Christmas Day (Year B) – Christmas during the day readings…

When my children were small, they would say something at some point on Christmas day that I recall saying each Christmas when I was a little child myself; I wish it was Christmas every day…of course, at the time, my motivation was a little different, thinking of presents and lights and Christmas dinner….and I remember my parents telling me that if it was Christmas every day, then Christmas wouldn’t be special…that if it was an every day thing, it would become boring and routine….

In the mid 1990’s I served a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, in the former Yugoslavia, and was away from my family for six months. My wife Kathi shared with me, how for several weeks after my departure, whenever she would ask one of our children to help set the table for a meal, they always set one place too many…a place for me, as if I was still there. They got used to this difference over time though, and when I returned, for several weeks after, whenever one of them was asked to set the table, they set one place too few. The routine had become ordinary for them; unless we reminded them of my absence or return in an extraordinary way by telling them directly how many places to set, they continued with the new routine. I think we have all had experiences where we are so used to having things done a certain way, a routine, or having certain people around us, that we don’t quite appreciate them as much as we should perhaps, until they are no longer present to us. Having family return for visits, particularly at this time of year, reminds us of how much we enjoy their company and miss that company when they return to their own homes or schools or jobs.

Sometimes we need the extraordinary event to remind us of the wonderful things we have in our ordinary lives. So it is too during the time of Advent leading up to Christmas. Over the last four weeks we have heard passages of sacred scripture talking about the ‘old routine’ of humanity, of the chosen people, of Israel waiting for the Messiah – with terms like ‘stay awake’ or ‘living in darkness’ as if the ‘old routine’ was one of disconnect or ignorance of God…

Today we hear from the Gospel of St. John, the words of the gospel’s prologue; In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being’

Here we have God with us through all of our short history, and despite speaking directly through His prophets and His inspired Word, His chosen people – all of humanity really, got so used to Him being in the background, that they completely forgot about Him….that He was always present to them…….and so in the fullness of time, God directly intervenes again in human history, and is born among us, in the person of Jesus, as a baby in a manger at Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, or as this Gospel says,

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory”

An extraordinary event to be sure…..but then aside from the shepherds that the angels announced the birth to in St. Luke’s Gospel, or the wise men who followed the star in St. Matthew’s Gospel, the birth of this child seems to have been largely ignored by everyone else…in their midst, a very ordinary event, and everyone in Palestine went about their day-to-day business.

The fact that the gospels tell us nothing of Jesus childhood and young adulthood, points to the ordinary-ness of His early life on earth – He lived in a home, with his family, learned his step-father’s trade, was obedient to his parents, made a living…His presence in the ordinary that would not be noticed unless people looked more closely at this child from Nazareth. In much the same way, we too, can go about our lives, our ordinary day-to-day existence without seeing Christ’s presence among us, unless we take the time to look more closely for Him in the events and people that surround us.

Why should we want to? Well, it speaks again to our understanding that from the very moment of our existence, our souls instinctively know that we are drawn to God, to the good, and that we can never be completely or truly happy until we are reunited with Him; and that was the whole reason for Christ being born among us as one of us; that in the person of Jesus, the Son, God was not content to sit in the background and wait for us to accomplish something we could never accomplish on our own; to return to union with Him; the Word who waited from the beginning, would no longer wait, but was born as one of us; into our ordinary existence in an extraordinary way.

We have spent weeks preparing for this day in a number of ways, as various and unique as people gathered here. For some it has been hectic, stressful – for others, a chance to consider faith and family – for still others a time to reflect over past joys or sorrows; yet in all these, the idea of preparing for the coming of the Lord, for Christmas, has been a part of our ‘routine’ now both in the sacred and secular worlds.

It is important for us, though, to remember that the acceptance of Christ coming among us as one of us, is not the end of a journey, or the culmination of all this preparation; really, it is a new beginning – a chance to renew our acquaintance with God in our midst in the person of Jesus Christ; a chance for a daily fresh start in the company and presence of this child of Bethlehem; today could be a start for some, a renewal for others; of considering our prayer lives, of receiving Christ in the Sacraments; of participating in the life of the Church. In January we will begin a program called Catholics Returning Home, and there will be further details of that in the bulletin.

We can either let Christ fade again into the background, as humans have done for centuries, or we can all use today as another start to bring Christ back into the foreground in our lives; to not let the fact that ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen His glory,” become something we take for granted to the point of ignoring it, but something we celebrate and rejoice in and look to as a tremendous gift and source of joy that is given to each of us from God. It was St. Iranaeus who said; “The Word of God, Jesus Christ, because of His great love for us, became what we are, so that we may become what He is.” And just what is that? That is becoming a child of God, completely united with Him in all things, entering into His glory.

And as children, when we say I wish it was Christmas every day; when we seek and find Christ our Lord each day in our own homes, or relationships, or workplaces or schools, then we really have kept Christmas alive every day throughout the year. It is on this wonderful feast that we recall that extraordinary entry of God into our humanity – that we look to this extraordinary event to remind us that He is ever present with us, in our ordinary lives; that this extraordinary event becomes our ‘new’ ‘routine’. And it is in this new routine, that we will not forget to include Him, that we will remember to set a place for Him at the table of our hearts.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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Baptism of the Lord (Year A)

Today’s feast day, the Baptism of Our Lord, marks the end of the liturgical season of Christmas for the Church; and with the end of that season, comes the opportunity to pause, catch our breath and reflect – we might consider all of the events and activities we were involved in and make our list of possible ‘improvements’ for next year.  Those events that we organized or led; trying to make sure no one was disappointed or left out – in short, trying to please everyone.  But really how successful were we in pleasing everyone, all the time?  How successful are we in pleasing everyone at any time?

In today’s Gospel, we have a rare moment- after Jesus is Baptized and the Holy Spirit settles on Him, marking the start of his public ministry, God speaks:” This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  This is one of only several times in the entire Bible where we have the three persons of the Holy Trinity gathered in one place at one time for all to experience; have you ever used the phrase, ‘as God is my witness’ to emphasize the truthfulness of something?  Well here we have a very public demonstration where God is indeed the witness – the witness to who Jesus really is;

But it is also a testimony to the delight and joy God holds for His Son; and by extension – us; and that in fact God does take pleasure in our love for Him.  Listen to the language of our first reading today – in Isaiah, hundreds of years before Jesus was born, we hear, God speak through His prophet, “my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen in whom my soul delights.’

What does it mean to please God?

When we open our hearts and open ourselves to receive God’s grace and His love, we receive that love and grace as a free gift.  And when we are truly mindful of God and come to any realization of the depth of His love for us, then our natural, human reaction is to want to please Him…is it really any different when as children, and we looked up to those who cared for us – have we not all had the experience of a desire to please someone?  Not because we expect some type of reward or gain from pleasing them, but because we care so much for them, we simply want to somehow return that sense of love and gratitude because we can.

We don’t receive the gift of God’s love because we please Him or do something special.  We please God and turn our lives towards Him because we have already received and accepted the gift of His Love- the gift of eternity with Him.  We enter into God’s family through our own Baptism -entering into the death and resurrection of Jesus- the free gift of salvation from God – the sharing of His divine nature.

And how do we please God?  By living as he intended; not for ourselves, but for Him, and for others. Here is the great paradox – in the Church we are one body; the Body of Christ; and when we live for God and others, we find life for ourselves. Our actions speak the intention of our hearts.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, put it very well; despite intense spiritual and physical suffering among the poor in India, she focused on doing one thing only – pleasing God;  she once said of her self “I am only a pencil in the hand of God.”

If we can focus on our relationship with God – then everything else falls into place – our relationships with family, friends, co-workers; in fact our relationship with the world around us will flow from our relationship with God, when we focus on God and others.  Even God doesn’t focus solely upon Himself – it pleases God to be focused on us. From the moment that our first parents separated the rest of the human race from God, He has been focused on us – outside of time and space, for all eternity, He remains focused on us, calling us back to Himself.  It is our return to God that pleases God the most.

Can we please everyone else around us? In a society that promotes material gain above everything else; in a world where self interest or self gratification is proclaimed as the only true measure of right and wrong; in an age where people are a means to an end – to be used or discarded depending on the desires or wants of the strong or powerful; will dedicated Christians be able to please everybody?

That’s highly doubtful – but it might help to remind ourselves that Jesus didn’t please everybody either. Think of the rich young man who walked away disappointed, or the money lenders in the Temple – or the religious leaders who had Him arrested and ultimately executed.

The Truth of God’s love and the Kingdom won’t please anybody who is intent on turning away from it; who desires to remain focused only upon themselves and their own interests.  And it is a relief for us when we recognize that we don’t have to please everyone…we only need to please God, who loves us all deeply and unconditionally.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

 

Epiphany (Year A)

Every few years, it seems we have an announcement in the news that one group or another has put forward another theory or ‘identification’ of the ‘Star of Bethlehem’.  Most often these announcements come just before Christmas, or around the feast of the Epiphany, the feast we celebrate today.

These theories range from the ‘best’ scientific suggestions, to the most outlandish of ideas – a conjunction of several planets perhaps, or a supernova – an exploding star – even to thoughts of alien spacecraft.

Most of these theories are put forward for one of two reasons: to disprove the miraculous nature of the story of the Nativity of Jesus – or to nail down historical physical proof to support or discount the accounts of Jesus’ infancy as recorded in the gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew.

But this determination to physically or scientifically prove or disprove the historicity of the particulars of this Gospel passage, is really nothing more than an attempt to satisfy curiosity.  Certainly it’s fun to wonder at what the ‘star’ really was, or whether there were more than three wise men, or exactly where they came from – but this really is far and away extremely secondary to the point of the feast of the Epiphany.

In this event recorded by St. Matthew, we have an account of the revealing to the Gentiles or the discovery by the Gentiles, of the Christ child.  We have an indication from St. Matthew’s writing that the Messiah, the instrument of God’s salvation, has come for all people – not just the children of Israel.  These foreigners, these visitors from outside Israel – are the first to come to worship Jesus, even before his own people have understood the prophecies pointing to his birth.

They are drawn by light; by the light of a star.  And when the star stops ‘moving’ and they discover where it is, they discover Jesus – and rather than congratulating themselves on following this star or celebrating a scientific discovery, the Gospel tells us the paid the child ‘homage’ – they worshipped Him.  They didn’t pay homage to the star or to the light of the star; they paid homage to Jesus.

Their science and understanding was useful to them, but it only brought them to a certain point in this invitation to relationship from God; at some point, the Truth of faith spoke to their hearts, and they worshipped Christ.

They discovered with eyes of faith, what their eyes of reason had brought them to.  They were drawn by the light – and the light led them to Jesus.

The feast of the Epiphany, of the revealing of Christ; of the ‘discovery’ of Christ is something that doesn’t need to be isolated to a historical event.  It is something that we are each called to live out as Christians every day.  Just as the light of a star drew ‘foreigners’ or ‘strangers’ to Christ, so too, the light of our lives in Christ should draw others to Him. We don’t live lives of virtue to attract others to us – we do it to share our love of God and to invite others into that loving relationship.  It doesn’t have to be flashy or big or spectacular; but it has to be authentic; it has to be real and genuine.

We are called to be living ‘stars’ if you will; spreading the light of  Christ through  lived virtue; when we live the virtues of faith, of hope, of charity – humility, prudence, self-control, perseverance – these qualities attract others; they draw others –not to us – but to the author of these virtues: to God.

He truly is present, in our midst; and we are invited to be a reflection of that reality; to discover Him ourselves, and reveal Him to others through our lives.  It doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking or enterprise – it doesn’t have to involve a superhuman effort; but it is doing something great for God – imagine, each of us is invited to actually play a part in salvation history, the plan that God set in motion from the moment our first parents separated themselves from God.  What an incredible opportunity and gift God is holding out to us.  And that authentically lived gratitude can’t help but attract others;

St. Augustine probably said this best when he wrote, “One loving soul sets another on fire.”

to be the light of Christ and invite the stranger into our midst; to invite them to come and adore Christ as the magi did.

When we do this, particularly in His Church and His Sacraments, we can do so with joy and the wonder of that Epiphany – of that discovery that we know with our minds and can feel in the depths of our hearts…that Christ, His Church and His Sacraments are wonders and miracles and glories that we are given and can approach and can share, each and every day of our lives.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

 

Holy Family

On this feast of the Holy Family, in our Gospel passage from St. Matthew, we hear how an angel told Joseph in a dream to get up and take the ‘child and His mother to Egypt’, because King Herod was seeking to destroy this new born King.  Perhaps we have come to romanticize the story of the Nativity of Our Lord so much, that we have taken much of the blunt reality out of the ‘Christmas story’.  We have so dressed it up with Kincaid-esque imagery and softened it to make it less alarming, that we often miss the harshness in the way this ‘story’ is played out in first-century Palestine, and the Middle East.  

This was not a case of Joseph responding to a cell phone call or ‘page’ in the night, bundling the family in the car and driving a couple of hours to the border.  Joseph’s immediate response to this message of urgency from the angel of the Lord should give us a more clear understanding of what is ultimately expected of each of us;  Joseph must wake them, gather what they can carry – which would not only include clothing, but food and perhaps cooking implements as well – and leave everything else behind.  Whatever they have accumulated in their modest home at that point has to be abandoned.  Whatever projects Joseph may perhaps be working on as a carpenter, or whatever clothing or fabric Mary may have been weaving for her little family – all of it has to be left right then and there.

It’s not as if the angel suggests they move over from the area outside of Jerusalem, perhaps to an hour or two away; they were traveling on foot, perhaps with a beast of burden like a small donkey – but it wasn’t as if they could race along great distances, covering a lot of territory in a short time.  The angel was quite specific; God wanted Joseph to take them to Egypt!  This journey, on foot, would have taken weeks, and was not a simple stroll down a flat garden path.  There were mountains and hills to climb, craggy and rocky roads to travel. 

But Joseph does it all, caring for and protecting his little family to the best of his ability; and why?  Because he knows the child ‘was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary’.  He knows that protecting Jesus is the most important role that he could ever have been granted by God; the long-awaited Messiah, the promised One of God, the central figure of all of salvation history has been entrusted to his care for the time being. 

And Joseph, trusting in God’s providence and promise, embarks on this difficult and long journey.  No complaint, protest or argument is recorded for us – only a faithful response.

As people of faith, we too are called upon sometimes to defend and protect our King; we may have to explain our faith to others, or clarify the Church’s teaching on matters of social justice, or be bringers of peace in areas of conflict in our own homes.  We have all been granted a precious, precious treasure in being given a role in carrying the Christ-child into our own world.  It is not simply a position of honour – it is a position of trust.  We are entrusted with not only carrying Him into the world, but protecting that treasure.

 We do that through participation in the life of the Church; partaking of the Sacraments; spending time in prayer and reflection; feeding the poor and caring for the neglected and marginalized.

Often that is a difficult road to travel – especially in a world that is increasingly hostile to that faith; but it is road that in truth we must travel, in all its harshness and stark reality.

Because that is the road that our Saviour traveled, even as a little child, carried along in trust by his foster-father.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Baptism of Our Lord

There is something that has pretty much become a tradition this time of year for me; it’s a time when I can pay a bit closer attention to things around my own home, and put some effort into fixing up parts of the house or renovating.  There’s something about stripping a room down to its bare walls, and considering how it doesn’t look particularly special, or how it doesn’t reflect the image or taste of the occupants of that room.  It looks very plain, very ordinary.  But even in the plain and ordinary, it has potential. When we start to apply our own ideas to that room –paint colours or fixtures- it starts to reflect its occupant’s personality. It becomes much more than it appeared to be when it was plain and bland, and just like every other room in the house.  It becomes distinct, unique; special.

Today’s Gospel passage is all about potential.  As we celebrate the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, this  year we read St. Luke’s account of this very public meeting between St. John the Baptist and Jesus.  St. John at this point in his ministry has followers; but he has already stated he is not the Messiah.  And then Jesus enters into this scene, mingling with the rest of the crowd at the Jordan – apparently un-noticed, blending in amongst the rest of the people, very ordinary, very plain.

But after this baptism, to those who read and hear and believe, it becomes very clear who Jesus is; He is not someone very ordinary, very plain – He is the Son of God, the Beloved; and this is one of those rare scenes in the Gospels, where we have all Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, apparent and visible as three distinct persons; the voice of the Father, the physical presence of the Son, and the movement of the Holy Spirit. The incredible, unlimited potential of what appeared to be something very ordinary is opened up and unlocked for those who are open to seeing and hearing and believing.

It is important that we look for a moment at something that sometimes causes confusion when we consider Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by his cousin John.

We understand in the Sacrament of Baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and original sin is wiped away; but the question is often asked, “why would Jesus need Baptism to wipe away original sin?”

It’s important to realize the baptism by John was not the same as the Sacrament of Baptism the Church received from Jesus- where we become adopted children of God; John’s baptism of people was symbolic, not sacramental; as he said himself, he baptized with water, not with the Holy Spirit.

The people who came to John were accepting a baptism of repentance; repentance really means desiring to come closer to God, recognizing that as human beings, we are separated from God.  This was a public statement.  Those attending had water poured over their heads as a public sign of that desire to wash away their earthly attachments (whether that be harmful relationships, material wealth, power, or sin) and to dedicate themselves to growing closer to God.

In this passage from St. Luke, it says “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,” it was then that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him!  St. Luke is identifying Jesus with the rest of the crowd up to this moment.  Jesus is ‘one of us’, unrecognizable by anyone else as something special, until in prayer, when the Spirit descends upon Him and the Father’s voice singles Him out ‘the Beloved’ .

In accepting this baptism from John, Jesus is telling us that he has fully entered into our humanity- our physical separation from God; that in his humanity, He is just like us – he desires to be closer to the Father; and in his humanity, he will set the example of emptying Himself for others; taking all our sin, through His divinity, upon himself; carrying it all the way to the Cross; to bridge that divide for us; a divide that separates us from God- a divide that we made. God does all the work, in the person of Jesus – and we receive the rewards.

How could we not respond in love to that?  How could we not want to desire to move more deeply into relationship with God, who goes to that extent for us?  How could we not be open to seeing that same gift is offered to every person in our parish, our community, our planet?

Today’s Gospel reminds us of the tremendous potential that each one of us possesses; that as Jesus identified with us in our humanity, we can now begin to identify with Him in His divinity, becoming adopted children of God through our own Baptism; and because of this, God says to each one of us; “you are my son…you are my daughter…you are my child, my beloved – with whom I am well pleased”  It’s an invitation; to live out that potential ourselves, and to recognize that potential in each other.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Epiphany

Quite often we don’t see or stop recognizing great things in our own midst; it happens time and again in our Church; but it also happens in our communities or workplaces, even in our own homes and families….we expect that greatness comes from somewhere outside, and that which is within while, a ‘good effort’ is not something that we see as ‘great’ or ‘earth shaking’ because perhaps we’re too close to it to recognize the effect it has on others.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany; the occasion recorded for us in the Gospel of St. Matthew, when magi, or wise men, from foreign lands, traveled to Bethlehem – they were following a star which had appeared, and which, to their science and learning and wisdom of the time, would indicate something of tremendous importance to the entire world – most likely the birth of a great King, or someone even greater.  The Magi, scholars tell us, most likely traveled from Persia, which is modern day Iraq, and were learned men.  They were possibly of great importance, as the Gospel records they had a private audience with King Herod; not something ordinary ‘scientists’ would have been invited to.  In their culture and time they were well educated, and were drawn by their knowledge and obvious dedication to their studies to travel to see the outcome or result of this wonder in the heavens.  Here we have an early example that science and religion are not polar opposites…God created all things, and in the natural world, uses it to draw those with open minds who seek the real Truth, closer to Himself.  He draws the Magi from their own lands and brings them to Bethlehem, where He reveals Himself to them through the Sacred Scriptures in prophecy, and in the person of Jesus Christ.  And despite what their science and studies have taught them, despite what their religious practices were prior to that moment, the Gospel says, ‘they knelt down and paid him homage…”They worshipped Him.  These Gentiles who were not from among God’s ‘chosen people’ were in awe of the work of God; of God entering into our humanity.  These ‘outsiders’ recognized the wonder of God, while the ‘insiders’ did not.

 This theme of foreigners, of non-Jews, of Gentiles being drawn into relationship with God is spoken of in prophecy by Isaiah in our first reading, “nations shall come to Your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn…”. More than 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah writes of how all nations will be coming to God through His Messiah – that it will not be salvation for Israel alone, but for the whole human race.  St. Paul too picks up this theme, writing for the Ephesians, when he says, ‘the Gentiles have become heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus.’

Here was the promised Messiah, the promise God had made through His prophets and Sacred Scripture, and he was largely unrecognized, unappreciated, and rejected by those in His own country and culture, who should have been the ones to recognize who He was in their midst.  St. Matthew almost screams this out in his writing of his Gospel, particularly from the beginning – he backs up each mention of a circumstance of Jesus conception, birth, the visits of the magi, all of it , with references to what the prophets said in scripture earlier….in this particular Gospel passage for example, speaking of his birthplace, St. Matthew quotes the prophet Micah, ‘and you, Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”….time and again, in His gospel, written for a Jewish audience, St. Matthew is saying ‘See…we should have know right from the beginning that Jesus was the one promised by God – the prophets all pointed to him, his life bore out what the prophets said about him…right from the beginning; and because he was humble and in our midst, we never saw who he truly was….it was those from outside, from foreigners, from Gentiles that those who worshipped Him first came from.”

There was someone though, in Israel, who was open to the possibility that the child born in Bethlehem was truly of great importance.  And this is where we have one of the greatest contrasts in the Scriptures; of the opposing choices that everyone faces with the possibility the Christ has entered into our world and into our lives; in contrast to the homage paid to the new-born King of kings by the magi, we have the reaction of King Herod, the great.

Unlike the rest of the nation at the time of Jesus’ birth, who largely ignored Him, and unlike the Gentiles, the non-Jews who are the first in Matthew’s Gospel to honour Christ, King Herod seeks to destroy Jesus.

 A bit of a historical context can even help us to more fully appreciate this episode from the Gospels.

Herod’s family ruled in Palestine from about 40 BC until the late 50’s AD.  They were Arabs who had converted to Judaism, and ruled the territory with the permission of Rome. Through political maneuvering, Herod had achieved the power he had, and was a close ally of the Emperor Augustus.  Historians of the time, among them Josephus, and Tacitus, as well as other writers, provide us with an image of Herod; he was paranoid, power-hungry and absolutely ruthless; although he was Jewish by conversion, whenever he acted contrarily to the laws of their religion, if the religious leaders were bold enough to point this out, Herod would simply execute them by the dozens.  He would go to lengths to prove to the Romans that he could be just as merciless as they were, crucifying scores of people on the outside walls of his palace.  Herod even had one of his wives executed, along with some of his young sons on separate occasions; and their crime? He feared they were more popular than he was.  Herod sought permission from Rome at one point in writing, to execute two of his sons, which caused the Emperor Augustus himself to comment, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than one of his sons…”

But Herod was a builder too, constructing a great fortress at Masada, and of course, rebuilding the great Temple in Jerusalem, a project which would take 46 years to complete.  But we have to look at his motives; Herod, the convert, raising a great edifice that people would marvel at, come to and no doubt, recognize him for building; it was a way for him, so he thought, to control God too – to use God and worship of Him to keep his own subjects happy and to place his own people in the religious leadership to solidify his influence.   Trying to bend God to his will, rather than surrendering his will to God’s.

The trouble was, now the prophecies pointed to this unknown child in Bethlehem coming as God’s promised Messiah who would lead, not only Israel, but all people.  The problem was that Herod, like the rest of the leadership of Israel, didn’t understand that the Messiah was not to be a political ruler, but something far greater.  And because he didn’t understand that, that he feared his grasp on power and his personal ambitions would be lost, rather than try to be open to what God’s will was for him, Herod sought to destroy the child, through what we have come to call the massacre of the innocents, all of the boys in Bethlehem two years and under. 

The irony is that while Herod is in the middle of His tremendous project of rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem – a temple of bricks and mortar where the inner Holy of Holies was where the glory of God was believed to dwell – here he was plotting and attempting to destroy the living Temple of God in the person of Jesus, the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity…..because the call to holiness for all people, to return to God, did not fit in with Herod’s personal  plans , ambitions and insecurities.

For all of us, it really comes down to these choices; we can ignore Christ among us as most of Palestine did at His birth- and as our consumerist society tells us to do today;  we can reject and seek to destroy any influence He has in our lives as Herod did –as our modern relativist and secular societies do; or we can seek Him out in faith and reason – as the magi did- and worship and pay homage to Him when we discover Him in our midst.  When we have the opportunity to recognize, to approach, to worship Him, particularly in His Church and His Sacraments, we can do so with joy and the awe of that Epiphany – of that discovery that we know with our minds and can feel in the depths of our hearts…that we can approach and place ourselves before Christ at any time; and that His Church and His Sacraments are wonders and miracles and glories that we are given, to approach each and every day of our lives.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Feast of the Holy Family

This Sunday we mark the feast of the Holy Family, in the midst of our Christmas celebrations; a time traditionally set aside in our culture for gathering of family – whether it be children away at college or universities returning home for the break, or grown children and grandchildren returning home for visits and meals and celebrations with parents and grandparents. And it is so important to celebrate these gatherings of family; to cherish these moments and raise them up as something very important in the lives of our families – particularly as the institutions of family and marriage have seen such an unprecedented attack over the past decade in our society. It is almost surreal to see how the commercial media celebrate the gathering of ‘family’ over the ‘holidays’, and at the same time downplays the traditional institutions of family as ‘outdated’ or ‘out of touch’ or unimportant.

But as Christians it is so important for us to celebrate the institution of the family. The Church refers to the family as ‘ecclesia in ecclesia’ or the ‘church within the Church’. This statement is not just a nice catch-phrase; it reflects a much deeper truth- that the very foundation of the corporate Body of Christ; the primary unit within the entire body of worship of all believers, is not the individual – but the family; that parents are indeed the first teachers of their children – not just in matters of social behaviour or motor skills – but in matters of faith; in the life of the Church. For parents, it is knowing that their example is the means by which their own children will measure their decisions in life –good or bad – as they continue to grow and develop.

It is important for us to know and celebrate this particular feast, because it reminds us that God chose the family unit as the means by which He would introduce Himself into human society and culture. God has a purpose in all things; had God wanted to, He could have picked any means by which He could have come into the world, and any way He could have participated in human life:
He chose the family.

This Gospel passage from St. Luke recounts one of the few insights we have into the life of Jesus as a child, and one of the few episodes recorded in the life of the Holy Family, the feast we celebrate this weekend.
But even for a brief incident, there is a lot of information that we can take from this; we know that Jesus, Mary and Joseph went each year to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover; they were devout Jews and actively practiced their faith. This tells us that as parents, Joseph and Mary transmitted the practice of their faith to Jesus; that as a family they participated regularly in the customs of their religion.

This passage also tells us that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were part of a larger family group, and that with family and friends they would travel to Jerusalem for these religious pilgrimages or observances; they traveled in a caravan….a single small family doesn’t travel by caravan – they would travel alone; a caravan was a much larger group; and because the Gospel tells us that when they left Jerusalem to travel back to Nazareth, Mary and Joseph thought Jesus was somewhere else in the caravan: maybe Mary thought Jesus was traveling with the men and Joseph in one group (which would have been traditional in a caravan – after all Jesus was 12 – the time when according to tradition, a boy became a man in the eyes of the Law ) perhaps Joseph thought Jesus was traveling with other children and the women with his mother Mary – perhaps both Mary and Joseph thought Jesus was traveling with another group of young people within the caravan:

Whatever the case, Jesus was not there: He had remained behind at the Temple, praying and speaking with the teachers and elders.

We read how it was one full day’s travel from Jerusalem that Jesus’ parents discover He is not in the caravan. They return to Jerusalem to look for Him. That’s two days.
They spend a day looking for Him and find Him in the Temple, discussing and questioning the elders, “and all that heard him were amazed.”
That’s the third day.
Any parent who has experienced a child missing, even for a few minutes, knows that absolute panic, that terrible icy feeling that goes straight to the heart! And the finding of that same child usually results in a whole rush of assorted emotions and feelings – joy, anger, relief – sometimes tears, laughter, stern words…
It’s easy to imagine what the feelings and response of Mary and Joseph would have been at the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple; the first words recorded in their greeting are, “Child, why have you treated us like this?”

But we don’t have to be parents to understand or appreciate the feeling of Jesus being lost to us. In our own faith lives, we sometimes can experience that loss…we look at the empty pews in our churches at other times of the year and wonder where some of the members of our own parish family are. Statistics state that there are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, and most often we have to ask, in the public forum and in the decreased participation in public worship; ‘where are they?’ We have a culture that wants to deny the involvement of God in every aspect of our public life, and yet when we experience natural disasters or terrorist attacks or see widespread poverty or disease, the first question that this same culture asks is ‘where is God?’ “why didn’t God prevent this?” “why doesn’t God fix that?”

But like the Holy Family traveling from Jerusalem, it wasn’t that Jesus ‘left’ them – the caravan left Jesus behind.

God has always been and is always present: it is not God who leaves us or our culture behind: we are the ones who sometimes leave Him behind; in our lifestyles, our interactions with others, in the way we treat our own family members; even in our own prayer lives; and when we wish to find Him, to return to Him, to re-connect with that sense of His presence, where do we go?

For three days the parents of Jesus searched, and the last place they looked was the Temple. (no doubt if we were missing a teenager today, the last place we might look is in a church). The Temple – the heart of their traditional worship of God; the last place they look is the place where He is; all of their efforts in searching have been in vain; He’s been at the Temple – the heart of their faith – the whole time. Mary and Joseph, after three days, found Him in the Temple – in the house of His Father – in the house of God.

In those times when we have grown cold or confused or lost in our journey with Christ, where do we look for Him? Is the Church the first or last place we go? Do we return to the Temple of our faith, the Temple of our hearts? Do we have some idea where we might encounter Him or do we want Him to be where we want/expect/demand He meet us?

It is helpful for us in our own faith lives to realize that as a family unit, Jesus, Mary and Joseph experienced that whole range of emotions and challenges within their own culture and society that we experience in ours. They lived the ‘family experience’.

That’s why we can gather in confidence and ask for the intercession of the Holy Family for our own families; that through their prayers, God will watch over our own families, and grant them the graces necessary to draw them closer to Himself, and keep them in His love.
We pray too,that the members of our ‘extended’ family of faith, all the baptized, who have lost their sense of contact with Christ, will look for Him where He has been all along – in His Father’s house.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!