Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Octave Day of Christmas

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
The Mother of God
Catechism Links[1]
CCC 464-469: Jesus Christ, true God and true Man
CCC 495, 2677: Mary is the Mother of God
CCC 1, 52, 270, 294, 422, 654, 1709, 2009: our adoption as sons
CCC 527, 577-582: Jesus submits to the Law, and perfects it
CCC 580, 1972: the New Law frees from restrictions of the Old Law
CCC 683, 689, 1695, 2766, 2777-2778: in the Holy Spirit we can call God “Abba”
CCC 430-435, 2666-2668, 2812: the name of Jesus

“The Granduca Madonna” 
by Raffaello Sanzio,1504
Reading 1: Numbers 6:22-27
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 final 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.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
R. (2a) May God bless us in his mercy.
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. This blessing has more of a plaintive tone (a group lament), or petition asking for a bountiful harvest. It points to the universal salvation promised by God to all the peoples.
Reading II: Galatians 4:4-7
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. It also means that Mary, the Mother of God, went through 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”).
CCC: Gal 4:1-7 1972; Gal 4:4-5 422; Gal 4:4 484, 488, 527, 531, 580, 702; Gal 4:5-7 1265; Gal 4:6 683, 689, 693, 742, 1695, 2766
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
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 about in her heart 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.
CCC: Lk 2:19 2599; Lk 2:21 527
Homily for the Octave Day of Christmas – The Solemnity of Mary
First, let me wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. This is a time when we generally take stock of what we want to accomplish in the upcoming year and resolve to take positive action to accomplish those new goals. We may vow to lose weight, save money, or to work harder at school or at our jobs.  Our New Year’s resolutions are made so that the year ahead will see us happier and more fulfilled going forward.  Ironically, we also celebrate on this day the Solemnity of Mary, the high feast day of the Blessed Virgin, in whose son’s birth we rejoiced just eight days ago.  I say “ironically” because she, more than any other saint we venerate, more than any other person in the history of humankind, points to that which can give us all the happiness and fulfillment we can imagine – the peace of her Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
On this holy Octave day 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 newborn child.
The Magi had not yet arrived and Joseph and his bride were in humble surroundings with their newborn child.  Here come a group of shepherds praising God, astounded to find this new King as they had been told, wrapped in swaddling clothes 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 gift and responsibility she silently pondered, perhaps again saying in her heart: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.  My spirit rejoices in God my savior!
In that opening offering from the Magnificat, we see the attitude of one truly “full of grace.” In her humility she shows us the grace of her then unborn Son, already giving the gift of God’s peace.  What more can we hope for from our New Year’s resolutions than to find an interior peace that gives us the ability to overcome all obstacles, to endure any trial?
As we consider what we hope to accomplish in this New Year, let us make a pledge to emulate Mother Mary, and put it at the very top of that list.  If we, like the Blessed Virgin, focus all our efforts for the greater Glory of God through Christ Jesus, our Mother’s prayers will be with us and our success will be that much more assured.
On this, the solemn feast 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 this year and conform ourselves to Him and his mother.

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture is “The Granduca Madonna” by Raffaello Sanzio,1504

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

(Optional Memorial of Saint Sylvester I, Pope)

“Nativity” by Francesco Di Giorgio Martini, 1488-94
Reading 1: 1 John 2:18-21
Commentary on 1 Jn 2:18-21
After telling his community that they were armed against evil by their knowledge of Christ, the Apostle now tells them that the 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.
CCC: 1 Jn 2:18 670, 672, 675; 1 Jn 2:20 91, 695
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 96:1-2, 11-12, 13
R. (11a) Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
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.
CCC: Ps 96:2 2143
Gospel: John 1:1-18
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 John the Baptist as one who came to testify to the light (now homologous 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.
Concluding this selection, the Evangelist 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.
CCC: Jn 1:1-3 291; Jn 1:1 241, 454, 2780; Jn 1:3 268; Jn 1:4 612; Jn 1:6 717; Jn 1:7 719; Jn 1:9 1216; Jn 1:11 530; Jn 1:12-18 1996; Jn 1:12-13 706; Jn 1:12 526, 1692; Jn 1:13 496, 505, 526; Jn 1:14 423, 445, 454, 461, 594, 705, 2466; Jn 1:16 423, 504; Jn 1:17 2787; Jn 1:18 151, 454, 473
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 first 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 a few years ago a 15 year old boy was in jail for shooting and killing a police officer.  They treated 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 violence was an acceptable path?
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 fell 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.  We know that those who leave, who reject the faith, often find it too difficult.  It requires them to change their lifestyles, attitudes, or secular views more than they are willing or able to do. In the analogy of the light of faith, they blaze instantly, like flash powder, but then go completely dark – essentially burning out.
Belief in the Logos, the Word made flesh and all that is implied by that belief, 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.

[1] The picture used today is “Nativity” by Francesco Di Giorgio Martini, 1488-94

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 531-534: the Holy Family
CCC 1655-1658, 2204-2206: the Christian family, a domestic Church
CCC 2214-2233: duties of family members
CCC 333, 530: the Flight into Egypt
“The Holy Family” 
by Claudio Coello, ~1685
When a Sunday does not occur between December 25 and January 1, this feast is celebrated on December 30 with only one reading before the Gospel.
Reading 1: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
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. It goes into greater length about the positive benefits that come to the person who does so. It is also consistent with the 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).
CCC: Sir 3:2-6 2218; Sir 3:12 2218
Commentary on Col 3:12-21
St. Paul exhorts the Colossians with a litany of positive attitudes that culminate in the cardinal axiom of the faith: “love one another.”  He goes on to implore them to let the peace of Christ control their every action and to praise God constantly through Jesus, God’s only Son.
The passage describes the rather controversial family hierarchy of the era portrayed 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 in the verses following, equality in membership in the family is established.
CCC: Col 3:14 815, 1827, 1844; Col 3:16-17 1156, 2633; Col 3:16 2641; Col 3:18-21 2204; Col 3:20 2217; Col 3:21 2286
Commentary on Col 3:12-17
This shorter option omits the hierarchical relationship descriptions. Its focus remains consistent, however, driving the Pauline ideals of harmony and unity within the Christian Family.
CCC: Col 3:14 815, 1827, 1844; Col 3:16-17 1156, 2633; Col 3:16 2641
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 128:1-2, 3, 4-5
R. (cf. 1) 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 given to those following and having faith in the Lord. This selection uses the analogy of the family and the blessing it brings to the faithful, using the symbolism of vines and olives, imagery commonly used in sacred scripture.
It also supports the creation of woman and the marriage theme in Genesis 2:18-25. It is the logical extension of the two becoming one flesh and the children flowing from that union.
Commentary on Mt 2:13-15, 19-23
The story of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt is provided in St. Matthew’s Gospel. Angelic messengers are sent to keep Jesus from harm, and guide St. Joseph, the father of Jesus. (The verses 16-18 which are omitted in this reading tell the story of the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in Bethlehem whose feast we celebrated on December 28.) The actions that follow accomplish the task of saving Jesus from Herod. It is also reminiscent of Moses’ flight from Egypt and subsequent return which triggered the salvation event – the Exodus.
The account also mentions that all that happens is in accordance with what has been prophetically revealed. The first reference, indicating that the Messiah was to be called out of Egypt, is a reference to Hosea 11:1. The second reference is less clear as there is no specific Old Testament biblical reference to Nazareth. It is possibly a confusion with the term “neser.” The Old Testament texts are Isaiah 11:1, where the Davidic king of the future is called "a bud" (neser) that shall blossom from the roots of Jesse, and Judges 13:5, 7 where Samson, the future deliverer of Israel from the Philistines, is called one who shall be consecrated (a nazir) to God.
CCC: Mt 2:13-18 530; Mt 2:13 333; Mt 2:15 530; Mt 2:19 333
We continue to celebrate the early events in the life of Jesus during the Christmas season.  Today the tranquility of the birth of the Lord and the accompanying rejoicing are shattered in a dream.  A messenger from God visits Joseph in his dream (This is the second time St. Joseph receives direct guidance in this manner.  The first time was when he was reassured about taking Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:19-21).  This time the message is one of alarm.  He is told that King Herod wishes to kill Joseph’s ward and son, like the Egyptians from the time of Moses (Exodus 1:22).  He was instructed to flee to Egypt until the danger passed.
We can only imagine the alarm this caused Mary, the mother of Jesus.  There can be no doubt, however, that this devout family listened to the Lord’s instructions and immediately left the area.  We also know the threat was real.  Shortly after the Holy Family left Bethlehem, Herod’s troops descended upon the town and killed every male baby between birth and two years old.  Hosea the prophet had heard the cry of that horrible deed hundreds of years before.  Infants, who had not yet uttered a word, offered their life’s blood for the savior of the world (Hosea 11:1).
Nothing is known of the years Joseph and the Holy Family spent in Egypt while waiting for word from the angel to return.  There are tales in the Apocryphal Gospels about these early years of Jesus’ life but nothing authoritative.  What we can surmise is that these were years of great peace for Mary, Joseph, and their young son.  Their devotion to God was intense, since only one who listens carefully to God may hear with clarity the call to holiness.  Only one who intensely loved the Father would be chosen to care for the most precious gift ever given.  Only one who walked with God daily would hear the messenger who told them it was safe to return.
We rejoice today with the Holy Family, Joseph, Mary and Jesus, who is the Christ.  We rejoice for their years of peace and love, safe in Egypt.  We thank God for calling them back to Nazareth so the young Jesus would grow to manhood, and fulfill the rest of his prophesied mission to bring us salvation.  Finally we look to the perfect love expressed within the Holy Family and pray that our families may work toward that same unity.
In other years on this date: The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture used today is “The Holy Family” by Claudio Coello, ~1685