(Editor’s note: this is Bishop Lucia’s homily for Christmas Day, 2022)
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
“What’s the good word? Can you give, or do you have any words to live by?” I am sure over the years you and I have had these questions either posed to us, or we have asked them ourselves of others? Fast forward a bit and nowadays, a daily puzzle that I like to do is, “Wordle” where you are given six tries to figure out the five-letter word of the day. In the process, if your word contains letters in their correct position, they are green (at least on my device) or yellow if they are found in the word but are in the wrong place. I have never correctly guessed the daily word in the first try, and only a few times in the second attempt, but tries three, four, five, and six have been much more fruitful, in general.
So, I guess it could be said that today, more than ever, our society is obsessed with words, including their so-called “political” correctness. In fact, the word, “polemic”, which means an aggressive attack or dispute regarding opinions or principles of another, seems quite popular in our conversations these days. And amid such chatter and discord, often bellicose and combative, one might wonder where is the good word to be found that you and I can live by!?
It has been said that the average person hears close to 30,000 words a day. You and I don’t realize this fact, sisters and brothers, because it is also said that most of these words go in one ear and out the other. Nonetheless, it is true as well that some do stick with us and shape the way we think and the choices we make.
Turning to our gospel reading this morning from John and using our Wordle example, what are some five-letter words that could be a word to live by today? Light, human, named, world, power, and grace. All good words, but on this Christmas Day, St. John tells us of one Word that matters more than any other word we will ever hear. It’s Jesus, the living Word of God, who gives life to everything in the universe (1:3). He is the divine Word who imparts God’s “grace and truth” to us (1:14). He is the holy Word who “shines in the darkness” to deliver us from sin and death (1:5). He is the eternal Word who “became flesh” and who has “made his dwelling among us” (1:14).
For some today can be a noisy day as we partake in the boisterous, if not chaotic family gatherings and gift exchange. Our word intake may even be as high as 40,000 to 50,000 for such an occasion. However, for others of our brothers and sisters, it might be a very quiet and even lonely day with hardly a word uttered to them. No matter what situation we find ourselves in at the center of all is Jesus, the Word of God, who comes to dwell with us where we are at right now – whether in a crowd or isolation – speaking life, healing, joy and peace into our world.
When I was in high school, I read for the first time the novel, The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson. It portrays the life of a young Bostonian priest, Fr. Stephen Fermoyle from the beginning of his priestly ministry to when he is chosen to be a member of the College of Cardinals. Thus, its title.
At one point in the story, Fr. Fermoyle is serving as the secretary to the Cardinal Archbishop of Boston and is out to dinner with a friend one evening when he comes upon a construction site collapse trapping a worker in an underground water main. Fr. Fermoyle learning the man is still alive decides he can’t stand there watching and jumps into the ditch to see if he can reach the man to hear his confession and pray with him. He reaches the trapped man whose name is Joe Salvucci.
Bewildered, but feeling blessed, a priest has come to him in his predicament. Joe begins his confession with this statement: “I make Jesus name in swearwords…hundred times a day. Everything I say is Christ-a this, Christ-a that.” Then comes the line I have never forgotten. Fr. Fermoyle replies, “That shows how near He always is.”
Brothers and sisters, this dramatic scene reminds you and me of the true beauty of the remarkable glad tidings that ring out across the earth this day! Our celebration in this our Bethlehem…our house of bread is all about the closeness…the nearness of our God to us. The Word becoming flesh is our God coming to share with you and me the good news of salvation – the simple fact that our God loves us wherever we find ourselves or are at in life. It is no exaggeration for us to sing out today, “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.” For as the Letter of the Hebrews reminds us: “He has spoken to us through his Son…who sustains all things by his mighty word” (1:2,3).
Let me conclude our reflection this morning with a Christmas blessing written by Servite Sister Joyce Rupp:
May there be harmony in all your relationships.
May sharp words, envious thoughts, and hostile feelings be dissolved.
May you give and receive love generously.
May this love echo in your heart like the joy of church bells on a clear winter day.
May each person who comes into your life be greeted as another Christ.
May the honor given the Babe of Bethlehem be that
which you extend to every guest who enters your presence.
May the hope of this sacred season settle in your soul.
May it be for you a foundation of courage when times of distress occupy your inner land.
May the wonder and awe that fills the eyes of children be awakened
May it lead you to renewed awareness and appreciation
of whatever you too easily take for granted.
May the bonds of love for one another be strengthened as you gather
with your family and friends around the table of festivity and nourishment.
May you daily open the gift of your life and be grateful
for the hidden treasures it contains.
May you keep your eye on the Star within you and trust
this Luminescent Presence to guide and direct you each day.
May you go often to the Bethlehem of your heart and visit the One
who offers you peace.
May you bring this peace into our world.
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory…” (Jn. 1:14).
Amen! Merry Christmas!