January 6-12, 2008
Prepare a Homily on "A Journey of Peace and Hope"
Migrants and refugees who come to the United States, including undocumented workers, are clearly among the voiceless who need someone to speak on behalf of their human rights and dignity. When the scriptural or liturgical texts of the Mass address this point, the homily can be an effective teaching moment, whether on a special occasion or on regular Sundays as you regularly identify "the least among us." The homily provides an opportune moment to highlight our Church's mandate and tradition of hospitality, outreach and service, and to invite others to participate in this calling.
Following are suggestions for preparing a homily on "A Journey of Peace and Hope."
- 1. Highlight Scripture, Church tradition, and the teaching of the bishops.
- Highlight Catholic social teaching and challenge people's presumptions.
- Utilize all aspects of the liturgy to support the message of welcome preached in the homily.
"For I was . . . a stranger and you welcomed me." (Mt 25:35)
Catholic outreach to migrants and refugees has a strong foundation in Scripture. The Bible poignantly depicts Moses and the Jewish people fleeing Egypt and the Holy Family as refugees. The obstacles to a hearty welcome (fear of the stranger, prejudice, competition, sense of loss) also find counterparts in the parables of Jesus and in his capacity to break through the taboos and restrictions of his contemporaries, especially in regard to tax collectors, sinners, Samaritans, and Gentiles. (See Ideas for Liturgists and Prayer Leaders for a list of scriptural references.)
These scriptural teachings call us to a deep compassion for the plight of the migrant. Inspired by this calling of our faith, the Church has developed a rich body of teaching and a heritage of concern for immigrants, migrants, and refugees, particularly in the United States-a land of immigrants, a place heralded as a refuge for those fleeing persecution and those seeking a better life. In Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, the bishops remind us that as Catholics, we have an obligation to uphold this tradition of our faith and to welcome all of God's culturally diverse children into the life of the Church. (See Bulletin Quotes and Clip Art for quotes from Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity and other documents of Catholic social teaching that can be used for the homily.)
Highlight interesting facts and statistics in your homily to challenge prejudices and inform people about important demographic changes taking place in our country. Teach people about what the Church's rich body of social thought says about our Christian responsibility to "welcome the stranger among us."
The entire liturgy should convey the message of welcome. Liturgical ministers, greeters, lectors, eucharistic ministers, and altar servers should reflect the parish's ethnic make-up, with special emphasis on newcomers. Music ministers have a special role in seeing that liturgical music speaks in the cultural language of all the parish's ethnicities. One of the priest's special roles is to acknowledge each group's presence and contributions to the celebration, and to animate the spirit of welcome among parishioners. With the liturgy committee he needs to be creative in organizing processions, devotional traditions, and prayers of the faithful that include all ethnic groups of the parish and highlight their customs, such as native dress and use of bells, incense, flowers, banners, and musical instruments. While care must be taken to faithfully observe all requirements for the liturgy, devotional prayer can be even more flexibly adapted to give voice to the prayer of many peoples!
Homilies for Liturgical Feasts and Special Occasions
You can use the opportunity of a liturgical feast day to promote the themes of "welcoming the stranger" and "unity in diversity." Here are some examples:
- Certain secular holidays such as the 4th of July and Columbus Day are excellent opportunities to recognize newcomers to the parish, particularly those who may have recently become citizens. On these occasions it may also be appropriate to raise questions about laws that deny the children of immigrants the human rights of housing, education, and health care.
- On a day such as Thanksgiving and Labor Day, you can lift up migrant workers to thank God for their efforts and to inform the congregation about the dehumanizing conditions in which they often find themselves.
- On feast days such as Epiphany, Pentecost, the feast of Mother Cabrini or the parish saint's feast day, the gifts of newcomers, the unity of the diverse parish family, and the parish as a welcoming community can be highlighted.
- Feasts that are days of devotion to particular ethnic groups in the parish, such as the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe can be made occasions for total parish celebration.
Feast of the Epiphany
- During the Offertory, have parishioners in native dress bring gifts of home-baked bread to offer the Christ child.
- Invite the parishioners to gather in the parish hall at the end of Mass to share the breads.
- Begin the homily by describing how the Offertory and the post-Mass gathering reflect the meaning of today's feast of the Epiphany.
The Scriptures do not tell us where the Magi came from. But from early on in Christian art, these Magi were depicted as three men coming from Europe, Asia, and Africa; and through them, Jesus was depicted as the "Light of Nations." Though he was born in one particular place, in one particular culture, Jesus was born to save all people and lead them to the vision of the light.
The Church as a sacrament of communion with God and with all people is what we celebrate on this feast of the Epiphany. Our parish is made up of many peoples of different nations and cultures. Yet what joins us is our common faith in Jesus, the "Light of nations." In Jesus, we, different though we are, find a unity that is as deep as the unity in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we share the Eucharist here in the church, and as we afterwards share the breads from different countries, we are called to build up the spirit of community among ourselves. Often we come to Church and sit in the same pew every Sunday, in front of the same people, but we have not come to know them by name. This Sunday after Mass I encourage you to introduce yourself; each Sunday thereafter, introduce yourself to people whom you see each Sunday at Mass. We share a tremendous faith and are united in a mystery that can be a source of great strength and joy to us. As a community we are meant to be a sign to those around us of the presence of a loving Christ-a community willing to draw disparate groups of our neighborhood together, a community concerned with our weakest and most marginalized.
Besides being called to outreach as a community, we are called as individuals to bring to others the light of Christ. Our faith in Christ is the great gift given to us, a gift that is meant to be shared. Today at this Eucharist we renew our love for Jesus and we resolve to bring that love of Jesus to others. This feast of the Epiphany has a missionary thrust. The feast impels us to invite those who have turned away from Jesus' light or who have not experienced his light in their lives. We invite them to our parish-to a social event with our family or to a liturgy that can engage them in the love of God and the hospitality of our community. This missionary dimension is meant to be part of our lives as followers of Jesus. Jesus has no hands but ours.
The feast of the Epiphany highlights for us our role in the Church and our missionary task. This was summed up in a beautiful way by Mother Teresa:
By blood and origin I am Albanian
My citizenship is Indian
I am a Catholic nun
As to my calling, I belong to the world
As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Christ.
- Refer to a symbol (or practice) with a universal dimension (e.g., hospitality, kindness) and show how it can unite people regardless of language.
- Explain how miracles happen when we suspend judgment, draw closer, and listen to each other (e.g., when the bystanders suspended their belief that the Apostles were drunk and moved closer, they actually heard the Apostles proclaim Christ's message in their own languages).
- Remind the congregation how, when we include others in our circle or enter into theirs, we often, to our astonishment, find similarities.
- Ask the congregation to consider ways they can promote inclusiveness within the church community and live out Pentecost every day.
- Encourage the congregation at Mass to say the "Our Father" in their respective first languages.
The Apostles, who were all Galileans, were enabled by the Spirit to proclaim the Good News in different languages. Those who gathered thought the Apostles were drunk (Acts 2:13). But as they drew closer to the Apostles, to their bewilderment each heard the Good News proclaimed in his/her own tongue. Thus from the very beginning, the Church is "catholic," meaning "universal."