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.

Epiphany of the Lord (2)

In today’s liturgy the Three Magi come from afar bearing gifts because they see the signs in the stars that a great king has just been born, great enough to warrant leaving their countries behind to see him and pay him homage. Yet the very fact of their arrival is the sign of something even greater sign.

Today’s First Reading speaks of how Jerusalem will be radiant when the Lord shines upon it, so much so that Jerusalem itself will attract others by its light to the Lord. Christ is like the filament of an incandescent bulb: without him there’d be no light at all. Yet a filament needs a bulb. Israel is the glass bulb. When Our Lord assumed human nature he chose a place, a time, and a people in which to become flesh, and that people, prepared by the Father, is Israel. Together they became a great source of light. Like a light bulb, that illumination is not just for Israel alone. All nations would be drawn to that light until they reflected it too. Isaiah said it would attract attention and gifts, a foreshadowing of the coming of the Three Magi.

In today’s Second Reading Paul recalls that all nations, not just Israel, would be able to benefit from the promises Our Lord has made through the Gospel. Israel thought for a long time that salvation was reserved to them alone, and that the Messiah would only come to save and lead them. In the Acts of the Apostles and in Paul’s letters we see the fledgling Church struggling with understanding that the Gospel was not just for the Jews, but for everyone. Paul received the revelation, along with the apostles, that their mission was to the Gentiles, not just the Jews. In Christ the divisions between Jews and Gentiles would end. All of humanity was called to his light. The Three Magi in today’s Gospel are the first signs of that fact.

Today’s Gospel teaches us that the light of Christ extends farther than we could ever imagine. The Three Magi represent all the peoples of the earth seeing that light in the distance—the distance of their situation, of their cultural differences—and heading toward it. A distant light, a star, became a beacon that led them to Jerusalem. The prophecy regarding Bethlehem led them closer to their goal, and then the star itself ushered them to the baby Jesus. The Three Magi needed help understanding the prophecies to keep going forward because astrology was not enough. If Our Lord assumed human nature in a specific place and culture that presented a gap to be overcome. Thanks to this episode we know that Christ’s light reaches to all the nations, and leads us above and beyond our own cultures. All the nations of the earth can benefit from his light.

Today’s culture is plagued by people seeking a higher meaning to things in all the wrong places. Astrology was not enough for the Three Magi, and it never goes the distance. People consult horoscopes, fortune tellers, Tarot cards, Ouija boards. They think they can wrest meaning out of higher mysterious forces.

Not only are all those things condemned by Church teaching as the sin of divination (see, for example Catechism 2115-2117), they are absurd, and not because what you might think. If we believe God is the Creator of Heaven and earth, and he came in Person to teach us and save us, why do we think we need gimmicks to understand his will for our lives?

He’s already given us all the answers we need in Sacred Scripture. We just have to ask him. The Three Magi needed a little help understanding the prophecy to move forward. God has also blessed us with his Church to help us understanding his will. Sometimes we need a little guidance to see that it may not be that God is not answering, but that we don’t like what he is trying to say. Through His Word and His Church Christ can be our guiding star.

Readings: Isaiah 60:1–6; Psalm 72:1–2, 7–8, 10–11, 12–13; Ephesians 3:2–3a, 5–6; Matthew 2:1–12.

Holy Family, Cycle B

Today’s Solemnity of the Holy Family, within the Christmas octave, reminds us that our family is a bedrock of love. We count on them and we know that they count on us. That bedrock also reminds us that we can always count on the love of God as well.

In today’s First Reading Sirach reminds us that we should not take our family for granted. A family is a gift, and our family is our family no matter what they do or don’t do on our behalf. We feel that all too well when we don’t respond to the love shown by our family, or lose a member of our family unexpectedly. We count on our family, and that reliance reflects the reliance we should have on God. When we can’t count on our family, it’s hard for us to count on anything else, even God.

We all know of truly tragic and heart-breaking family situations – divorce, children lost to drugs, squabbles over inheritances, misunderstandings, even betrayals – but even in those situations we don’t lose sight of the ideal Sirach describes: a father and mother set in honor and authority over their children, children revering and praying for their parents, obeying them and caring for them when they grow old, and the blessings God showers on children who do so.

This model of mutual respect, help, and reliance is meant to be reflected in our society as well, so when it’s not lived in the family it’s no surprise that society suffers as a result. Our family is more than what they do or don’t do for us, and more than what they mean or don’t mean to us: they are our family. God’s given them to us, and us to them.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that as believers we are all brothers and sisters in the great family of Our Father thanks to Jesus, and our virtues should show the same love and respect we experience in our own family. We’re made holy by sharing in the life of God, through our Baptism, and we are “beloved” because we have received the gift of life itself, no strings attached. We build our love on that bedrock of divine love by bearing with one another and forgiving each other when grievances come, just as the Lord has forgiven us for all those times we haven’t shown him the love he deserved.

With a spirit of gratitude to God for the gift of life and the gift of his Son we serve and love each other in our family, avoiding bitterness and provocations and disobedience. “Obedience” grates on ears today in a world that’s so obsessed with autonomy and self-reliance, but in a family it means acknowledging the gift God has given us of someone we can rely on. We show gratitude by obeying, and it reminds us that being someone relied on can be a big sacrifice and responsibility as well.

Today’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40) reminds us that the Holy Family, and every holy family, is centered on Christ. He’s the ultimate bedrock of our love. Simeon was promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. He didn’t know when, he didn’t know how, but when the moment came the Holy Spirit led him to the baby Jesus in the Temple and revealed Jesus to be the Christ. Simeon didn’t just rejoice for his own sake at finally meeting the Messiah, but for all of Israel that had been waiting for him. A whole family of faith built on love for God through love for Christ was being born.

Anna’s married life was short; she spent more of her life as a widow than as a wife, but all those years were full of prayer. Anna spent many years in prayer and expectation, but when the moment came, she didn’t shy away from giving witness as well. She was attentive to the signs of the times, helped by the Holy Spirit, and she saw that the time of redemption was at hand. Both Simeon and Anna remind us that the elderly have a great vocation to prayer and to sharing their wisdom. Who can deny the impact of grandparents and even great aunts and uncles in their lives?

God calls our loved ones to love, and sometimes they (or we) don’t respond to that call. It’s the mystery of human freedom and sin. He calls us to love as well, and when we consider Christ’s example we know our love can’t be tarnished by a lack of love from others. Don’t feel left out in the cold: the Holy Family always has room for you, and the Church is always praying for you. The bedrock of love is always there, and forgiveness, even when a loved one doesn’t show it, is the balm that will bring you peace and consolation. Don’t be afraid to say “I forgive,” and don’t be afraid to say “I’m sorry” either. It’s often the trigger for many people rediscovering that the bedrock of love on which their lives are built. It doesn’t mean that you’ll forget, and many times it doesn’t mean that what happened will hurt any less, but it will give you a peace that the world can’t give.

Readings: Sirach 3:2–6, 12–14; Colossians 3:12–21; Luke 2:22–40.

Christmas, Mass During the Day (2)

In today’s Gospel the evangelist John speaks of the true light, so that makes it the perfect Gospel passage for the Christmas Mass during the Day: daytime is the brightest moment on Christmas Day. We need spiritual light to grasp the profundity of this day. We need to gaze upon the manger, gaze upon the baby Jesus, and remind ourselves: “this is God, and he’s come to save and love me.” In a cave in Bethlehem, probably in a little hollowed out part of rock filled with some straw, God was born as a baby for me. What does that say about him, and what does that say about me?

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us that with the First Coming of the Lord everything he brings as a “gift” mankind is a cause for joy. The day of the Lord, like the coming of the Messiah, was seen more along the lines of someone powerful coming to “clean house” in a socio-political way. No one can deny that the coming of the Messiah did bring tremendous changes on the socio-political level, but all would agree that Christ did not bring them in the way anyone expected. The Gospel is the good news. The Gospel is Christ himself. Therefore, Christ doesn’t only bring good news, but is good news. The coming of the Lord at Christmas brings us the hope of salvation, peace, and redemption. His coming does not just bring good news to Israel, but to “all the nations” and “all the ends of the earth.” The power of God and his salvation are revealed to all, starting with a little cave in Bethlehem, then choirs of angels, then shepherds, then Kings, and so on.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us that, in Jesus, God has now said it all. We call Jesus Christ the Word of God for a reason. None of the other messengers sent throughout salvation history were on a par with God himself. Neither man nor angel could compare to God coming in Person. Through the birth of the Son of God at Christmas we see our relationship with God in a new light. We see Jesus as our big brother giving us the opportunity to acknowledge and have God not only as our Creator, but as Our Father. With the coming of Jesus we don’t just have a few new facts revealed, continuing a gradual revelation throughout salvation history: through his Word, God has now said it all. The mystery of what God is trying to say by coming in Person as a little infant in a manger gives us plenty to pray about and contemplate. Seeing him a sleeping newborn today reminds us that Christ’s entire Incarnation is meant to communicate something, not just the words he’ll began to speak as he grows older.

As John reminds us in today’s Gospel, the true light that enlightens everyone has come into the world with the Incarnation and birth of Jesus. The Son of God is also the Word of God. He himself is the message. All of creation occurred through him and with him in mind, so he is the key to unlocking the meaning of creation itself, including us. He became flesh and dwelt among us because he wanted to communicate something to us Personally and profoundly. It was unexpected and, to many, unobserved, but, starting with the Holy Family, those who received him in faith gained the ability to become, like the Son, children of God. We gaze today upon the baby Jesus in a manger and see the Word whom God the Father had in mind when he created the whole world. The baby Jesus is the key that unlocks the meaning of our existence here on earth; and even in a manger the Word is communicating to us without so much as a peep.

One of the most beautiful things about Christmas are the hymns. They’re truly treasures that have stood the test of time. They let us easily foster and express our joy at the birth of Christ. Why not contemplate the lyrics this week of your favorite hymn? It is always good to explore the reasons for our joy. Sometimes the hymns don’t directly speak of the events in and around Our Savior’s birth, but they present a great opportunity to consider the traditions that have sprung around the Nativity.

Readings: Isaiah 52:7–10; Psalm 98:1–6; Hebrews 1:1–6; John 1:1–18.