Category Archives: Christmastide

Dec 28 – Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs, “They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ”


-detail of Une Scene du Massacre des Innocents (A Scene of the Massacre of the Innocents), Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre (1714-1789), undated

[Feast of the Holy Innocents, also called Childermas, or Innocents’ Day, festival celebrated in the Christian churches in the West on December 28 and in the Eastern churches on December 29 and commemorating the massacre of the children by King Herod in his attempt to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:16–18). These children were regarded by the early church as the first martyrs, but it is uncertain when the day was first kept as a saint’s day. At first it may have been celebrated with Epiphany, but by the 5th century it was kept as a separate festival. In Rome it was a day of fasting and mourning.

It was one of a series of days known as the Feast of Fools, and the last day of authority for boy bishops. Parents temporarily abdicated authority. In convents and monasteries the youngest nun and monk were allowed to act as abbess and abbot for the day. These customs, which mocked religion, were condemned by the Council of Basel (1431).

In medieval England the children were reminded of the mournfulness of the day by being whipped in bed in the morning; this custom survived into the 17th century.

The day is still observed as a feast day and, in Roman Catholic countries, as a day of merrymaking for children.]


-partially restored and enhanced St Quodvultdeus mosaic portrait (San Gennaro catacombs, Naples), Unknown artist, 5th century

-from a sermon by Saint Quodvultdeus, bishop (Sermo 2 de Symbolo: PL 40, 655) and spiritual student or “directee”, friend, and correspondent of St. Augustine, Second Reading, Office of Readings, Liturgy of the Hours for December 28th, Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs.

“A tiny child is born, Who is a great king. Wise men are led to Him from afar [Matthew 2:1]. They come to adore One Who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of One Who is born a king, Herod is disturbed [cf Matthew 2:3]. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill Him, though if he would have faith in the Child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.

Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child Whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.

You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life Himself.

Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace – so small, yet so great – Who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out His own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The Child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to Himself. See the kind of kingdom that is His, coming as He did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.

But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying Him homage, and do not know it.

How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.

Love,
Matthew

Dec 26 – St Stephen, (d. 34 AD), Deacon & Martyr, Radiant (Acts 6:15) “so that we might become like God!!!”(CCC 460)


-site of the stoning of St Stephen, Greek Orthodox Church of St Stephen, Kidron Valley, Jerusalem


Br Philip Nolan, OP

“Yesterday we celebrated the birth of the Son of God. Today we remember the death of a man. Through Advent we watched for the coming of God, before being surprised to see angelic hosts and to hear the cry of a baby. Now, the day after Christmas, we see a man whose “face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15), and the first sound we hear is his death cry.

Why did Stephen’s face look like an angel’s? Did he regress decades of aging and take on the visage of a putto: “And all were amazed at how adorable he was”? No. When the Scriptures speak of angels, they describe beings of great might, frightening to behold. In the book of Judges, when the mother of Samson is informed by a messenger from God that she will conceive and bear a son, she “went and told her husband, ‘A man of God came to me; he had the appearance of an angel of God, terrible indeed” (Jg 13:6). Zechariah was “troubled” by the angel announcing the birth of his son, John; the shepherds “were struck with great fear”; and even the Virgin Mary needed to be assured by Gabriel, “do not be afraid” (Lk 1–2).

In all these examples, the presence of angels communicates something momentous. Their appearance and words cause fear and unease. Angels correct, instruct, reveal; they make us change our plans and offer us a life more closely united with God. Stephen preached forcefully in the Sanhedrin, calling the people to repent of their hard-heartedness. His words, like the words of angels, caused unrest. His face, like the face of an angel, overwhelmed those gathered. But those listening to Stephen did not (at that moment) repent and acquiesce to the divine words. Instead, when they saw Stephen’s face and heard his words, “they were infuriated” and proceeded to make him the first martyr.

The Church gives us the feast of St. Stephen immediately after Christmas to make something clear. Yesterday, we learned “the son of God became man,” and today we see the purpose—“so that we might become God” (CCC 460). The account of Stephen’s preaching and martyrdom shows us what it looks like to become like God. At the beginning of Christ’s life, his mother laid him on the wood of the manger; at the end of his life, she watched as he suffered on the wood of the cross. On the cross, Jesus prays for his persecutors, “Father, forgive them.” Stephen, too, prays for his killers, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Jesus cried to his Father, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” Stephen cried to Christ: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

The Psalmist exhorts, “Look towards Him and be radiant / let your faces not be abashed” (Ps 34). As Stephen preached, he did not hide his face in shame, and the Lord made his face radiant. Stephen did not produce this radiance; rather it was given to him. But men preferred darkness to light, so they killed him. And in that death he was born to eternal life.”

Merry Christmas,
Matthew

“Chreasters”, C&Es, CEO=Christmas/Easter Only, Holiday/Submarine Catholics, The Third Commandment, & Easter Duty

Mara just, by requirement of the Diocese of Madison for all her age in Catholic schools in the diocese, had an examination on the Ten Commandments. Kelly & I tutored. She got a perfect score. There are standards in this household. There are standards.

-by Noble Kuriakose, Pew Research Center

“Priests and ministers have long noted a sharp increase in church attendance around the two most significant Christian holidays, Christmas and Easter. Some have given those who attend services only at those times of year a name — “Chreasters” — and churches have launched campaigns to get them to attend more regularly.

Google searches for “church” spike during Easter and Christmas seasons. More Americans search for “church” around Easter than at any other time, with the Christmas season usually ranking second, according to Google Trends data between 2004 and 2013. Google’s Trends tool measures the popularity of a search term relative to all searches in the United States. Data are reported on a scale from 0 to 100.

Easter is Christianity’s oldest and most important holiday, during which Christians celebrate Jesus’ Resurrection three days after he was crucified. In liturgical terms, Easter Sunday is a moveable feast. Its observance, which comes at the end of a 40-day period of penance, fasting and self-examination called Lent, changes within a range of time each spring. Between 2004 and 2013, Easter was in March three times and April seven times.

In 2013, the highest share of searches for “church” are on the week of Easter Sunday, followed by the week of Christmas and the week of Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of Lent; Mother’s Day is next, and Father’s Day is near the bottom.

The lowest share of searches occur on the week of Thanksgiving in November each year, and the summer months have consistently low levels of interest in web searches for “church.” Sociologists also have previously reported low levels of church attendance during the summer months. Laurence Iannaccone and Sean Everton analyzed weekly attendance records from churches and argued that people are less likely to attend church when the weather outside is just right in a journal article titled “Never on Sunny Days.”

The Precepts of the Church – Catechism of the Catholic Church

Before going further, it is important to note what the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us about Catholic Mass attendance.

The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor”) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the Mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.

The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.

The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy. (CCC 2042)

The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”

The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin. (CCC. 2180 and 2181)

The Code of Canon Law, the legal code of Christ’s Church, states:

On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body.

The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic rite either on a holy day itself or on the evening of the previous day. (Can 1247, 1248)

Both the code of Canon Law and the Catechism clearly state the obligation. There was some general teaching prior to Vatican II that one had to be present for the offertory through reception of Holy Communion to fulfill the obligation. However this is not a part of the canon and the faithful are to participate in the complete Mass in order to fulfill the Sunday obligation.

Praying for strength for you & I, when we least feel like going to Mass. It happens. Offer it up, as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. (Phil 2:12)

Love,
Matthew

Dec 31 – St Catherine Laboure’, DC, (1806-1876), Marian visionary, “Catechism in your pocket”

Catherine Laboure icon
Catherine Laboure icon

I remember, as a teenager, our local parish in Stone Harbor, NJ, St Paul’s, would always host a Miraculous Medal Mission in the Summer months. The town was packed with vacationers seeking the pleasures of the beach and sun and sea, and a quaint little, quiet town on the Jersey shore. The crowd was never standing room only but certainly more than would have been there in the Winter!! Just right. Just right. For quiet, for reflection, in the languid months of Summer, to reflect on the Blessed Mother, and her “fiat/yes”. “Ecce Ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum…I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word.”

Zoe’ Laboure’ was born in the Burgundy region of France to Pierre Labouré, a farmer, and Louise Madeleine Gontard, the ninth of 11 living children. Catherine’s mother died on October 9, 1815, when Zoe’ was just nine years old. It is said that after her mother’s funeral, Catherine picked up a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and kissed it saying, “Now you will be my mother.”

She was extremely devout, of a somewhat romantic nature, given to visions and intuitive insights. As a young woman, she became a member of the nursing order founded by Saint Vincent de Paul. She chose the Daughters of Charity after a dream about St. Vincent De Paul. She took the religious name Catherine.

In April 1830, the remains of St. Vincent de Paul were translated to the Vincentian church in Paris. The solemnities included a novena. On three successive evenings, upon returning from the church to the Rue du Bac, Catherine reportedly experienced in the convent chapel, a vision of what she took to be the heart of St. Vincent above a shrine containing a relic of bone from his right arm. Each time the heart appeared a different color, white, red, and crimson. She interpreted this to mean that the Vincentian communities would prosper, and that there would be a change of government. The convent chaplain advised her to forget the matter.

Catherine stated that on July 19, 1830, the eve of the feast of St. Vincent, she woke up after hearing the voice of a child calling her to the chapel, where she heard the Virgin Mary say to her, “God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary. Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you. Times are evil in France and in the world.”

On November 27, 1830, Catherine reported that the Blessed Mother returned to her during evening meditations. She displayed herself inside an oval frame, standing upon a globe, rays of light came out of her hands in the direction of a globe. Around the margin of the frame appeared the words “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” As Catherine watched, the frame seemed to rotate, showing a circle of twelve stars, a large letter M surmounted by a cross, and the stylized Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary underneath. Asked why some of the rays of light did not reach the Earth, Mary reportedly replied “Those are the graces for which people forget to ask.” Catherine then heard Mary ask her to take these images to her father confessor, telling him that they should be put on medallions. “All who wear them will receive great graces.”

Catherine did so, and after two years’ worth of investigation and observation of Catherine’s normal daily behavior, the priest took the information to his archbishop without revealing Catherine’s identity. The request was approved and the design of the medallions was commissioned through French goldsmith Adrien Vachette. They proved to be exceedingly popular. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception had not yet been officially promulgated, but the medal with its “conceived without sin” slogan was influential in popular approval of the idea. Pope John Paul II used a slight variation of the reverse image as his coat of arms, a plain cross with an M in the lower right quadrant of the shield.

Sister Catherine spent the next forty years caring for the aged and infirm. For this she is called the patroness of seniors. She died on December 31, 1876 at the age of seventy. Her body is encased in glass beneath the side altar at 140 Rue du Bac, Paris.

laboure_tomb

Catherine Labouré’s cause for sainthood was declared upon discovering her body was incorrupt, which currently lies in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. She was beatified on May 28, 1933 by Pope Pius XI and canonized on July 27, 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

Her feast day is observed on November 28 according to the liturgical calendar of the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Paris. She is listed in the Martyrologium Romanum for December 31.

bro-ignatius-weiss-o-p-160x160
-by Br Ignatius Weiss, OP

““The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you,” the child whispered.

St. Catherine Labouré, a novice in the Daughters of Charity, was gently woken from her sleep by a small, luminous child beckoning her to follow him to the chapel. It was nearly midnight.

“The Blessed Virgin is coming; here she is,” the child said as Catherine heard the swishing of silk. There she was, the Mother of God.

This nocturnal journey to the chapel in mid-July would be the first of three apparitions where Our Lady would appear to the young Catherine over the course of 6 months. During the second appearance, the Blessed Virgin asked her to have a medal struck of the image she displayed before her, and she began explaining the meaning of the figures to be portrayed.

“These rays are a symbol of the graces that I pour out on those who ask them of me.”

This medal was originally known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, but it earned its current name for the many miracles and conversions that came to be associated with this sacramental. This token is not Catholic jewelry; it is an occasion for grace and truth.

“All who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it suspended around the neck. Graces will be showered on all who wear it with confidence.”

The Miraculous Medal is a sacramental that uses words and images to increase our devotion to the Immaculate Queen of Heaven, and its symbols can explain the Church’s teachings on the Blessed Virgin. In a way, the Miraculous Medal is an “infographic” designed by heavenly artists.

Here’s an infographic about this Marian devotion.

miraculous-medal-infographic

Love,
Matthew

Psychiatry & Catholicism: Part 6, The Theological Virtue of Hope – Little Girl Hope

hope

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit. – Romans 15:13

“The French Catholic layman Charles Péguy (1873-1914) wrote a beautiful poem that can make the virtue of hope more tangible for us. The poem opens with the striking line, “The faith that I love the best, says God, is hope.”85 The poem continues:

“Faith doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
I am so resplendent in My creation . . .
That in order really not to see
Me these poor people would have to be blind.
Charity, says God, that doesn’t surprise Me.
It’s not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for each other . . .
But hope, says God, that is something that surprises Me. (n.b. theologically, God cannot be surprised…)
Even Me.
That is surprising.
That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better . . .
That is surprising and it’s by far the greatest marvel of Our grace.
And I’m surprised by it Myself.
And My grace must indeed be an incredible force.”
86

Péguy employs striking metaphorical and poetical images here to suggest the power of hope, indicating to us how surprising hope can be when we experience degradation, deprivation, suffering, and evil in the world. He depicts Hope in the poem as a little girl who has two older sisters, Faith and Love. Hope is the innocent, wide-eyed, trusting little child:

“What surprises Me, says God, is hope.
And I can’t get over it.
This little hope who seems like nothing at all.
This little girl hope . . .
Faith is a loyal Wife.
Charity is a Mother.
An ardent mother, noble-hearted. Or an older sister who is like a mother.
Hope is a little girl, nothing at all.
Who came into the world on Christmas day just this past year.
Who is still playing with her snowman . . .
And yet it’s this little girl who will endure worlds.
This little girl, nothing at all.
She alone, carrying the others, who will cross worlds past.
As the star guided the three kings from the deepest Orient.
Toward the cradle of My Son.
Like a trembling flame.
She alone will guide the Virtues and Worlds.”87

Our hope should make us feel every day more and more little — like a small child who relies on God his Father for everything. This life of spiritual childhood has been recommended by many saints, notably St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It is actually indicative of Christian maturity and has nothing to do with childishness. Hope is a child, walking between her two older sisters: wide-eyed and innocent, trusting and joyful. Such should be the shape and character of our own hope. Can a person who is totally imbued with this sort of hope ever be completely overtaken by despair, however terrible the burdens and cares of this life? The depressed person may indeed often feel overwhelmed; but this need not be a cause for final despair. Just as we cannot imagine an innocent little girl giving in to total despair in the face of setbacks or contradictions, so the person with hope can endure even these things with serenity and perseverance.

To understand the power of hope, we can examine the vices that run contrary to the virtue of hope. Regarding these, St. Augustine wrote, “There are two things which kill the soul, despair and presumption.”

The Catechism lists them under the First Commandment as sins against hope:

2091 By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to His justice — for the Lord is faithful to His promises — and to His mercy.

2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high) or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).

When we fall into presumption, we do not have hope, because we mistakenly assume that we have already arrived at the goal. This is a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride. The second vice contrary to hope is probably more common, and a form of self-satisfied and stagnating pride, despair. Certainly this is the greater temptation for those individuals suffering from depression. We sometimes hear it said that a person has “fallen into” despair. But despair is not actually something we “fall into”; in the end, it is something we choose. To despair means to deny that the Lord wants to or can forgive or assist us. Even the severest depression, however dark, does not entail despair in this sense.

In Dante’s Inferno, the inscription written over the gates of hell is “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” Final despair (I refer here not to the difficulties with hope of the depressed person) is the state proper only to the damned, of those who no longer have the possibility of being saved. To be utterly without hope is to be in a hellish state. So you could say that total despair in this life is something of an anticipation of damnation. As St. Isidore put it, “To despair is to descend into hell.” Total despair is a sort of hell on earth, where suicide may appear to be the only option. This is why the person who feels utterly hopeless finds it so difficult to summon the will to continue living.

For example, listening to accounts of addiction given by those who have recovered from drug and alcohol dependence, one can see that the life they describe is simply a state of profound despair — a sort of hell on earth. This is what a person experiences when he places his ultimate hope in a bottle, a needle, or a pill. Depression itself is not equivalent to this kind of despair, although it can predispose and incline a person to despair, as anyone who has experienced it knows too well. It is a great trial of faith to overcome this tendency. But it can be overcome with all the means discussed in this book, and especially with God’s grace.

St. John Chrysostom wrote, “It is not so much sin as despair which casts us into hell.” We may fall into sin, as even the just man sins seven times a day. But in hope, we become a repentant sinner and therefore, through Confession, a forgiven sinner. Sin never has to have the last word. Hope means we do not have to be the people we were. But despair makes our sin the last word about us, even a definitive word, because despair denies the possibility of forgiveness. Every sin is forgivable if we do not despair, if we seek God’s merciful forgiveness. Likewise, every addiction, every vice, can be overcome if we do not give in to despair.

This helps us to understand that mysterious Gospel passage which speaks of the sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:31) that Jesus says cannot be forgiven. This sin is simply the refusal to accept the grace of forgiveness. It is an obstinate despair that refuses God’s mercy. As the Catechism states:

1864 “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept His mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of His sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss.”88

The contrast between St. Peter’s repentance and Judas’s despair illustrates this: both men sinned grievously, but Peter repented with tears of contrition. He did not abandon hope. Peter’s repentance led him to become one of the greatest saints. Judas despaired, and this despair led him to take his own life.

To say that hope is a “theological” or “supernatural” virtue is to say that it is fundamentally a gift, the result of grace. To possess this hope, we must be in a state of sanctifying grace, which we can be sure of when we have confessed grave sins we are aware of. But for this hope to grow in our hearts and operate powerfully in our lives, we should pray that our hope will be increased; we should ask God to increase our hope. Our will and our effort do play a role here, since God wants us to cooperate freely with the graces He grants. “Lord, increase my hope” should be an aspiration that comes to us often, especially in times of difficulty.”

-Kheriaty, Aaron; Cihak, Fr. John (2012-10-23). Catholic Guide to Depression (pp. 216-220). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & Hope,
Matthew

85 Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, trans. David L. Schindler, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 3.
86 Ibid., 3-7.
87 Ibid., 7-8.
88 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1864.

Feast of the Holy Family – family life is not fair

Christ Discovered in the Temple Simone Martini, 1342, Italy
-“Christ Discovered in the Temple”, Simone Martini, 1342, my MOSTEST FAVORITEST depiction of the Holy Family! So realistic!! Ain’t NOBODY HAPPY HERE!!! 🙂

benjamin_earl_op
-by Rev. Benjamin Earl, OP

“Children and teenagers – among others – have a very keen sense of justice. Or, perhaps more precisely, they have a very keen sense of injustice; they can be quick to lament “it’s not fair” should they perceive a wrong. I dare say that phrase has been heard more than a few times over the last few days.

“Life’s not fair” is the typical reply. Family life is not fair. Was it fair that Christ, whose coming as a child we celebrate with joy in these days, should suffer and die for our sins? Was it fair that Mary, his sinless mother, should have her heart pierced with a sword in sorrow for her son? Was it fair that Joseph should be forced to take his young family to Egypt so as to escape the murderous Herod? Of course it wasn’t fair.

Family life today isn’t fair. Many parents must struggle with the death, sickness or disability of a child. That’s not fair. Many parents must struggle with a troubled teenager… and many teenagers and even younger children must struggle with troubled parents, with little experience and often no help. That’s not fair. Many families get separated and torn apart through no fault of their own. That’s not fair.

When I say “it’s not fair” I mean that these situations aren’t just or equitable. Families and individuals suffer undeservedly – sometimes through somebody else’s sins, sometimes just because of unfortunate circumstances.

One of the quirks of the English language is that the word “fair” can have other meanings besides “just” and “equitable”; it also means “beautiful”. Can situations which are manifestly unjust or inequitable nonetheless be described as “beautiful”? Obviously there is nothing beautiful about suffering or injustice itself. These things disfigure the justice desired by the Creator. But there certainly can be something beautiful, something “fair”, when somebody acts with great love in the face of suffering and injustice. In this, the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph has many lessons to teach us.

It was not fair that the Holy Family be separated returning from Jerusalem; but it is beautiful to read how Mary and Joseph searched for Jesus. Once the child has been found in the temple, it is beautiful and fair to hear not harsh or angry words from Mary, but loving words seeking deeper understanding of her divine son.

The events of Christ’s infancy and the foreboding of his terrible passion are not fair; but are stored up in the fair pondering of Mary’s heart.

Joseph is described by the scriptures as a “just man”[1]; he is a man who shows fair, just and beautiful care and responsibility both on learning that his betrothed is with child, and then in the face of being forced to flee with his wife and the child Jesus from the dangers that face them.

The scriptures tell us nothing of Joseph after the incident in today’s gospel. Ancient Christian tradition tells us he was already old when he received Mary into his house,[2] and therefore it is probable he died sometime before the beginning of Christ’s public ministry. Presuming that he died peacefully in the presence of both Jesus and Mary, the Church calls Joseph the patron of a happy death: an exemplar of how the tragedy of dying can become something beautiful, something fair, if in accepting it we allow Christ to embrace us in the communion of the saints.

The Church holds up the saints as examples for us to emulate. But when it comes to the Holy Family we need to be careful. We are not called to emulate the Holy Family in every respect: that wouldn’t be fair. We are not to seek the injustice they suffered; and nor do we have it within our power to save the world. But when we are faced with suffering in the world of today, and in our own families, we should certainly seek the intercession of Mary and Joseph and the consolation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Emulating them we must strive for justice and a beautiful love for all who suffer. It may not be fair, but it is fair.”  Amen.

[1]Matthew 1:19

[2]Protoevangelium of James, 9

Love, please pray for families!
Matthew

Solemnity of the Epiphany – wise people still seek Him…

Adoration_of_the_Magi_Tapestry
The Adoration of the Magi, tapestry, wool and silk on cotton warp, 101 1/8 x 151 1/4 inches (258 x 384 cm.), Manchester Metropolitan University, designed 1888, woven 1894, designed by Edward Burne Jones with details by William Morris and John Henry Dearle, please click on the image for greater detail.

While we may not all possess gold, frankincense and myrrh to give the newborn King this Epiphanytide, Pope Francis says we can all nevertheless offer him three precious gifts.

In his homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord, which the Vatican celebrates on January 6, Pope Francis said that the Magi represent “the men and women throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God.”

“Countless people in our own day have a ‘restless heart,’ (St Augustine, Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee!”) which continues to seek without finding sure answers,” he said. “They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.”

He noted that the Magi saw many stars in the sky, but one shone more brightly than the others, and forever changed their lives.

In a similar way, it is up to the Church, whose nature it is to receive God’s light and reflect it in the lives of individuals and peoples, “to draw out the desire for God present in every heart.”

“How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ,” he said. “They need to know the face of the Father.”

The Pope continued: “Let us follow the light which God offers us, the light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love.”

For when we open these most precious gifts to the newborn King, Pope Francis said, he fills them with grace, enabling us “to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light which illumines our lives: ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you’” (Isaiah 60:1).

Here below we publish the official English translation of the pope’s homily:

“The words of the Prophet Isaiah — addressed to the Holy City of Jerusalem — are also meant for us. They call us to rise and go forth, to leave behind all that keeps us self-enclosed, to go out from ourselves and to recognize the splendor of the light that illumines our lives: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you” (60:1). That “light” is the glory of the Lord. The Church cannot illude herself into thinking that she shines with her own light. St. Ambrose expresses this nicely by presenting the moon as a metaphor for the Church: “The moon is in fact the Church … [she] shines not with her own light but with the light of Christ. She draws her brightness from the Sun of Justice, and so she can say: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’” (Hexaemeron, IV, 8, 32). Christ is the true light shining in the darkness. To the extent that the Church remains anchored in him, to the extent that she lets herself be illumined by him, she is able to bring light into the lives of individuals and peoples. For this reason the Fathers of the Church saw in her the mysterium lunae.

We need this light from on high if we are to respond in a way worthy of the vocation we have received. To proclaim the Gospel of Christ is not simply one option among many, nor is it a profession. For the Church, to be missionary does not mean to proselytize: for the Church to be missionary means to give expression to her very nature, which is to receive God’s light and then to reflect it. This is her service. There is no other way. Mission is her vocation; to shine Christ’s light is her service. How many people look to us for this missionary commitment, because they need Christ. They need to know the face of the Father.

The Magi mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew are a living witness to the fact that the seeds of truth are present everywhere, for they are the gift of the Creator, who calls all people to acknowledge him as good and faithful Father. The Magi represent the men and woman throughout the world who are welcomed into the house of God. Before Jesus, all divisions of race, language and culture disappear: in that Child, all humanity discovers its unity. The Church has the task of seeing and showing ever more clearly the desire for God which is present in the heart of every man and woman. This is the service of the Church, with the light that she reflects: to draw out the desire for God present in every heart.

Like the Magi, countless people, in our own day, have a “restless heart,” which continues to seek without finding sure answers — it is the restlessness of the Holy Spirit that stirs in hearts. They too are looking for a star to show them the path to Bethlehem.

How many stars there are in the sky! And yet the Magi followed a new and different star, which for them shone all the more brightly. They had long peered into the great book of the heavens, seeking an answer to their questions — they had restless hearts — and at long last the light appeared. That star changed them. It made them leave their daily concerns behind and set out immediately on a journey. They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light. It was the voice of the Holy Spirit, who works in all people. The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.

All this has something to say to us today. We do well to repeat the question asked by the Magi: “Where is the child who has been born the King of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matt. 2:2). We are impelled, especially in an age like our own, to seek the signs which God offers us, realizing that great effort is needed to interpret them and thus to understand his will. We are challenged to go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother. Let us follow the light which God offers us — that tiny light. The hymn in the breviary poetically tells us that the Magi lumen requirunt lumine [following a light, they were searching for the Light] — that tiny light. The light which streams from the face of Christ, full of mercy and fidelity. And once we have found him, let us worship him with all our heart, and present him with our gifts: our freedom, our understanding and our love. True wisdom lies concealed in the face of this Child. It is here, in the simplicity of Bethlehem, that the life of the Church is summed up. For here is the wellspring of that light that draws to itself every individual in the world and guides the journey of the peoples along the path of peace.”

Love, and praying for Epiphany, constantly, in my life,
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord: why was Jesus baptized?

OXYGEN VOLUME 13

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-by Rev. Dominic Ryan, OP, English Province

“The feast of the baptism of the Lord marks the end of the liturgical season of Christmas. In many ways, though, it’s a rather strange way to end the Christmas season; indeed, it’s a rather strange feast full stop! And I say this because if we identify the key things which occur when one of us is baptised and ask whether they also occurred in Jesus’s baptism then we discover that they didn’t and that they couldn’t have.

Just think about it. When we’re baptised we’re healed from the guilt of original sin and we’re incorporated into the Church. Did any of this happen to Christ? No. Jesus didn’t suffer from original sin so he didn’t need to be healed from it, and Jesus hadn’t yet founded the Church so he couldn’t be incorporated into it. And if that’s not enough John’s baptism- the baptism Jesus received- wasn’t able to forgive sin and to incorporate people into the Church anyway. Those things only became possible after Christ’s death and resurrection. So not only did Jesus’ baptism at the hands of John not have the same effects as our baptism did, but nor could it have had so what’s going on in this feast and how does it relate to the end of Christmastide?

Of course, just because Jesus’s baptism didn’t heal him from the guilt of original sin or incorporate him into the church that’s not to say it wasn’t connected to those aims. God came into the world in Christ to redeem human beings from sin. And broadly speaking to achieve this aim three conditions had to be met: firstly, the power to redeem humans had to be present, secondly the means to redeem human beings had to be established and thirdly human beings had to be encouraged to avail of those means.

Take the first condition. Jesus was God so there’s no question of him lacking the power to redeem human beings. As to the means of redemption, human beings have to share in the salvific death of Christ, which is accomplished most effectively through baptism and incorporation into the Church. That’s not to say after baptism we can do as we please; baptism doesn’t give us a free pass into heaven regardless of what we do subsequently. Nor is it to say that God can’t bring about salvation in any other way if he so chooses. Rather through baptism we get a fresh start and the chance to live in a way which, if we follow it, will lead to heaven.

It’s not enough just to make the means of redemption available, though, more needs to be done, and that brings us to the third condition: people have to be encouraged to avail of the means of redemption. And the best way to do that is to give people an example so Christ submitted to John’s baptism. In so doing Christ encouraged all of us to be baptised and he identified himself with sinful humanity as the one who will act on our behalf to save us.

So if this feast is about Jesus encouraging us to follow the path to salvation how does it relate to Christmastide? Why put it now at the end of Christmastide? Well during Christmas we celebrate God’s coming into the world. But he came into the world for the purpose of our redemption. And the baptism of Jesus is the first public event in Christ’s mission. He starts to show us how to live and his authority is acknowledged by the Father. So it brings to an end what we have been celebrating at Christmas- God’s coming into the world for our salvation- and it sets us up quite nicely for ordinary time: follow Christ’s example, there we find the way to salvation.”

Love, and rejoicing in my baptism, always!!!
Matthew

Dec 31 – Te Deum

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-click on the image for more detail, please.

-The Te Deum window by Christopher Whall, St Mary the Virgin, Ware, Hertfordshire, UK.

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-by Br John Sica, OP

“The Church places the ancient Latin hymn, the Te Deum, at the end of the year as a way of giving solemn thanks to God. The Manual of Indulgences grants an indulgence to the faithful who pray it in a church on the final day of the year as a way of thanking God for all the benefits He has bestowed on them throughout the year (#26, §1, 2°). Yet, this traditional hymn of thanksgiving does not have any explicit mention of giving thanks.

A Catholic who is unfamiliar with the content of the hymn might recognize instead the great 19th-century hymn Holy God, we praise Thy name, which is a paraphrase of the Te Deum. In order to get the sense of the place of the Te Deum in the liturgy, it would be useful to compare it to the Gloria in the Mass. Both are very ancient Latin hymns which praise God for the greatness of His divinity and move on to the praise of His saving works in Jesus Christ. Both are prescribed to be sung on days of an especially festive nature. On Sundays, solemnities, and feast days, the Gloria is sung at Mass, while the Te Deum is sung at the Liturgy of the Hours. We also sing the Te Deum outside the liturgy. The friars often sign it as a song of thanksgiving at a particularly joyous event, like the election of a pope or superior.  So why isn’t there a mention of thanksgiving in the hymn?

When we speak of gratitude, we are usually referring to a specific form of justice. Justice is the virtue that makes us give others what we owe them. Gratitude is what we owe those who are our benefactors, in return for benefits received. By explicitly acknowledging what is good in our lives, we are at the same time constrained to acknowledge these goods as benefits from God. “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above,” St. James says, “coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). The Church’s pedagogy in gratitude is meant to train us to go more and more quickly from acknowledging the gift to thanking the giver.

God’s greatness, His glory, His very divinity, however, are not really “benefits” given to us, so it is difficult to see how they would form the basis for thanksgiving. Yet, adoration of God, confession of His glory, and thanks for it seem to merge into one in the Gloria: we give you thanks for your great glory! In harmony with this line from the Gloria, the triumphant joy in confession of the truth of God’s greatness, which the Te Deum displays, might be called instead a sort of proto-thanksgiving. For God’s divinity is the basis of the liberality and mercy of God which lavishes His gifts on us, undeserving as we may be.

As our year ends, the Church encourages us to reflect on the blessings He has bestowed on us over the past year, and to pray and praise Him for it. Beneath the many gifts, the Church is always solicitous that we not forget the Giver, and so encourages us to break forth in praise of Him—thanksgiving for Him being God. “O God, we praise Thee: we acknowledge Thee to be Lord!”

Love, and great thanks to You, Lord Jesus Christ!!!
Matthew

Baptism of the Lord & The Heresy of Adoptionism

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-“Baptism of Christ”, by Francesco Albani, oil on canvas, (1630-1635), State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russian Federation, the heresy of Adoptionism declares this may have been one event where God “adopted” Jesus as His Son.

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-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP

“I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” The words of John the Baptist to Christ in Matthew’s Gospel are worth pondering. Why would Jesus need to be baptized? Being the Son of God, why be troubled at all about the ritual of baptism, especially by a man like John the Baptist?

It is easy to fall into error over this question. Some people have concluded that since Jesus underwent baptism, he must have been in need of something, and so Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father made Jesus divine. This heresy has been called Adoptionism, since it contends that Christ’s baptism was the time when God the Father ‘adopted’ Jesus and he ‘really’ became divine.

But what, then, are the real reasons that Jesus desired to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan? One reason is that Jesus was not baptized to be cleansed himself, but to cleanse others. Though he was not a sinner himself, Christ took on our sinful nature and the likeness of sinful flesh when he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Now, during his baptism, the old man of our sinful nature was plunged below the waters so that we might grow into the full stature of adopted sons of God. In Christ’s descent into the Jordan River, the waters are given the virtue of baptism, and our frail nature is restored.

Another reason is so that Christ could lay a path that all his disciples could imitate. In response to John the Baptist’s question, Christ replies that his own baptism is fitting “to fulfill all righteousness.” In commenting on this verse, St. Ambrose states that true righteousness is to “do first yourself what you wish another to do, and so encourage others by your example.” By entering into the waters of the Jordan, Christ gives an example to us in humility and obedience to his Father in heaven. This obedience, which is fulfilled completely in Christ’s passion, is the example which every Christian is called to follow.

The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of Christ’s ministry in Galilee and Judah, and is the fulfillment of God’s promise to save mankind. But it is fitting that Christ’s ministry should begin immediately after his baptism in the Jordan River. As St. Ambrose noted, where Elijah divided the river of the Jordan with his mantle of old, so now Christ, in these same waters, will make all things new by separating the plague of sin from our human nature. May we thank God for our own baptism, and encourage others to be cleansed from sin in the water that was first cleansed by the pure, spotless, and saving flesh of Christ.”

Love,
Matthew