Thursday, December 31, 2009

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary


The Octave Day of Christmas
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
The Mother of God

Information about the Catholic Teaching on the Blessed Virgin MaryInformation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church about Mary

Readings for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Numbers 6:22-27

The LORD said to Moses:
“Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them:
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.
Say to them:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites,
and I will bless them.”
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Commentary on
Nm 6:22-27

This passage contains the “Priestly Blessing” or the “Blessing of Aaron”. It was to be used by priests to bless the people of God. “…let his face shine upon you!” would indicate an act of divine pleasure. As Christians, the finial strophe of the blessing – “The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” is seen as being fulfilled at the birth of the Messiah – Jesus, Son of God and son of Mary.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

R. (2a) May God bless us in his mercy.

May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. May God bless us in his mercy.

May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. May God bless us in his mercy.

May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
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Commentary on
Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8

Psalm 67 is a blessing and has elements of the ancient blessing of Aaron from Numbers 6:22ff (above). This blessing has more of a plaintive tone (a lament), beseeching, almost pleading that the Lord bless us.

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Reading II:
Galatians 4:4-7

Brothers and sisters:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law,
to ransom those under the law,
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,
crying out, “Abba, Father!”
So you are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God.
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Commentary on
Gal 4:4-7

God sent his Son, born of a woman” this passage, taken as part of the Gospel proclaimed by St. Paul, provides the Galatians with the important fact that Mary gave birth to Jesus. He did not mystically appear to us. Jesus is (was) true man, meaning he went through the biological birth process. That also means that Mary, the Mother of God went through all of the difficult physical process of giving birth.

St. Paul goes on to remind us that through this action we are all adopted by God and are entitled to call God our Father “Abba” a familial term of endearment (translated into American usage as “daddy”).

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Gospel:
Luke 2:16-21

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary
and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen,
just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.
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Commentary on
Lk 2:16-21

The message, given to the shepherds by choirs of angels that they, in turn, brought to Mary that she kept and reflected in her heart about was; “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." (
Luke 2 11-12)

This encounter with the shepherds further reinforces Mary’s faith, the acceptance of her child’s role explained to her by the Archangel Gabriel when this wonderful and tragic journey began.

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Reflection:

On this holy day in the Octave of Christmas St. Luke’s story of the nativity continues with the announcement by the shepherds of the news they had heard from the heavenly hosts (
Luke 2:8-14). In the context of the times, this would have been a singularly amazing event; shepherds abandoning their flocks (they never left their flocks) coming to the little town of Bethlehem in awe and wonder seeking a manger and a new born child.

The Magi had not yet arrived and Joseph and his bride were in humble surroundings with their new born child. Here come a group of shepherds praising God, astounded to find this new King as they had been told, wrapped in swaddling cloths in the stable. It was true – God’s messengers had announced this momentous birth, not to kings and princes, but to lowly shepherds. It was they who gave the Prince of Peace the first praise upon his entry into the world as man.

Within this incredible scene is the new mother, Mary, Blessed Virgin Mother of God’s great gift. What must she have thought seeing these reclusive herdsmen mysteriously drawn there by angelic choirs? We recall that God’s touch points with her had been early in her pregnancy. She was told what to expect (as was St. Joseph) but that had been some time ago. Even the greeting of St. Elizabeth ("Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”) had been several months earlier. The little mother must have been somewhat puzzled by the events as they had unfolded. To our best knowledge, she was never told that she would not have this child in the traditional setting, in her home with kinswomen around her. When she came due and delivered this baby in a manger of all places, she must have wondered if Gabriel’s message and St. Elizabeth’s greeting had been a dream.

But here come shepherds, praising God and giving thanks for her Son, God’s Son, now nestled in her arms. They spoke of heavenly hosts and glad tidings of great joy, and she knew, she knew it was all true. This child she had carried and nurtured was destined to be the salvation of the world and she had brought this new life into the world. And this she silently pondered, perhaps again saying in her heart “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior!

On this the great Solemnity of Mary we remember how she began her wondrous and tragic journey. We see her sacrifice, faith, and grace as examples of what we strive to become in the service of the Son she gave us – the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. Today we pray fervently for her intercession for she has become Queen of Heaven and as such has the special favor of her Son. May we faithfully continue our journey to Jesus and conform ourselves to him and his mother.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture is “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Antonio Balestra, c. 1707
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas


The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas
Saint Sylvester I, Pope

Alternate Proper for the Memorial of St. Sylvester I

Readings for the Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
1 John 2:18-21

Children, it is the last hour;
and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming,
so now many antichrists have appeared.
Thus we know this is the last hour.
They went out from us, but they were not really of our number;
if they had been, they would have remained with us.
Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.
But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.
I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.
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Commentary on
1 Jn 2:18-21

After telling his community that they were armed by their knowledge of Christ against evil, the Apostle now tells them that he hour is near. Christ has died and is risen and the second coming must be approaching. He warns them to be alert and watch out for the antichrist (This designation occurs only in the writings of St. John. In Matthew and Mark they are called false messiahs, in St. Paul’s letters the same person(s) is designated “lawless one”.) This group of “Antichrists” mentioned by the Biblical Authors seems to indicate a group of persons who were teaching falsely about Jesus.

St. John identifies these antichrists as individuals who schismatically leave the faith community, holding false premises. He then tells those who are faithful to be steadfast because they are anointed in the truth.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 96:1-2, 11-12, 13

R. (11a) Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name;
announce his salvation, day after day.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the LORD.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

The LORD comes,
he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
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Commentary on
Ps 96:1-2, 11-12, 13

This song of praise exhorts the people to praise the Lord for his wondrous works of creation. The reason for this exhortation is that God will come to rule the earth with his justice. In this passage we see the forerunner of the understanding of the New Jerusalem – the Heavenly Kingdom.

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Gospel:
John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.
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Commentary on
Jn 1:1-18

The introduction of St. John’s Gospel is also used in the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord (Cycle A). It first provides the description of the relationship of God and Jesus who is the Logos – or word of God. The Word is light to the world and all things are subordinate to the Word because they were created by and through the Word.

St. John then introduces John the Baptist as one who came to testify to the light (now equivocated above with the Word). His message, like that of Jesus was not accepted by the very people created by the Lord. He goes on to say that those who accept Christ are adopted by God.

St. John then makes his own profession as he speaks of the incarnation of the eternal as “the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” His divinity is once more established as he says “…we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son”. This was the message St. John tells us he was sent to bring. He then reestablishes himself as messenger and servant of the one who sent him, Jesus. He says that while Moses brought the Law, Christ came and revealed God himself.
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Reflection:

We are once more awed by the opening phrases of St. John’s Gospel as he tells us; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Even as we reflect on the profound implications of these words we are struck by the contrast in tone of the Evangelist’s First Letter that was our first reading.

There is something important in that fist reading, something that is central to our belief in the Word. If we truly believe in the truth, that “In the Beginning” (before time, before creation) Christ existed in the Father and with the Father, “…the Word was with God, and the Word was God”; if we believe this there is a transformation within us. That transformation is accomplished in us by God at our Baptism and sealed in us at our Confirmation. If some later event occurs that drives us away from God; if some antichrist or false teacher places a wedge between us and God, that change of character is still there.

In the Detroit, Michigan area right now a 15 year old boy is in jail for shooting and killing a police officer. They are likely going to try him as an adult. As the image of this young man was shown on the TV screen sitting in the court room, we could not help but wonder where had he been twisted? At what point had those entrusted with the light of faith failed to protect him from those who had taught him to disrespect civil authority, that it violence was an acceptable path?

While St. John is speaking to his congregation about a different sort of situation (he speaks of those converted but not baptized who were, in a sense, shopping for something to believe in). When they feel away from the Christian Community and began persecuting the Christians, some of the faithful wondered if God’s saving hand had left them. In our day and age we see the same kind of thing from time to time as aspirants, desperate to find something to believe in “explore” the faith. But we know that those that leave, who reject the faith, often find it either too hard, or requiring them to change their lifestyles, attitudes, or secular views more than they are willing.

Belief in the Logos – the Word made flesh and all he stands for is hard. Belief, true belief requires us to act in certain ways and often respond with counterintuitive actions; not in our best interests but out of love. In this upcoming year, let us pledge to become more in tune with the Word, who was and is. Let us work diligently to help the world become a better place where young people (and old) will not be left to the false teachers and antichrists of our day.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture used today is “The Word Made Flesh” by Danny Hahlbohm, contemporary artist
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas


The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Readings for the Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas[1][2]
Reading from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
1 John 2:12-17

I am writing to you, children,
because your sins have been forgiven for his name’s sake.

I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.

I am writing to you, young men,
because you have conquered the Evil One.

I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.

I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,
because you are strong and the word of God remains in you,
and you have conquered the Evil One.

Do not love the world or the things of the world.
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world,
sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life,
is not from the Father but is from the world.
Yet the world and its enticement are passing away.
But whoever does the will of God remains forever.
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Commentary on
1 Jn 2:12-17

St. John addresses his audience singularly on sin and forgiveness using an interesting metaphor for the trinity; Children, Fathers, Young Men. The believing community he addresses is armed through faith against the evil one. He focuses in his last paragraph on avoiding the secular focus; on separating themselves from “things” of the world, saying that they are of the world and therefore unworthy, leading away from God (see also
John 17:9-26 and John 15:18-27).

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 96:7-8a, 8b-9, 10

R. (11a) Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Give to the LORD, you families of nations,
give to the LORD glory and praise;
give to the LORD the glory due his name!
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Bring gifts, and enter his courts;
worship the LORD in holy attire.
Tremble before him, all the earth.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Say among the nations: The LORD is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
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Commentary on
Ps 96:7-8a, 8b-9, 10

While a song of praise, the psalmist reminds us that even in praise we need to offer what we have in gratitude. The structure is familiar – we are given first the audience, then the response, and final praise as a response from God.

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Gospel:
Luke 2:36-40

There was a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.
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Commentary on
Lk 2:36-40

Continuing our story surrounding the presentation of Jesus, today we hear from the prophetess Anna. This role for widows to prophesy in the temple was not uncommon. The symbolism depicting Anna has clear linkage back to Old Testament events, beginning with seven, rabbinical literature recognizes seven as the number of prophetesses -Sarah, Miriam
Exodus 15:20, Deborah Judges 4:4, Hannah mother of Samuel 1 Samuel 2:1, Abigail wife of David 1 Samuel 25:32, Huldah 2 Kings 22:14, and Esther. These women gave witness to God’s will, at least in their holiness and spoke in his name. Anna, in this prophetic role (Phanuel translates as “face of God” and Asher as “good luck”), echoes the words of Simeon saying that this young baby is the redemption of Jerusalem – the city represents all of the elect.

The final verses provide a glimpse of Jesus’ necessary hidden life in Nazareth. He grows in faith and stature in preparation for the mission assigned to him.

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Reflection:

The timing of the first reading from 1 John is very good. It is almost a week since the great secular glut of commercial Christmas and its aftermath – the post Christmas feeding frenzy. Just as we see the children tiring of their new toys and games and the adults thinking about returning to the routines of making there way in the world, the evangelist addresses himself to us. He reminds us first about the meaning of the Nativity whose Octave we are still in “…your sins have been forgiven for his name’s sake.” He then goes on to restate the great Christian paradox found in his own Gospel-to be part of the world but separate from it.

The Evangelist warns us about what we just went through “…sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life,” all part of the commercial Christmas. It is so pervasive that in the US, that even religious people of non-Christian denominations gather and buy gifts with no attachment whatsoever to the birth of the Savior.

These are not the things of God but, as St. John says, of the world. The Christian must be in the world but stand apart from it. What is truly important is not how well we did “under the tree” but how well we did by the standards of him who loves us – who came as not just a symbol of love but love itself, into the world. Even as we think about taking extra good care of the new golf clubs or the new appliance, we should ask ourselves what we are doing to take care of what is really important in our selves.

Today we are reminded of our Christian duty and the role we are called to play in God’s plan. He casts us into the world like leaven so that we might transform it (not be transformed by it). Today our voices join with the Prophetess Anna in thanking God for the gift of the Christ Child and pledging to rededicate ourselves to the cause which brought him into the world.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture is “Presentation of Jesus at the Temple” by Girolamo Romanino, 1529
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas


The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas
Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop, Martyr

Alternate Proper for the Memorial of St. Thomas Becket

Readings for the Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
1 John 2:3-11

Beloved:
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
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Commentary on
1 Jn 2:3-11

We are given, in this passage, two consistent teachings of St. John. First is the injunction to keep “Jesus’” commandments. He uses the same formula we have heard before in this letter. If you say you belong to Christ but do not follow his commandments, you are a liar.

The second teaching is his favorite, perhaps because it is part of the great commandment and fundamental to everything taught by the Lord; “Love one another.” Here St. John again uses the darkness and light theme to demonstrate that the one who walks with Christ is in the light and the one who does not walks in darkness and is lost; “…he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 5b-6

R. (11a) Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

The LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty go before him;
praise and grandeur are in his sanctuary.
R. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
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Commentary on
Ps 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 5b-6

For us, in the Octave of Christmas, this new song of praise is for the gift of the Messiah; the Christ child whose birth still rings with joy

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Gospel:
Luke 2:22-35

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce)
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
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Commentary on
Lk 2:22-35

St. Luke’s account of Jesus being presented at the Temple provides a unique insight into the Holy Family. They are faithful observes of the Law of Moses.

At the time Jesus is presented at the temple as required by strict Jewish Law, we find Simeon, probably an old man in the last years of his life (“…looking forward to the restoration of God's rule in Israel”). Simeon does two important things here – he affirms the nativity story with his profession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the one who came for all so that all might be renewed in Christ and in God the Father. (“…my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”)

The second of Simeon’s actions is to predict to Mary the difficulty her Son will encounter in his ministry (“…to be a sign that will be contradicted”) and the pain it will cause Mary herself “(and you yourself a sword will pierce)”

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Reflection:

Sacred scripture paints part of the picture surrounding the events of the Nativity of the Lord with the story of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. The Church celebrates a separate feast to honor this occasion later in the year (February 2nd). As we consider what takes place in this setting the Presentation takes its place with other things going on in the life of the Holy Family. We know that they must flee to Egypt and that Herod is (or has) committed infanticide to stop the infant Jesus from fulfilling his task. We are not precisely sure of the exact timing (according to Hebrew Law, this event should have occurred forty days following Jesus’ birth) but like all things in the remarkable life of Jesus this one too has a purpose.

The event itself shows that Mary and Joseph are scrupulous in following Hebrew regulations. This is important because the Jews at the time who would have been the first Christians must have been taught that accepting Christ was not something that went against their faith but was a completion of it. The Holy Family did not flaunt Jewish Law and tradition as some of the contemporary religious leaders were trying to say – they were faithful to a fault.

In the temple they encounter another important person in Simeon. Simeon we are told was a holy man whom God had already blessed with a long and faithful life. His final desire; the prayer request he had made of God was that he be allowed to see the Hebrew Prophecy of the coming Messiah fulfilled. Through the eyes of faith, his prayer was answered and he called out:

“Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”

Mary and Joseph must have been surprised by this in spite of their previous angelic counseling and the events of the Lord’s birth. (This event necessarily followed the arrival of the Magi and their return from Bethlehem so they would accept this kind of reaction from individuals who were filled with God’s spirit). It may have not even surprised them that they were singled our among all the other parents bringing in children for this kind of attention, for certainly there were many others following the same prescription of the law.

For us, now hearing this story once more, these amazing circumstances do not cause us to be surprised or awe stricken as those first Jewish converts must have been. What it should do however, is remind us that the faith we share is one that represents another step in our continuous encounter with God the Most High Father; an encounter that has been taking place since the beginning of human existence. Today, still basking in the glow of the festival lights of Christmas we are reminded that this event is a beginning and that what must now unfold is to fulfill the Father’s plan. We remember also that that great plan continues and that we are a part of it.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture is “Presentation of Jesus in the Temple” by Vittore Carpaccio, 1510
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Feast of the Holy Innocents


Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Additional Information about the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Readings for the Feast of the Holy Innocents[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
1 John 1:5—2:2

Beloved:
This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ
and proclaim to you:
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
If we say, “We have fellowship with him,”
while we continue to walk in darkness,
we lie and do not act in truth.
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light,
then we have fellowship with one another,
and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
If we say, “We are without sin,”
we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just
and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.
If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar,
and his word is not in us.

My children, I am writing this to you
so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ the righteous one.
He is expiation for our sins,
and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.
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Commentary on
1 Jn 1:5—2:2

We are given in this selection a foundational scripture passage upon which the Sacrament of Reconciliation rests. The logic St. John uses flows nicely; Jesus, the Christ is light. When we sin we walk in darkness. When we admit our sin, the Lord who is “expiation for our sins”, brings us back into the light. If we try to deceive ourselves saying we are not sinful, we fall and, in a sense, make Jesus’ sacrifice meaningless.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 124:2-3, 4-5, 7cd-8

R. (7) Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.

Had not the LORD been with us—
When men rose up against us,
then would they have swallowed us alive,
When their fury was inflamed against us.
R. Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.

Then would the waters have overwhelmed us;
The torrent would have swept over us;
over us then would have swept the raging waters.
R. Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.

Broken was the snare,
and we were freed.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
R. Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.
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Commentary on
Ps 124:2-3, 4-5, 7cd-8

The psalm is one of thanksgiving to the Lord for his gift of salvation – salvation from physical enemies; salvation from nature’s fury. The song thanks God who rescues us if we but reach out to him.

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Gospel:
Matthew 2:13-18

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Matthew 2:13-18

St. Matthew provides the story of the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem. On this their feast day we are told how Herod, in his frustration at being deceived by the magi, sends troops to kill all the male children under the age of two. We are also reminded that this event and the warning received by Joseph to take the baby, Jesus, to Egypt, were both predicted in scripture.

In this ironic twist, the saga of Moses is replayed in an inverse way. A slaughter of innocents preceded his advent and the trek to Egypt by the Holy Family recalls the exodus event now relived by the Savior. “The fulfillment citation is taken from
Hosea 11:1. Israel, God's son, was called out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus; Jesus, the Son of God, will similarly be called out of that land in a new exodus. The father-son relationship between God and the nation is set in a higher key. Here the son is not a group adopted as "son of God," but the child who, as conceived by the holy Spirit, stands in unique relation to God. He is son of David and of Abraham, of Mary and of Joseph, but, above all, of God.”[4] The passage concludes with a quote of Jeremiah 31:15 in which Rachel is weeping for children taken into exile at the time of the Assyrian invasion (722 BC). Tradition hold her lament was so profound it was heard for miles.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Reflection:

In this feast day we remember the innocent lives of the first martyrs for Christ. St. Matthew describes how Herod, in great fear of loosing his kingship commits the sin of Pharaoh, murdering innocent babes, turning his back on the one who could assure him a kinship eternal and in peace.

The current world wide assault on the sanctity of life brings this story in to sharp focus. There is a great danger facing mankind and secular leadership already stands at the precipice of a very slippery slope (some say they are already hurling toward the pit). When this Gospel story of infanticide is told we immediately think of the struggle between the opponents of life and those who find life sacred. This debate is not just about abortion it truly reached into our homes and touches each one of us. If we take the position that an embryo is not a human life until the fetus draws breath and is born all manner of moral issues are brought into contention. Not just the most recent decision to allow human embryos to be destroyed in the name of stem cell research but the entire idea that human life has value at all.

In the United States – in the state of Oregon we already see the path this lack of respect for human life can take. Not only does Oregon allow doctor assisted suicide but its state sponsored medical coverage has placed a dollar value on a person’s life. Using a formula that must have been inspired by Herod himself, a person’s quality of life is evaluated before certain types of life-savng medical procedures will be authorized. If, under the formula, an expensive procedure like hip replacement is requested by a person considered who may only have a few years left in their expected life it will be rejected, wasted because that person may only be made marginally more comfortable for an anticipated short period of time.

It is not a large leap from the destruction of embryos and the devaluing of human life to government sponsored pregnancy in which the embryos are harvested for research. Or to allow children who are lobotomized in the womb or manipulated outside the womb in a lab to be born without any possibility of intellect, so their organs may be harvested – same principle as the destruction of embryos for stem cell research, just taken to the next step. They would, after all, not really be people.

When we think about Herod’s heinous we should ask those infant martyrs to pray for us that we might continue the fight for the sanctity of life in all its phases. With God all things are possible, perhaps with enough of our prayers some of those who care only for themselves may be brought to the light of understanding.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture is “The Massacre of the Innocents“ by Giotto di Bondone, 1310s
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
[4] See NAB footnote on Matthew 2:15

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph


The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Readings for the Feast of the Holy Family[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;
grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
firmly planted against the debt of your sins
—a house raised in justice to you.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Sir 3:2-6, 12-14

This reading from Sirach is essentially an exposition of the Commandment to Honor your father and mother. I goes into greater length about the positive benefits that come to the person who does so and does link to early Hebrew belief that the honor received by the father of a household was transferred to the children (just as in the omitted verses 8-11, the sins are also transmitted to the children).

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Or
First Reading:
1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28

In those days Hannah conceived, and at the end of her term bore a son
whom she called Samuel, since she had asked the LORD for him.
The next time her husband Elkanah was going up
with the rest of his household
to offer the customary sacrifice to the LORD and to fulfill his vows,
Hannah did not go, explaining to her husband,
“Once the child is weaned,
I will take him to appear before the LORD
and to remain there forever;
I will offer him as a perpetual nazirite.”

Once Samuel was weaned, Hannah brought him up with her,
along with a three-year-old bull,
an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine,
and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh.
After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull,
Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said:
“Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord,
I am the woman who stood near you here, praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”
Hannah left Samuel there.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
1 Sm 1:20-22, 24-28

The story of the birth of Samuel to the previously barren Hannah is strikingly parallel to the conception and birth of St. John the Baptist. Both mothers, Hannah and Elizabeth dedicated their sons to God. In the case of Samuel his mother here offers him as a “Nazirite: from the Hebrew word nazir, meaning "set apart as sacred, dedicated, vowed." The nazirite vow could be either for a limited period or for life. Those bound by this vow had to abstain from all the products of the grapevine, from cutting or shaving their hair, and from contact with a corpse. They were regarded as men of God like the prophets; cf Amos 2:11-12. Examples of lifelong nazirites were Samson (Judges 13:4-5, 7; 16:17), Samuel (1 Sam 1:11), and John the Baptizer (Luke 1:15). At the time of Christ the practice of taking the nazirite vow for a limited period seems to have been quite common, even among the early Christians; cf Acts 18:18; 21:23-24, 26.”[4]

In this case Hannah dedicates Samuel for life – she left him to be trained with the Priests.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

R. (cf. 1) Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be, and favored.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
your children like olive plants
around your table.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

Behold, thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion:
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5

Psalm 128 is a song of thanksgiving. It begins here with the typical blessings for following and having faith in the Lord. This selection features the blessing a family brings to the faithful using the symbolism of vines and olives so favored by even the Lord.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
OR:
Psalm 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10

R. (cf. 5a) Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
R. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

Happy they who dwell in your house!
Continually they praise you.
Happy the men whose strength you are!
Their hearts are set upon the pilgrimage.
R. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

O LORD of hosts, hear our prayer;
hearken, O God of Jacob!
O God, behold our shield,
and look upon the face of your anointed.
R. Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Ps 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10

Psalm 84 was used to celebrate pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem (3 times a year). In these strophes the singer extols the virtue of those that are faithful and concludes with praise to the “anointed” king “our shield”.

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Reading II:
Colossians 3:12-21

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands,
as is proper in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives,
and avoid any bitterness toward them.
Children, obey your parents in everything,
for this is pleasing to the Lord.
Fathers, do not provoke your children,
so they may not become discouraged.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Col 3:12-21

Here we have the rather controversial family hierarchy of the era described by St. Paul. This entire section of the letter is a discourse on harmony within the family of Christ. It is important to note the instruction given in the first part of this reading. Paul describes the Christian rules for relationships; “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another”.

When the subordinated relationships are described below, equality in membership in the family is established.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Or:
Colossians 3:12-17

Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving one another,
if one has a grievance against another;
as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
And over all these put on love,
that is, the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of Christ control your hearts,
the peace into which you were also called in one body.
And be thankful.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,
as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another,
singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, in word or in deed,
do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Col 3:12-17

This option omits the hierarchical relationship descriptions. Its focus remains consistent, however, driving the Pauline ideals of harmony and unity within the Christian Family.

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Or
Second Reading:
1 John 3:1-2, 21-24

Beloved:
See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God.
And so we are.
The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us,
we have confidence in God and receive from him whatever we ask,
because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
And his commandment is this:
we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and love one another just as he commanded us.
Those who keep his commandments remain in him, and he in them,
and the way we know that he remains in us
is from the Spirit he gave us.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24

In this selection from St. John’s first epistle we are reminded that we are all, through our Baptism, adopted children of God and hence, part of his family, the family of the faithful. St. John goes on to remind us of the obligations of that adoption; first, that we believe in Him, Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God. Second, following the formula of the Great Commandment is that we should love one another.

The ending of the chapter speaks of Christians living a life of faith in Jesus and how, in that faith, they are assured, through mutual love that we are in the Lord and the Lord also resides in us. In adhering to this most important of commandments the Lord becomes indwelling. As a consequence of our obedience, the love of Christ and love of each other naturally follows.

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Gospel:
Luke 2:41-52

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast
of Passover,
and when he was twelve years old,
they went up according to festival custom.
After they had completed its days, as they were returning,
the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem,
but his parents did not know it.
Thinking that he was in the caravan,
they journeyed for a day
and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances,
but not finding him,
they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.
After three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking them questions,
and all who heard him were astounded
at his understanding and his answers.
When his parents saw him,
they were astonished,
and his mother said to him,
“Son, why have you done this to us?
Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.”
And he said to them,
“Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
But they did not understand what he said to them.
He went down with them and came to Nazareth,
and was obedient to them;
and his mother kept all these things in her heart.
And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor
before God and man.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Lk 2:41-52

This narrative from St. Luke’s Gospel tells the only story from the Gospels of Jesus growing up as a boy, part of the family with Mary and Joseph. (There are numerous stories found in the apocryphal gospels that attribute miraculous abilities and acts to the young Jesus but these are felt to be of a tradition similar to the boyhood stories of other ancient heroes such as Cyrus and Alexander). In this account Jesus is discovered after three days (possibly symbolic to the three days in the tomb) at the Temple, engaged in discourse with “teachers”, implying he was in the outer halls of the temple – this would have been completely consistent with Jewish Law.

We note that he is listening and answering questions and is not presuming upon his station to brag or put himself forward. Finding him, we are told that Jesus asked “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This statement connotes a familiarity with God the Father, for the first time identifying that relationship over the role fulfilled by St. Joseph.

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Reflection:

The sacred texts give us a unique view of the Holy Family. They were living very typical lives in spite of the miracle of the Child’s birth and all that had happened regarding their flight to Egypt and the intense search that Herod had made for the Christ Child. We are given the story of Jesus, now twelve years old, one year shot of the age at which he would have undergone his bar mişwāh.

The Holy Family would have come up to Jerusalem with a large number of family and friends from their home village. This explains why Jesus would not have been missed for some time after the group began its return to Nazareth. Jesus could have been (as assumed to have been) with family or friends; possibly with his cousins (St. John the Baptist could have been with that group).

Any parent can imagine the fear that must have stricken them when they realized that their son was not with the caravan. Joseph would have remembered his dream and Mary would have remembered the words of Simeon about the sword of sorrow that would pierce her heart. The panic they felt would have been excruciating, especially given the identity of their son. We can imagine their prayers as they begged the Father in heaven to keep him safe and bring him back to them.

Three days they endured that empty fear; fear that their Holy Family would not be whole again. Then to their wonder and intense relief they found him, sitting with the teachers of the faith in the temple precincts. We can almost see Mary rush to him, Joseph right behind. We can see Jesus looking somewhat surprised at Mother Mary’s question. He would never purposely cause his Beloved Mother pain (he must have known what she was yet to endure). He would never have purposely disrespected St. Joseph. His question would have been innocent “Didn’t you know I would be here?” What a telling question. The innocence of his question tells us he presumed his Holy Parents knew his mission, knew what he must do; knew as much as he did about God’s plan for him.

The story concludes with the family returning to Nazareth and Jesus growing up as an obedient son – an example even in his youth. We recall this story today as we remember the bond of love between mother, father and Christ Child. They are the example of what all Christian families hope to be and struggle to achieve. We celebrate our status as adopted children of God who, through his Son, offers us a place in his heavenly home and we look forward to a day of great unity and reunion in his Kingdom.

Pax

[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture is “Holy Family below the Oak” by Raffaello Sanzio 1518
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
[4] See NAB footnote on Numbers 6:1-3

Friday, December 25, 2009

Feast of Saint Stephen


Feast of Saint Stephen,
First Martyr

Biographical Information about St. Stephen[1]

Readings for the Feast of St. Stephen[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59

Now Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven
and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said,
“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man
standing at the right hand of God.”
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
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Commentary on
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59

We are given in our first reading the story of how St. Stephen, one of the first Deacons selected by the Apostles, was martyred. It is interesting to note that the "Saul" at whose feet the cloaks were laid is our own St. Paul who before his conversion was a talented prosecutor of Christians.

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Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 31:3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17

R. (6) Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.

Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.

Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.

Rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
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Commentary on
Ps 31:3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17

The psalmist gives us a song of faith very appropriate for the one who is put to the test for their faith. It is a prayer for rescue and a submission of will to God's saving power.

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Gospel:
Matthew 10:17-22

“But beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Mt 10:17-22

Jesus gives his disciples instructions on how to deal with the persecution they are to undergo at the hands of those who do not accept him, especially those in power. His instruction is one that relies on faith that the Father, through the Holy Spirit will supply the words. There is also a presumption that there will be loss of life - here the Lord tells us that those who are steadfast in their faith cannot die a spiritual death.

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Reflection:

Each year, on the day following Christmas, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Stephen. The Gospel of St. John from Christmas Mass during the day tells us that the Word incarnate will be rejected by those who are His own (
John 1:10). In today’s Gospel, the Lord cautions his followers that they too will face rejection, persecution, and possibly death. With the glow of the Morning Star that illuminated the manger still warming our hearts we are given a stern reminder of what discipleship means.

For the members of the diaconate, this day is very special. St. Stephen, the first martyr, is also one of the first deacons ordained by the Apostles to serve the Church. His feast day is considered the day upon which we celebrate the establishment of the diaconate. Since all ordained clergy in the Church (Deacons, Priests, and Bishops) are ordained to that rank and order, this is a very important day in the life of the Church as a whole.

In scripture today we are given selections that tell us of the unique connection between Jesus, the Apostles and those first seven deacons, most especially St. Stephen, upon whom hands were imposed, dedicating them to the service of the poor and marginalized members of the faith community. We hear the story of how St. Stephen was put to death for essentially the same reason as the Lord; that is he was proclaiming the good news in a way that infuriated the Hebrew leadership. We see the irony of the participation of Saul (later St. Paul, who also died a martyr's death) in the condemnation and execution of St. Stephen. One must wonder if St. Stephen's words did not, in some way, pave the path for St. Paul’s later conversion.

We here in the psalm the prayer for strength in the face of like persecution and we are given in the Gospel words of encouragement by Jesus who tells us; "...whoever endures to the end will be saved.” We must expect the same kind, if not the same degree of resistance in our own Christian witness based upon what the Lord tells us earlier in that same sentence; "You will be hated by all because of my name."

On this great feast of the Church, let us give thanks to God for the gift of all his Saints, especially St. Stephen, martyr and Deacon. Let us also give thanks to all those throughout history who have laid down their lives for the faith and pray that we can be courageous and follow in their steps.

Pax

[1] The picture today is “The Stoning of St. Stephen” by Pietro Da Cortona, 1660
[2] ALTRE
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Nativity of the Lord-Mass During the Day


The Nativity of the Lord
Christmas
Mass During the Day

Vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord
Midnight Mass for the Nativity of the Lord

Readings for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,
announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, and saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”

Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy,
for they see directly, before their eyes,
the LORD restoring Zion.
Break out together in song,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the LORD comforts his people,
he redeems Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will behold
the salvation of our God.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on
Is 52:7-10

The Prophet’s original intent was to proclaim the joy of the return from the Babylonian exile. He sees the event as salvation for the Hebrew people, God leads them back. From a greater distance and depth of understanding we see him announcing the coming of the Messiah and the salvation that comes to the New Jerusalem through him.

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Responsorial Psalm:
Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6

R. (3c) All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
his right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
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Commentary on
Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6

Psalm 98 is a song of praise and thanksgiving. We see in this selection how God is praised for the strength he lends his people and the salvation he brings to those who are faithful. The psalm rejoices in God’s salvation. The Lord has revealed his compassion toward the people and they sing his praises in response. As the Hebrews saw this as salvation for the people of Israel from its enemies, we see the deeper expression of God’s love as he sent his Son for salvation and justice for the whole world.”

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Reading II:
Hebrews 1:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins,
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say:
You are my son; this day I have begotten you?
Or again:
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?
And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says:
Let all the angels of God worship him.
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Commentary on
Heb 1:1-6

“The letter (to the Hebrews) opens with an introduction consisting of a reflection on the climax of God's revelation to the human race in his Son. The divine communication was initiated and maintained during Old Testament times in fragmentary and varied ways through the prophets (
Hebrews 1:1), including Abraham, Moses, and all through whom God spoke. But now in these last days (Hebrews 1:2) the final age, God's revelation of his saving purpose is achieved through a son, i.e., one who is Son, whose role is redeemer and mediator of creation. He was made heir of all things through his death and exaltation to glory, yet he existed before he appeared as man; through him God created the universe. Hebrews 1:3-4, which may be based upon a liturgical hymn, assimilate the Son to the personified Wisdom of the Old Testament as refulgence of God's glory and imprint of his being (Hebrews 1:3; cf Wisdom 7:26).”[5]

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Gospel:
John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.
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Commentary on
Jn 1:1-18

The introduction of St. John’s Gospel first provides the description of the relationship of God and Jesus who is the Logos – or word of God. The Word is light to the world and all things are subordinate to the Word because they were created by and through the Word.

St. John then introduces himself as one who came to testify to the light (now equivocated above with the Word). His message, like that of Jesus was not accepted by the very people created by the Lord. He goes on to say that those who accept Christ are adopted by God.

St. John then makes his own profession as he speaks of the incarnation of the eternal as “the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” His divinity is once more established as he says “…we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son”. This was the message St. John tells us he was sent to bring. He then reestablishes himself as messenger and servant of the one who sent him, Jesus. He says that while Moses brought the Law, Christ came and revealed God himself.

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OR:
John1:1-5, 9-14

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
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Commentary on
Jn1:1-5, 9-14

In this shorter form of the Gospel, the first introduction and second introductions of the Gospel author is omitted “the one who came to testify to the light. He reiterates his role as messenger in the John 1:15 as he says “This was he of whom I said, 'The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.'" Omitting these references to St. John, focuses the scripture more specifically on the incarnation of Christ as the “Word mad flesh.”

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Reflection:

This feast is held in common by the whole creation: the stars run in the heavens, magi arrive from foreign lands, the earth receives him in a cave. There is nothing that does not add to this feast, nothing that does not come to it with full hands. Let us, too, ring out a song of joy
[6]

- Saint Basil

Profound awe tempers our enthusiasm as our joy at the incarnation of the word is announced by St. John’s Gospel today. His is not the story of the baby Jesus born in the manger in Bethlehem. St. John does not mention the difficult journey from Nazareth nor the crowded conditions that forced them to stay in a cave. He does not recall the angel choirs singing to the shepherds nor the kings from the east following the morning star that lit the night sky under which the baby was laid.

This day we are reminded that he who took on flesh and became man for our salvation is eternal. Before he came to the virgin’s womb was the Word. When God created all that is was the Word. It was through the Word that we have life and light because the Word is light.

God took the light of creation and made it man so that we might see the light and understand the love of God who was both eternal and mortal in the form of Jesus. It is this amazing gift we celebrate today as we ponder the love of one so great he is beyond our imagining.

We are reminded too that when the light came into the world it was rejected by those who love the darkness. The Word made flesh was not to be adored but brought light none the less. His short journey was from the manger to the cross and while we celebrate one on this day, we remember the other.

Today, whether we recall the manger in Bethlehem or the Logos, the Word that brought light into the world, we thank the Father who through his Son’s sacrifice has adopted us and provided us with salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. We celebrate the great love we receive in this gift and pass that love on to all we meet so that we to become light in dark places.

Merry Christmas indeed, in the Word comes our joy and the peace of him who was made flesh four our salvation.


Merry Christmas


[1] ALTRE
[2] The picture is “Nativity” by Piero della Francesca, c. 1470
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved.
[5] See NAB footnote on Heb 1:1-6
[6] Homily on the birth of Christ; PG 31, 1471f.