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.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

St. Joseph - The Heart of Fatherhood

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent Reflection - Jesus the Healer

Advent Reflection, Third Sunday, Dec. 11th, 2016
“I once was lost but now I’m found… was blind but now I see.”
~ Amazing Grace

Each week of Advent the readings reveal another aspect of the long-awaited Messiah. He is depicted as the Just Judge, the King of Peace, the One who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire.

Today, Jesus is described as the Healer. Isaiah promises that “the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag… the tongue of the mute will sing.” Jesus echoes those prophesies in His reply to the disciples of John the Baptist, who approach Him to ask if He is the promised Messiah: “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”

This dimension of our Savior is the one I have encountered. He is my help and salvation. So many times I have been blind to the truth, and He gently opened my eyes. I have been deaf to the needs of my brother, and His quiet whisper stirred my heart to action. How often I have stumbled along, unable to find the path to Him, and He took my hand and led me; I have been silent when I should speak out against injustice, and His Holy Spirit inspired me to begin speaking. And every day in our wonderful Church, we, the poorest of the poor, have the Good News proclaimed to us. In our Church, where Christ is present to us until the end of time, we are cleansed of sin and raised up to new life.

Jesus, the Merciful Healer, remains with us in the Sacraments, in Scripture, and in the healing hands and forgiving hearts of our brothers and sisters. Do you need healing? Turn to Him, trust in His mighty power and His merciful heart, and you will find peace, joy, and new life – even – perhaps especially – in times of suffering and hardship.

Readings, Third Sunday of Advent, December 11th, 2016
Is 35:1-6a, 10 ~ Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10 ~ Jas 5:7-10 ~ Mt 11:2-11

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent Reflection - King of Peace, King of Fire

Advent Reflection, Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 4th, 2016

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Mt. 3: 11

As the Church enters the second week of Advent, the readings are full of both promises and warnings about the coming of the long-awaited King. In the prophecy of Isaiah, we hear that this promised King will bring wisdom, understanding, justice, and peace, “and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” These gifts of the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all, “and the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.” In the second reading, Paul confirms that although Christ came first to the chosen people of Israel, even the Gentiles will seek out the King of all nations, praising and glorifying His mercy.

Finally, in the Gospel reading we hear John the Baptist warning of the wrath of the expected King, saying, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

These seem like two very different images: the King of peace contrasts sharply with the image of the King of justice with His winnowing fan in His hand. But just as both wisdom and fear are numbered among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, both are necessary. Wisdom serves to remind us of the fearful magnificence and glory of God, lest we forget that the loving and merciful Father is the King whose justice never fails. He generously gives us every help and every tender mercy, but ultimately, He calls us to respond in obedience, to grow in holiness, and to bear the fruit of our repentance in our lives.

Let us prepare our hearts for the coming of the King during this Advent season by accepting God’s loving invitation to true repentance.
Readings, Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 4th, 2016
Is 11:1-10 ~ Rom 15:4-9 ~ Mt 3:1-12


Nicholas Kristof's Birth Control Advice Hurts Women and Demeans the Poor

Photo from     My response to a New York Times article by Nicholas Kristof promoting birth control for teens was ...