Archive for the ‘Nativity’ Category

The Holy Family and Yours

January 1, 2018

Every year, Holy Mother Church presents the Holy Family for our contemplation and imitation. Some imagine life in the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in the soft, pastel colors of a Christmas card; so holy, so flawless, so unobtainable. We wonder, “Can the Holy Family and my family really relate to one another?” At least two out of the three members of the Holy Family never sinned in their entire lives together. We, meanwhile, could jokingly refer to the Feast of the Holy Family as “Elbow-Nudge Sunday.” Throughout the world this day, wives and husbands, parents and children, take turns gently nudging one another as they listen to God’s words about marriage and family life. The Holy Family was holy, but that doesn’t mean their lives were easy or smooth.

I’ve previously written about the stresses and difficulties of the holy couple leading up to the first Christmas: about Mary’s crisis pregnancy, about Joseph grappling with his wife telling him the child within her is the Son of God and Joseph contemplating a divorce, about their giving birth to that holy child in an animal stable. And their trials together continued after Jesus’ birth.

Imagine being Mary and hearing Simeon prophesy, “Behold, this child is destined … to be a sign that will be contradicted — and you yourself a sword will pierce…” How would that make you feel about the future for you and your child? Picture being Mary as her husband awakes and says “our boy is being hunted, we need to leave tonight.” Consider Joseph, the servant-leader of his family, having to pack-up quickly and leave so much behind to take his family into hiding in Egypt. Later, an angel tells Joseph to bring his family back into Israel. So Joseph returns with Jesus and Mary, but he’s afraid to resettle in the south because the son of Herod the Great now rules Judea. With the help of another dream, Joseph decides to resettle in the north, in Nazareth of Galilee.

I mention all this because St. Joseph, the just and holy man, feared an earthly king even as he trusted God. St. Mary at the Annunciation did not know all the details of her future, but she trusted in God by saying, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Our Lord Jesus, sweating blood from stress the night before he died, trusted God to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Their holy lives were often difficult, but God always rewarded their trust, bringing about good for them in the end.

In Genesis, Abram (whose name later got changed to Abraham) was promised a son by the Lord. But the childless Abraham looks at the old age of his wife and himself and asks, ‘Will my steward, Eliezer, be my heir?‘ God answers, ‘No, not him; your own flesh and blood son shall be your heir.’ Then the Lord took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” And Abraham put his faith in the Lord.

When I first heard this story (and maybe when you heard it too) I assumed this event happened at night. But the message is even more powerful if God told him to “look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can,” during the daytime. Where do the stars go during the day? We know they’re still there, even though the Sun’s brightness the sky’s blueness prevent us from seeing them. Abraham trusted in the Lord’s unwavering goodwill towards him and beheld God’s word fulfilled in the birth of Isaac. Through that son, Abraham received glory and the whole world was blessed.

One of the things Jesus says in the Gospels more than anything else is, “Be not afraid.” Sacrifice your fears. Imagine taking those obsessive worrying thoughts from your mind, placing them upon the altar, and lighting them afire like a sacrifice of old to God. “Let the peace of Christ control your heart…” Trust that “God works all things for the good of those who love him” and then “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

God not only wants peace within us, but peace among us as well. In our homes there is always room for improvement. The household of the Holy Family may have been a sinless one, but mistakes and miscommunications surely happened. Joseph probably broke or misplaced tools. Mary probably burnt an occasional loaf of bread. From the Gospels we know they both thought they knew where their 12-year-old boy was as they left Jerusalem for home; several hours passed before they realized he was missing. Even when we deeply love one another, we must learn and practice how to love and serve each other better.

We love each other in many ways, and the best modes by which we experience love can vary from person to person. The book “The Five Love Languages” lays out five major ways that we give and receive love, namely:

Gift Giving
Acts of Service
Affectionate Touch
Words of Affirmation
Quality Time

What are your top-two love languages? Can you guess the preferred languages of your spouse and children? Sometimes we try to love others as ourselves by loving them exactly as ourselves and we unfortunately miss our mark. For example, imagine a spouse complaining, “Why don’t you let me know that you love me,” when they really mean “why don’t you get me surprises anymore” (gift giving) or “why don’t you tell me that I delight you and you’re pleased with me” (words of affirmation.) At this, their spouse might reply, “What do you mean? I’m loving you all the time,” when they’re really saying “I take care of the kids and do housework” (acts of service) and “We eat and sit in the living room together every evening” (quality time.) These two loving spouses are loving past each other.

Learn the preferred love languages of your family members, and don’t expect others read your mind, sabotaging our own happiness. Tell them how to delight you. They love you and they want to make you happy. Don’t attack and criticize (“You always this” or “You never that”) but invite them to bless you. And pray together, as a couple and a family. The Holy Family surely did and its one of the most valuable things I can recommend. Some married couples, who have shared a bed for years, have never revealed their personal prayer requests to each other. Pray together, and then even whenever frictions arise, you will remember that you are on the same team, together on the same side with God.

Your home will never be perfect – not even the Holy Family’s was perfect. Life’s circumstances will go awry, and there will be sins we have to apologize for and forgive one another. But with trust in God and a daily commitment to loving and serving each other better, you too can live in the peace and joy of the Holy Family.


Jesus Christ, the Center of History

December 25, 2017

If you had walked through the streets Bethlehem or Rome asking people on the first Christmas Eve, “What year is this,” the answers you’d hear might vary. The Sun numbers our days, the Moon tracks our months, and the seasons indicate the passage of years, but answering what year it is requires people to make reference to some shared historical event.

If you had bumped into one of the ancient world’s many sports fans on the first Christmas Eve, they might have told you that it was 3rd year of the 194th Olympiad. Once every four years, famous athletic competitions were held in Olympia, Greece. Freeborn Greek men would compete in footraces, chariot races, wrestling matches, javelin tosses, discus throws, and other events; for the honor of the Greek god Zeus, for the pride of their home city-states, and for their own personal glory. The winners received crowns or wreaths made of green olive leaves that would fade. All that remains of some of those ancient sports superstars today are their names in texts read less often today than last month’s newspapers.

If you had run into a merchant on the first Christmas Eve who used the Roman coins and roads to trade goods, he might have said that it was 752nd year since the founding of the City of Rome. Considering the wealth and influence of Rome at that time, it might have seemed like that empire would live and reign in the world without end. However, from decay within and barbarian attacks from without, much of what that empire built remains today, if at all, only as ruins for tourists.

If you had encountered someone enamored with power and celebrity on the first Christmas Eve, they might have answered that it was 42nd year of the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus. It was a census he decreed that sent Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. Early in his reign, Caesar Augustus claimed that the passage of Halley’s Comet over Rome was the spirit of his predecessor, Julius Caesar, rising into heaven. And so, since Julius Caesar had been a god, Caesar Augustus, as his heir, presumed to call himself “the son of a god.” Caesar Augustus would go on to die at age seventy-five and never be heard from again.

If you had spoken on the first Christmas Eve to someone focused on the politics and current events of the land of Israel, they might have replied that it was 38th year of the reign King Herod the Great, the King of Judea under the Romans. Herod the Great was a very controversial figure, with some Jews praising him and still more despising him: he expanded and gloriously refurbished the Temple in Jerusalem but was also a murderous tyrant, like when he ordered the deaths of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem. Because the Roman Senate had appointed him as “the King of the Jews,” and since he was not descended from King David, nobody mistook Herod for being the Christ.

On the first Christmas Eve, some two thousand and eighteen years ago, only a handful of people on earth had any clue of the world-changing significance of what was about to occur. The baby born that night was the source of the universe and the center of human history.

In the year we call 525, a new way of numbering years was introduced by a monk named Dionysius the Humble. Dionysius numbered years using this baby’s birth as the starting point, naming it “1 A.D.” A.D. stands for the Latin phrase “anno Domini / in the year of our Lord.” 1 A.D. was dubbed the first year of our Lord on earth, and this is currently the 2,017th year of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I should mention that Dionysius has reason to be humble here as well. He estimated the time of Jesus’ birth as best as he could, but he seems to have been a little bit off. The best evidence today points to Jesus being born in 2 or 3 B.C. But regardless, it is most fitting that we mark and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as the center of human history and the most important person who has ever lived.

  • Christ is the undefeated champion whose glory does not fade. Even when he seems to be down, he triumphs in overtime. (And, unlike Aaron Rodgers, “not one of his bones shall be broken.”)
  • Christ’s holy kingdom has outlasted the Romans. In fact, he conquered them peacefully by converting their hearts. And today, his kingdom extends to all lands and people through his Holy Catholic Church.
  • Christ is greater than Caesar, he is stronger than death. When Jesus died, he rose again. And now he reigns, because he is truly the Son of God.
  • Christ is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is our leader untainted by sin, who is truly wise, and cares about me and you.

Even those without any Christian faith must acknowledge Jesus’ positive influence on the world: in children treasured; in women respected; in slaves freed; in strangers welcomed; in millions and millions fed, clothed, treated, or taught, around the world and across centuries, all because of the baby born on Christmas.

A.D. does not stand for an “Arbitrary Date.” Anno Domini is no accidental demarcation of before and after. Jesus Christ merits more than our apathetic dismissal. Jesus deserves to be at the center of our years and the center of our lives. As he, this Christmas night, so humbly gives himself to you, please give yourself to him anew. He is the Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him and all the ages; to him be glory and power, through every age and forever, in you and in me. Amen.

The Ox, the Ass, & the First Manger Scene

December 20, 2017

In the year 1223 A.D., about two weeks before Christmas and three years before his death, St. Francis of Assisi shared an innovative idea with a beloved friend: “I want to do something that will recall the memory of that child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by.” With Pope Honorius III’s approval and his generous friend’s help everything was ready for Christmas Eve.

Blessed Thomas of Celano (writing just six years after) recounts the unveiling of that first manger scene, or crèche:

“With glad hearts, the men and women of that place prepared, according to their means, candles, and torches to light up that night which has illuminated all the days and years with its glittering star. Finally the holy man of God arrived and, finding everything prepared, saw it and rejoiced. … The manger is ready, hay is brought, the (live) ox and ass are led in. The brothers sing, discharging their debt of praise to the Lord, and the whole night echoes with jubilation. The holy man of God stands before the manger full of sighs, consumed by devotion, and filled with a marvelous joy. The holy man of God wears a deacon’s vestments, for he was indeed a deacon, and he sings the holy gospel with a sonorous voice. Then he preaches sweetly to the people standing about, telling them about the birth of the poor king and the little city of Bethlehem.”

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth make no mention of an ox or donkey, but St. Francis included them in his scene because the duo had so commonly appeared in Christian imagery and writings since the Early Church.

Like the crucified thieves beside Jesus’ cross, this pair of creatures beside Jesus’ crib can represent two types of people in our world. Some respond to the birth of God among us like a donkey, with a foolish, stubborn resistance. But others, like an ox, humbly take the yoke of Christ upon their shoulders, learn from him, and produce a great harvest. Some attend Christmas Mass eager to leave early and without plans to soon return, like Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper. Yet Jesus calls us to attend to him week in and week out as his faithful oxen so that we may have peace in this world: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

A 50-50 Christmas Quiz

December 22, 2016

Christmas Card  Highlight to Reveal the Answers

  1. Which archangel visited Mary?

       (((A: Gabriel)))   B: Michael

  1. In which Gospel does the archangel visit Mary?

       (((A: Luke)))    B: Matthew

  1. Who is the “Immaculate Conception?”

            A: Jesus    (((B: Mary)))

  1. Where was Jesus conceived by the Holy Spirit?

           A: Bethlehem    (((B: Nazareth)))

  1. What is grown in wombs?

           A: Christmas Trees    (((B: Babies)))

  1. Who was born first?

           A: Jesus Christ    (((B: John the Baptist)))

  1. Which Gospel has John the Baptist’s birth?

       (((A: Luke)))    B: Matthew

  1. About many years ago was Jesus born?

       (((A: 2,017 Years)))    B: 3,300 Years

  1. What is a manger?

       (((A: Feed Box)))    B: Stable

  1. Who invented crèches (or manger scenes)?

           A: St. Augustine    (((B: St. Francis of Assisi)))

  1. Which Gospel has the “Wise Men” or Magi?

            A: Luke    (((B: Matthew)))

  1. From which direction did the Magi come?

       (((A: The East)))    B: The West

  1. Who was St. Nicholas in the 4th century?

       (((A: Bishop in Turkey)))    B: Norwegian Martyr

  1. When does the Roman Catholic Church’s Christmas Season end?

       (((A: Baptism of the Lord)))    B: Epiphany

So how did you do?

The Temptations of the First Christmas

December 22, 2015

If I were a demon prowling about the world for the discouragement, confusion, and ruin of souls, how might I have tried to tempt God’s beloved ones in the year leading up to the first Christmas?

If I were a demon, I would say to St. Elizabeth, “Did people imagine that Zechariah had a vision while he was serving in the temple? He simply had a stroke and he will never speak again. You’re feeling sick every day and your abdomen is expanding. You clearly have a cancer. You will soon be dead. There is no hope.

If I were a demon, I would say to St. Mary, “You think you saw an angel? That’s crazy! You’re imagining things. Who are you to be the mother of God’s son? Who do you think you are! Don’t even bother going to visit Elizabeth. You’ll feel foolish when you arrive and see that nothing has changed. None of your family, friends, or neighbors will believe you. Joseph will divorce you and you will be all alone.

And if I were a demon, I would say to St. Joseph, “Do you really believe Mary conceived by God’s Spirit? She’s obviously lying. Even if it’s true, who are you to be a father to the Messiah? Either way, it is best for you to just get a divorce. Whatever you imagined when you married her, now you can see that you were so very wrong.

Mary & Joseph

Even with the coming of Christmas, my diabolical efforts would not cease. I would advise Bethlehem’s shepherds to steer safely-clear of the holy child and to keep to watching their flocks. I would urge the Magi to dismiss the starry signs as meaningless coincidences and not to risk a long journey. I would encourage Joseph to ignore the warning dream to take his family into Egypt and I would encourage Mary not to trust in her loving husband’s lead: “Surely, God would have told you this before telling Joseph.” Thankfully for us, none of them were prevented from doing God’s will through being tripped-up by such traps.

Some people think of temptation strictly as a prompting toward pleasurable, immoral action. But temptation can come in other forms. It can also pull us toward inaction and negative experiences like fear, doubt, sadness, and despair.

Some people assume that the saints do not know temptation like the rest of us. But did Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth live oblivious to the thoughts and unassailed by the feelings realistically described above? In truth, the saints come to understand temptation well as they discern and persevere through the trials of life.

Some people believe that God loves and watches over a few favored saints while having less concern for the rest of us. But this is also a temptation. Even if our life takes a shocking turn and we don’t know what to do, even if we have a stroke, or cancer, or our mind begins to fail, even if we seem betrayed or abandoned by everyone, each and all of us are his dearly beloved ones. (And we shouldn’t listen to anyone telling us otherwise, even if they speak to us in our own voice.)

Their First Christmas — Christmas Mass at Midnight

December 27, 2010

Christmas can be a hard time of year for a lot of people. Despite the pious, peaceful, and nostalgic scenes we see on the Christmas cards (like the one on the right,) many peoples’ Christmases are less than picture perfect. Today I would like to tell you the true story of two friends of mine, newlyweds whose first Christmas together was far from idyllic. (I’ll call them Chuck and Sue, though that’s not their real names.)  

In fact, Chuck and Sue’s first year together had been a rocky road. Chuck has always been a good and faithful man, but at one point in the beginning, he seriously thought about getting a divorce. He says that it was only by the grace of God that the serious tensions and misunderstandings between them were resolved and their marriage was saved.

After they tied the knot, the two picked-up and moved away from their closest family and friends to a small town down south where they had some distant relatives. Chuck worked hard as a blue-collar laborer, but after this transition, he found himself unemployed. And unfortunately, all of those distant relatives proved too distant to care about helping-out a struggling young couple in need. Their first Christmas together, Chuck and Sue were out of work, pregnant, and homeless.

How do you think Sue must have felt? Do you think she felt concerned about their circumstances and their family’s future? And how do you think Chuck must have felt when through no fault of his own he wasn’t able to provide better for his wife and child on the way? Had it not been for their deep faith in God and the consolation of their prayers, they would have been overcome by darkness, resentment, fear, and despair. But instead, their first Christmas together was the brightest and most joyful in history. You know Chuck and Sue’s story well, for theirs is the Christmas story. Chuck’s real name is Joseph and Sue’s real name is Mary.

Remember, the Christmas story is not a fairy tale from far, far away. It’s a real story in the real world, and for the real world. Our lives still have difficulties, but Jesus Christ has come, and that makes all the difference in the world. No matter what we’re going through, because of Christmas, we all have good reason to be merry.

And in closing, let me say one final word: I’m always pleased by how full the church is at Christmas. Please come back. Jesus Christ calls you back. He knows our world well and He knows how much you and those you love need His grace to get through it. The shepherds were called to find Jesus in a feed trough. Jesus invites you to find Him here.

The Joyful Mysteries, Meditations with the Saints

October 28, 2010

The 1st Joyful Mystery: 
The Annunciation

The Blessed Virgin Mary may have been just 13 years old when the angel Gabriel announced to her that she would give birth to Jesus. She shows us that even if you are young, God can still do big things with you, if you say “Yes” to Him.

On May 13, 1917, three Portuguese children were praying the rosary after lunch in a field on a clear blue day.  The eldest was Lucia, age 10, and she was with her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta, ages eight and seven. Suddenly, they saw two bright flashes. They looked up and saw “a lady, clothed in white, brighter than the sun…” The Lady smiled and said, “Do not be afraid, I will not harm you.” Lucia asked her where she came from. The Lady pointed to the sky and said, “I come from heaven.” Lucia asked what she wanted. The Lady said, “I have come to ask you to come here for six months on the 13th day of the month, at this same hour.”

On July 13, the incredibly beautiful Lady appeared again. Lucia asked her who she was, and for a miracle so everyone would believe. The Lady answered, “Continue to come here every month. In October, I will tell you who I am and what I want, and I will perform a miracle for all to see and believe.” Then she taught them this prayer: “Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of Thy Mercy.”

At noon, on October 13, 1917, some 70,000 people were gathered in the field. With a flash of light, the Lady appeared to the children and declared, “I am the Lady of the Rosary.” Some spectators cried out and the crowd turned their eyes upward to the cloudless sky, and they gazed on the sun without the least discomfort.  They saw it tremble and danced in a miraculous way.

Mary, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta teach us this lesson: Even if you are young, God can do big things with you, if you say “Yes” to Him. Let us pray that we would be open to doing God’s will every day.

The 2nd Joyful Mystery:
The Visitation

“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” (Luke 1)

Imagine how St. Elizabeth must have felt to have Mary, Mother of God, walk in through her door. Elizabeth could not see the tiny Jesus, a fetus in Mary’s womb, but she was convinced that He was hidden there. How would you treat someone if you knew that Jesus was hidden inside of them?

Blessed Mother Theresa cared for the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta, India. Despite years of strenuous physical, emotional and spiritual work, Mother Teresa seemed unstoppable. Though frail and bent, with numerous health problems, she always returned to her work, to those who received her compassionate care for more than 50 years. How did she do it? She could do it because she encountered her beloved Christ both in times of prayer and in the people she cared for. Mother Teresa remembered Jesus’ words, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Mother Teresa loved others as if they were the Lord Himself.

Blessed Mother Teresa and St. Elizabeth teach us this lesson: Jesus is present in your classmates here at school, so you should always be welcoming and loving toward them. Let us pray for the grace to love others in this way.

The 3rd Joyful Mystery:
The Nativity

In his youth, Francis had been quite rich, the son of a wealthy merchant, yet he sensed that there was more to life. He put his former life behind him and devoted himself to following Christ. One day, at Mass, the Gospel told of how Christ’s disciples were to possess neither gold nor silver, nor traveling items, but were to exhort sinners to repentance and announce the Kingdom of God. Francis took these words as if spoken directly to himself, and as soon as Mass was over he threw away what little he had and went forth at once, exhorting the people of the country-side to penance, brotherly love, and peace. He was poor, but clearly happy, and others were attracted to join his movement. By the time of his death, hundreds had joined his religious order. On October 3, 1226, St. Francis died a penniless, but happy man. 

St. Francis of Assisi loved Christmas.  In fact, one story tells of how he petitioned the Holy Roman Emperor to make an edict that grain and bread should be provided to birds, beasts, and the poor this day, so that all God’s creatures would have occasion to rejoice in the Lord. St. Francis also invented the Christmas tradition of making a model of the nativity scene. These nativity scenes, called Crèches, remind us that even though Christ was rich in Heaven, he became poor when he was born on earth in a barn. Yet, Jesus was a happy man, despite his poverty.

Jesus and St. Francis teach us this lesson: You do not need to be wealthy in order to be happy. Let us pray that we may be content and happy with the riches that we have.

The 4th Joyful Mystery: 
The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

In the year that Jesus was born, “there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout” and he longed to see the Messiah who would save God people. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would indeed see the Christ before he died and Simeon trusted and hoped in that promise.

One day, the Spirit inspired him to come into the temple. When he say Mary and Joseph carrying in the baby Jesus to offer a sacrifice for Him, Simeon “took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.’” (Luke 2)

What are the promises the Lord has made to us?  Do we trust and hope in these promises? Simeon teaches us this lesson: That we ought to trust and hope in the Lord’s promises, for all of them will be fulfilled in the sight of all someday.

The 5th Joyful Mystery:
The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

This is a true story, the story of a Catholic mother of three whose oldest son joined an anti-Catholic religious cult. It started him down a path of sinful pride and many sensual sins. It broke her heart and for years she prayed tearful prayers for his conversion.

She even asked the bishop to intervene in winning over her son. He counseled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” When she persisted in asking, the bishop (perhaps busy with many other things) famously reassured her: “Go now, I beg you; it is impossible that the son of so many tears should perish.”

That mother was St. Monica, and that son of hers, who was lost and found, was the great St. Augustine. Sts. Monica and Augustine teach us this lesson: that your persistent prayer can help people to find Christ. Let us pray for someone that we know, that he or she may be drawn closer to Jesus Christ.

On Fatima
On St. Francis
On Blessed Mother Teresa

Luke’s Source — January 1 — Mary the Mother of God

January 1, 2010

Have you ever wondered how it is that Luke the Gospel writer knows the stuff he’s telling us? For instance, he wasn’t present at the Annunciation to take down notes.  Only Mary and the Archangel Gabriel were there. And in today’s Gospel, after the shepherds visit, it says, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Now how does Luke know what Mary was thinking? Who could know something like that besides Mary herself?

Now I suppose the Holy Spirit could have directly infused the knowledge of these things into him, but that’s probably not what has happened here. Luke probably learned of these details in the most natural and human way; by being told about them, first or second-hand, by people who knew. Luke begins his Gospel by saying that his narrative of events is composed from what “those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed … down to us.”

But there is only one person who could have been the original source for many of Luke’s details, and that is Mary herself. In fact, some call the beginning chapters of the Gospel of Luke “the Memoirs of Mary.” Perhaps Luke heard of these details from Mary’s very own lips and took them all to heart.  Then later, knowing these things by heart, committed them to writing.

And so we do know something today of what was going on inside of Mary in those early days, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And some years later, upon finding Jesus in the temple, Luke reports that Mary and Joseph did not understand what their boy when said to them, but “his mother kept all these things in her heart.” In this there is a lesson for us to discover through Mary, a lesson that is particularly applicable for us this New Year’s [Eve/Day].

In her life, Mary knew some important aspects of God the Father’s plan, but there was always a great deal about which she did not know. She knew that her Son was messiah, savior, and Lord, but his future, and hers, remained largely a mystery. Perhaps Mary wondered, as we often wonder when faced with evils and obstacles, “How can this be, Lord?  How will your promises be fulfilled despite this?”  Yet through it all, Mary firmly trusted that the Lord was with her, and we should do the same.

What does the new year ahead hold for each of us? Like Mary, we do not know, yet Mary shows us that we do not have to know.  We do not have to fully know our future to be able to do great things for God and to be richly blessed by Him. We do not need to know our future for the Almighty to do great things for us.

In the year ahead, may the Lord bless you and keep you, as He did the Virgin Mary.

May the Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you, as He did for Mary through Jesus’ infant face.

And may the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace, a peace like that which Mary always kept with her Son, Jesus the Christ.

Treasure the Gift — Christmas Mass at Midnight

December 26, 2009

It’s Christmas, and today we hear one of the most familiar passages in the Gospel, the nativity scene in Bethlehem.  Is there anything that we can learn out of such a familiar text?  Yes, very much indeed. For example, have you ever wondered: what are swaddling clothes anyways?  ‘Mary wrapped her Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.’

When I was young I thought swaddling clothes were just dirty pajamas, but in fact swaddling refers to an ancient custom. They would use tightly bound cloths to wrap-in an infants’ arms and legs to their bodies (they thought this was important for promoting proper posture.) This practice was called “swaddling.” Was it cruel to confine the babies like this? No, the babies liked this. It reminded them of their many months, warm and snug, within their mothers’ wombs. Another thing I’ve learned since the time I was a kid was what a manger really was.  A manger is not a stable. It’s a feeding trough.  Mary wrapped Jesus up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a feeding trough.

Even if you knew all that stuff before, there remains the question of why St. Luke included these details in his Gospel. Why is it important?  Not only does it show the poverty and humility of the Christ, it also points to Jesus’ future. This is not the last time that His mother would wrap Him in tight cloths and lay His body down. And baby Jesus is laid in a feeding trough because when He is grown He will say to His disciples, as you will her Him say to you here, “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you.” The swaddling cloths point to Jesus burial cloth, and laying in the manger points to His Eucharist, where which He offers us His whole self, His body, blood, soul, and divinity as food.

So you see, whether we are a talking about the Sacred Scriptures, prayer, the sacraments, the teachings of Christ’s Bride (our Mother, the Church,)  our Catholic faith is not a half-cut orange whose richness you can drain out with one or two squeezes and then toss away. A lifetime of discovery will not exhaust what all that our Catholic Faith contains.

When I was a kid I might have looked at this manger scene and though that some people were missing.  “Where are the Magi, the wise men (or astrologers) from the East?”  They’re over there, hiding among the poinsettias. Maybe they are journeying through the forests, or maybe they haven’t even left home yet, but one thing we do know is that they were not there on Christmas night.  When they arrive in Jerusalem they ask King Herod, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” Days, weeks, or even months have passed since Christmas, and when they do arrive in Bethlehem they do not find Jesus, Mary and Joseph living in a stable or a cave, but in a house.

So who was there that first Christmas night? The shepherds were there. The angel said to them in the fields, ‘I declare to you news of great joy! A savior who is Christ and Lord is born for you in Bethlehem.  You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The shepherds look at each other and say, “Hey, we’ve gotta check this out.” Who wouldn’t turn out for that first Christmas after an angelic invitation like that?

The shepherds came to the stable and find the infant Christ just as the angel described. From there, Luke’s Gospel says, they returned rejoicing and spread the word about what had happened to all. The shepherds probably knew everybody from Bethlehem, since they were locals (“from that region”) and within walking distance from the stable.

Yet there is a question which I would like us to consider, a question which the Gospels do not answer, and it is this: After that first Christmas, did the shepherds ever come back to visit the Holy Family again? I doubt you could find two people more friendly and welcoming than Joseph and Mary, so I sure that any guest was welcome in their home, but did the shepherds ever take the opportunity to visit them again? The Magi had to travel hundreds of miles just to see Jesus once, but the shepherds were only a short distance away. 

Did the shepherds ever get to know Mary and Joseph better, these two holy saints of God? Did they ever take time come back to adore Jesus, to consider what the birth of this Child meant for their lives, and to praise and thank God for all the blessings they had received? If they had merely spent a single hour each week in the Christ child’s presence, imagine what difference it would have made for their relationships, their work, and their lives in general? We don’t know whether the shepherds ever came back again after that first Christmas, but if they didn’t, then they were foolish and they really missed out.

This Christmas Jesus Christ invites you come back and see Him again, to visit this house of Joseph and Mary, where He is always present to be adored. He wants to bless you through His saints, His teachings, His sacraments, and His Real Presence here, the whole year round. You may be receiving many gifts this Christmas, but make sure that you do not return this one.

3rd Sunday of Advent—Year C

December 14, 2009

Advent is a season for penance and conversion, for the confession of sins and the changing of lives, but this Sunday of Advent reminds us that it is also time for joy. Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, a name which comes from the Latin command “rejoice!” This command is heard from St. Paul in today’s second reading:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!”

But is it that why do we need to be reminded, even commanded, to rejoice? Why are we not a people of constant joy and peace, even though we have great reason to be? I think it is because our hearts and minds give in to fear.

God is near, but when we give in to fear we do not trust that He really cares about us and really provides for us. In fear we become anxious about our future. In our fear we feel too stressed-out to be thankful. And in fear we forget or refuse to pray. St. Paul seems to have realized all this, that may be why he followed his command to rejoice with these words, words that it would do a lifetime of good to know by heart:

“The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Today I would like to share with you a true story about two friends of mine who had every seeming reason to afraid, but who kept God’s peace. Let’s call them Andrew and Christi. I have changed their names to conceal their identities, but I know they wouldn’t mind me sharing with you their story because it can teach us all a lot.

To say my friends had a difficult first year of marriage would be to understate it. Andrew, a hard-working man with rough hands and a good heart, became afraid that marrying Christi had been a mistake and he seriously considered getting a divorce. Christi, a beautiful woman inside and out, prayed fervently to God, for both Andrew and herself. She honestly did not know how God would provide for her, but God gave her a peace that surpassed her limited understanding of His plans. Then, as Andrew tells it, God intervened, giving him a sign that this marriage was indeed His will and that Andrew should not be afraid. This divine reassurance strengthened Andrew and he resolved to remain faithfully at Christi’s side no matter what.

A few months later, forces beyond their control forced Andrew and Christi to leave their hometown, away from all their family and friends, and to move down south to a town where Andrew had some distant relatives. But, once they got down there, all of these relatives proved to be too distant or too busy to care enough to lend this vulnerable couple a hand. Their first Advent season together, Andrew and Christi were jobless, homeless, and with child.

It would have been so easy for them to give in to despair that first Christmas Eve, for Andrew to feel like he had failed his wife as a husband, or for Christi to feel anxious and afraid about their future as a family. Yet, Andrew and Christi trusted that the Lord was near. They would pray together as a couple, and gain courage and strength, peace and even joy through their prayers.

Indeed the Lord was near them, through it all, and their first Christmas together turned out to be was the brightest and the most joyful that they, or the world, had ever seen. As I said, this is the true story of two friends of mine, but they’re also friends of yours and you knew their story even before I told it to you today. For Andrew’s real name is St. Joseph and Christi’s real name is St. Mary.

Today we rightly call them saints, not because they lived in a world free from difficulties, an imaginary world different from our own. Joseph and Mary are saints because they knew and practiced how to live in this world well; with joy, kindness, prayer, thanksgiving, and peace. And so brothers and sisters:

Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again:  rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all,
but in everything,
by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God
that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.