Saturday, December 31, 2016

We Are Born To Praise As Re-Born

January 1, 2017

We Are Born To Praise As Re-Born

Appreciating and Accepting ourselves as:
“sons and daughters in the Son,” true children of the Father


How do you feel about the start of the New Year? Does the celebration of Mary as Mother of God help you orient yourself as you begin it? What does this feast mean to you personally?


The Entrance Antiphon proclaims, “A light will shine on us this day....” God’s light shone in a special way when the Church declared it a dogma of faith at the Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D., that Mary is rightly called “Mother of God.” This doctrine was defined, not because of what it says about Mary, but because of what it says about Jesus; that we must not “divide” Jesus by separating his humanity from his divinity, as some at the Council would have done by specifying that Mary was mother of Jesus’ humanity — or of his body only — but not of his divinity, and therefore not “mother of God.” The Church’s answer was that our mothers are the mothers of all we are, whole and entire; and therefore Mary is the mother of everything Jesus is as both God and man.

The dogma was defined to say something about Jesus. But it also says something about Mary and about us. In the Prayer after Communion we “proclaim the Virgin Mary to be the mother of Christ and the mother of the Church,” and we pray that “our communion with her Son” will “bring us to salvation.”1 What this says is that if Mary is really the Mother of all Jesus is, and if we have really “become Christ” by Baptism (Catechism of the Catholic Church 795), by being incorporated into his body, then Mary is really our Mother as well. And we are really “sons and daughters of the Father.” Our “salvation” is to share in God’s divine life through our union with Jesus. If that union is real, then everything that follows from it is real also.

This tells us that, as we begin the New Year, we need to do so conscious of what we really are, of how we are really called to live, and of what we are really called to do, precisely as divine-human continuations of the divine-human life of Jesus on earth.

1Literally, the Latin text asks that “your heavenly sacraments,” which “we have joyfully received” will “lead us to eternal life.” Receiving the sacraments expresses and increases the communion with Jesus we received at Baptism with the gift of “grace,” which means the “favor” of sharing in God’s own life.

Our blessing

The Responsorial (Psalm 72) has us asking — for the New Year — “May God bless us in his mercy.

In Numbers 6:22-27 the blessing God tells Moses to ask for the People is all about knowing God:

May Yahweh let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you... show you his face and give you peace (New Jerusalem Bible).

We were taught as children that we were created to “know, love and serve God.” This is a marvelous formula. It gives us the basic, simple principle we need for self-orientation. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, we have a sure compass that tells us how to direct our lives. We know what God is giving us life for and how he wants us to use it. This is priceless.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, gives a slightly different version of this formula. He says we were created to “praise, reverence and serve God.” Basically, he replaces “knowing” with the first action that should follow from it — praising — and “loving” with the attitude that he teaches throughout all of his writings as the foundational requirement for loving God as we should: reverence, or acknowledgment of the distance between God and us — distance God overcame in Jesus by taking flesh as a human like ourselves.

Ignatius would say the first service we owe to God is praise. We are not sufficiently conscious of this. Today is a good time to recall it —and to make a “New Year’s resolution” to make praising God a more conscious, constant part of our life.

The Mass is a good place to begin.

Praising God is not what most Catholics are most consciously thinking of on their way to Mass. Actually, they may not be thinking of anything much at all except what is on the car radio and what the kids are fighting about in the back seat. But New Year’s would be a good time to change this. It would be a very enlightened New Year’s resolution to decide — as a family, if possible — to jump into Mass praising God like a cheering section!

Farfetched? Unrealistic? Something nobody would go along with? Okay. The same could have been said (and was said; I was there!) in the ‘sixties and afterwards, when we fought for racial integration; for putting the Mass into a language people can understand; for giving the laity a more active role in the Church as lectors, Eucharistic ministers, religion teachers, theology professors and parish administrators; for banning smoking in public places; for adapting our speech to avoid unconsciously belittling women; for a more just treatment of migrant workers; for raising people’s consciousness about the evil of war, about human rights and the ideal of nonviolence; for recycling and concern about ecology; for exposing child abuse; for recognizing the promotion of social justice as a “constitutive element” of Christian life; for ordaining married men as deacons; for stricter laws against drunk driving; for anti-pollution measures such as unleaded gas; for shattering the “glass ceiling” that kept women from higher positions in corporate management; for enforcing security measures such as seat belts and helmets for bike riders; for playground safety; “sell by” dates on food products and required hand-washing for restaurant employees; for health foods; and efforts to discourage fast-food obesity. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Before these changes took place, “general opinion” would have thought most of them a pipe dream.

So is it unrealistic to think that almost overnight Catholics could start coming to Mass to praise God? And that they will in fact praise him as a united community — in song and spontaneity, through “full, conscious, active participation” in the liturgy? A new year is beginning; why not start doing your part now? The liturgy encourages us to hope: “May God bless us in his mercy.

In Luke 2:16-21 the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.” Haven’t we seen and heard the same thing? And more! But who knows what we have seen and heard? Do even our children know?

Mary “treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” We know her heart was full of praise. But she also expressed it. The words of her “Magnificat” to Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55) were certainly not the last time she spoke her praise out loud!

Before the reform of the liturgy after Vatican II, January 1 was the Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord. Around 500 AD the Eastern Church celebrated a “Day of the Theotokos [Dei Genetrix or “Mother of God”] either before or after Christmas. In the West, since 1914 Catholics grew up celebrating the feast of “the Motherhood of Mary” on October 11. When, in 1974, Pope Paul VI made January 1 the feast of “Mary, Mother of God” he also designated it as the “World Day of Peace.” The purpose was:

to renew the adoration rightfully to be shown to the newborn Prince of Peace... and to pray to God, through the intercession of the Queen of Peace, for the priceless gift of peace; and because of... the fact that the octave of Christmas coincides with a day of hope, New Year's Day.[1]

In the Gloria we repeat the angels’ message, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” We need to make this conscious, fervent praise.

The Gospel continues: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child.” Circumcision was the sign of accepting the Covenant God made with his People. In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul casts new light on the Covenant:

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to deliver from the law those who were subject to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted children.... So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir....

To be subject to God’s law is not slavery; but a spirit of slavish obedience can make it that. If our focus in religion is on law-observance, we have not yet absorbed the Good News. Jesus established the new Covenant so that we might know the Father as both our Father and his. This is not just learned, intellectual or “catechetical” knowledge; it is an experience of the Holy Spirit:

The proof that you are children is the fact that God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of his Son crying, “Abba! Father!”

We know God as Father in a way deeper than thought. We “know we know” him by the results in our life: a deep, underlying awareness that we are loved and cared for as children; a trusting desire that the Father’s “will be done,” even when we don’t understand it; an assurance that his home is our home:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2. And see Matthew 11:27).

The New Year is a time for hope — hope based on new understanding of the New Covenant. We need to pray, “May God bless us in his mercy,” and praise him because we know he does.


Am I more motivated now to make praising God a strong element of my religion?


Renew the Mass. Begin every celebration consciously and enthusiastically praising God. Begin with the entrance hymn!

[1] See, and Paul VI, Marialis Cultus, Feb. 2, 1974, no.5. For the popes’ World Day of Peace messages see See especially John Paul’s radical message for 1993.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Truth Is A Gift Wrapped In Community

December 31, 2016
Seventh day of Christmas

Truth Is A Gift Wrapped In Community

The Responsorial Psalm still invites us, “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice” (Psalm 96).

1John 2: 18-21 gives us an unexpected reason for rejoicing: “Many antichrists have appeared…. They went out from us, but…. their desertion shows that they were not really of our number.”

John is talking about people who left the Church preaching a view of life in radical contradiction to the truth revealed in Jesus. He judges that they didn’t lose the faith; they just never truly embraced it. What is there here to rejoice in?

We rejoice, not because others are in error, but because we are in a community of truth. And it is a gift from God “You have the anointing that comes from the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.”

In our day many Catholics have defected. They may not have actually “left” the Church, but they are “leaving it alone” for awhile. They no longer assemble with us to hear the word of God, to offer themselves with Christ at Mass for the life of the world, and to be fed with the word and Bread of Life. What does this say to us?

It certainly makes us question whether our teaching is too narrow, our religious observances too automatic, our pastoral practice too legalistic, and our participation in Eucharist too individualistic and apathetic. It makes us ask whether we are helping each other enter into live, personal, vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ. But the bottom line is, when people leave us, they are not turning toward the truth but away from it. When people leave the whole to focus on the part, we need to focus more intently on the whole.

John 1: 1-18 brings us to basics. Jesus is the Word of God. All that is real, true or good came to be through him. The Word became flesh and dwells in the Church, his body on earth. In him is life, and this life is the light of the human race, the true light that enlightens everyone. To those who accept the light, he gives divine life. If we abide in him our lives will bear the fruit of divine truth and goodness, and the Father will be glorified in us (John 14:5-8). If we do not “gather” with him (same root as synagogue or “assembly” in James 2:2; see Matthew 12:30, 23:37; Mark 13:27; John 11:52) we will scatter. For us to receive “from his fullness,” then, we need to assemble with him in the Church. There the Word of God is “Emmanuel: God-with-us.”

Initiative: If you want to know Jesus, seek him where he can be found. Assemble with him in the Church. Let the Word made flesh speak to you in preaching, teaching and spiritual discussions. Seek the fullness of Light and Life.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

“Emmanuel – God-with-us” who interacts with us in human ways

Friday, December 30, 2016
(Normally celebrated on the first Sunday after Christmas)

Appreciating and Accepting Jesus as:
“Emmanuel – God-with-us” 
who interacts with us in human ways


Whom do you know best in your family? How did that happen? Did you spend more time together? Talk more deeply to each other? What is it you do with your friends that makes you friends? How many of these things can you do with Jesus?


The Entrance Antiphon tells us Jesus was first seen by shepherds, who “found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” The first people to find Jesus found him in the context of a family. And this is where most people find him. Most of us meet Jesus at home.

But many don’t. In many families the presence of Jesus is not felt or visible. This is true also in the family of the human race. In all of us, to some degree, God’s image is distorted. Other people can draw us to Jesus or drive us away from him. Or just leave us ignorant of the Savior of the world.

That is why, in the Opening Prayer, we ask that we might “live as the holy family, united in respect and love” — not just with our blood relatives, but with every member of the human race on earth. It is not ordinary human togetherness we are asking for. We are asking to be deeply united in the “communion of the Holy Spirit,” with an awesome respect for each other as made divine by “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We ask to experience the love between us as “the love of God” poured out in our hearts, expressed by us to one another.

This is possible because in Jesus God came and “made his home” with us (John 1:14). That is why his name is “Emmanuel: God-with-us.” In Jesus God is present to us as a human among humans. We can deal with him in the same human ways we deal with each other. And Jesus acts in and through each one of us to reveal his truth and express his love to everyone we deal with — beginning in the home.

We ask that our homes might be previews of heaven, homes in which we experience the “joy and peace of our eternal home” with God. This is the sign that we are living by the Spirit of God: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5: 22-23). Where these are the Spirit is, and we are united in Christ. If these are in our home, we will reveal and find Christ there.

“Blessed are those…”

The Responsorial Psalm pinpoints the difference between a merely human family and a graced family in which we experience the presence of God: “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways” (Psalm 128).

“Fear of the Lord” is not fright, but respect based on awareness of who God is. Anyone who sees in perspective the power, the goodness and the wisdom of God would be insane not to “walk in his ways.” Those who do walk in his ways will make God known to one another. This is the key to family life and all Christian community.

Sirach 3: 2-14 promises that those who honor and obey God’s authority in parents will be preserved from sin, be heard when they pray, and “live a long life” — which in Scriptural language means a “full life.” They will be a comfort to their parents, find fulfillment in life and be made glad by their own children.

When children obey their human parents they express and experience their response to God who is “made flesh” for them in their parents. God’s love is made flesh in parents’ care for their children. The physical interaction between all people who are aware that in their actions they are surrendering to God by letting God express himself through them is an experience of real, physical, down-to-earth relationship with God. By acting recognizably by grace, we become for each other “Emmanuel: God-with-us.”

Jesus came to save the world by being in it. Every human society is saved or corrupted by the people in it: by the effect their words and actions have on others: instilling true or false attitudes and values, making sin appear normal or abnormal, inciting to violence or to peace, enticing to healthy or harmful gratifications, inhibiting or encouraging the expression of higher ideals and faith. It takes millions of human choices, both for good and for evil, expressed in action, to create a culture. As the culture develops, for better or worse, it influences everyone in it. Jesus came to start a reversing trend against what is false and destructive in human society.

He began by preaching and teaching — through word and example — in the body he received from Mary. He continues by speaking through the words of all who are his body on earth today, and by modeling, in them, a better way to live. This is one way he continues to be “Emmanuel: God-with-us” still. “Blessed are those” who let him act in them and “walk in his ways.”

“With us” in trust

Matthew 2: 13-23 is a shocking story. An angel tells Joseph in the middle of the night to “flee to Egypt” because Herod is searching for Jesus to destroy him.

Joseph must have wondered. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and God’s own Son. Why did Joseph have to save the Savior? Why didn’t the angel just wipe out Herod’s patrol the way a single angel once wiped out one hundred and eighty-five thousand warriors who threatened Jerusalem (2Kings 19:35)?

The answer to this comes later in the Gospel. What we see now is that even those whom God loves best need to trust him — and sometimes that isn’t easy. In accepting Jesus as Savior we have to accept what he came — and did not come — to save us from. Even John the Baptizer had to learn this (see the Third Sunday of Advent). God wants us to trust that he is “with us” no matter what happens. We experience his presence in our steadfast faith, hope and love, if only we “fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

Words made flesh:

Colossians 3: 12-21 shows us how people can affect each other most deeply in family life and in the Christian community. Paul urges all the members to embody the virtues of Jesus in action: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience….” Above all he urges us to express love in everything we do, since love shows appreciation for all that is good.

If we live by the values of Christ, the fruit of this will be evident, experienced peace — in our hearts, in our homes, in our communities. Peace is the fruit and proof of love. Christ calls us to peace.

But for this to happen, we have to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14) and “let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). In the Scriptures that record Jesus’ life and explain his teaching, we find the pure Light of the world, untainted by darkness. In his actions we see the divine Word of God expressing himself without distortion in our world. We have to go to this well and drink from it, the source of life-giving water.

We can do this because Jesus is “Emmanuel: God-with-us” in another way, in addition to his presence in others. He is with us still in the Scriptures, in which the Church recognizes a “real presence” of the living God. The bishops wrote in the second Vatican Council: “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body…. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets his children with great love and speaks with them” (Vatican II on Divine Revelation, no. 21).

So, to make Christ present among us, St. Paul urges, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” For Jesus to be “Emmanuel,” recognizable in us, in our words and actions, we have to fill our minds with his words and nourish our hearts with his example.

If we read Scripture and worship together in our homes, we will say from lived experience, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.


In how many human ways do I interact with Jesus? What ways are open to me? Can I interact with him in all the ways I interact with my family and friends?


Seek to experience Jesus dealing with you in every human way — through his words, sacraments, and members of his body — so that when you feel the trial of his absence you will be able to find him in pure faith, pure hope, pure love.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Light Is Shining Before It Dawns

December 29, 2016 (Feast of St. Thomas Becket)
Fifth day of Christmas

The Light Is Shining Before It Dawns

The Responsorial Psalm insists, “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice” (Psalm 96), even when things look bad.

1John 2: 3-11 gives us a reason: “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” The darkness John has in focus is the failure to love: “Whoever hates his brother is in darkness.… All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and… murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.”

This hatred is very real in our day, and it is expressed in widespread murder of the poor. Particularly distressing to Catholics is the oppression of the poor in Latin America, where though the people are Catholic, social structures are not. There military governments, supported by the United States, kidnapped, tortured and killed thousands of Christians who were working — but not fighting — for justice. When the documentation on human rights abuses in Guatemala, commissioned by the national bishops’ conference, was presented by Bishop Juan Gerardi on April 24, 1998, the bishop was beaten to death by Army officers two days later.

The Church’s weapon against violence is truth: to let the facts be known. When Archbishop Thomas Becket was killed in Canterbury Cathedral by the king’s men for defending the rights of the Church, Pope Alexander III responded by swiftly canonizing him three years later. Eighteen months after that, King Henry II was required to do public penance for causing Becket’s death. By contrast, when a government agent shot Archbishop Oscar Romero to death at the altar during Mass for defending the rights of the poor in El Salvador (March 24, 1980), Pope John Paul II chose not to recognize him as a martyr, and did not call on the government to apologize for his murder. However, according to Wikipedia, in 1997, Pope John Paul II declared Romero a “Servant of God,” which opened the way for his beatification and canonization. The cause was blocked, but was reopened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012. Pope Francis declared Romero a martyr on 3 February 2015, and celebrated his beatification May 23, 2015. Eventually, truth triumphs.

In Luke 2: 22-35 Simeon proclaimed, “My own eyes have seen the salvation” promised by God: “a light to the nations, and the glory of your people.” But he goes on the tell Mary that Jesus is a light many will “contradict” and reject. And Mary’s own heart will be pierced with sorrow like a sword. So when we say, “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice,” we are not being simplistic. We know there is still struggle and pain ahead of us. Nevertheless, in Jesus-Emmanuel, we have “God with us” already. “The darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” We simply need to let it shine in us.

Initiative: If you want to know Jesus, seek him where he can be found. Look for his light even where everything seems dark. Search for a glimmer of love.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Union With Christ In Communion With Others

December 28
Feast Of The Holy Innocents

Union With Christ In Communion With Others

The Responsorial Psalm speaks of God’s power and will to save us: “Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare” (Psalm 124).

1John 1:5 to 2:2 is based on recognition that the essential sin is simply to reject union — koinonia, fellowship, communion — with Jesus Christ in his body on earth. All other sins are just signs that tell us if we are in union with him or not.

For John, being in communion with the Christian community is the greatest sign of union with Christ. And living by Christ’s light is the sign we are in communion with the community: “If we walk in the light… we have fellowship with one another….”

In our day we are very conscious of the number of people who are not visibly members of the Church — who do not “assemble” with us, and perhaps do not explicitly believe in Jesus Christ. Does this mean they do not share in the divine life of grace? That they are in the death of darkness and separation from God? Not for us to judge. They might judge themselves by the presence or absence of the “fruit of the Spirit” in their lives (Galatians 5:22-23; Matthew 7:15-20).

And what of us who believe but still commit sins? Are we excluding ourselves from the community? John answers that sin does not exclude us if we acknowledge it as sin and keep trying. “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful… and will forgive… and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”

The confession of sin is a profession of faith in Christ’s ideals. But if we rationalize our behavior and say, “We have not sinned,” then we reject his teaching and “his word is not in us.”

Matthew 2: 13-18 helps us understand how those who do not explicitly believe in Jesus are saved. It speaks of little babies who never knew Jesus — who were not developed enough as human beings to make a free choice or a conscious act of faith. And yet the Church celebrates them as martyrs who died in witness to faith in Jesus Christ.

There are levels in the human soul that are deeper than conscious thought. And God is able to communicate with us in ways that bypass access through the brain. This is why babies, people who are “brain dead,” and people with insurmountable intellectual or emotional blocks against Christianity can respond to God’s call in ways invisible to us. Heaven is full of unlikely people singing “Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler’s snare.”

Initiative: If you want to know Jesus, seek him where he can be found. Confess sin as sin. But continue to assemble with the community and to receive Christ, who is able to “rescue you from sin like a bird from the fowler’s snare.”

Monday, December 26, 2016

Why We Rejoice

December 27, 2016
Feast of Saint John

Why We Rejoice

The Responsorial Psalm gives us the key, not only to the readings, but to Christian life: “Rejoice in the Lord, you just” (Psalm 97).

1John 1: 1-4 explains why we rejoice: “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” In Jesus, the Word of life, “life was made visible… the eternal life that was with the Father was made visible to us.” And John, called the “Evangelist” (the “Good-News-er”), proclaims it to all who will listen “so that you too may have fellowship with us.”

This is what Christianity is all about: koinonia: “fellowship,” “community,” “communion in the Holy Spirit” with God and with one another in the intimate union of one shared life, one shared light, one shared love.

This life was made visible in Jesus Christ. John testifies that it is “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands.” God’s divine life was made visible in Jesus. And it is made visible in us.

John writes about it, and calls us to make this life visible to one another, “so that our joy may be complete.”

In John 20: 1-8 John takes us to the theological root of our belief that God’s life is present and visible in every Christian. Beginning with Mary Magdalen’s complaint after finding Jesus’ tomb empty: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him,” he tells how he and Peter ran to the tomb to see. There they saw “the burial cloths,” but not the body of Jesus. And John says of himself, “He saw and believed.”

What did he believe? He believed Jesus was risen from the dead. Where did he believe he would find him? In his risen body. Where do we find his risen body today? In all the members of the Church who are Christ’s body on earth.

Jesus explained before his death that he had to die in order to rise multiplied in all the baptized: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). The “eternal life that was with the Father was made visible to us” in Jesus. And it is made visible to the world in us, who are his risen body on earth. Jesus is “Emmanuel: God-with-us” in his Church. We find him in the “fellowship,” the “communion of the Holy Spirit” that we experience with one another.

Rejoice in the Lord, you just,” because Jesus is risen and dwelling visibly among us still.

Initiative: If you want to know Jesus, seek him where he can be found. Get involved with the Christian community. Assemble with those who believe.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

“Christ In You, The Hope Of Glory”

December 26, 2016
Feast of St. Stephen

“Christ In You, The Hope Of Glory”

The Responsorial Psalm is the Christian response to death: “Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit” (Psalm 31).

Acts 6:8 to 7:59 reminds us that the Good News is good news even when it seems to be bad! Stephen is stoned to death by his own people for proclaiming Jesus. But before they attacked him, “filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” That is what gave him the faith, the hope and the love to pray, while they were stoning him, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Because of Jesus, even death is good news!

What enraged Stephen’s hearers was the truth. Stephen gave a short summary of God’s dealings with his Chosen People. It was a history of God’s fidelity and their infidelity. God called and blessed his people; then they rejected him; then he rescued them. Over and over.

After God made the covenant with Abraham, his descendants sold their brother Joseph into slavery. But God used Joseph to rescue them from famine. Through Moses he led them out of slavery in Egypt. But they “were unwilling to obey him; instead, they pushed him aside, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.” God still brought them into the Promised Land. There Solomon built the Temple — which Jesus, and later Stephen, were both accused of wanting to destroy (Mark 14:58; 15:29; John 2:19; Acts 6: 13-14). But the temple that God promised “David’s son” would build (1Samuel 7: 12-13) was greater than this.

Both Jesus and Stephen were rejected for offering something better than what people were used to. “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands,” but in the living Son of God made flesh and in his living body still on earth, the Church. This is the mystery of salvation. It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians. 1:27). The mystery of salvation is to “be Christ” by sharing Christ’s own divine life. Because we have Christ’s eternal life within us, when death comes we say with Jesus (Luke 23:46) and Stephen, “Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit.

Jesus warns us in Matthew 10: 17-22 that we too will be persecuted: “You will be hated by all because of my name.” But not to worry: “The one who endures to the end will be saved.” We too will say with faith, hope and joy, “Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit.” This is the good news that erases all bad news.

Initiative: If you want to live life to the full, be Christ! Accept the good news that you have divine life within you, the fullness of life that will never end. Whenever you feel fear say, “Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Reflections for Christmas Day

For the afternoon of December 24

The Good News of Christ’s Birth


Do you appreciate Jesus? What effect does he have on your daily life? Does the thought of him make you happy? How often do you think of him?

What does it mean to you (affectively as well as intellectually) to say Jesus is the Savior of the world and your Savior?


The Entrance Antiphon tells us, “Today you will know the Lord is coming to save us, and in the morning you will see his glory.” This is from Exodus 16: 6-7, when God promises to “rain bread from heaven” for his People each day while they are in the desert. The “manna” has been replaced by Jesus, the “living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). This Bread of Life is available to us every day in the Eucharist. It is ours for the taking.

That is something to appreciate.

In the Opening Prayer, we say that “every year we rejoice as we look forward to this feast of our salvation.” We celebrate Christmas every year to help us look forward to Mass every Sunday — and just to waking up every day. In every Mass we celebrate the gift, and the ongoing experience, of salvation. Whenever we think of him, we “welcome Christ as our Redeemer.”

“Salvation” becomes real for us the day we realize that there is something going on between ourselves and God, and we decide to get involved in it. That is when we begin to “meet him with confidence,” not just “when he comes to be our judge,” but as we undertake, with his help, to let him act with us, in us and through us in every action of our day.

In the Prayer after Communion we ask God to “give us a new birth as we celebrate the beginning of your Son’s life on earth” and to “strengthen us in Spirit.” We can have this new birth and new strength in the Spirit every day. All we have to do is celebrate every day the beginning of your Son’s life on earth. Say the WIT prayer every morning: “Lord, live this day with me, live this day in me, live this day through me.” Say it before everything you do, all day long.

“As a bridegroom…”

The Responsorial Psalm is: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 89). The Psalm specifies, “Happy the people who know…” enough to do this. “At your name they rejoice all the day.” If we reflect on what Jesus did and is doing for us, and if we remember it frequently, we too will “rejoice all the day.”

What is there to know?

Isaiah 62: 1-5 deserves to be read and re-read every day of Christmas! It gives us a reason (many reasons, and there are many, many more!) to be Christians. It tells us what is so great about recognizing there is something “going on” between ourselves and God and deciding to get involved in it. It tells us what we get out of participating in the life of the Church.

Isaiah leaves no doubt about what our relationship with Christ is: “The Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse…. As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” The Church is the “bride of Christ” (John 3:29; Ephesians 5: 25-32; Revelation 19:7-9; 21: 2-10; 22: 17). And all of us (male and female alike) are “brides in the Bride.” What this means is that we are all committed to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with Jesus as Spouse — just as married couples are committed to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with each other. When Paul speaks of marriage he says, “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32).

This may sound daunting, but look at what it gives! “You shall be called by a new name” — you will have a whole new sense of your identity. “No longer” shall you see yourself as “Forsaken” or “Desolate,” “but you shall be called [and know yourselves as] ‘My Delight’ and… ‘Espoused.’” Think for a minute about what this says. Is this a relationship with God worth entering into? Once we appreciate what this means, our response will be, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!

“Have no fear…”

Matthew 1: 1-25 answers the hesitancy we have about entering into a relationship of spousal love with Jesus Christ. It tells us how Joseph felt when he learned that God had chosen his fiancée to make her the mother of his own Son.

Contrary to legend, Joseph was not suspicious of Mary when she told him she was pregnant. He believed what he told her about the angel’s message. But like any devout Jew — or any one of us! — when he learned that God had chosen Mary for his own spouse, he bowed down in reverence and began to back out of the picture. Who was he to interfere in the mystery of God’s relationship with Mary? We would do the same!

But the angel came to Joseph and said, “Have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.” But you, Joseph “are to name him” with the name God has chosen. You are chosen by God to fulfill the role of earthly father to Jesus. And you are to be the earthly spouse of Mary in every way but sexual. She is to be your wife and you her husband — and you are to be a father to the Son of the Most High.

Was this a scary, a daunting call? Yes. Did it call for sacrifice? Yes. Was the sacrifice worth the privilege of playing such a role in the redemption of the world? When Joseph was assured that God wanted him to do this, and that God would be his strength, wasn’t his response, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”? Is that our response to the call we have received to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with Jesus Christ?

The strength of call

In Acts 13: 16-25 Paul is presenting Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s long history of being chosen, guided, supported and empowered by God. It should give us confidence to embrace the relationship with God to which Jesus calls us.

Paul reminds the Jews that God “chose our fathers. He made this people great… led them out of Egypt… raised up David… ‘a man after my own heart, who will fulfill my every wish.’”

Then “according to his promise” he brought forth from David’s descendants “Jesus, a savior for Israel.” John the Baptizer, who announced him, was thought by some to be the Messiah himself. But John said, “What you suppose me to be I am not. Rather, look for the one who comes after me. I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals on his feet.”

It is possible that Christianity itself is not “what we suppose it to be.” If we don’t feel like shouting every day, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!” it means we haven’t really understood or appreciated the Good News. This is not a matter of emotions, but of deep, interior understanding, awareness and joy; joy even on those days when we would have preferred not to get out of bed! We will come to appreciate the Good News if, when we feel depressed and discouraged, naming ourselves “Forsaken” and “Desolate,” we do four things: remember what Jesus has done for us, think about all he is doing and willing to do for us in our lives right now, decide to believe in this — to believe in him — and act as if we believed. Then we will appreciate the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”—the favor of “sharing in the life of God”—and the privilege of being chosen to continue and carry out Christ’s mission on earth. And yes, we will even appreciate the opportunities we have to show our love for him, and his love for the world, by putting out when it costs us. We will appreciate what it means to be a Christian, what it means to take part in the life and life-giving labor of the Church. What it means to know Jesus Christ.

This is what Christmas is all about: a celebration to help us celebrate with more appreciation all year. It is the celebration of Jesus as Savior of the world and Savior of our lives in the world. Savior of our family and social lives, of our business and professional lives — the Savior of life itself. Celebrating will make it natural for us to say, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!


What would you say to someone who asked you what Christmas means to you? Does your daily life —including your visible attitudes, values and priorities, the stance you express in action toward the Church and the world — say the same thing?


Every day during Christmas season (until the Sunday after the Epiphany) consciously and deliberately think of one thing Christianity gives you. Set a time to do this. And enter with special attention into the Introductory Rites at Mass.

December 25

The Good News of Jesus the Savior


“Gospel” means “Good News.” Have you experienced Christianity as good news or just heard that it is? How is Jesus “news” to people today? What is so good about whatever Christianity is? When do you personally think about this and celebrate it?


The Entrance Antiphon tells us, “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior is born to the world. True peace has descended from heaven.” What gives hope of peace is something (Someone) from heaven who is now present on earth. The Good News is a new and special presence of God in the world: the “Incarnation”; that is, God’s “taking flesh” as a human being on this earth.

The alternate Entrance Antiphon is, “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.’” The Psalm speaks of an Israelite king, called God’s “anointed” because “in Israel kings and high priests received the power of their office through anointing.” The Church applies this to Jesus, the Anointed One (“christos” in Greek, “mashiah” or “Messiah” in Hebrew).1

If we truly understand the mystery of our Baptism, we will also apply these words to ourselves. Each of us will say, “The Lord said to me, “You are my son, my daughter,” because on “this day” — the day of our Baptism — we became Christ. In Him we have become filii in Filio, true children of the Father. And we were anointed at Baptism with chrism to share in Christ’s own divine anointing and consecration as Priest, Prophet and King.

The Good News continues to be news in the world as Jesus reveals himself anew in each one of us, in the words he speaks through us and the “works” he performs through us. Jesus promised this before he died: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”2

In the Opening Prayer(s), we celebrate the “splendor of Jesus our light,” and the “glory that breaks on the world” with his birth. We also ask for “a foretaste of the joy” that will be ours “when the fullness of his glory has filled the earth.” In the Prayer after Communion we acknowledge that we ourselves will be God’s answer to this prayer. We will fill the earth with the splendor and glory of Jesus when we “share his life completely by living as he has taught.” We — with Christ acting with us, in us, and through us — are the Good News made visible on earth today.

The Light of Life

The Responsorial Psalm gives the key to the readings: “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11 and Psalm 96).

This is what Christianity is about: on Christmas Day and every day.

Isaiah 9: 1-7 tells us to expect four things of the Savior:

1. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” He will show us the way to live by being the Way, and will teach us by being the Truth.

2. He will bring us “abundant joy.” Jesus came that we might “have life, life to the full.” He is the Life.3

3. He will set us free from “the yoke that burdened us and the rod of the taskmaster.” Our religion will not be fearful or slavish obedience to laws, but responses of love made in the intimacy of personal friendship with God.

4. His rule will establish peace through justice throughout the world: “For every boot that tramped in battle will be burned… His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, [sustained] by judgment and justice, both now and forever.”

Jesus is not a Savior who will do all of this “from on high,” with purely divine power. He took flesh to save the world as a human being, living and working on “ground level.” Everything promised above Jesus will give to the human race through humans, by speaking and acting in humans, in the members of his body on earth, in us. If we don’t do it — by letting him do it with us, in us and through us — it will be done, but not in our lifetime. Only when we “share his life completely by living as he has taught,” as we asked in the Prayer after Communion, will we experience the joy that will be ours “when the fullness of his glory has filled the earth.”

We are the glory of God. The glory of God is God’s life shining in us. St. Irenaeus said it: “Life in humans is the glory of God; the life of humans is the vision of God.” But Jesus said it first: just as he glorified the Father by letting the Father’s life appear in him, so Jesus is glorified when his life is visible in his disciples.

We are “the light of the world.”4

God’s life is visible in us when our lives show forth the “fruit of the Spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When our lives, our actions, our choices, our joy cannot be explained except by the life of God in us, then we are proof to the world that “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord. 5

Glory and Peace

The Gloria at Mass echoes the angels’ song in Luke 2: 1-14: “Glory to God in high heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” We celebrate this Christmas theme all year long. We live in a vision of glory and peace. Christianity focuses us on glory and peace. But we have to listen to the words that are said and sung at Mass. And we have to consciously say them and mean them.

It is possible to grow up Christian from childhood and never appreciate the Good News. To appreciate we have to praise. (Read that again: this is a working principle in life). If we do not praise God we will not appreciate him. (If we do not praise other people, we will not appreciate them either). So when we make the decision to consciously, intentionally praise God through the words we say at Mass, we are making a decision to grow into appreciation of the Good News.

The contrary is also true: if we do not decide to consciously praise God at Mass, we are in fact accepting to deny ourselves the appreciation of the Good News that Mass can give. Many Catholics do this: they simply don’t “get into” praising God at Mass (or anywhere else, for that matter). They just say the words without thinking about them or meaning them. As a result, many just drop out of active participation in the Mass, saying it “never meant anything” to them. And it didn’t: they never paid attention to the meaning of the words, never said the words with awareness that they were meaning them, never addressed them consciously to God, speaking directly and personally to him. To echo John of the Cross, “Where you don’t find meaning, put meaning and you will find it!”

The truth is, many who identify themselves as Christians have never really been “evangelized.” They grew up hearing the Good News without hearing it, because they gave no conscious, personal response to it in their hearts. If they had, they would still be, like the shepherds, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”

That is why we celebrate Christmas: to re-evangelize ourselves. To appreciate deeply and personally the Good News that “Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.” Christmas is a time to recapture the vision of glory and peace.

The Blessed Hope

Titus 2: 11-14 reminds us that Christianity also focuses us on waiting. Jesus has come, announced and inaugurated the “reign of God,” and he will come again when, by working with us, in us and through us, he has established God’s reign in every human heart. Jesus is the Savior who came in the weakness and self-emptying of human nature, ending his life in apparent defeat on the cross. He will come again in the glory of his resurrection and the triumph of his kingship. In the interim he is the Savior still present and working in us, his body on earth.6

Paul’s words to Titus are quoted in the Rite of Communion at Mass: “as we await our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of… our Savior Jesus Christ” (currently altered to: “as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ”).

1See The Catholic Study Bible edition of the New American Bible, Oxford University Press, 1990, footnotes to Psalm 2 with references to Acts 4:25-27; 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; Judges 9:8; 1Samuel 9:16 and 16:12-13; Leviticus 8:12; Numbers 3:3.

 2John 14:12.

 3John 14:6; 10:10.

 4 John 13:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 17:4-10; Matthew 5:14. And see the treatise of St. Irenaeus Against Heresies, quoted in the Office of Readings for his feast day, June 28.

 5Galatians 5:22-23.

6Philippians 2:5-11.


What is the Good News? How do we come to appreciate it?


Begin every Mass consciously praising and thanking God. Listen to the words.

December 25

 (Mass During the Day)

The Saving Power Of God

 The Responsorial Psalm proclaims: “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God” (Psalm 98). And all three readings emphasize the uniqueness of this “saving power,” which abides in Jesus, who is uniquely the “Son of God.”

Isaiah 52: 7-10 keeps insisting that the power that saves us is God’s own: “Your God is King!,” ”They see… before their eyes, the LORD restoring Zion…. The LORD comforts his people… the LORD has bared his holy arm….”

Hebrews 1: 1-6 is unequivocal about the uniqueness of Jesus: “God spoke to our ancestors in partial and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…. He is the refulgence of God's glory, the very imprint of his being, who sustains all things by his mighty word.”

John 1: 1-18 is perhaps the most mystical of all the passages in the Gospels, and the most explicit about Jesus’ divinity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” (“Grace” is hesed, charis, “love”; and “truth” is emet, aletheia, “fidelity.” Jesus is the embodiment of God’s “steadfast, enduring love”).

John concludes, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.” So we sing, “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.”

This power is able to accomplish “far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). To all who believe in him, Jesus gives “power to become children of God.” Jesus is the Son of God who makes us “sons and daughters in the Son.” By his death and resurrection he became able to say to his disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). He has made us divine.

Christianity is unique in believing that God became human. And equally unique in believing that “in Christ” — and only in Christ, by sharing in his divine life — humans become God (see December 20). This is why Christians are called to be, not just exemplary human beings, but people who live and love on the level of God. The more we grow into this by surrender to Christ within us, the more “All the ends of the earth will see the saving power of God.”

Initiative: If you want to live life to the full, be Christ! Accept to live on the level of God. Say before every action, “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.” In everything you do, act with the love of Jesus himself.