Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Light of the World - Overcoming Darkness

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death, light has arisen”
Today’s readings speak about the Light of the World being extended to all peoples, not just those of Jewish heritage but also to the pagan Gentiles dwelling in “the shadow of death.” Most of us would be among this group - the non-Jewish peoples to whom the Light of Christ was made manifest. What a wonderful grace and gift to us all - no one is excluded but all are invited to live in the light. For over 2000 years, this Christian message has survived and spread throughout the world. Although Christians have faced death and persecution from the beginning, first under Rome’s pagan rulers right up until our own times when anti-Christian ideologies from atheistic Communism to radical Islam have again made Christianity the world’s most persecuted religion, the Light of Christ has never been extinguished.

But there is something destructive and dark upon our nation, a new attack against Christianity, a great evil that has often succeeded in masquerading as good. This is what John Paul II termed “The Culture of Death.” We live in a society that has accepted abortion as “health care” for 44 years and now in many places accepts physician-assisted suicide as “compassion”; a society that accepts relative truth and denies objective truth about good and evil, life and death; the society in which Christians are silenced or accused of bigotry by many loud voices in our neo-pagan culture of death and darkness. Will this dark shadow eventually succeed in extinguishing the light of Christ, where death and open persecution has failed? What can we do to bring Christ’s light to those who are now living in the shadow of death?

Let us, as Catholics, be not afraid to speak the truth with mercy and love in all the places and to all the people in our lives, and to allow the Light of Christ shine out into the world, despite the consequences. Will we be persecuted? Perhaps. Is it worth it? Completely. It’s a matter of life and death.
Readings for Jan. 22, 2017 - Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 8:23-9:3 ~ Ps 27 ~ 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 ~ Mt 4:12-23

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Becoming Children of God - The Blessing of Baptism

My daughter & her Godparents on her baptism day. 
“The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.
To those who accepted Him, He gave power to become children of God.”
 The Baptism of Jesus opened the way for all of us to be adopted as God’s own beloved children. What a blessing and a gift baptism is! This is not something I always understood, especially during my years away from the Catholic Church. But even while I was still far off, I felt there was something special and necessary about baptism.
When my daughter was born, I wanted her to be baptized but was still away from the Church. My mother-in-law invited us to her Protestant Church, and we met with the pastor to make arrangements. He asked why we wanted our child baptized, and in reply, I mentioned the cleansing of original sin. I was surprised when he responded that baptism was simply a sign of the child being welcomed into the Christian community. After a somewhat uncomfortable conversation, we did go forward with the baptism. Despite the misunderstandings, God accepted His new little daughter with joy. After her baptism, we returned home to see a huge double rainbow arched over our house.
Since then, I’ve learned that, although my daughter’s baptism was valid, the pastor’s view of baptism was mistaken. Baptism indelibly changes our very being, sanctifies us, and washes away original sin. By our baptism, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and we become the beloved children of God. The beautiful thing about infant baptism is that from the very beginning we are adopted into God’s family. Our parents and Godparents promise to guide us and teach us the Catholic faith. As we grow up, the graces and gifts of baptism remain with us, helping us to grow in our faith and eventually take responsibility for our baptismal promises.
What an incredible gift to give to your child! Parents, don’t delay; if you have questions, ask, and the Church will help you understand this beautiful Sacrament. Praise God for His mercy in becoming man, so that we, too, have the power to become children of God. 
My son and his Godparents on his baptism day.

Readings for Jan. 15th, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 49:3, 5-6 - Psalm Ps 40 - 1 Cor 1:1-3 - Jn 1:29-34


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Wise Men and Holy Innocents - The Epiphany

We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage. Mt 2:2

Today’s Gospel tells of the visit of the magi, who follow a star to find the newborn king of the Jews. These men stop in Jerusalem seeking direction from King Herod and his scribes and high priests. Herod is “greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him,” at the news of the birth of the prophesied king of the Jews. Herod’s reaction is not one of joy and amazement to realize that the ancient prophecies of his people are being fulfilled in his time. Instead, he immediately begins scheming to find and destroy this child who he sees as a threat to his power.

It is interesting to note that the whole city is troubled at this news. Does the city represent worldly power and its opposition to the radical message of Christianity? The citizens, even the chief priests and the scribes are perhaps too comfortable in their roles as leaders to be open to the message of the prophets, that one day, a little child will lead them. Do they somehow sense that such a King will ultimately ask them to discard earthly honor, power, and wealth? They cling to the power structures that they are familiar with, unable or unwilling to recognize God’s will in the events that are about to unfold.

The magi, “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,” protect the little king they have come to worship, and “depart for their country by another way.” Joseph will also heed the voice of God whispered in the night, fleeing to safety with Mary and Jesus. Sadly, Herod’s rage will soon be vented by the murder of the holy innocents.

In cities and nations of the world today, Herod’s attack on the child - God’s own image - is starkly played out in the battle between pro-life and pro-abortion forces. Our challenge is to listen to the small, still voice of God in the night: Rise up, protect the child! Let us say “yes” to life as Mary did, and protect the lives of the innocent as Joseph and the wise men did, even if it means facing the wrath of “kings” who are set on their destruction.

Readings for the Feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 8th, 2017
Is 60:1-6 ~ Ps 72 ~ Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 ~ Mt 2:1-12



Saturday, December 31, 2016

Pondering Heaven's Mysteries and Responding in Faith

“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” ~ Lk 2:19

 As the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the Gospel reading brings us back to the humble stable where, attended by shepherds, oxen, and angels, Jesus was born. Through Mary’s acceptance of God’s holy will, she brings forth God’s blessing for the whole human family.

Can you imagine being in a stable, delivering your first child alongside farm animals, visited first by a procession of rough and ragged shepherds, and later by wise men bearing gifts fit for a king? Can you imagine this young couple, Mary and Joseph, after having experienced angelic visitations and heard mysterious promises of great blessing, now finding themselves without a comfortable place for this promised child to be born? What would they have thought of it all? We know from the Gospel stories that Mary, not quite sure what it all meant, often pondered on the meaning of the divine mysteries and miracles she experienced as the Mother of God. In today’s reading, Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary and Joseph may not have known what it all meant, but they responded unfailingly with faithful hearts and trust in God.

Let us also respond in faith to God’s will in our lives, and take time this New Year to reflect ever more deeply on the birth of Jesus, pondering the mystery of God becoming man in our hearts and prayers, and asking God to reveal its meaning to us more and more each day.
Nm 6:22-27 ~ Ps 67 ~ Gal 4:4-7 ~ Lk 2:16-21



Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Small and Fragile Sign, a Humble and Quiet Sign: A Child is Born
A Child is Born

“And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
~ Lk 2:7 
"A small and fragile sign, a humble and quiet sign,
but one filled with the power of God who out of love became man."
~ John Paul II

“On this Holy Night the ancient promise is fulfilled: the time of waiting has ended... Jesus is born for a humanity searching for freedom and peace; he is born for everyone burdened by sin, in need of salvation, and yearning for hope…

On this night God answers the ceaseless cry of the peoples: Come, Lord, save us! His eternal Word of love has taken on our mortal flesh… Emmanuel, God-with-us, is born…
Mary "gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.” This is the icon of Christmas: a tiny newborn child, whom the hands of a woman wrap in poor cloths and lay in a manger. Who could imagine that this little human being is the "Son of the Most High" (Lk 1:32)? Only she, his Mother, knows the truth and guards its mystery. On this night we too can recognize in this Child the human face of God. We too… are able to encounter Christ and to gaze upon him through the eyes of Mary.
The Child… is God's sign… a sign of hope for the whole human family; a sign of peace for those suffering from conflicts of every kind; a sign of freedom for the poor and oppressed; a sign of mercy for those caught up in the vicious circle of sin; a sign of love and consolation for those who feel lonely and abandoned.
A small and fragile sign, a humble and quiet sign, but one filled with the power of God who out of love became man. 

Lord Jesus, together with the shepherds we draw near to your Crib.
We contemplate you, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger.
O Babe of Bethlehem, we adore you in silence with Mary, your ever-Virgin Mother.
To you be glory and praise for ever, Divine Savior of the World! Amen.

From the homily of St. John Paul II, Midnight Mass, Dec. 24th, 2002

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Traditions

Some Little Known Facts about Christmas

While many people assume that the dating of Christmas was based on the pagan celebration of Sol Invictus (the unconquered sun), the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th predates that celebration by over a century. The Birth of Christ has been celebrated by the Catholic (Universal) Christian Church since the early days of Christianity. The tradition may date back to the Virgin Mary, who remained with the Apostles after her Son’s death. His mother would have remembered when Jesus was born and surely shared the story of His birth, which would later be included in Luke and Matthew’s Gospels. The dating of the Christmas celebration is also confirmed by written evidence as far back as 204 AD, as Jon Sorensen writes in his article Why December 25th? on
“Although the date of Christ’s birth is not given to us in Scripture, there is documented evidence that December 25 was already of some significance to Christians prior to A.D. 354 [this is when the celebration of Sol Invictus began]. One example can be found in the writings of Hyppolytus of Rome, who explains in his Commentary on the book of Daniel (c. A.D. 204) that the Lord’s birth was believed to have occurred on that day:

For the first advent of our Lord in the flesh, when he was born in Bethlehem, was December 25th, Wednesday, while Augustus was in his forty-second year, but from Adam, five thousand and five hundred years. He suffered in the thirty-third year, March 25th, Friday, the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar, while Rufus and Roubellion were Consuls.

The reference to Adam can be understood in light of another of Hyppolytus’ writings, the Chronicon, where he explains that Jesus was born nine months after the anniversary of Creation. According to his calculations, the world was created on the vernal equinox, March 25, which would mean Jesus was born nine months later, on December 25.

Nineteenth-century liturgical scholar Louis Duchesne explains that “towards the end of the third century the custom of celebrating the birthday of Christ had spread throughout the whole Church, but that it was not observed everywhere on the same day” (Christian Worship, Its Origin and Evolution: a study of the Latin liturgy up to the time of Charlemagne, p. 260). ”

The Date of Christmas, East and West

Because some of the Eastern Churches continued to follow the Julian calendar after the rest of the Catholic Church adopted the more accurate Gregorian calendar, Christmas is celebrated on different dates in the East and the West. Some Eastern Orthodox Christians still celebrate Christmas on January 6th or 7th.

In the west, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6th. In several countries, gifts are given on the Feast of Epiphany, which is the commemoration of the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child – the “three kings” who came from afar, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts are symbolic of the role of Christ: the gold for His kingship; the frankincense for His priesthood; and the myrrh for His burial.
The Real Santa Claus

The name Santa Claus comes from the Norwegian “Sinter Claus” which means St. Nicholas. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra (now Turkey) in the 4th Century. One story told about Nicholas is that, upon learning that a poor family was about to sell its three daughters into slavery for lack of a marriage dowry, he secretly placed bags of gold through a window for the family to discover and use for a dowry. He has been named the patron saint of children. His feast is celebrated on December 6th. The tradition of secret gift-giving by St. Nicholas was later incorporated into the celebration of Christmas.