Holy Family, Cycle A

In today’s Gospel we see Our newborn Lord living the same travails of his people, and so many peoples, suffering persecution and slavery. Like his ancestors, Jesus and his family are forced to go to Egypt, but this time is different, because the future liberator does not fall into slavery there, and returns from exile to Israel in a new Exodus, a recurring theme of the prophets. He also lived, as many of his fellow Jews of the time, away from Israel in the diaspora, and even when he returned home he could not live in his native Bethlehem, but in Nazareth. Despite the travail of his first years of earthly life, the evil designs of Herod ultimately fail, and in their darkness the light of the Savior, fulfilling prophecies despite the dire events that cost innocent lives, shone ever more brightly.

Today’s feast is not only about Our Lord’s exile and return to Israel. It is about what makes a holy family. Mary welcomed life as part of God’s plan, and Joseph, despite some initial confusion, took Mary as his wife because the Lord revealed it was his will. The Holy Family supported each other when times became tough; not everyone in a family can contribute equally, but, as the First and Second Readings remind us today, everyone, through their virtue, contributes to the well-being of their parents, their siblings, and beyond. A family that sticks together can face any trial, and the key to that is prayer. As Fr. Patrick Peyton used to preach, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Joseph, when faced with hard decisions, listened to what the Lord had to say through angels and dreams, and his decisions were shaped by what God wanted. Mary’s whole life was a fiat to the plans of God. Our infant Lord couldn’t be in better hands.

Let’s pray that all families today, especially those in difficulty, be united in God. Through prayer and virtue let’s pray that they strengthen their existing bonds of love and restore those broken by trial.

Readings: Sirach 3:2–6, 12–14; Psalm 128:1–5; Matthew 2:13–15, 19–23. See also Holy Family, Cycle C.

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

In today’s First Reading St. John describes his mission as the communication of an experience. As apostle and evangelist St. John, through his Gospel, his letters, and the Book of Revelation, has tried to communicate an experience difficult to put into words. Alongside the more narrative accounts, not only in his Gospel, but in the Gospels of the other evangelists, John, through images and symbols, always strove to communicate the depth and richness of an experience of God, through his Son, that led to faith and communion. In the Acts of the Apostles St. Peter described an apostle’s qualifications: someone “who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). Through their testimony and ministry the Twelve communicated an experience of Christ that drew us into “fellowship” with them and with God.

In today’s Gospel we recall, along with John, one of his most sublime experiences, and experience that changed all our lives forever. Entering the empty tomb on the day of the Resurrection, John simply says that he “saw and believed.” He saw no vision of angels, like Mary Magdalene. He didn’t witness Our Lord directly being risen from the dead. He saw an empty tomb and some linens and in faith he knew his Lord had risen. The empty tomb didn’t mean Our Lord had staged his death: John saw him die on the cross. It didn’t mean Our Lord’s body had been stolen, Mary Magdalene’s “theory.” John knew, in faith, that the empty tomb meant Our Lord had Risen. Death no longer had the last word.

We remember John at Christmastime because his love and faith in Our Lord were always young and pure, just like Our infant Lord at this birth and beyond. Let John and the other evangelists this upcoming year draw you into their experience of faith so that you to can experience afresh Our Lord’s love.

Readings: 1 John 1:1–4; Psalm 97:1–2, 5–6, 11–12; John 20:1a, 2–8. See also Easter Sunday, Mass During the Day.

Advent, December 20th

Miracles occur when the Lord makes the “impossible” happen. In today’s Gospel Mary’s just been told, by an angel, that she was meant to fulfill the prophecy made by Isaiah in today’s First Reading, a prophecy even she considered impossible: that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. She’d decided to remain celibate in order to show her complete love for the Lord alone, and now Gabriel was telling her the Lord had other plans. When you’re confused about what God is asking of you, or how things will turn out, it’s okay to ask him in prayer how he wants the “impossible” to become possible.

Mary asked and discovered that miraculously both her plans and the Lord’s would blend into one. She she would have a vocation to love that respected how she wanted to love the Lord, yet went beyond the opportunities most people would have: she would be able to love the Lord as virgin, as his mother, and through being a good wife to Joseph.

Sometimes in life we face obstacles in moving forward. Our Lord may not always intervene miraculously, but in prayer he always shows us the way, and, eventually, the way forward becomes clear and seemingly insurmountable obstacles disappear. Don’t be afraid of taking time out at times in prayer to ask Our Lord how he’d like you to move forward. With his help you may not find the way forward a difficult as you thought.

Readings: Isaiah 7:10–14; Psalm 24:1–6; Luke 1:26–38. See also Annunciation of the Lord and Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle A

As the saying goes, it is always darkest before the dawn, but the dawn also represents the light growing brighter and brighter. This Sunday the light of the Advent wreath is full because we are close to the dawn of our salvation through the birth of Our Lord: God will soon visibly be with us after nine months in his mother’s womb.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah makes a prophecy that a a virgin will conceive and bear a son named Emmanuel (“God is with us”). Matthew in today’s Gospel shows that prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, and also the source of Joseph’s confusion and dilemma: Mary’s fidelity to the marriage agreement their families had already made was called into question. Was the engagement off? Joseph was leaning in that direction when the angel helped him see the path forward: this was all part of God’s plan.

Joseph went from quietly considering his options to experiencing a revelation in the fog of a dream. Big, life-impacting decisions often go beyond our mental calculus, beyond reassuring certainties: things get fuzzy and foggy. Big decisions imply risk. We can either decide in fear and uncertainty or in faith and trust in Our Lord.

Advent is almost over. Has the Lord sent any angels to you? Christmas break and the impending New Year is a good time for making decisions in faith. God is with you.

Readings: Isaiah 7:10–14; Psalm 24:1–6; Romans 1:1–7; Matthew 1:18–24. See also Saint Joseph, Husband of MaryAdvent, December 18th, and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

3rd Week of Advent, Friday

In today’s Gospel Our Lord warns the incredulous Scribes and Pharisees that if John was a lamp meant to light the way, Our Lord is a sun. As Advent winds to a close John’s mission draws to a conclusion and Our Lord’s is about to begin, and his phase of salvation history is a quantum leap, because he is its culmination.

Today’s First Reading reminds us that if we want Our Lord’s arrival to be a blessing it requires something on our part. It requires that we live uprightly. In Isaiah that is described in terms of religious observance, but the situation in today’s Gospel reminds us that religious observance can be severed from charity and living an upright life. In those sad circumstances it becomes empty and pointless. Advent is a penitential time to prepare for the Messiah’s birth; it is a moment for conversion, for turning our hearts back to the Lord, remembering that he never turns in heart away from us.

The difference between empty observance and fervent devotion is love we put into our relationship with Christ. Let’s not just put Christ back into Christmas, but our love for him back into it as well.

Readings: Isaiah 56:1–3a, 6–8; Psalm 67:2–8; John 5:33–36. See also 4th Week of Lent, Thursday.