Monthly Archives: December 2021

A New Year Is Here

new year


Looking at the New Year, Karl Rahner speaks of our need for “a mysticism of everyday life.” It’s not in big things God’s grace will be found, but in steady, commonplace living. Accepting time in small dimensions readies us for its big moments.

“The New Year is coming.  A year like all the rest.  A year of trouble and disappointment with myself and others. When God is building the house of our eternity, he puts up fine scaffolding in order to carry out the work. So fine, that we may prefer to live in it.

“The trouble is we find it is taken down again and again. We call that dismantling the painful fragility of life. We lament and become melancholy if we look at the new year and see only the demolition of the house of our life, which is really being quietly built up for eternity behind this scaffolding that’s put up and taken down again.

“No, the coming year is not a year of disappointment or a year of pleasing illusions. It’s God’s year. The year when decisive hours are approaching me quietly and unobtrusively, and the fullness of my time is coming. Shall I notice these hours? Or will they be empty, because they seem too small, too humble and commonplace?

“Outwardly they won’t look different and can be overlooked: the slight patience it takes to make life slightly more tolerable for those around me; the omission of an excuse; risking good faith in someone I’m inclined to mistrust because I’ve had an bad experience with them before; accepting someone’s criticism of me; allowing an injury done to me to die away, without complaining, bitterness or revenge; being faithful to prayer without being rewarded by “consolations” or “religious experience”; trying to love those who get on my nerves (through their fault, of course); trying to see in someone else’s stupidity an intelligence that is not mine; not trading on my virtues to justify my faults; suppressing my complaints and omitting self-praise.”

Rahner doesn’t glamorize everyday mysticism. It can be both tough and boring. “Even the saints yawn sometimes, and have to shave.”

K. Rahner, The Great Church Year, New York 1994  p. 85

The Adaptable Word:December 31

 

Mary Garden, Jamaica, New York

Today, the last day of the year, we read in our liturgy from the 1st chapter of St. John’s Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Read in our Mary Garden, we could see Mary in those words, holding up her Child, the “Silent Word” blessing all creation, symbolized by our garden. The responsorial psalm for today calls the heavens to sing and the earth to rejoice. Creation today needs the blessing of the Word.

St. Bridget of Sweden influenced 15th century artists with her vision of Mary placing the Child on the earth outside the stable. Mary, Joseph and the shepherds join the earth itself to receive his blessing.

Adoration of the Shepherds, Giorgone , National Gallery

Finally, here Maximus, the Confessor, speaking about the adaptability of the Word to all in creation.

“The Word of God, born once in the flesh (such is his kindness and his goodness), is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him. In them he is born as an infant as he fashions himself in them by means of their virtues. He reveals himself to the extent that he knows someone is capable of receiving him. He diminishes the revelation of his glory not out of selfishness but because he recognizes the capacity and resources of those who desire to see him. Yet, in the transcendence of mystery, he always remains invisible to all.

For this reason the apostle Paul, reflecting on the power of the mystery, said: Jesus Christ, yesterday and today: he remains the same for ever. For he understood the mystery as ever new, never growing old through our understanding of it.”

An adaptable, respectful love. That’s the way God loves us. That’s the way to love others.

An 84 Year Old Apostle: December 30

Presentation.jpg

St.. Luke begins his account of the infancy of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem; where an angel announces the birth of John to Zechariah. After the Child is born  Mary and Joseph take him to the temple, “to present him to the Lord.”

Two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, meet the Child. Simeon joyfully takes  the Child in his arms. “Now you can dismiss your servant in peace, Lord, because my eyes have seen your salvation.” No temple priests, no officials, no angels recognize the Child, according to Luke, just two old people.

Anna, an 84 year temple regular and a widow after being married for only seven years doesn’t say anything when she sees the Child. “Coming forward at the very time,” Luke says, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the salvation of Jerusalem.” She doesn’t keep word of him to herself. She speaks of him to all.

The Lord comes to the 84 year old woman, to Simeon, to Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds in the hills, the wise men from afar. He comes to all. John’s letter, which we read today at Mass, says that too. ( 1 John 2:11-17)

Anna gives thanks at the sight of the Child and goes out to speak about him to everyone she meets. “Let the heaven be glad and the earth rejoice. Go tell all the nations the Lord is King.” Our responsorial psalm says.

At 84, Anna becomes an apostle.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

December 29: The Child in the Temple

Presentation in the Temple: Rembrandt

Jesus drew all people to himself, men and women, rich and poor, old and young. Even at his birth this was so – the shepherds, the wise men, Simeon and Anna meet him. Their meeting with the Child is described in Luke’s account we read today. (Luke 2)

There was no need to bring Jesus to the temple for circumcision, or the purification of Mary, or his presentation there, but Luke reports that Mary and Joseph brought the Child to the temple, where God is present, to offer him to his Father. 

Luke’s account doesn’t dwell on the ritual – he may not know much about it. He doesn’t write about what the priest does, or even describe much of what Mary and Joseph do. God is at the heart of his story, revealing himself through the Infant to two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, who wait patiently for the Messiah.

They’ve waited for years. They come from that great crowd Rembrandt pictures (Above) in the temple waiting in the dark. But the long waiting has not dulled their eyes. Waiting in the temple has made them sharper, for they see salvation in this little infant, ” a light of revelation to the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” 

The temple is where the destiny of Jesus is revealed in Luke’s gospel. He begins his journey to the Father there at his birth, and he already draws  those who will accompany him on his journey, beginning with Simeon and Anna and extending even to the gentile world who will receive his light.

Simeon’s prophecy offers a somber note as he turns to Mary. “Your own soul a sword shall pierce.” The glory of the Lord the angels proclaim at Jesus’ birth is not without the experience of sorrow.

We’re living in an aging society; our elderly population is increasing. The temptation is to see old age as a stage in life when all is over, but this gospel story makes us reconsider, doesn’t it? The Lord comes at every moment of life. He draws us to himself our whole life long.

Not only did Simeon and Anna wonder at the child they saw and held in their arms, but they spoke about him to those “waiting for the redemption of Israel.” “ Old men (and women) ought to be explorers.” And apostles.

Feast of the Holy Innocents: December 28

When the magi had departed, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,
“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I tell you.
Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled,
Out of Egypt I called my son.

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity
two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more. (Matthew 2, 13-18)

Matthew’s gospel alone describes the flight into Egypt and the massacre of the Innocents. An angel tells Joseph in a dream to take the Child and his mother into the safety of Egypt to stay till the death of Herod.

Other children born in Bethlehem will not escape the ruler’s cruelty, who orders a massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem two years old and under.

What do we make of this story?. No historical source from the time mentions it, but the massacre isn’t inconceivable. Herod was a powerful ruler, notoriously cruel, especially if his own power was threatened. His massive fortress, the Herodian, just outside Bethlehem, guarded the southern approaches to his kingdom. Fearing a coup, Herod killed his wife and three sons, historians of the time report. There were countless innocent victims of his besides, so his massacre of little children is not unlikely.

New Herods still kill the innocent. Just listen to the daily news.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us evil is in our world, seeming to contradict the “great joy that is for you and all the people.” Philosophers, the well-off, religious people, ordinary people, all of us face it in different ways. Why does God permit such things?

Joseph, warned in a dream, takes the Child and his mother into Egypt, Matthew says. The Child returns from Egypt unharmed, but later Jesus will stand innocent before Pontius Pilate who condemns him to a cruel death. Then, he rises from the dead, promising life to those who share in a death like his. Our feast today sees the children of Bethlehem sharing in his resurrection, safe in God’s hands. Evil does not have the last word.

“Clothed in white robes, they will walk with me, says the Lord, for they are worthy.” (Antiphon for the Feast of the Holy Innocents)

Matthew’s story was directed, first of all, to Jewish Christians living after Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD,, when thousands of innocent people were killed by a massive Roman army. Why did God permit this? Where is the kingdom Jesus Christ promised, they must have asked? We ask this too.

Evil doesn’t triumph, though it strides the world seemingly unopposed, but God saves the weak, the small, the helpless through Jesus, his Son. Matthew’s story of the Magi promises God ‘s kingdom will come to all.

Still, Matthew recognizes those experiencing the suffering of the innocent.. He hears the sobbing and the loud lamentation: “Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more.”

“She would not be consoled, since they were no more.”

Tomorrow, we return to Luke’s Gospel to hear Simeon prophesy to Mary that a sword will pierce here heart.

The Humanity of God

You can’t say it more beautifully than St. Bernard does in this sermon.

“The kindness and love of God our savior have appeared.  Thanks be to God, we receive such abundant kindness in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress through him.

” Before his humanity appeared, God’s kindness lay concealed. Yes, it was already there, because the mercy of the Lord is eternal, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced, and so many did not believe in it.  At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster.

“Now at last let us believe our own eyes, because all God’s promises are to be trusted. So  even our troubled eyes can see, He has set up his tabernacle in the sun. Peace is no longer promised, but given; no longer delayed, but present; no longer predicted, but here.

“Behold, God has sent down to earth a message of mercy, at his passion our ransom was poured out on us. A small child was given to us, but all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in him.

“After the fulness of time had come, there came too the fulness of the Godhead. He came in the flesh to reveal himself to our earthly minds; his kindness would be known when his humanity appeared. Where the humanity of God appears, his kindness can no longer be hidden. Could he better reveal his kindness than by assuming my flesh? My flesh, that is, not Adam’s, as it was before the fall.

“What greater proof could God give of his mercy than by taking upon himself that very thing which needed mercy? Could there be a better loving-kindness than for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?

“Let us know  how much God cares for us from this. Let us know from this what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Do not ask about your own sufferings; but about what God suffered. Learn from what he became for you what he wishes you to become. Know his kindness from his humanity.

“The more he humbled himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown his kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more I love him. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness.

The One who added humanity to the name of God gave proof of God’s kindness.”

The Word Made Visible:December 27

John evangelist

The Feast of St.John the Apostle (December 27) follows the birth of Jesus because John in his writings– the 4th gospel and letters– answers the great question: Who is Jesus? Who is the child born of Mary in Bethlehem, who lived in Nazareth, preached in Galilee and Judea, died and rose again in Jerusalem?

John is uniquely able to answer that question, and for this reason his feast is placed where it is, two days after we celebrate Jesus’ birth. John was one of his first disciples whom he called at the Sea of Galilee to follow him. He knew where Jesus came from, Nazareth, and he knew his family. John was with Jesus in his ministry in Galilee and went with him on his journey to Jerusalem. John sat beside him at the Last Supper; he went into the Garden of Gethsemane with him, then stood beside his cross with Mary, his mother. John witnessed Jesus’ death and resurrection.  The Gospel of John and later traditions say John was close to Jesus’ mother, Mary.

The gospel reading for his feast reminds us that John saw the empty tomb and recognized Jesus risen from the dead. “‘It is the Lord,’ he said to Peter” on the Lake of Galilee as the Risen Christ appears. (John 21, 7) John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” had a special relationship with Jesus, human and divine. 

The 1st Letter of John, which we read in the liturgy after Christmas, tells us to know know Jesus Christ through his humanity, just as the apostles did. Like them, we will also know that the One we know through his humanity is also the Word of God who is God.

“What was from the beginning,

what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes,

what we looked upon

and touched with our hands

concerns the Word of life —

for the life was made visible;

we have seen it and testify to it

and proclaim to you the eternal life

that was with the Father and was made visible to us—

what we have seen and heard

we proclaim now to you.” 1 John 1-4

It’s so easy to get trapped into politics today, world politics and church politics. We need to keep our eyes on the mysteries that are above politics. The Word has become visible and lived among us.

God, our Father, you have revealed the mysteries of your Word through John the apostle. By prayer and reflection may we come to understand the wisdom he taught. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,  One God, forever and ever.

December 27-January 2: Feasts and Readings

DECEMBER 27 Mon Saint John, Apostle Feast 1 Jn 1:1-4/Jn 20:1a, 2-8

28 Tue The Holy Innocents, Martyrs Feast 1 Jn 1:5—2:2/Mt 2:13-18 

29 Wed Fifth Day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

[Saint Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr] 1 Jn 2:3-11/Lk 2:22-35 

30 Thu Sixth Day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

1 Jn 2:12-17/Lk 2:36-40 

31 Fri Seventh Day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

[Saint Sylvester I, Pope] 1 Jn 2:18-21/Jn 1:1-1813

JANUARY 1 2022

Sat SOLEMNITY OF MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD

Solemnity  Nm 6:22-27/Gal 4:4-7/Lk 2:16-21 

2 SUN USA: THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD Solemnity

Is 60:1-6/Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6/Mt 2:1-12 

Christmas is over today for many people. They’re ready to take the tree down and put the decorations away. But the mystery of Christmas is too big for a one day celebration; that’s why the church prepares for this celebration through the four weeks of Advent and continues through the days of the Christmas season till the Feast of the Epiphany. 

Christmas Day may be over, but our reflection on the Christmas mystery is not over. This mystery raises questions and has consequences, which the feasts that follow Christmas Day explore. From earliest times both eastern and western churches have celebrated the feast of Stephen, an early disciple of Jesus and the first to die giving witness to him (Acts 6,8 ff).

When Jesus was born “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2,18) But Stephen would be stoned to death when he told about the One who was sent. The message, not always heard, must still be told. “The love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven,” St. Fulgentius says of the martyr Stephen. His feast is  December 26.

December 27th is the feast of St. John, the apostle. This is another feast celebrated by  the churches of the east and west from earliest times. It explores the great question: Who is this Child born of Mary? He is true God and true man. “the Word made flesh, the Word of God who made all things, dwells among us.”

December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents; little children from Bethlehem put to death by Herod the Great so no rivals would challenge his power and throne. (Matthew 2, 13-18) When Jesus was born “all who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2,18) Yet Herod the Great heard the message and tried to end it. The birth of Jesus does not bring an end to evil in the world. The Child is born “for to die for poor orn’ry creatures like you and like I.” 

Like the shepherds who watched in the darkness we need to keep our eyes on true  light:  “the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Like Mary, we need to keep reflecting on this mystery in our heart to appreciate what it means for the world and for us. On January 1, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God, who kept all these things in her heart. So many of the Christmas mysteries come to us through her memories.

On Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany. Jesus is revealed to the all nations.

Nazareth: Where Jesus Was Raised


Some think Nazareth was a quiet little hill town in lower Galilee in Jesus’ day, cut off from the outside world, but recent historical studies tell a different story. The town was not as isolated as once believed.  Just four miles away was the thriving Greco-Roman city of Sepphoris, recently uncovered by archeologists, and nearby were roads to Tiberias, Jerusalem and the sea coast.

The economy of Galilee was booming then, thanks to the rich soil of the Esdraelon plains and the fishing villages along the Sea of Galilee. A new port, Caesaria Maritima linked Galilee to the rest of the Roman world. Roman rule brought stability. A skillful administrator and builder, Herod Antipas, was firmly in charge. His new regional capital, Tiberias–a model of Greco-Roman city planning– dominated the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Could Nazareth, 15 miles east of the Sea of Galilee and 20 miles west of the Mediterranean Sea, a few miles away from a booming city, be shut off from this world?

How did Jesus get there?

Some historians say Joseph and Mary were not from Nazareth in Galilee, but from Judea. Matthew’s gospel, in contrast to Luke’s, indicates that Joseph was a Judean associated with Bethlehem, David’s city. Mary’s family may have been associated with the temple in Jerusalem. The Church of St. Ann there claims to mark Mary’s birthplace in that city.  Another tradition, however, says Mary was born in Sepphoris.

After Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, some believe that his family moved north to the small town of Nazareth to escape the clutches of Herod the Great, who ordered the slaughter of infants. When Herod died, he was succeeded by his son Archelaeus, who was just as unstable as his father. Did relatives of Jesus living in Nazareth invite his family to safety there?

Herod Antipas, another of Herod’s sons yet slightly less dangerous than Archelaeus, inherited power in Galilee after his father’s death in 6 BC and ruled till about 36 AD, over the lifetime of Jesus. He began building the city of Sepphoris in 3 BC. Wouldn’t it be likely that workers from nearby Nazareth, like Jospeh, would be recruited to help in the building?

Jesus and his followers rejected

Nazareth will always be a mystery. Instead of supporting Jesus, the Nazareans turned their backs to him, the gospels say. They drove him out of their synagogue when he announced his mission and said he was mad. (Mt 13,54-58)  After his resurrection, there is no evidence Jesus appeared there; his followers in Nazareth were few. “No prophet is without honor except in his native place,” Jesus said. (Mt 13,54)

A Christian Minority through the Centuries

Followers of Jesus in the town where he was raised continued to be few, it seems. By the time Matthew’s Gospel was written, around the year 90, after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD,  scribes and temple officials as well as the pharisees from that city had moved to the Galilean cities of Tiberias and Sepphoris, near Nazareth, and began a powerful new movement in Judaism.

Did they drive the followers of Jesus out of the Galilean synagogues just as his contemporaries drove him out of Nazareth?  Matthew’s gospel offers numerous warnings that the disciples would be handed over to the courts and scourged in the synagogues. (cf. Mt 10, 17)

“Slender evidence suggests that a Jewish Christian community survived in Nazareth during the C2 and C3 AD, “ writes Jerome Murphy-O”Connor. (The Holy Land, 423) The nun Egeria, one of the few Christian visitors in the 4th century, found a cave considered part of Mary’s house but she does not stay long in the town.  In 570 AD a pilgrim from Piacenza found Nazareth a hostile place:  “there is no love lost in the town between Christians and Jews.” Two Christian churches were built at that time, but after the Muslim conquest of Palestine in the 7th century the number of Christians in Nazareth declined further and their churches were destroyed.

When the Crusaders conquered the town in the 11th century, they rebuilt the Byzantine shrines and added their own buildings; some remains are visible today. But after the defeat of the Christians in the 12th century, Nazareth once more became a Muslim stronghold and Christians a minority.

Through the ages, the Christian presence in Galilee remained small, dependent mostly on Christian pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. After the crusades, it was considered dangerous for Christians to enter Nazareth.  In 1620 the Franciscans bought a site in the  town where the house of Mary was said to be and they continued to nourish a Christian presence in the town. Through their efforts the large Basilica of the Annunciation, built over the early Byzantine and Crusader churches and archeological remains from the ancient town, was dedicated in 1968. The Greek Orthodox church also continued its ministry in this revered spot.

Nazareth itself remained poor and undeveloped from the time of Jesus until recently, when it became the provincial capital of Galilee and its population soared. From less than 1,000 inhabitants in Jesus’ time, the number has grown today to 70,000, mostly Muslim.

The large basilica of the Annunciation, with its extensive collection of art from all over the world honoring this mystery, is a gathering place for Catholic pilgrims. Here faith attempts to interpret this mysterious town “where our feeble senses fail.”

19th Century Nazareth

An English vicar left this quaint description of Nazareth as he approached it towards the end of the 19th century. Unlike its neighbor, Cana, the town then was experiencing a modest revival:

“Our horses began to climb the steep ascent of 1,000 feet that brings one to the plateau in a fold of which, three miles back among its own hills, lies Nazareth.

“At last, all at once, a small valley opened below, set round with hills, and a pleasant little town appeared to the west. Its straggling houses of white soft limestone, and mostly new, rose row over row up the steep slope. A fine large building,with slender cypresses around it, stood nearest to us; a minaret looked down from the rear.

“Fig trees, single and in clumps, were growing here and there in the valley, which was covered with crops of grain, lentils and beans. Above the town, the hills were steep and high, with thick pasture, sheets of rock, fig trees now and then in an enclosed spot.   Such was Nazareth , the home of our Lord. (p 513)

“The town is only a quarter of a mile long, so that it is a small place, at best; the population made up of about 2,000 Mohammedans, 1,000 Roman Catholics, 2,500 Greek Catholics and 100 Protestants – not quite 6000 in all; but its growth to this size is only recent, for thirty years ago Nazareth was a poor village.”  (p 516)

The Catholic shrines of Nazareth were not among the English vicar’s favorite places to visit, but he does recognize one of the town’s enduring holy places:

“The water of Nazareth is mainly derived from rain-cisterns, for there  is only one spring, and in autumn the supply is precarious. A momentous interest, however, gathers around this single fountain, for it has been in use for immemorial ages, and, no doubt, often saw the Virgin and her Divine Child among those who frequented it morning and evening, as the mothers of the town, many with children at their side, do now.” (p.515)

“The Virgin’s Spring bursts out of the ground inside the Greek Church of the Annunciation, which is modern, though a church stood on the same site at least as early as 700 AD.They say that it was on this spot that the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin; and if there is nothing to prove the legend there is nothing to contradict it.  Indeed, the association of the visit with the outflow of living water from the rock has a certain congruity that is pleasing. “ (p.516)

The Word Made Flesh

Nazareth, where Jesus lived most of his time on earth, offers few traces of the town he knew. Those were hidden years when the Son of God “humbled himself” by living inconspicuously, immersed in the steady, ordinary rhythms of a small 1st century Jewish town.  Jesus “became flesh” in Nazareth,  “one like us in all things but sin.”

Instead of Nazareth of the past, then, we may find him just as well in Nazareth of the present–or in any town or city or anyplace today, for that matter.

Jesus did not come only for the world then, he comes also for the world now, to dwell among us. Nazareth may help us understand the mystery of the Incarnation in our town and place.