Friday, December 30, 2011

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

The Holy Family - Flight into Egypt

The Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are put before us by the Church today as a model for our families.  We call them “The Holy Family” but that does not mean that they did not have problems.  Just as every family has to face problems and overcome them, or to put it another way, has to carry a cross, so also The Holy Family had to carry crosses.  Their many crosses come to mind as we read the Scriptures.
  • We can easily imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been when Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Their story would never be believed. 

  • Even Mary herself had it very rough early in the pregnancy when Joseph was planning to divorce her before the angel intervened in a dream.

  • When the time for Jesus’ delivery came it took place in an animals’ shelter since Bethlehem was already so crowded.

  • Then the family had to flee to Egypt as refugees because Jesus’ life was in danger due to Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries are now entering many western countries.

  • Mary and Joseph suffered the awful experience of losing Jesus for three days when He was twelve years old and the only satisfaction they got from Him was that He had to be about His Father’s business.

  • We do not hear of Joseph any more so we presume that before Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee Joseph had died - The Holy Family suffering the greatest pain of all families, the pain of bereavement and separation through death.
    The Death of Saint Joseph

  • Jesus’ public ministry must have taken its toll on Mary.  Simeon had predicted in the Temple that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul.  We can imagine one such occasion as we read in Mark 3:21 that when Jesus returned to Nazareth one day His relatives came to take Him by force convinced that He was out of his mind.  Not a very pleasant experience for any family, no matter how holy.

  • There was also the pain caused by the rhyme made up about Jesus: “Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).

  • And there was the growing hostility to Jesus by the Jewish authorities that must have caused huge pain to both Mary and Jesus, especially as it became increasingly obvious that Jesus would have to pay for His mission by dying.

  • The saddest moment of all came when Mary watched her Son die on the cross.
What kept The Holy Family together and sane throughout all of these trials and crosses?  The answer is ‘Love for each other and God’.  Jesus’ love for Mary and Mary’s love for Jesus, and the love of both of them for God the Father.  We can see Jesus’ love for His mother when He was dying on the cross and was worried about leaving her behind so he asked his close friend and disciple John to look after her, saying to Mary, ‘Woman behold your son’, and to John ‘behold your mother’ (John 19:26-27).  What holds our families together also in times of difficulty is love and forgiveness.  It is love which triumphs in the end, even if for a while love may have to take the form of some honest talking.  When discipline needs to be given, if it is not given in love it is reduced to abuse.  If ever our families fail in any way, it is because of a lack of love on someone’s part.  Whenever our families are successful, it is because they are places of love.

I believe that the greatest threat facing families now is simply that we don’t spend enough time together.  We are so busy working, or socializing, or watching TV that we have less and less time for each other.  What a pity.  There is a story about a solicitor who lived a considerable distance from her elderly father.  Months had passed since they had been together and when her father called to ask when she might visit, the daughter detailed a list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him, e.g., court schedule, meetings, new clients, research, etc., etc.  At the end of the recitation, the father asked, “When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral?”  The daughter’s response was immediate, “Dad, I can’t believe you’d ask that!  Of course, I’ll come!”  To which the father replied, “Good.  Forget the funeral and come; I need you more now than I will then.” 

As I said, I believe one of the greatest threats facing families now is simply that we do not spend enough time together.  Spending time together with the family is a way of showing our family that we love them.  When we love our family we want to sacrifice ourselves by spending time with them, and all the more so when we realize that by not spending time with them we are depriving them of our love and hurting them.

Just as the Holy Family survived all its crises through love for each other and faith in God, so our families can survive every crisis - if their lives on rooted in a love for one another - and for God. 

(Taken from a homily by Fr. Tommy Lane - professor at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary, Emmittsburg, MD)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Feast of the Holy Innocents

The days following the Solemnity of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ are filled with commemorations of saints.  This is the Church’s way of saying that the birth of Jesus has brought not only joy to the world but an opportunity to be united with God in heaven.  The birth of Jesus signals the beginning of the fruition of God’s salvation in Jesus.

Today, the Church remembers the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem.  In the New Testament, Matthew gives us a narrative of this event that happened a few days after Mary’s giving birth to Jesus.  It is said that Herod “the Great,” king of Judea at that time, was so unpopular with his people because of his ties with the Romans and his indifference to Judaism.  He was insecure and fearful of any threat to dethrone him.  He was capable of extreme brutality – he killed his wife, his brother, and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few.

The story of the massacre in Matthew’s Gospel (2:1-18) begins with the arrival of the astrologers from the east asking about the whereabouts of “the newborn King of the Jews,” whose star they had seen.  They were told that the Jewish Scriptures had named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born.  Herod was greatly troubled.  He told them to report back to him so that he could also “do Him homage.”  They found Jesus, offered Him their gifts, and after being warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way back to their own places.

Herod became anxious and “ordered the massacre of all the infants in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.”  The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led the evangelist Matthew to borrow the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children…” (Matthew 2:18).  Rachel was the wife of Jacob who later was named Israel.  Jesus was spared because the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to bring Mary and Jesus to Egypt.
Today, we remember the innocent victims of the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem and in neighboring places as we also vow to stop all forms of inhumanity today.  May this feast remind us of the value of human life.  In our world today, because of the greed of many, modern forms of “massacre” are taking place.  Life is God’s gift and we must treasure it and uphold its dignity at all times.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Saint John the Evangelist

St. John, the son of Zebedee, and the brother of St. James the Great, was called to be an Apostle by our Lord in the first year of His public ministry.  He became the "beloved disciple" and the only one of the Twelve Apostles who did not forsake Jesus in the hour of His Passion.  He stood faithfully at the cross and it was there that the Lord, from the cross, made him the guardian of His Mother ("Woman, behold your son.  Behold, your mother.").  cf John 19:26-27.  

John spent most of his later life in Jerusalem and at Ephesus.  He founded many churches in Asia Minor.  He wrote the fourth Gospel, and three Epistles, and the Book of Revelation is also attributed to him.  Brought to Rome, tradition relates that, at the order of the Emperor Dometian, he was thrown into a cauldron of boiling oil but came out unhurt and was banished to the island of Pathmos for a year.  He lived to an extreme old age, surviving all his fellow apostles, and died at the age of 99, traditionally in Ephesus about the year 100.
Witness to St. John in the Scriptures:

The Scriptures attest that John was originally a fishermen and fished with his father in the Lake of Genesareth.  He was first a disciple of John the Baptist and later one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus.

John held a prominent position in the Apostolic body.  He is frequently mentioned with his brother, James.  Jesus referred to the pair collectively as the "sons of thunder."  John survived James by more than half a century after James became the first apostle to die a martyr's death.  Peter, James and John were the only witnesses of the raising of Jairus' daughter,[Mk. 5:37] of the Transfiguration[Mt. 17:1] and of the Agony in Gethsemane.[Mt 26:37]  John and his brother wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan town, but were rebuked by Jesus. [Lk 9:51-6]  Only he and Peter were sent into the city to make the preparation for the final Passover meal (the Last Supper).[Lk 22:8]  At the Last Supper, his place may have been next to Jesus on whose chest he leaned if he is indeed the "disciple whom Jesus loved."  However, this can not be concluded with certainty.[Jn 13:23-25] According to the general interpretation, John was also that "other disciple" who with Peter followed Jesus after the arrest into the palace of the high-priest.[Jn 18:15]  John alone remained near Jesus at the foot of the cross on Calvary with Jesus’ mother, Mary, and the pious women and took Mary into his care as the last legacy of Jesus.[Jn 19:25-27]

Russian Orthodox icon of the Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian, 18th century (Iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Monastery, Karelia, Russia).
After Jesus’ Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, John, together with Peter, took a prominent part in the founding and guidance of the Church.  He is with Peter at the healing of the lame man in the Temple.[Ac 3:1 et seq.]  With Peter he is also thrown into prison.[Acts 4:3] He is also with Peter visiting the newly converted in Samaria.[Acts 8:14]

There is no positive information in the Bible (or elsewhere) concerning the duration of this activity in Judea.  Apparently, together with the other Apostles, John remained some 12 years in this first field of labor, until the persecution of Herod Agrippa I led to the scattering of the Apostles through the various provinces of the Roman Empire. [cf. Ac 12:1-17]  It does not appear improbable that John then went for the first time into Asia Minor.  In any case a messianic community was already in existence at Ephesus before Paul's first labors there.   Such a journey by John in Asia in this first period was neither long nor uninterrupted.  He returned with the other disciples to Jerusalem for the Apostolic Council (about AD 51).  Paul, in opposing his enemies in Galatia, recalls that John explicitly along with Peter and James the Just were referred to as "pillars of the church" and refers to the recognition that his Apostolic preaching of a gospel free from Jewish Law received from these three, the most prominent men of the messianic community at Jerusalem.

Of the other New Testament writings, it is only from the three Letters of John and the Book of Revelation that we can learn anything else about John.  From them we can suppose that John belonged to the multitude of personal eyewitnesses of the life and work of Jesus (cf. especially 1 Jn 1:1-5; 4:14), that he had lived for a long time in Asia Minor, was thoroughly acquainted with the conditions existing in the various messianic communities there, and that he had a position of authority recognized by all messianic communities as leader of this part of the church. 

Extrabiblical traditions

Byzantine illumination depicting John dictating to his disciple, Prochorus (c. 1100).
Catholic tradition states that after the Assumption, John went to Ephesus and from there wrote the three epistles traditionally attributed to him.  John was allegedly banished by the Roman authorities to the Greek island of Patmos, where some believe that he wrote the Book of Revelation.  According to Tertullian (in The Prescription of Heretics) John was banished (presumably to Patmos) after being plunged into boiling oil in Rome and suffering nothing from it.  It is said that all in the entire Colosseum audience were converted to Christianity upon witnessing this miracle.  This event would have occurred during the reign of Domitian, a Roman emperor who was known for his persecution of Christians in the late 1st century.

When John was aged, he trained Polycarp who later became Bishop of Smyrna.  This was important because Polycarp was able to carry John's message to future generations. Polycarp taught Irenaeus, and passed on to him stories about John.  In Against Heresies, Irenaeus relates how Polycarp told a story of how he heard John speak of his experience with the Risen Christ - and important witness to the Resurrection.

It is traditionally believed that John survived his contemporary apostles and lived to an extreme old age, dying of natural causes at Ephesus in about AD 100.   John's traditional tomb is thought to be located at Sel├žuk, a small town in the vicinity of Ephesus.

In art, John as the presumed author of the Gospel is often depicted with an eagle, which symbolizes the height he rose to in the first chapter of his gospel.  In Orthodox icons, he is often depicted looking up into heaven and dictating his Gospel (or the Book of Revelation) to his disciple, traditionally named Prochorus.  He normally holds a cup (referring to his presence at the Last Supper) with a serpent coming out of it (this is attributed to a story where he was told to drink a cup of poison which, after blessing it, he did and survived unharmed).

Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen was martyred in Jerusalem about the year 35.  He is consider both the first Christian martyr (the protomartyr) and one of the first deacons of the Christian Church.
All that we know of the life, trial, and death of St. Stephen, is found in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapters 6 & 7.  In the long chronicle of Christian martyrs, the story of Stephen stands out as one of the most moving and memorable.
Although his name is Greek (from Stephanos, meaning crown), Stephen was a Jew, probably among those who had been born or who had lived beyond the borders of Palestine, and therefore had come under the influence of the prevailing Hellenistic culture.  The New Testament does not give us the circumstances of his conversion. It would seem, however, that soon after the death of the Messiah he rose to a position of prominence among the Christians of Jerusalem and used his talents especially to win over the Greek-speaking residents of the city.
The earliest mention of Stephen is when he is listed among the seven men chosen to supervise the public tables.  We recall that these first Christians held their property in common, the well-to-do sharing what they possessed with the poor; and at this time, as always in the wake of war, there were many "displaced persons" in need of charity.  We read in Acts that the Hellenists, as the Greek-speaking Christians were called, thought that they, particularly the widows among them, were being discriminated against at the public tables.  The Apostles were informed of these complaints, but they were too busy to deal with the problem.  Therefore seven good and prudent men were selected to administer and supervise the tables.  The seven, on being presented to the Apostles, were prayed over and ordained by the imposition of hands.  Associated in these charitable tasks with Stephen, whose name heads the list as "a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit," were Philip, known as "the Evangelist," Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas-all Greek names.  The title of deacon, which came to be linked with their function, derives from the Greek verb meaning "to minister."  These men served the Christian community in temporal and charitable affairs; later on they were to assume minor religious offices.
Stephen, already a leader, now began to speak in public with more vigor and, "full of grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people."  By this time a number of Jewish priests had been converted to the new faith, but they still held to the old traditions and rules as laid down in Mosaic law.  Stephen was prepared to engage in controversy with them, eager to point out that, according to the Master, the old law had been superseded.  He was continually quoting Jesus and the prophets to the effect that external usages and all the ancient holy rites were of less importance than the spirit; that even the Temple might be destroyed, as it had been in the past, without damage to the true and eternal religion.  It was talk of this sort, carried by hearsay and rumor about the city, and often misquoted, intentionally or not, that was to draw down upon Stephen the wrath of the Jewish priestly class.
It was in a certain synagogue of Jews "called that of the Freedmen, and of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians and of those from Cilicia and the province of Asia" that Stephen chiefly disputed.  Perhaps they did not understand him; at all events, they could not make effective answer, and so fell to abusing him.  They bribed men to say that Stephen was speaking blasphemous words against Moses and against God.  The elders and the scribes were stirred up and brought him before the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish tribunal, which had authority in both civil and religious matters.  False witnesses made their accusations; Stephen defended himself ably, reviewing the long spiritual history of his people; finally his defense turned into a bitter accusation. He concluded thus:
"Yet not in houses made by hands does the Most High dwell, even as the prophet says.... Stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ear, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; as your father did, so do you also.  Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?  And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you have now been the betrayers and murderers, you who received the Law as an ordinance of angels and did not keep it."
Thus castigated, the account is that the crowd could contain their anger no longer.  They rushed upon Stephen, drove him outside the city to the place appointed, and stoned him.  At this time Jewish law permitted the death penalty by stoning for blasphemy.  Stephen, full of "grace and fortitude" to the very end, met the great test without flinching, praying the Lord to receive his spirit and not to lay this sin against the people.  So perished the first martyr, his dying breath spent in prayer for those who killed him.  Among those present at the scene and approving of the penalty meted out to Stephen was a young Jew named Saul, the future Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles: his own conversion to Christianity was to take place within a few short months.

The celebration of the Feast Day of St. Stephen is TODAY, December 26, the day after Christmas.

[Taken from "Lives of Saints", Published by John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.]
Other Notes on St. Stephen:   In the one of the earliest documented uses of irony in Western Europe, St. Stephen was designated by the Medieval Church as the patron saint of stonemasons and, for a period of time, also as the patron saint of headaches.
This painting comes from the church of St. Wenceslaus in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  It shows "Good King Wenceslaus" carrying supplies to the poor on the Feast of Stephen.
The Feast of St. Stephen, being the day after Christmas, is celebrated in the traditional English Christmas carol, "Good King Wenceslaus" (circa 1850):
"Good King Wenceslaus went out
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even."
Note that the music for this carol is much older than the words, and with its original verse was first sung on the feast days for St. Stephen and other martyred saints.  Try this original verse instead using the same "Good King Wenceslaus" tune:
"Christian friends, your voices raise.
Wake the day with gladness.
God Himself to joy and praise
turns our human sadness:
Joy that martyrs won their crown,
opened heaven's bright portal,
when they laid the mortal down
for the life immortal."
[Words: Saint Joseph the Hymnographer, 9th Century, translated from the Greek.

Music: "Tempus Adest Floridum" ("Spring has unwrapped her flowers"), a 13th Century spring carol; first published in the Swedish Piae Cantiones, 1582.]
Back to Wenceslaus, who ruled the region of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) for a time in the early 10th Century as its duke.  The carol refers to his supposed caring works for the poor.   St. Wenceslaus became the patron saint of Bohemia and the crown of Wenceslaus is regarded as a symbol of Czech nationalism.  His religious feast day is September 28.   Wenceslaus Square is in the center of Prague, and in 1989 became the site of mass demonstrations that helped end the Communist dictatorship.
The feast of St. Stephen on December 26 is celebrated as "Boxing Day" in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and in other commonwealth countries and is a national holiday there.   The name refers to the practice, as legend has it, of nobles and other wealthy Britons "boxing up" and distributing food and other gifts to their servants and to the poor on the day after Christmas.   Boxing Day was traditionally when the alms box at every English church was opened and the contents distributed to the poor.   Servants by custom were also given the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families.
St. Stephen the Protomartyr (or "first" martyr) should be distinguished from St. Stephen of Hungary (or King St. Stephen), a Magyar who founded the free nation of Hungary in about 1000 AD as its first Christian king.  That St. Stephen was canonized by Pope Gregory VII in 1083 as the patron saint of Hungary, and continues to be venerated by the Hungarian people as a powerful symbol of national freedom.  His religious Feast Day is on September 2, but a national festival for King St. Stephen is traditionally celebrated in Hungary each year on August 20, analogous to that held in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, December 23, 2011

O Antiphons - December 23 - O Emmanuel

We reach the culmination of the O Antiphons today.  In previous antiphons our cry was directed to the Messiah as He manifested Himself to the Chosen People, to the Gentiles, and in nature; now He is addressed in person and asked to remain with us as Emmanuel. 

Reading this final antiphon gives the feeling that a climax has indeed come.  The very term Emmanuel, God with us, reveals the kindly, human heart of Jesus — He wants to be one of us, a Child of man, with all our human weakness and suffering; He wants to experience how hard it is to be man.  He wants to remain with us to the end of time, He wants to dwell within us, He wants to make us share His nature.
O Emmanuel
Now we are about to receive the Savior, Emmanuel, God with us.  God's only-begotten Son, born of the Father before all time, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, one being with the Father, is about to be born in time.  For the salvation of men, He has come down upon earth and is conceived by the Holy Ghost in a virgin.  He shall be called God with us, and yet He will be one in nature with us.  He is to be like to us in all things except sin.  He wills to share our poverty and to pray and suffer with us; He assumes our guilt.  He is God with us in every phase of our life; He even takes our place on the cross, He remains with us in Holy Communion, in our daily Mass, and in our tabernacles.  At some time in the future He will still be God with us in His beautiful heaven.  All this He has done for us even though we have repeatedly turned our back on Him.

"Come and save us."  The great God is with us.  He has come, not to destroy the sinful world, as He once destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha, but to redeem it from its sins.  This redemption is to be accomplished at the cost of great personal sacrifice to Him.  As if this did not satisfy the burning ardor of His love, He wills to remain with us in our tabernacles.  He incorporates us into Himself and shares His very life with us.  We are engrafted in Him as a branch might be grafted to a new tree.  "I am the vine, you are the branches" (John 15:5).  God with us!  We are united to Christ as a limb is united to a body, as a branch is united to a vine.  We now belong to Christ and no longer to ourselves.  We are one with Him.  What a grace, what greatness, what nobility have been conferred upon us!  God looking upon us no longer sees miserable specimens of mankind, but members of Christ.  When He looks upon Christ, He sees Christ and us as united in one body, as a tree united to its branches.  Even the smallest leaf fluttering on the farthest branch belongs to that tree and lives by the sap of that tree.  Could He have redeemed us in a more perfect manner than by thus implanting in us and infusing in us His divine life? Let us reflect upon this seriously.

God with us!  It was that He might be with us that He came that first Christmas at Bethlehem.  He came that He might lift me up from the dust, and that I might share in His life.  He will return this Christmas that He may continue and complete that work.  It is for the same purpose that He comes in every Holy Mass and Communion, and in each inspiration and grace He gives us.  His final coming will be for the same purpose, and will have the further aim of sharing with us His glorified life in heaven.  We shall then enjoy the perfect vision of God, perfect love, and the fulfillment of all our desires for all eternity. For all eternity!

Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
7th O Antiphon:

Our King and law-giver, the awaited of the peoples, and their Savior, COME to save us, O Lord our God.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

O Antiphons - December 22 - O King of the Nations (Gentiles)

"A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return" (Luke 19:12).  This nobleman is Christ, the Son of God, King of all nations.  His kingdom is over all men and over all things, both material and spiritual.  He has everything in His hand as God and man.  But another, Satan, has broken into His kingdom and has made himself master of many of Christ's subjects.  In the old dispensation only a small part of humanity, the chosen people, remained faithful to the almighty King.

Christ, the Son of God, came into this "far country" in order to become man and, by means of humility, obedience, and poverty, to cast out the usurper who had taken His subjects.  He came to reassert His dominion over all those who had left Him, both Jews and Gentiles 

O King of the Gentiles
"Come and save man, whom Thou hast made out of dust."  What is man?  He is but a particle of dust, an insignificant creature who has further separated himself from God through sin.  He has been cut off from the fountain of truth and banished from God to darkness and misery.  Still in the ruins there dwells a spirit that possesses a capacity for truth.  In these ashes there is yet a spark that may be fanned to life to burn with the brilliance of divine life.  But only God can revive this flame.  For this reason the Church cries out, "Come and save man, whom Thou hast made out of dust."  Save him who is so weak, so miserable and helpless.  Remember his nothingness.  Consider the many enemies who lay snares to rob him of divine life and to entice him into sin.  Think of his obscured knowledge and his proneness to evil, of his tendency to error, and his weakness in the face of temptation.  Guard him from the enticements of the world; shelter him from the poison of erroneous teaching; deliver him from the devil and his angels.

During these days before Christmas, the Church contemplates the overwhelming misery of unregenerated mankind.   She cries out, "Come and save man, whom Thou hast made out of dust."

Jesus is King of all nations.  "The kings of the earth stood up and the princes met together against the Lord and against His Christ.  Let us break their bonds asunder, and let us cast away their yoke from us.  He that dwelleth in heaven shall laugh at them, and the Lord shall deride them.  Then shall He speak to them in His anger and trouble them in His rage.  But I am appointed king by Him over Sion, His holy mountain. ... The Lord hath said to Me; Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee.  Ask of Me and I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Ps. 2:2-8).  Well may Herod seek the life of the newborn king.  Indeed, many kings and tribes and nations in the course of time shall deprecate the divine King, Christ.  But to Him has been given all power in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28: i8).  Before Him every knee shall bend, and every tongue shall confess that He is the Lord (Phil. 2:10f.).

The more the mighty condemn the kingship of Christ, the more shall He be exalted by the Father.

Now He comes to us in the form of a lovely child.  One day in the presence of the Roman governor He will assert His right to kingship.  But after this one public confession of His royal origin He withdraws again into the obscurity which He had freely chosen.  For the present He is satisfied with this manifestation of His royal dignity.  The day will come, however, when He will manifest it with power and majesty as He comes again on the clouds of heaven.  Before all nations God will declare: "I have anointed Him King of Sion.  My holy mountain."  All men shall pay Him homage as king; all nations shall acclaim Him the King of Glory.

Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
6th O Antiphon:

And their desired one, cornerstone, who makest two into one, COME save man, whom thou didst fashion out of slime.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why all the shopping? CHRISTMAS, of course!

What a great song!  Maybe if we all practice this, they'll all change their minds and remember the reason for this season...

O Antiphons - December 21 - O Radiant Dawn

It is the Sun, the Redeemer, whom we await.  "I am the light [the sun] of the world" (John 8:12).  Christ is the light of the world because of the faith which He has infused into souls.  He has enlightened the world by His teaching and by the example of His life.  In the crib, in Nazareth, on the cross on Calvary, in the tabernacle of our churches, He answers the eternal questioning of the benighted soul. 
O Radiant Dawn

O eternal Sun, come and enlighten us, for where Thou art not, there is darkness, death, and wickedness.  "Come and enlighten all who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death."

"But now [you are] light in the Lord" (Eph. 5:18).  In the Church the light has now appeared to us on the first Christmas night, on the day of our baptism, daily in the Mass and at the time of Holy Communion, and in the many inspirations and promptings of grace.  How thankful we should be for this light, which is Christ.

But we have yet to reach the full measure of the stature of Christ.  Alas! we let ourselves be burdened by earthly sorrow, we are distracted by the excitement of the moment, and our spiritual growth is hampered by our attachment to the things of this world.  Fervently we should repeat that plea of Holy Mother the Church.  "0 dawning Sun of righteousness, come and enlighten us, who yet sit in the darkness of suffering, of human reasoning, and of self-love."

The light of Christ will be revealed perfectly only when we meet Him at the time of His second coming.  Then we shall be brought into the light of glory, and we shall "shine as the sun in the kingdom of the Father" (Matt. 13:48).  "Sown in corruption we shall rise in incorruption" (I Cor. 15:42).  May the day of enlightenment come soon!

Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
   5th O Antiphon:

Radiance of eternal light, and sun of justice, COME enlighten those sitting in darkness, and in the shadow of death.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O Antiphons - December 20 - O Key of David

Today is the fourth of the O Antiphons.  O sublime majesty of the coming Redeemer!  To Him has been delivered the key, the government of the house of David (Is 22:22).  Boundless is His power over the graces and privileges of the Church, over the souls and hearts and the wills of men.  He holds the destiny of the Church in the palm of His hand.  He is Master of the storms that arise to destroy the Church and the souls committed to her.  He is capable of dealing with the false principles and the errors that threaten her doctrines.  He has overcome the devil and his associates, the world, the flesh and its tribulations.  To Him all power is given (Matt. 28:18).  "He shall open and none shall shut" (Is 22:22).  Against the power that is His all other forces are powerless.  The destiny of souls and the government of the Church are placed in His hand.  He is the Lord of all.  O Key of David, I believe in Thy power; and in the many difficult situations that confront the Church and my own soul, I place my trust in Thee.
O Key of David

"Come, lead the captives from their prison."  With the key of His almighty power, the Redeemer has opened the prison in which poor, sinful man was languishing in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Key of David, come and deliver the captives from their prison.  The Church wishes that by the practice of virtue we should free ourselves from sin and unfaithfulness.  She asks God that He may spare us from punishment, deliver us from His wrath, from an evil death, and from hell.  The Church prays that God may free us from a heart that clings to the world, from a spirit that is pleased with worldliness, from a human respect that degrades us.  She urges us to return kindness and affection for scorn, love and compassion for persecution.  Our Holy Mother the Church prays that we may be delivered from ourselves, from our self-love, and from all our secret sins.  She prays that God may detach our hearts from all that can bind them to earth, for he who has been freed from the things of the earth is free with the freedom of Christ.

Key of David, come and deliver the captives from their prison.  By Thy coming free us from all that separates us from God.  Bring us freedom and redemption; incline us to surrender ourselves completely to God. So all pray for each, and each for all.

Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
4th O Antiphon:

And scepter of the house of Israel, thou openest and no man dare shut, thou shuttest and no man dare open, COME lead from prison, the fettered one, the dweller in darkness and the shadow of death.

Monday, December 19, 2011

O Antiphons - December 19 - O Root of Jesse

Today is the third of the O Antiphons.  Christ the King, the Lord!  Divine Wisdom, Adonai, the powerful God, is at the same time man with flesh and blood of the house of Jesse, the father of King David.  Truly, the right of kingship has now passed from the house of David.  The glory that once clothed the royal family has faded and withered, leaving only a blighted and withered root.  But from this root is to spring a glorious blossom, the King of the world.  "He shall rule from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth.  Before Him the Ethiopians shall fall down and His enemies shall lick the ground.  The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall serve Him" (Ps. 71:8-11).  To Him God has said, "Thou art My Son. . . . I will give Thee the Gentiles for Thy inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for Thy possession" (Ps. 2:7 f.).
O Root of Jesse

"Come to deliver us and tarry not."  The world cries out for Christ its King, who shall cast out the prince of this world (John 12:31).  The prince of this world established his power over men as a result of original sin.  Even after we had been delivered from the servitude of Satan through the death of Christ on the cross, the prince of this world attempts to exercise his power over us.  "The devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet. 5:8).  In these trying times, when faith in Christ and in God has largely disappeared, when the propaganda of a pagan culture is broadcast everywhere, and the forces of evil and falsehood rise up to cast God from His throne, who does not feel the power of the devil?  Does it not appear that we are approaching that time when Satan will be released from the depths of hell to work his wonders and mislead, if possible, even the elect? (Apoc. 20:2; Matt. 24:24.) 
"Come, tarry not."  Observe how thoroughly the world of today has submitted to the reign of Satan.  Mankind has abandoned the search for what is good and holy.  Loyalty, justice, freedom, love, and mutual trust are no longer highly regarded.  Establish, O God, Thy kingdom among us, a kingdom established upon truth, justice, and peace.  "Come, tarry not."  "Thy kingdom come."

Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
   3rd O Antiphon:

A standard to the peoples, before whom kings are mute, to whom the nations will appeal, COME to deliver us, delay, please, no longer.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

O Antiphons - December 18 - O Adonai

Today is the second of the O Antiphons, O Adonai (O Almighty God).  As Moses approached the burning bush, so we approach the divine Savior in the form of a child in the crib, or in the form of the consecrated host, and falling down we adore Him.  "Put off the shoes from thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground . . . I am who am."  "Come with an outstretched arm to redeem us."  This is the cry of the Church for the second coming of Christ on the last day.  The return of the Savior brings us plentiful redemption.
O Lord and Ruler

Thou art He "who didst appear to Moses in the burning bush."  "I have seen the affliction of My people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of the rigor of them that are over the works.  And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey" (Exod. 3:7 f.).  Thus spoke the Lord to Moses from the bush which burned but was not consumed, which is a figure of God's condescension to assume the weakness of human nature.   The human nature of Christ is united to the burning divine nature, and yet it is not consumed.

O Adonai, almighty God! Mighty in the weakness of a child, and in the helplessness of the Crucified!  Thou, almighty God, mighty in the wonders that Thou hast worked!  Mighty in guiding, sustaining, and developing Thy Church!  "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).

"Come with an outstretched arm to redeem us."  This is the cry of the Church for the second coming of Christ on the last day.  The return of the Savior brings us plentiful redemption.  "Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you" (Matt. 25-34). 

Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
   2nd O Antiphon:

And leader of the house of Israel, who Appeared to Moses in the bush's flaming fire, And gave to him the Law on Sinai, COME to redeem us with outstretched arm.

O Antiphons Begin - December 17 - O Wisdom

We are all familiar with the hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  The hymn is a summary of the 7 jewels of our Catholic liturgy, which date back to the 4th century.  They are the "O Antiphons" (because each one begins with "O") - and they begin today and continue until December 23.  The antiphons address Christ with seven magnificent Messianic titles, based on the Old Testament prophecies and types of Christ. The Church recalls the variety of the ills of man before the coming of the Redeemer.
O Wisdom

Divine Wisdom clothes itself in the nature of a man.  It conceals itself in the weakness of a child.  It chooses for itself infancy, poverty, obedience, subjection, obscurity.  "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the prudence of the prudent I will reject. . . . Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?  For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of our preaching, to save them that believe.  For both the Jews require signs, and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews, indeed, a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. . . .  But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the strong.  And the base things of the world and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and the things that are not, that He might bring to naught the things that are" (I Cor. 1:19 ff.).
  • Come, O divine Wisdom, teach us the way of knowledge. We are unwise; we judge and speak according to the vain standards of the world, which is foolishness in the eyes of God.
  • Come, O divine Wisdom, give us the true knowledge and the taste for what is eternal and divine.  Inspire us with a thirst for God's holy will, help us seek God's guidance and direction, enlighten us in the teachings of the holy gospel, make us submissive to Thy holy Church.  Strengthen us in the forgetfulness of self, and help us to resign ourselves to a position of obscurity if that be Thy holy will.  Detach our hearts from resurgent pride.  Give us wisdom that we may understand that "but one thing is necessary" (Luke 10:42).  "For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?" (Matt. 16:26.)  The Holy Spirit would have us know that one degree of grace is worth more than all worldly possessions.
Excerpted from The Light of the World by Benedict Baur, O.S.B.
   1st O Antiphon:

Who hast issued from the mouth of the Most High, Reaching from end even unto end, Ordering all things indomitably yet tenderly, COME to teach us the way of prudence.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Our Lady of Guadalupe - Patroness of the Unborn and of All the Americas

In 1531 a "Lady from Heaven" appeared to Saint Juan Diego, a poor Indian from Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City.  She identified herself as the Mother of the True God and instructed him to have the bishop build a church on the site and left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth.  The tilma should have deteriorated within 20 years but shows no sign of decay after over 470 years.  It to this day defies all scientific explanations of its origin.

Apparently the tilma in the eyes of Our Lady of Guadalupe, even reflects what was in front of her in 1531!  (Click HERE for a FASCINATING description of the eyes of the image) Her message of love and compassion, and her universal promise of help and protection to all mankind, as well as the story of the apparitions, are described in the "Nican Mopohua," a 16th century document written in the native Nahuatl language.

There is reason to believe that at Tepeyac Mary came in her glorified body, and her actual physical hands rearranged the roses in Juan Diego’s tilma, which makes this apparition very special.

An incredible list of miracles, cures and interventions are attributed to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Each year an estimated 10 million people visit her Basilica, making her Mexico City home the most popular Marian shrine in the world, and the most visited Catholic church in the world after Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.

Altogether 24 popes have officially honored Our Lady of Guadalupe. His Holiness John Paul II visited her Sanctuary four times: on his first apostolic trip outside Rome as Pope in 1979, and again in 1990, 1999 and 2002.

The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12th.  In 1999, Pope John Paul II, in his homily given during the Solemn Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, his third visit to the sanctuary, declared the date of December the 12th as a Liturgical Holy Day for the whole continent.  During the same visit Pope John Paul II entrusted the cause of life to her loving protection, and placed under her motherly care the innocent lives of children, especially those who are in danger of not being born.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Rejoice! I say it again, Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Gaudete Sunday 

Certain Sundays throughout the liturgical year have taken their name from the first word in Latin of the Introit (the entrance antiphon at Mass).  Gaudete Sunday is one of these.  It is the Third Sunday of Advent.  The Introit on this day, in both the current "novus ordo" Mass and the older, Traditional Latin Mass, is taken from Phillippians 4:4,5: "Gaudete in Domino semper" ("Rejoice in the Lord always").

Like Lent, Advent is a penitential season, so the priest normally wears purple vestments.  But on Gaudete Sunday, having passed the mid-point of Advent, the Church lightens the mood a little, and the priest pulls out the "twice-a-year" Rose colored vestments.  The change in color provides us with encouragement to continue our spiritual preparation - especially prayer and fasting - for Christmas.

For this same reason, the third candle of the Advent wreath, first lit today, is the Rose colored candle.  (Many, not understanding the origin of the rose, or pink, candle mistakenly light the pink candle of the 4th Sunday - but it is lit on the 3rd Sunday of Advent).
Today is the day on which the Church reminds us to "rejoice always."  It is possible for us to rejoice - even when things are difficult.  Saint  Paul makes clear that our reason to rejoice is not because things are going well or because I have everything I want or because everything is going well.  The reason for us to rejoice is because, "The Lord is near."  If the Lord is near to our lives, then we can find reasons to rejoice, even in struggle and difficulty and trials.  This is the key to our Christian lives and to being happy: if Christ is near, then we have reason to rejoice.  If Christ is far from us, then we have reason to be sad.  Draw close to the Lord once again, and you'll find the reason for our joy!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Patroness of the United States - Mary Immaculate - Pray for us!

We take this occasion, brethren, to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States, under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose Immaculate Conception is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic Church.

By the aid of her prayers, we entertain the confident hope that we will be strengthened to perform the arduous duties of our ministry, and that you will be enabled to practice the sublime virtues, of which her life presents the most perfect example.
--Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of the United States
Sixth Provincial Council
5 May 1846

Immaculate Conception is the title by which we recognize that the Blessed Virgin Mary by a special grace of God was exempt of original sin. She announced herself with this title to Bernadette Soubiruous in the Apparitions of Lourdes in 1858.
The authenticity of these apparitions has been verified by the authority of the Church in view of the great number of miracles that have taken place in the Sanctuary of Lourdes. 

The Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined and proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on the 8th of December 1854.

It is very dignifying for Mary to be the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God. She is the new Eve, created without a stain of sin to be the Mother of Jesus and of all the children of God.

We all have inherited the original sin from Eve, the mother of all the children of Adam. Since Jesus is the new Adam, her mother was created with this unique privilege of being free from original sin. 

Our Lord Jesus Christ consecrated us as children of Mary in the person of John the beloved apostle when he was in agony on the cross. To John He said, there is your mother, to Mary He said as He gave her all the children of God: here is your son. 

The children of Mary are the children of God in His Divine Grace, all saved by Jesus, who accept Mary as their mother.

Immaculate Conception Apologetics

The Immaculate Conception is the Virgin Mary’s glorious privilege of being preserved by a special grace of God from Original Sin through the future merits of Jesus Christ.

Protestants assert that the Virgin Mary could not have been immaculately conceived for then She would not have needed redemption. This is evidenced by Her own words in the Magnificat: "my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour" (St. Luke 1, 47). Further, St. John clearly states that "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us?" (1 St. John 1, 8). How can Catholics therefore claim that the Virgin Mary was sinless?"

The Catholic Church does not deny that the Virgin Mary needed redemption, for She was a child of Adam together with the rest of humanity. Yet, Her redemption was effected in another, "more sublime manner", namely, "redemption by pre-emption." One can be cured of a disease after having contracted it, or one can be spared of that same disease by being inoculated against it in advance. The Virgin Mary’s redemption was effected in this latter manner, thus sparing Her from ever being under Satan's domination.

The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was solemnly defined and proclaimed by Pope Pius IX on the 8th December, 1854:
"The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin."

The Immaculate Conception has always been the belief of the Church, being implicitly contained in the Church’s teaching of the Virgin Mary’s absolute purity and sinlessness. Just as Our Lord "grew in grace and wisdom," that is, manifested increasing signs of wisdom as He increased in age, so the Church, which possesses the wisdom of God from Her origin, manifests it only according to the order of Providence and Her children’s needs. In the centuries before 1854, the Popes and Councils made continuous and explicit references to the Immaculate Conception in their pronouncements:
(i) Pope St. Martin I, Lateran Council (649), Canon 3 on the Trinity;
(ii) Pope Sixtus IV, Constitutions Cum Praeexcelsa (1476); Grave Nimis (1483);
(iii) Pope Paul III, Council of Trent (1546), Decree on Original Sin;
(iv) Pope St. Pius V, Bull Ex Omnibus Afflictionibus, (1567);
(v) Pope Alexander VII, Bull Sollicitudo Omnium Eccl. (1661).

The Church finds support for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in the words of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women" (St. Luke 1, 28 [Douai]). She, who was to conceive the Son of God, the Holy of holies, must Herself be supremely holy, and therefore be preserved, not only from actual sin, but also from all stain of Original Sin. The Angel’s words would not have been entirely truthful had the Virgin Mary, for even one instant, been deprived of grace.

St. Luke 1, 28 continues to be a source of much controversy. Most Protestants would prefer to render the original Greek kecharitomene as "highly favoured" rather than "full of grace." In fact, a strict translation of kecharitomene is "thou who hast been graced." Of the two options, "full of grace" is a more clear and definite rendering of the angel’s words than "favour." For this conclusion there exists the authority of the Latin Fathers; the Codices of Alexandrinus and Ephrem; the Syriac and Arabic versions of the Bible; and even the writings of Protestants such as Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Beza.

The Church, furthermore, asserts that God, immediately after Adam’s fall, cursed Satan and said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head" (Gen. 3, 15). It was by the Virgin Mary's seed, that is, Jesus Christ, that the kingdom of Satan was demolished. It was not fitting that She, who was to co-operate in the defeat of Satan, should ever be infected by his breath or a slave to his kingdom of sin. The enmity between the Virgin Mary and the serpent placed by God was Her triumph over sin, Her Immaculate Conception.

To the contrary, however, it is asserted that the Virgin Mary again admitted that She was a sinner when She presented herself in the Temple for purification in accordance with the Law of Moses: "she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf, and she shall be clean'" (Lev. 12, 8). The Virgin Mary observed this Law not because She believed Herself to be defiled by giving birth to Christ, but to give an example of humility and obedience by fulfilling all outward observances. For the Virgin Mary was not subject to this particular law by virtue of what God Himself had laid down in prefacing it: "If a woman having received seed shall bear a man child, she shall be unclean seven days..." (v. 2 [Douai]). The conception and birth of Christ was not due to the reception of male seed but rather to the power of the Holy Spirit. In no way can it be claimed that in conceiving, bearing and delivering Christ the Virgin Mary was made "unclean." In fact, the opposite would have occurred, that is, She would have received an augmentation of grace.

That God should have created the Virgin Mary in a state of holiness as He had formed Eve and the angels is also befitting the honour of God: of the Father, whose daughter She is; of the Son, whose mother She is; and of the Holy Spirit, who, in the incarnation, took the Virgin Mary to be His spouse. Further, as the "new Eve" and mother of the new Adam, the Virgin Mary cannot appropriately be anything less than the original Eve; on the contrary, as Christ excelled Adam, so the Virgin Mary (though to a lesser degree) should excel Eve. Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church has consistently and universally proclaimed the sinlessness of the Virgin Mary:

"Our most holy, immaculate, and most glorious Lady, Mother of God and ever Virgin Mary."

"It was meet that the God of all purity should spring from the greatest purity, from the most pure bosom."

"Most holy Lady, Mother of God, alone most pure in soul and body, alone exceeding all perfection of Lady most holy, all-pure, all-immaculate, all-stainless, all-undefiled, all-incorrupt, all-inviolate."

"With the exception therefore of the Holy Virgin Mary, with regard to whom, when sin is in question, I cannot, out of respect of Our Lord, permit of any discussion."

"By virtue of the richness of the grace of the beloved Son, by reason of the redemptive merits of him who willed to become her Son, Mary was preserved from the inheritance of original sin. In this way, from the first moment of her conception - which is to say of her existence - she belonged to Christ, sharing in salvific and sanctifying grace and in the love which has its beginning in the 'Beloved', the Son of the Eternal Father…"

"The 'splendor of an entirely unique holiness' by which Mary is 'enriched from the first instant of her conception' comes wholly from Christ: she is 'redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.' The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person 'in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places' and chose her 'in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love."

Finally, for Catholics, the infallible pronouncement of Pius IX was given heavenly ratification by the Virgin Mary Herself when She appeared at Lourdes in southern France in 1858 and announced to St. Bernadette Soubirous that She was "the Immaculate Conception." The subsequent flow of thousands of miracles stemming from the waters of the Lourdes grotto attest to the authenticity of the Virgin Mary’s apparitions and are a matter of public record for all to examine.