Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies

"Let us Behold the Newborn King"
Christmas Day
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
December 25, 2011
Year B

Graham Greene was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England on 2 October 1904. His father was headmaster of the Berkhamsted Boys' School. Graham became one of the most successful British authors of the twentieth century, writing film reviews, plays, short stories, essays, “entertainments,” novels and travel books.

In 1954 he published a series of short stories entitled Twenty-One Stories. Included among them was a story he wrote in 1948 entitled: A Hint of an Explanation. The story portrays two men traveling on the same train. They end up in a dimly lit carriage. Unable to enjoy the luxury of their books, they began to converse with one another. The protagonist describes himself as an agnostic thinker – perhaps even a bit of an atheist. His companion is a catholic. At the heart of the story is an incident that happened to the Catholic man as a young boy. His family was one of about 50 Catholics in very heavily populated Anglican community. His father was a banker and dealt with many of the local merchants, including one of the bakers. The baker was particularly grotesque to behold and held an odious outlook on life. On one occasion, however, he spoke kindly to this young Catholic boy. He let him come into the back of his shop and showed him his magnificent train set. All summer long the baker allowed the young boy to come in and play with the train. One day the baker began to talk about religion. He knew the young boy was Catholic and wanted him to steal a host from church, a consecrated host. If the boy did not comply, he would never be allowed to play with the train set ever again but if he did, the train set would be his to keep. The young boy was beside himself and did not know what to do. In fear of the baker, he complied. On that day he held the host in his mouth and after Communion wrapped it in a piece of newspaper and stuck it in his pocket. When the baker came to the house to collect his prize the boy could not muster up the strength to hand over the consecrated host. Instead, he swallowed it – newspaper and all.

For that young Catholic boy, that whole affair was the beginning, a hint of what was to come for him and the path on which life – or rather, God – would take him. For the Catholic man’s companion, our agnostic or maybe even atheist thinker, had he not seen the man’s collar when he arose to get his bag he perhaps would have missed the meaning of the story. Underneath his coat revealed the collar of a priest.

There is indeed no such wondering at the meaning of our solemn celebration this night. There is no hint at a greater reality. God has come to us, He has manifested Himself in the form of human flesh, He has appeared and His glory is revealed. The angels then appear to the shepherds in nearby fields to make the joyous proclamation – a savior is born for us. He is ‘savior’ because only He has the power to free us form our sins. Only He can save us. He is the ‘Christ’ – the Messiah, the fulfillment of the ancient hope of Israel, who is now our hope. He is the light that shines in the darkness of the world, the light that pierces the darkness of our hearts – and only He has the power to penetrate into the very depths of our being, this one whom we honor today and celebrate as a little baby. St. Luke tells us that the shepherds made haste to Bethlehem. They wanted to see what the angels had made known to them they wanted to see the Lord. And yet His birth is a hidden reality in His own time – a hint of what is yet to come and still this is the key event in the history of mankind.

It seems to me that it was not by chance that our two friends in Greene’s story were brought together. A series of “hints” had led them to have that conversation. And for us, the same could be said for why we have gathered on this holiest of nights. Perhaps our own series of “hints” have led us to Mass. We, like the shepherds, have made haste to this church because we too want to see for ourselves this birth that has taken place. We want to see the glory of God revealed; we want to see Him. For some of us, being here is the right thing to do. It is right to go to church on Christmas, perhaps due to the sense of obligation. For others, there is no other place we would rather be and we realize that truly God has brought us here to welcome Him once again, not only at His birth in time, but again, in our hearts and in our lives. For all of us, however, I dare to say that this is a beginning. It is an occurrence, a moment in time where God – as of now an infant, a newborn child unable to speak and yet is the Eternal Word of God – whispers into the quiet of our souls. From the manger, He teaches us; He gives us yet another hint. A hint that draws us ever closer to Him; a hint that further leads us to “reject godless ways and worldly desires;” a hint of grace that moves us to “live devoutly in this age;” a hint that leads us to greater love for this little child who is for us Almighty God.

The hints that He gives, the teachings that He utters – even without having spoken a word – are such that they lead us to change. For it seems to me that each of us desires some sort of change in our lives. We want to amend our lives; we desire to do better – for our fellow man and more importantly for God. Often, though, we don’t know where to begin. Have we not already begun that change? Through a series of “hints” – of occurrences in our lives – we have made haste to this church, our Bethlehem, to behold the newborn king, to get a glimpse of the one who knows us better than we know ourselves. This is the beginning for us all, the first step in truly becoming the men and women that God wants us to be and not the men and women the secular world would have us become. For the secular world is proven to be on track to push God out of our public lives, out of our society – pushing Him further and further to the fringes of culture. Due to such indifference, in our list of priorities we think of God less and less. On this matter, in his Christmas homily of last year, Pope Benedict XVI noted:

“If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God’s work alone… The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place – however important they may be – so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.”

Living life to the full, living fully for God is to draw near to Him. And today, in the joy of the birth of our Savior, we are face to face with Him who is our Creator. God has become a little child, an infant unable to speak and yet is the Divine Word made Flesh. There is no hint about that. Perhaps on this solemn Christmas celebration, we can ask ourselves: is there room enough for God to be born again in our hearts? Is there room enough for change? For as we saw in Greene’s short story, it was the baker’s maliciousness that led that young boy to the priesthood – it was his first hint. And so what will our “hint” be in this new beginning? The infant child speaks directly to our hearts – what does He say, how does He speak to us? What will it take for us to become fully alive for God?

Let us make this Christmas the one in which we begin anew with God. May this be the beginning of a year in which we think of Him more and more in our daily lives, where we pray a little more, do more good for others and so draw ever nearer to the heart of the Savior. As we take the first steps in this new beginning, this renewal of the grace of God within us, may we experience the transforming effects of His Divine Love.






Fr. Jon Reardon


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.




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