Not by Any Righteous Deeds

(December 25, 2018)

Bottom line: So what is the good news? St. Paul states it clearly. We are saved "not by any righteous deeds...but because of his mercy." When we accept his mercy we open ourselves to "renewal by the Holy Spirit."

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

For those visiting a special welcome - and an introduction. I am Fr. Phillip Bloom. This my tenth year as pastor, spiritual father, of St. Mary of the Valley.

This is our first Christmas without Sister Barbara. You may have noticed her memorial mosaic - the sunflower which was her favorite. It's a wonderful symbol because of the way it tracks the sun. The Psalm verse on her bench picks up that theme. "Of you my heart has spoken: seek his face."

Here at the parish we have been realizing how much she did. Maybe like a widower when his partner departs. During this time I've been grateful for the care and support of so many people.

I am grateful for your presence at this Christmas Mass. Each person here could have found something more entertaining - especially than listening to me. :). Still, even though many things are more entertaining than the Mass, nothing is more important. You listened to readings from the Bible and responded: Thanks be to God; Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ. It wasn't me who chose them. You would hear the same readings in Rome, the highlands of Peru or the Catholic churches in Syria.

And this evening (morning) there will be no place in the Sky Valley more like Bethlehem than our altar. As Jesus was born in Bethlehem so he will become present in the bread which becomes his Body and the wine his Precious Blood. Like the shepherds adored the Child Jesus so will we adore Him on our altar.

I am grateful you chose to come to Mass. Our Knights have promoted "Keep Christ in Christmas." You can read it another way: Keep Mass in Christmas. The word combines Christ and Mass. For Christmas we need them both.

Coming to Mass may have cost you something not only because more entertaining things attract us. You may have hesitated due to all the news about evil things priests and bishops did - especially in the three decades from the sixties through the eighties. I understand the hesitation. I've felt that burden of shame.

This crisis has brought me and others to what the Bible calls weeping and fasting.(Joel 2:12; Esther 4:3) I wrote something about that in the bulletin. In addition to the crisis in our church, we face a looming crisis in our nation - and world. Some of you, I know, are facing difficult situations in your family or personal life. A crisis can bring us low, make us recognize we can't do it on our own. We need help. We need God. We need Jesus. He comes as Savior.

St Paul tells us that God saves us "not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy." You and I need God. No matter how much we try, we cannot do it on our own.

To understand this need for help, consider a scene from The Lord of the Rings. If you have read the book or watched the movie you know it's about a hobbit, a halfling named Frodo, chosen to take the evil ring to Mount Doom - the one place where it can be destroyed. After a grueling, dangerous journey, he finally gets to the edge where can throw the ring into the fire. But he hesitates. His companion, Samwise, pleads, "What are you waiting for? Just do it." Frodo responds, "The ring is mine." On his own he cannot complete the purpose of his journey.

So it is with us. Left to our own devices, we stumble and fall. We see that in our church crisis. We can also see it in our country. We have made great advances, especially in medicine. Still, once again this year, life expectancy has declined - not because seniors aren't living longer, but the plague of opioids and suicide. It's swamping especially young people and middle-aged men.

In our country, in our church, in our families, in our own lives we are like Frodo. We can accomplish so much, but we can't make the final breakthrough. We need grace - God's free gift of salvation.

We look for a quick fix, when what we need is a firm foundation. We need a higher power. We cannot save ourselves. We have to face the bad news before we can hear the good news.

So what is the good news? St. Paul states it clearly. We are saved "not by any righteous deeds...but because of his mercy." When we accept his mercy we open ourselves to "renewal by the Holy Spirit." That's the firm foundation. That's the invitation tonight (today): Contemplate the manger, come to Bethlehem. Adore Jesus as he becomes present on the altar. "When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done, but because of his mercy, He saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Amen.


Spanish Version

From the archives (Christmas homilies):

2017: Exchange of Gifts
2016: Long Walk - Part of Gift
2015: A New Beginning
2014: There is More
2013: Forgiving God
2012: Why Jesus Was Born
2011: The Gift of Freedom
2010: Let Him Come In
2009: When We Were Gone Astray
2008: The Tiny Footsteps of Jesus
2007: No More Fear and Hiding
2006: That Sacred Jest
2005: An Ivory Horn
2004: A Christmas Poem
2003: The Weakness of God
2002: The Word
2001: The Abundance of God
2000: I Am One of You Now
1999: Bigger on the Inside
1998: How to Receive a Gift
1997: Someone is Knocking at the Door
1996: The Gift We All Desire

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Summer - Kings and Prophets*

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron

Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)

Parish Picture Album


MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru