Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Nativity of the Lord, Year A

A blessed and holy Christmas to you! The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory (John 1:14). What a gift God has given to our world. This year we would like to share with you this delightful manuscript illumination of the Nativity scene. If you click on the image to see details, you'll notice Jesus patting the head of the ass. There's so much to meditate on in this charming painting: a hole in the roof allows the golden rays of the star to shine through - divine providence in the midst of poverty! - and an industrious angel helps out this tired family by pouring water in the trough - a lowly, thoughtful task!

Just as there is a wealth of images of the Birth of Our Lord, so understandably there is an abundance of writings on the Nativity. Here's a little jewel on the humility of Christ from Theodotus (d. 446), bishop of Ancyra:
Nativity, Book of Hours, ca. 1420 (British Library)
The Lord of all comes as a slave amidst poverty. The huntsman has no wish to startle his prey. Choosing for birthplace an unknown village in a remote province, he is born of a poor maiden and accepts all that poverty implies, for he hopes by stealth to ensnare and save us.
...Suppose he had been the son of an emperor. They would have said: “How useful it is to be powerful!” Imagine him the son of a senator. It would have been: “Look what can be accomplished by legislation!”
But in fact, what did he do? He chose surroundings that were poor and simple, so ordinary as to be almost unnoticed, so that people would know it was the Godhead alone that had changed the world. This was his reason for choosing his mother from among the poor of a very poor country, and for becoming poor himself.
Let the manger teach you how poor the Lord was: he was laid in it because he had no bed to lie on. This lack of the necessaries of life was a most appropriate prophetic foreshadowing. He was laid in a manger to show that he would be the food even of the inarticulate. The Word of God drew to himself both the rich and the poor, both the eloquent and the slow of speech as he lay in the manger in poverty. Do you not see how his lack of worldly goods was a prophecy and how his poverty, accepted for our sake, showed his accessibility to all?
No one was afraid to approach Christ, overawed by his immense wealth; no one was kept from coming to him by the grandeur of his royal estate. No, he who was offering himself for the salvation of the world came as an ordinary worker. The Word of God in a human body was laid in a manger, so that both the eloquent and the slow of speech would have courage to share in the food of salvation.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

4th Sunday of Advent, Year A

As we approach the Birth of Our Lord, the Church gives us in the liturgy Matthew's acccount of St. Joseph (Mt. 1:18-24): When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. The angel sent by God calms his fear, and When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

It was providential that Pope Francis's inaugural Mass was on the feast of St. Joseph, the protector of Jesus and Mary. The full homily is well worth meditating on during these last days of Advent, but here are a few of his thoughts:
Hugo van der Goes, Portinari Tryptique  (c. 1475) (detail)
How does Joseph respond to his calling to be the protector of Mary, Jesus and the Church? By being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God’s presence and receptive to God’s plans, and not simply to his own.... Joseph is a “protector” because he is able to hear God’s voice and be guided by his will; and for this reason he is all the more sensitive to the persons entrusted to his safekeeping. He can look at things realistically, he is in touch with his surroundings, he can make truly wise decisions. In him, dear friends, we learn how to respond to God’s call, readily and willingly, but we also see the core of the Christian vocation, which is Christ! Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!
The vocation of being a “protector” ... means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about. It means caring for one another in our families: husbands and wives first protect one another, and then, as parents, they care for their children, and children themselves, in time, protect their parents. It means building sincere friendships in which we protect one another in trust, respect, and goodness. In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

3rd Sunday of Advent, Year A

St. John the Baptist, who last week pointed out the Lord, is again featured in today's Gospel narrative. He is in prison, and he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, Are you the one who is to come, or are we to look for someone else? Could any question be more important to humanity? Who is Jesus? Who is this Child lying in the manger? Are you the one who is to come, or are we to look for someone else?

Here's part of Pope Francis's Angelus message, given in 2016:
The Lord comes, he comes into our life as a liberator; he comes to free us from all forms of interior and exterior slavery. It is he who shows us the path of faithfulness, of patience and of perseverance because, upon his return, our joy will be overflowing. Christmas is near, the signs of his approach are evident along our streets and in our houses; here too, in Saint Peter’s Square, the Nativity scene has been placed with the tree beside it. These outward signs invite us to welcome the Lord who always comes and knocks at our door, knocks at our heart, in order to draw near to us; he invites us to recognize his footsteps among the brothers and sisters who pass beside us, especially the weakest and most needy. 
Today we are called to rejoice for the imminent coming of our Redeemer; and we are called to share this joy with others, giving comfort and hope to the poor, the sick, and to people who are lonely and unhappy. May the Virgin Mary, the “handmaid of the Lord”, help us to hear God’s voice in prayer and to serve him with compassion in our brothers, so as to be prepared for the Christmas appointment, preparing our hearts to welcome Jesus.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

2nd Sunday of Advent, Year A

In today’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist tells the crowds, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” John is the forerunner of of the Messiah, of whom Isaiah prophesied: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” During this holy season of waiting for the coming of Our Lord, all creation seems to cry out, Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2).

Here is an excerpt from a homily of St. Augustine on the mercy of God and the time of salvation:
John the Baptist (right) with child Jesus, Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo
Each of us would be wise therefore to take to heart the advice of his teacher, and not waste this present time. It is now that our Savior offers us his mercy; now, while he still spares the human race. 
Understand that it is in hope of our conversion that he spares us, for he desires no one’s damnation. As for when the end of the world will be, that is God’s concern. Now it is the time for faith. Whether any of us here present will see the end of the world I know not; very likely none of us will. Even so, the time is very near for each of us, for we are mortal.There are hazards all around us. We should be in less danger from them were we made of glass. What more fragile than a vessel of glass? And yet it can be kept safe and last indefinitely. Of course it is exposed to accidents, but it is not liable to old age and the suffering it brings. We therefore are the more frail and infirm.