Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C

Today we celebrate the end of the Christmas season, and that may make you ask yourself why we would celebrate it, especially when Christmas “ended” a while ago. In today’s readings God himself celebrates what is taking place in the Gospel: John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the river Jordan.

In today’s First Reading the Lord speaks of Jesus as his servant who is about to begin something wonderful: his public life. He’s going to bring justice to the world, be a light for the nations, open the eyes of the blind, and free prisoners, and God is keeping his promise through Jesus’ mission on earth. In short, God is sending out the Savior today to get to work. During Christmas we celebrated the birth of the Savior. On today’s feast, the Baptism of the Lord, we’re celebrating him finishing his silent years in Nazareth and going out to preach salvation to the world.

In today’s Second Reading Peter rejoices that salvation is not just for the people of Israel, but for everyone who respects God and acts uprightly. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan he institutes a new kind of baptism. John talks about that baptism in the Gospel today as different from his: it is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter is speaking to Cornelius, who was the first non-Jew to be baptized in Church history. The Jews thought originally that the Savior would only come for the Jews, but then the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter and the Church through Cornelius’ situation that the Savior was coming for every nation that “fears God” (respects God) and “acts uprightly” (acts in a good way). The Holy Spirit always works gradually. Cornelius had heard about Jesus and his promise of salvation and had been praying for a sign. Peter was praying too, and they didn’t know each other at all. An angel came to Cornelius and told him to send men to find and bring Peter. Cornelius was a Roman centurion, and since he wasn’t a Jew, Peter wouldn’t have visited him unless the Holy Spirit had said it was okay in a dream, because Jews didn’t enter the homes of non-Jews.

As Peter in today’s Second Reading rejoices that the Savior has come for everyone, he recalls Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, recalled in today’s Gospel, as the beginning of doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil. Our Lord’s public ministry began with his baptism in the Jordan, so we celebrate today with God, with Peter, with Cornelius, and with everyone who has become Christian since through the waters of baptism. We celebrate that Jesus began to go out and do good, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and free those who are imprisoned by sin. We also celebrate baptism today. Church Fathers and Doctors have said Our Lord sanctified the waters for baptism even as he took the plunge into the waters of the Jordan to receive John’s. In remembering Our Lord’s baptism we remember our own with gratitude.

In today’s Gospel the Father says Jesus is his beloved son and he is well pleased with him. When you received baptism Our Lord was pleased with you too. For many of us that was a long time ago. It begs the question: am I still pleasing the Lord? We seek approval from those we love, and who loves us more than Our Lord? Make an extra effort this week to live in a way that is pleasing to Our Lord. That’s the best way to show your appreciation for the gift of baptism.

Readings: Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Psalm 29:1–4, 9–10; Acts 10:34–38; Luke 3:15–16, 21–22. See also The Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C (1st Sunday in Ordinary Time).

Saturday after Epiphany

Today’s Gospel is an apt conclusion to the Christmas Season, since it’s always the last Gospel before Ordinary Time resumes with the Baptism of the Lord. John’s disciples are concerned that Jesus’ ministry is gaining more traction than his, and John reminds them that he was always called to pave the way for the Christ, not to be his competition. John is happy to “decrease,” even to martyrdom, so that Our Lord may increase. During Advent the readings focused many times on John the Baptist; with the Baptism of the Lord tomorrow we see John’s work concluding and him “passing the baton” to Our Lord.

As believers we are all called to pave the way for Our Lord to come into the lives of others. As the First Reading reminds us today, we have a spiritual responsibility to them, to pray for them to receive the gift of conversion and turn away from sin to embrace Our Lord. Even today, as John warned in today’s First Reading, there are idols that try to take the place of Our Lord, and the Evil One is happy to let us stumble into idolatry out of ignorance, putting money, power, or pleasure in first place. Our Lord has come into the world to show us who we should truly follow: him. John knew, and we know too.

Let”s examine ourselves on this last day of the Christmas season and see whether we’re putting anything before Our Lord. If we put him first, others will see the importance of putting him first too.

Readings: 1 John 5:14–21; Psalm 149:1–5, 6a, 9b; John 3:22–30.

 

Mary, Mother of God (2)

Today a new year begins, and the Christmas Octave concludes with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. We begin the new year celebrating the generosity and fiat of Mary that made her the Mother of God. This feast celebrates both the divinity of Christ and what that implies for Mary’s maternity. We also celebrate the World Day of Peace, rejoicing that the Prince of Peace is born.

As the Lord teaches the Israelites in today’s First Reading, we invoke his blessings as we begin a new year, giving thanks for the year just concluded and asking his favor in the year to come. Aaron and the priests invoke the Lord’s blessing, just as our priests do. An adaption of this formula of blessing is used even today in the Church. The Lord promised Israel that if they entered into covenant with him they would be his prized possession. May Lord see us this year as worth keeping and cherishing.

In the Old Testament the Lord turned his face from sinners because he was displeased with what they were doing, and when they repented they would ask him to show them his face. May the Lord see us this year always doing what is pleasing to him and beam about it. Lastly, we know the Lord is kind, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for his kindness. How many of us in a difficult situation have said, “Give me a break!” Considering how much of a mess sin makes, the Lord have given us a lot of “breaks,” and may he continue to do so. Peace comes with renewing our resolve not to sin. May the Lord help us attain and maintain this peace.

In today’s Second Reading we’re reminded by Paul that just as Jesus was begotten, not made, of the Father in his divinity, Our Lord was born of Mary in his humanity. The “woman” of whom the Son was born was Mary. He came for two reasons: to redeem us from our sins (“to ransom those under the law’), and in doing so enable us to become sons and daughters of God (“so that we might receive adoption as sons”). With the Fall of Adam and Eve humanity was fatally wounded by Original Sin. When Our Lord was born of a woman, born under the law, the divine Person of God the Son, Jesus, took up wounded humanity and healed it. We celebrate Mary, Mother of God today because through her the Lord started living the steps of human life that come from having a human nature: conception (of the Holy Spirit, in his case), gestation and birth.

When the shepherds in today’s Gospel told Mary that angels had spoken to them, she surely remembered that fateful day nine months earlier when she conceived of the Holy Spirit after the visit of Gabriel. Again in this moment the heavenly choirs can’t contain themselves at the birth of the Savior. Jesus in his public ministry would tell his listeners that the angels in Heaven rejoice more over a repentant sinner that over scores of holy people. Here they celebrate the salvation at hand for everyone and share the news with people low on the social scale: shepherds were marginalized in the culture of the time, which is why they usually kept to themselves. That didn’t matter to them now; they found the Holy Family and shared the good news with “All who heard it.”

Mary, in contrast, takes in the incredible mysteries of God that are unfolding in silence and contemplation. We can only imagine how she described these events years later to the first Christians, perhaps to Luke the evangelist himself, so that they would be narrated for future Christians. As a new year begins we remember this moment of salvation history as the beginning of a new phase of Mary’s relationship with God. Inspired by her example let’s strive to begin this new year as a year of a deeper love for Christ; in that way it will truly be a happy new year.

Today’s Gospel says that when the shepherd’s explained the reason for their visit: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Granted that many people today are recovering from yesterday evening’s festivities it’s not hard to start this New Year as Mary did: peacefully, quietly, and in a spirit of contemplation, not just recuperation. All the fanfare is over, and the new year has just started. Reflect on the things in your heart. There are certainly things there you treasure, but also things there you regret. Now is the moment to inaugurate a year of peace.

Readings: Numbers 6:22–27; Psalm 67:2–8; Galatians 4:4–7; Luke 2:16–21. See also Mary, Mother of God, Christmas Octave, 5th Day and 6th Day.

Christmas, Vigil Mass

This evening we celebrate when something truly miraculous came to pass on a Holy Night: God was born. The newborn Jesus ushers in a new dawn, a dawn of hope for a humanity that was lost in the night of sin and in need of a Savior.

Like Isaiah in this evening’s First Reading, we can’t be silent in the light of what we’re celebrating: our Messiah is born. The vindication Isaiah describes dawns with the birth of Our Lord. With the daybreak of Our Lord a new age begins, the age of our redemption and restored union with God. Vindication means to set free, to avenge, or to free from allegation or blame, to defend. The Lord has freed us from our sins. He has avenged us for all the evil we’ve had to suffer. In becoming one of us he has freed us from blame and shown favor toward us. With his birth we will be defended from sin forever. This vindication is a restoration of the dignity of Israel after it had gained a bad name. For her infidelity she was Forsaken, and everyone knew it. She was despoiled of her true wealth—the Lord—and became Desolate as a result. The Lord shows his favor toward us, his People, with a love as deep and solid as that of newlyweds. The union between the Lord and humanity will never diminish. He has become flesh, one with us in his humanity, and bridged the gap between the divine and the human worked by sin. Like the love of newlyweds, that love should only grow deeper. His holy humanity has the power to make our humanity holy too and is destined to grow.

In this evening’s Second Reading Paul describes all the key players in salvation history that would lead to the Messiah born to us today. The God of Israel, none other, chose to reveal himself and walk with the patriarchs, then freed their descendants from Egypt and established a people as his people. When the king they clamored for failed them (Saul) the Lord raised up David as their king, a king who’d always be faithful to him. King David’s descendant, Jesus, would be faithful to the Father forever and save us forever. John’s conception and birth, as the prophets foretold in the Old Testament, also heralded the arrival of the Messiah. This evening we celebrate that the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem.

In this evening’s Gospel recalls the lineage of Our Lord to reveal something even more miraculous than the birth of the Messiah: the birth of the Son of God. He is descended from David, something he gets from Joseph, but he wouldn’t be in the human family tree at all if not for Mary welcoming him into her womb, enabling him to assume human nature. There are saints and sinners in his family tree, but he shows his solidarity with them all by taking up a place in the human family. The Gospel also presents Joseph trying to face the dilemma of the Incarnation. Joseph was betrothed to Mary, but he knew he was not Our Lord’s biological father. Something in his heart did not want to condemn Mary for an apparent wrong, but the facts that he knew, and the Law, were clear.

It took a revelation and faith to accept the miracle that was about to be born, and Joseph had a strong faith. Every birth is a miracle, but the birth we’re celebrating this evening takes the miraculous to an entirely different level. We’re happy to celebrate the birth of Our Savior, just as anyone in need of saving would be. Illustrious historical figures who’d go on to save their people are many. This evening we rejoice that God the Son is born. God has assumed human nature and come among us, full of grace and truth. Some historians may balk at that, but we believe with joy what the Lord has revealed to us: God is born as Our Savior.

Christmas Eve gives us an opportunity to help the light of Christ dawn more brightly on Christmas Day. Christmas Day is still relatively sacred in terms of a civil holiday, but someone is always working, and not always because they want overtime. Sometimes they drew the short straw or are far from family and friends. Why not bring that gas station attendant, homeless shelter volunteer, emergency responder, nurse on shift, police officer, etc., a plate of Christmas cheer, or a simple thank you for working so that others can be safe and rest?

Readings: Isaiah 62:1–5; Psalm 89:4–5, 16–17, 27, 29; Acts 13:16–17, 22–25; Matthew 1:1–25. See also Christmas, Mass During the Day (2), and Christmas, Mass During the Day.

Image result for nativity scene

4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C (2)

The Fourth Sunday of Advent’s readings remind us that the pregnant pause of Advent, soon concluding, is a time to renew and rejoice in the promises of the Lord, promises we start to see fulfilled in Our Savior’s birth.

In today’s First Reading Micah reminds us that the fulfillment of the promise starts humble and small, but will grow to something great, lasting, and wonderful: peace to all of good will. Like King David, the Messiah would not be born in royal Jerusalem, but in the little town of Bethlehem, a humble beginning. Yet his origin is from “ancient times”: from eternity is about as old as you can get. The Lord’s plans for Israel and the eternity of the Son are both ancient and mysterious.

The return of his “kindred” to the children of Israel alludes to all of humanity benefitting from his rule, not just Israel. He will rule with the authority and strength of the Lord, with the goal of establishing a lasting kingdom characterized by peace for all. After Micah’s prophecy and the last prophets Israel experienced a “pregnant” pause. The prophets fell silent. There was Messianic expectation, but nothing seemed to happen for a long time. Like a child in the womb something beautiful was gestating. Advent also represents this pregnant pause. Just as a child takes ninth months to form in the womb, these weeks of Advent, now drawing to a close, let something worthy of our hope form as well.

In today’s Second Reading the Letter to the Hebrews explains why Our Lord came. We sacrifice to please the Lord but sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake is not everything. If you’re divine like the Son, assuming a human nature and living a human life is a sacrifice. Imagine giving up Heaven for an earthly life. The Father wanted someone to sacrifice himself for our redemption, and the Son did so, knowing and wanting the will of the Father. Sacrifices are often external to us, so we always run the risk of disconnecting our hearts from what we’re doing. We lose sight of why we’re sacrificing something. The Incarnation and Nativity teach us that the Son, in assuming human nature and being born of Mary, went “all in” in terms of sacrifice. He began a human life to give it all for us and for his Father.

In today’s Gospel Mary had just given her fiat (accepting her vocation to be the Mother of God) and she has hurried to help her cousin Elizabeth who is well along in her miraculous pregnancy. Like Mother, like Son, Mary sought to do the Father’s will too. After the centuries of pregnant pause announced by Micah something was starting to happen.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that life starts in the womb, not on our birthday, as any mother who feels her child growing and kicking in the womb will tell you. John starts “prophesying” (probably with his feet) knowing the Lord is near. Elizabeth is also privileged with a spiritual insight into what is happening: she knows Mary is bearing the “Lord” her womb. She also knows the source of Mary’s blessing: her faith in the Lord’s promises. As Advent concludes we are blessed to the degree that we believe the Lord’s promise will be fulfilled. We’ll end Advent with a little baby in a manger being born, but we believe he will grow one day to redeem us and shepherd us and everyone we love who welcomes him to a lasting peace.

One of the titles of Our Lord, very appropriate in the light of Micah’s prophesy today, is Prince of Peace (cf. Isaiah 9:6). The Prince of Peace is about to be born to shepherd in a lasting peace. We don’t have to wait. Advent is a season of penance and reconciliation, a time where we make peace with the Lord, and we make an extra effort to make peace with one another. If you are feuding with anyone, now is the time to offer the olive branch to welcome the Prince of Peace.

Readings: Micah 5:1–4a; Psalm 80:2–3, 15–16, 18–19; Hebrews 10:5–10; Luke 1:39–45. See also 4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C.