Midnight Mass Homily 2020
SILENT NIGHT. We experience in a real way something of a silent night. As I stand here looking at an empty church. This is a time we certainly miss all our guests and friends. Yet we know how we keep them close to our hearts as we enter into our monastic prayer. Intimate
On that first silent night, what led Joseph and the pregnant Mary to Bethlehem? Certainly, God was fulfilling the prophecy with Bethlehem as one of the smallest cities but also through a human act by means of a worldwide census, an enrollment. Even if this census, as Luke recounts it, may not have been 100 percent historical, nevertheless, Lk uses it to reveal the significance of Christ coming into the whole world. The whole world would be affected by his coming. The census was the backdrop to the first Christmas. For us, this Christmas, our backdrop is a worldwide virus. Granted it is taken more or less seriously by some.
Nevertheless, for months it has haunted us, frustrated us, inconvenienced us, plagued us, and at times truly frightened us, perplexed us, and even divided some in our society. As monks, we are acutely aware that it has caused in the world deaths, economic struggles, loved ones unable to gather properly, Churches unable to gather properly, uncertainties, and anxieties of all kinds. These are the facts whatever one may think of the virus. And as monks, as we are called to live more the purity of our vocation these days, we have united ourselves with those who are suffering because of the effects of the virus and all the other events in our society--bringing it deeply into our prayer.
As the worldwide census was the backdrop that led Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, this year for Christmas, God seems to be using the Worldwide virus as the backdrop leading us to Bethlehem. What do we find in Bethlehem? The humility of God. We find a newborn. A baby. A child. The virus is leading us all to bow to this Child, who is God, yet became weak, small, fragile, vulnerable, which only makes him that much more beautiful, lovely to us. It is where we find our joy in these difficult times in our world history. We are all called to go to our knees and bow before all of this. Bow tenderly before it all. This bowing is done figuratively but in a very real way in our everyday life, especially during these times. We do this through our recognition, our love, our affection, our service, our prayer for all that is weak, small, fragile, vulnerable, innocent in our world, in our families, our own community, and even within our own selves. Our own selves who can during this pandemic feel at times just as the Christ child: weak, vulnerable, fragile, and very small, very small as we have experienced powerlessness in front of this pandemic.
God is quietly telling us in this moment not to be afraid. He told Mary by an angel not to be afraid and lead her to Bethlehem for the Child to be born. He told Joseph through an angel not to be afraid and led him with Mary to Bethlehem. He told the shepherds by angels not to be afraid and led them to Bethlehem. He is telling us not to be afraid leading us to Bethlehem.
Pope Francis said about the current crisis in the world and Church: “the voice of God is never the tumultuous voice of the crisis, but rather the quiet voice that speaks in the crisis.” He is saying: Do not be afraid. Every day we have to remind ourselves of this. Several times a day. Maybe several times an hour. It doesn’t mean nothing ever bad is going to happen to us. No guarantees. But be not afraid, I am Emmanuel. I am with you. I will be with you. I have come into the world.
We are all being led to Bethlehem. That is where I believe it begins. From Bethlehem, we then will follow Mary and Joseph into Egypt as refugees. Then we especially as Monks will go to Nazareth into the hidden life—living it so well now in the pandemic. Some will go into places like Galilee and Capernaum to preach and teach and serve the poor. Most of us in one way or another will go to Calvary with Mary. Here also is the Humility of God. Here also we are given strength not to be afraid. From here we go to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem. But it all begins in Bethlehem. With a little child.
Dom Augustine Mylinski OCSO