce about the last time we saw everybody and how much fun it was going to be to see them all again. It was simple, but dad had a way of taking those boring waiting periods and using them to build up more excitement in me, so that by the time my mom and sister got in the car and we were on our way, I was all the happier and definitely more ready for what was coming.

Advent is a lot like that waiting period in the car…four long weeks of waiting while the rest of the world is up to its neck in egg nog, Jingle Bells, and candy canes. The Church is somber and quiet, dragging her feet with O Come, O Come Emmanuels rather than O Come All Ye Faithfuls. Some people have had their trees up since Halloween, but the Church has only her simple Advent wreath counting down the weeks. There’s no Gloria yet…not a poinsettia in sight…and no hope for a single Joy to the World until Christmas Eve. For Christmas fanatics like me, the waiting is tough…but there’s a genius to it. If we let it, if we give into it, the waiting of Advent can condition us to enter more joyfully, more excitedly, more readily into the glory of Christmas.

For the last four weeks, the Church in her liturgy has been pulling out her maps, taking out her brochures, and reminiscing with us all for the sake of helping us enter more deeply into the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation. We’ve been listening attentively to the prophecies of Isaiah and Zechariah and John the Baptist while recalling the longing that the people of Israel felt for the appearance of the Messiah. We’ve sung ancient hymns and canticles and psalms that capture the full range of humanity’s angst, expectation, and hope. We’ve been offered the opportunity to go to Confession, to pray more, and to give our time and treasure to the needy and the poor. The work of Advent, the waiting and the preparing that we do, isn’t meant to be an annoying burden that prevents us from celebrating sooner…it’s a gift that is meant to help us celebrate deeper. Advent reminds us that the best things in life are worth waiting for, and if we can develop a little bit of patience, all of the promises of Advent will be given to us in full measure.

In one week’s time we’ll be back here in this church. At that point, our Advent waiting will have become Christmas joy. In the meantime, though, for the next seven days, let’s take this next week to ensure that we round off this blessed time as best as possible. How can we give in more completely to the power of Advent before Christmas comes knocking? Maybe we can make it a point to go to daily Mass a couple times this week. Or maybe come to Eucharistic Adoration on Wednesday. Maybe we can shut the TV off for a couple of nights and read the Scriptures – especially the infancy narratives in the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. Maybe we can spend some extra quiet time in prayer, thinking about and praying for a world in such desperate need of grace and mercy. Maybe we can abstain from candy and sweets and excesses this week, saving all of our celebrating for the actual season of Christmas. Maybe we can pick a day to write a bunch of cards for the residents of a local nursing home, or pick up a load of non-perishables for a food pantry, or weed out the extra clothes we’re not wearing and bring them to a thrift store or other charity. If we can spend the next seven days not jumping the gun and making the best use of this last stretch of Advent waiting, I guarantee that our Christmas joy will be more complete.

In our Gospel today, St. Joseph gets his mind and expectations blown when the angel of the Lord reveals to him that Wisdom incarnate, the Mighty Lord, the Root of Jesse, the Key of David, the bright Dayspring, the King of Nations, Emmanuel Himself had been conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and would soon be living in his home, under his watchful care and protection. At that moment, Joseph entered into his own Advent waiting…and no doubt he set about at once to make a worthy home for the Christ Child. Let’s take Joseph as our model this week and let him teach us, like dads do, how to wait well. Then we'll be able to treasure every waking moment we have as we ready our minds, our hearts, and our souls to receive the Newborn King with great joy.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Craziness of John the Baptist - A Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes

Homily for the
Second Sunday of Advent
Cycle A

Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
December 4, 2016

John the Baptist: the last of the Old Testament prophets; the Forerunner and the Precursor to Christ; one of the central and key voices in our Advent liturgy who beckons us to prepare the way of the Lord; and a complete and utter loon.  

John the Baptist was crazy. Bonkers, even. Not mentally ill, not suffering from a psychosis, just plain old nuts. Biblical scholars tend to describe him as eccentric, but this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. He lived in the wilderness, wore clothing made out of camel’s hair, and ate bugs. At a time when the region of Judea was considered culturally, economically, linguistically, and religiously rather sophisticated, a person like John the Baptist really stood out. He was the unwashed, unkempt, scraggily, scrubby nut job who inhabited the desert peripheries of Judea – the guy everyone gossiped and talked about. But none of this is why I say John the Baptist was crazy. It wasn’t his diet or his appearance or his way of living…it was his message. John was crazy because he believed something crazy and he dedicated his whole life to preaching this craziness to others. He believed that the God of heaven and earth, the God Who created all things and sustained them in existence, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had become – in the fullness of time – a man. While he was still in the womb of his mother Elizabeth, John leapt like a fanatic when he came into the very presence of Adonai, God Himself, in the womb of the young maiden from Nazareth. Before he ever saw the light of day, John the Baptist knew in the very core of his being that God, Emmanuel, had made His fleshly dwelling among us. It was mind-boggling, it was extraordinary, and it was absolutely crazy. The people of Israel surely knew that God was going to send them a Messiah and Savior, but it was beyond their wildest imaginations that this Messiah and Savior would be God Himself, in the flesh, clothed in their very own humanity. But before this kind craziness could be seen and accepted not just by the people of Israel, but by every land and nation, a crazy man capable of announcing this crazy news had to go out and prepare the way. John the Baptist took this task on boldly, and with a figurative sickle in his hand, he went out about like a mad man cutting down and carving a path, an in-road, for the God-Man to come into the midst of His people. John chopped away at everyone’s preconceived notions, at their worldview, at their complacency and smugness…and he called them to repentance, to change their lives, and to ready themselves to be overcome by the presence of God Himself. He didn’t care what people thought of him…he didn’t live this life seeking comfort or power or wealth…he knew that God became man in Christ and that his whole life should be spent bringing others to see and follow and love Him. He was crazy, but only because He was the herald of something even crazier.

The great dramatist and philosopher, Seneca the Younger, wrote in his dialogue On the Tranquility of Mind that craziness, madness, is simply the mind completely and utterly excited as it begins to grasp truth. He even quotes Aristotle as having said that, “no great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” The craziness of John the Baptist captures this dynamic beautifully. Of the prophets that preceded him – Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, of them all he is the last. In him rests their centuries of longing for God to fulfill His promises and to make Himself known. The great truth of what God has in-store for humanity is revealed to John, and it is not merely his mind that grows excited in response to this, but his heart and soul as well. John goes mad, crazy, bonkers in the best possible way because He knows that God has come to save His people in the craziest, most unexpected of ways.

2,000 years have passed since the craziness of John the Baptist’s message set the people of Israel on fire. We find ourselves here, in our own day, on the Second Sunday of Advent in December of 2016 still reflecting on this burst of madness that changed the world so many years ago. But now the question for us is, does this burst of madness change us? Does the reality of God’s crazy love for us stir us into a crazy excitement of mind, heart, and soul as it did for John? Or have we, in our own complacency, forgotten it all? I think that, in our present society and culture, the luster and excitement and craziness of Christianity has been all-too-tempered into polite normalcy by those of us who just want to “fit in.” Some of us downplay the tenants of our Catholic faith out of fear that others will think poorly of us. Others of us have stopped believing these tenants altogether out of fear that we might start thinking poorly of ourselves. The reality is, my friends, our faith is just as crazy, just as mind-boggling, just as mysterious, and just as true as it was in the days of John the Baptist. And if we let it, if we allow ourselves to be captured by it, it can become just as new and just as exciting to us in our day. John evangelized people successfully not because he was smart, or articulate, or funny, or charismatic…but because he was crazy. He was crazy in love with a God who was crazy in love with him. It changed him and it helped to change the world.

My friends, in just a few short weeks we will be entering into the great celebration of God’s holy, amazing, and crazy love for us…a love that caused Him to take on flesh, to become man, and to making His dwelling among us. And in a few short minutes, we will approach this altar to receive God’s holy, amazing, and crazy love for us once again in Holy Communion…a love that causes Him to take on the appearance of bread and to make His dwelling in us. Today let’s pray for the strength to cast aside all of our preconceived notions, all of our arrogance, all of our complacency, and learn to respond to God as John the Baptist did, by loving Him just as crazily as He loves us.