If you are looking at a particular sermon and it is removed it is because it has been updated.

For example Year C 2010 is being replaced week by week with Year C 2013, and so on.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Mary, the Mother of God 2015

Mary, the Mother of God  
(Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

St. Paul who, being totally fascinated by the Risen Christ Who called and commissioned him, hardly even mentions Our Lady, nevertheless gives us a few words in her regard that reveal to us something of the innermost ‘secret’ of Mary:
God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to ransom those under the Law.
‘God sent His Son to ransom those under the Law’.  However, His Son was born of a woman under the Law St. Paul tells us … could she, then, have been a woman yet ‘to be ransomed’?  Obviously not!  Therefore, Paul is assuming as known the forestalling ransom of Mary, that is the prevenient grace of her Immaculate Conception, enabling her to fittingly bear and give birth to the Son of God come ‘to ransom those under the Law’.
God did ‘great things’ for Mary as she would not just humbly acknowledge but exultantly proclaim to her cousin Elisabeth; but He dld not -- could not because He would not – do them without her co-operation: implicit, as regards her intellectual appreciation of what was happening to her and planned for her -- such as her Immaculate Conception and the strict Personal Divinity of the Son to be born of her, but totally explicit in her absolute moral self-commitment to the supremely holy and incomprehensibly majestic (above and beyond human comprehension) God of Israel, necessarily involving her relinquishing control of, indeed, embracing total abnegation of, self.  God, I say, would not do such great things for her without her most radical and utterly simple self-commitment in love.  Now, such self-emptiness before Him, such total openness, such absolute selflessness for Him, His purposes and His glory; that indeed, is the secret of Mary:
Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Your Will.
So absolute -- so complete and unreserved -- was the response of Mary to God’s initial words delivered to her by the angel Gabriel, that Jesus openly praised her for that above all else (Luke 11:27-28):
A certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, "Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!"  But He said, "More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
Blessed are those who hear the word of God, who like Mary let that word freely -- like a threaded needle -- introduce the Spirit of God into their lives, enabling Him to  commence His work in them.  Blessed indeed are those who then, turning neither heart nor head to right or to left, but always, simply and solely, walking in the way of God’s (W)ord and allowing God’s Spirit to lead them where He will.
We can recall here another Mary of whom the New Testament speaks most clearly in this same vein, for she is able to help us learn something more about Our Lady’s ‘secret’:
Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed Him.  She had a sister named Mary, who sat beside the Lord at His feet listening to Him speak.  Martha, burdened with much serving came to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me by myself to do all the serving?  The Lord said to her in reply, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing, Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her. (Luke 10:38-42)
Clearly, important choices have to be made, perhaps friends offended and opposition provoked; at times, even good, very good things left aside and behind, for what is better and best in the way of God:  ‘Secretum meum, mihi.’
For further guidance we can also recall the experience of Elijah of old:
At the mountain of God, Horeb, Elijah came to a cave where he took shelter.   The word of the Lord came to him, ‘Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord, the Lord will be passing by.’  A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake there was fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  After the fire, there was a tiny whispering sound.  When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.  A voice said to him, ‘Elijah, why are you here? ... ‘Go take the road back to the desert near Damascus.  When you arrive you shall anoint Hazael as king of Aram... Then Jehu, as king of Israel, and Elisha, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, as prophet to succeed you.’  (1 Kings 9, 11-16)
The voice of God had been ardently desired, long awaited, and carefully listened for, by the prophet in his great need.  Ultimately he recognized it by its unearthly calm and peace-enshrining quiet which bespoke of holiness and led him to hide his face in his cloak before it, that thus he might listen more closely and understand most clearly what the Lord would have him do to achieve his destiny: Peace to those who are loved of God.
In our Gospel reading we learnt that those who searched for the Child found:
            Mary and Joseph, and the Infant lying in a manger.
So it is for all those disciples whom Jesus has told to take Mary to their hearts as their own Mother: in our search for Jesus, we will find Him, most easily and most surely, with the help and comfort of Mary’s prayerful presence in our lives.  Mary is no mere addition, certainly no complication, for Catholic spirituality.  Indeed, we can readily appreciate the privilege of Mary that enables her to lead each and every one of us to Jesus when we recall that she is not simply the model of the Church, but that, during her pregnancy she was, in all literal truth, the original Church itself, the unique dwelling place on earth of Jesus, God’s Son made flesh, the New Testament Ark of God’s presence among His People; and that she still is the purest essence of the Church, without spot or wrinkle of any sort.  Only in Mother Church can each and every one of us find Jesus truly and love Him fully, and that we will do most surely with Mary’s inestimable help.
St. Paul is quite explicit: it is the Spirit within us Who cries out Abba, Father!
As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into you hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
It is not that, initially, He authorises us, permits us, or even, enables us to cry ‘Abba, Father!’  It is the Spirit Himself, first coming to us as God’s gracious and most gloriously mysterious GIFT -- the sublimely precious fruit of Christ’s sacrifice -- Who thus speaks in us and for us to the Father.  Thus is Jesus, Mary’s Son, born anew in each of us for the Father.   After that, everything depends on just how much ‘room’ – so to speak -- we give the Spirit of Jesus to work freely and fruitfully in us; and that means that we must appreciate, learn from, and develop in our own lives, something of the ‘secret’ of Mary our mother: for that will ultimately determine our human and Christian development as children of God.
We should recognise that Mary is our model and inspiration for our deepest and most personal relationship with Jesus, and in Jesus, with the Father, in so far as she was always most sublimely one with her Son:
Mary kept all these things (that she had experienced and heard concerning Jesus) and pondered them in her heart.
She is the supreme example and the surest guide for anyone seeking salvation, for anyone hoping and longing to find God as our true Father, in and with Jesus.
First and foremost, we should Imitate Mary in her total commitment of trust, and confidence in God the incomprehensible and supremely loving Father:
            Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Your Will.
And then, by pondering in our heart -- in the power of the Spirit -- the Good News of Jesus handed down to us by Mother Church in her Scriptures and teaching which form us as His disciples, and which, indeed, together with her sacraments, mediate His very presence in our midst as members of His Church, and in our individual hearts, as His true disciples today.
Dear People of God, let us close our considerations with heartfelt words of gratitude and praise for Mary, the Immaculate Mother of Our Lord and Saviour and – ‘thanks be to God’ -- our most beautiful and gracious Queen:
You are the glory of Jerusalem, the surpassing joy (and) splendid boast of (all reborn in Christ). You have done good and God is pleased with what you have wrought.  May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty forever and ever!  And all the people answered, “Amen!”  (Judith 15:9-10)
So be it today: Amen, amen!  Deo gratias!


Friday, 26 December 2014

The Holy Family Year B 2014

 The Holy Family (B)      
(Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40)

Today’s feast and the readings chosen for it by Mother Church invite us to think on the characteristics of family life from the Christian point of view: the family life of a man and woman who have dedicated their union to Christ for God’s glory, for their own fulfilment and salvation, and also that of any children the Lord may give them.  It is a community of faith, hope, and charity; a domestic church.
Notice, first of all, the absolute importance of family for us Christians: the very Son of God could not enter into this world other than by being born into a family.  One parent homes are not of God’s choosing, and, apart from special circumstances which cry to God for special grace, they are not able to provide what God wants for each and every child. Joseph and Mary were never to have sex our faith teaches, but Joseph was essential for the birth of Jesus: the family of God had to be made up of a man and a woman.  Homes of the same sex are not Christian families; they can be state-approved homes, but not acceptable Christian families. Notice here that God the Father, when requiring that His Son be born as man into a family made up of one man and one woman, was not just following an arbitrary rule or law of His own making, He was doing it for the true and essential human good of the Child to be born.   Moreover, because this Child was to be a blessing for the whole world, not just for the Jewish people, God wanted His Son to be born into the family of Mary and Joseph for the guidance of the whole world.  This fact of the supreme importance of the family for the good of children is not disputed among the great Abrahamic religions of the world; nor, on the other hand, do governments of the free world dispute the families’ role and function for the good of society in general.  Nevertheless, governments yield easily to popularity pressures: they seek to promote not only what is good for the people but also, and at times, primarily, what is likely to be for their own good at the next election, as we see today when they pretend that same-sex unions can be accepted as a home suitable for children alongside the Christian family of man and woman.  Consequently we base our appreciation of the nature and role of the family not on any politically correct or humanistic view but on the inspired teaching of the Scriptures, the infallible teaching of Mother Church, and the example of Our Blessed Lord’s divinely human childhood.
In every body made up of several parts, the overriding requirement is that of unity.  Without unity, such a body cannot function aright and will fragment.  That is why, St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians, when telling them how to give glory to God and how -- in modern terms -- to give good press to the Faith, spoke of that one basic and supremely important need for unity in family life.  There was, of course, much else that he could have said about family life, but at this point in his letter there was no opportunity for anything more than what was absolutely necessary, and so he wrote (3:18-21):
Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.   Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.   Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged.
Let us just look at that.   I think that everyone will agree that for men in general, their weakness -- their Achilles’ heel so to speak -- in relations with women and in family life, is a tendency towards violence, together with an excessive love of, and absorption in, work at the expense of personal relationships.  We hear and see the truth of this proved time and time again in the paper, on the TV, and in our local and personal experience.  It would be strange then, wouldn’t it, if Paul, writing in order to preserve and build up unity in the family, gave guidance to married men that is so pertinent and precise -- love your wives and do not be harsh with them -- and then was to be very far out in his prescription for women?  His words to them are just as clear and incisive as those words of advice he gave for men; in the name of Jesus, he told women then, and the Scriptures still proclaim his teaching to women of today: “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.”  Submit, that is, when it is necessary, so long as it is “in the Lord” and for the Lord: submit for co-operation, that is, not for servitude.
Now, our everyday experience confirms Paul’s teaching also in this respect.  Modern day feminists cannot abide the thought of ‘submitting’ to men because they look at it from their own individual and personal point of view and interpret it as servitude, refusing to see it  from the viewpoint of the universal Church and of the individual family in which it is intended as co-operation for the overriding-good of unity.   Such women see themselves as rivals to men, not as complimentary to them; and even if the man were their husband, their love for him as a person would not be able to overcome their confrontational attitude to men in general.  Moreover, because they set themselves up as rivals to, and independent of, men, they frequently feel bound to try to prove that they can do manly work every bit as good as men, claiming the right to be boxers, footballers, business tycoons, lorry drivers, front-line soldiers, etc.  There is no doubt that they can, indeed, do many manly things; but -- not actually being men -- it is not surprising that they do not always succeed in doing those things as well as men.  There are other situations where they are able to do traditionally manly work as well as men do, but only at the cost of a certain loss of their own femininity.  A woman can drive a lorry, dig coal, fight in battles, but what sort of a woman will result from such choices?  The assertion of women’s rights is all to the good, for it is the teaching both of Mother Church and the Scriptures that man and woman are of equal dignity and worth in God’s eyes; but the demand for equal rights carried to that extreme which would claim total equality in every respect, will only result in a society where there are fewer and fewer authentic men and women, and more and more human beings of no particular character: men without spirit, unwilling to accept, take on, responsibility, or again without strength of character; and women of no particular grace or beauty other than that of their body endowed with a power which is not quite able to match up to their ego.
Paul’s last bit of teaching on family life concerns the young:
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord.
Christian parents should never be embarrassed by this their right to obedience from their children.  Children who obey their parents gain a blessing from the Lord, because, Paul tells us, such obedience is pleasing to the Lord, and that is because it is for the good of the children.  You cannot be a good parent if you try to abdicate your God-given right to obedience from your children.  Children, -- young people especially -- should note that they have to show obedience to their parents out of love for the Lord, “It is pleasing to the Lord”; and so there can never be any question of children obeying in what is sinful.  No Christian version of little Oliver Twist would ever go out stealing for his parents, for such obedience would not, could not,  be pleasing to the Lord.
The last admonition is addressed by Paul to fathers because of their tendency towards violence in general, but today we know that it applies equally to possessive and domineering mothers:
Do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 
Every aspect of Christian family life is ordained towards the good of the children: parents in their attitude towards their children are neither to spoil them by releasing them from their duty of obedience nor are they to embitter them by harshness.  And their own personal, mutual, relationship as husband and wife is likewise, in the first instance, for the good of the children, and has to be regulated with that end in view.  Family unity is absolutely essential, therefore the husband must love his wife and renounce all forms of violence, and the wife must respect her husband and be subordinate to him “in the Lord” when and where family unity, peace, and cohesion, requires it.  Their personal fulfilment and sanctification as disciples of Christ and children of God go hand in hand, and are to be attained through that mutual fulfilment of, and submission to, God’s will; the nostrums of modern psychological or social theoreticians can in no way sound the depths of human nature or the splendour of mankind’s destiny.  It is strange that whereas modern society in the West recognizes, with St. Paul, man’s tendency to downgrade love, it is unable and unwilling, frequently indeed afraid to accept the equally noticeable tendency for women to downgrade respect.
Finally, let us have a look at the behaviour of Mary and Joseph in the Gospel.  I will just bring out one or two points for you to note.  First of all, Mary and Joseph both teach the Child obedience by themselves being obedient to the Lord and the Law:
When the days were completed for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord. When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.  
Notice that Simeon blessed both Joseph and Mary, but in the matter of the Child’s Personal destiny it was Mary alone he addressed: Mary’s dignity was not in any way lessened or compromised by her subordination to Joseph in family matters.
Finally, try to imagine the joy of both Mary and Joseph when they began to see the fruit of their personal sacrifices:
The Child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon Him.
The development of the Christ Child is meant to serve as a model for the nurturing of all Christian children: they are to be gradually filled with wisdom and endowed with grace as their spiritual development goes hand in hand with physical growth.
People of God, bring up your children in a truly loving Christian family atmosphere in accordance with the teaching of Jesus.  A true home, both earthly and heavenly, can only be attained by walking in the power and holiness of the Spirit, along the path prescribed for our well-being by the God and Father Who made us, and trodden -- for our example and encouragement -- by His Son Who loved, died, and rose again, for us.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Christmas Mass during the Day 2014

CHRISTMAS: Mass during the Day

(Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18)

What a wonderful evocation of appreciation, joy, and gratitude Isaiah offers us in the words:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace!
The holy city had been under long siege; all around friendly and dependant cities and towns had been overrun.  Hope was as much in evidence as the almost non-existent food, as low as the few pictures-full of water available from what had once been deep, brim-top-lapping, cisterns.  The army had gone out to fight indeed, but they left more in desperation than in expectation; some of the people had cheered them on their way, but without conviction; prayers also had been offered, but with lips that trembled; and now those left inside the city walls wait in anxious silence, with hearts unable to shake off a dark foreboding of what might soon befall them.
Eventually a runner is noticed in the distance by those watching from the walls.  He had been expected of course.  But, as they watch him, they begin to look at one another in disbelief: this runner is running strongly, running confidently; he is not pumping his arms in agonizing effort, he is raising them, waving them exultantly!   He is, surely:
          Bearing glad tidings, announcing peace!
At such a sight, first of all the watchmen on the towers, then, gradually, all the citizens within the walls begin, in unconscious obedience to those prophetic words of exhortation:
Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem!
to join in a public delirium of thanksgiving and praise, while the priests solemnly intone:
          The LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem!
Now, Jesus comes to us each year at Christmas like that runner, bringing -- indeed, He Himself being – the supreme cause for our total joy.  Whatever the past year may have brought along with it, and no matter how miserable our own record might have been over that period, He comes once again, to re-assure us that our God reigns, despite the disaffection of many who no longer call themselves His disciples, despite the increasing mockery of those who have always denied or gainsaid Him, despite the faint-heartedness of those who look to the Church and doubt … not His presence there because her dogma still protects them … but the featurelessness of His presence which their faith does not allow them to discern.
He comes to His Church, as we heard in the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, as One:
          Who (is) the refulgence of (God’s) glory and the very imprint of His Being.
And therefore, seeing Him, we can be absolutely confident and sure that God is both able and willing to reign for us and in us through her, if we, for our part, are both humble enough to turn away from ourselves, and faithful enough to turn to Him in all confidence and sincerity.
Now, this rejoicing unique to the Christian celebration of Christmas, is much more than mere joy for our heart; for, as our reading from the letter to the Hebrews told us, Jesus is:
God’s Son, heir of all things, through Whom He created the universe; Who sustains all things by His mighty word;
to which, St. John in our Gospel reading, adds that:
In Him (is) life, and the life (is) the light of men.
Therefore, Jesus’ coming means not merely present joy for our heart, but also fulfilment for our whole  being, since He is the life and strength of our being, the light and pattern for our living.
Moreover, when He comes, He manifests to us and indeed invites us a share in:
          His glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.
By sharing that glory with us, He wills to transform all who believe in Him from mere human beings into children of God, as St. John tells us:
To those who did accept Him He gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.
Children reborn, that is, no longer arising from merely human stock through the will of our parents before us, but born anew -- of water and the Holy Spirit -- by God’s free gift and our own free will expressing itself through the obedience of faith. 
And it is as such children, reborn of water and the Spirit, that we too can say with St. John:
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw His glory, the glory as of the Father’ only Son, full of grace and truth.
Our right beholding of the glory of the Word-become-flesh proves that we do indeed share that glory which is His as the only-Begotten Son of the Father, in Whom we, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it, are:
As far superior to the angels as the name He has inherited -- and we have, by adoption in Him, been given -- is more excellent than theirs.
And so, reborn and renewed in Jesus, sharing His glory which enables us to live through faith and by His Spirit, our Christmas joy and hope is crowned and completed by the Father Himself Who now says (2 Corinthians 6:18):
I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.          
Once reborn in Jesus, and bequeathed the right to become children of God for all eternity, we have an endowment that we must bring to maturity by a life of faithful love and grateful obedience.  Each year Jesus comes to refresh our hope, bolster our confidence, and encourage our progress, which is why, during Advent time Mother Church cries out to us repeatedly:
          Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him! (Matthew 25:6)
Every Christmas morning we do just that, we come to Church to meet the Lord with lighted lamps that shine with admiration and love, gratitude and praise,.  Ultimately, the time will arrive – and, at the deepest level, we are preparing for that time – when the Lord will come to each and every one of us and call us -- as He did Lazarus in the tomb -- to go forth from this world to meet Him.  Let us, therefore, welcome Him this day as we wish to embrace Him on that our final day, when earth’s fading and fitful light is seen to be transforming into the dawn of eternal glory.                                           

Friday, 19 December 2014

4th Sunday of Advent Year B 2014

 4th. Sunday of Advent (B)

(2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14a, 16; Romans 16:25-7; Luke 1:26-38)

Today, Mother Church puts before us two very significant readings from her sacred Scriptures, and their comparison can show us a fact of fundamental importance concerning our relationship with God and also provide us with sure guidance for the conduct of our spiritual lives.
Let us look first of all at our Gospel reading:
(The angel Gabriel) said, "Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you! ..... Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Mary said: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
While some scholars have thought that Mary consecrated her virginity to the Lord in her early years, others have disputed  such an idea as being inconceivable for a young girl living devoutly among the Jewish people who held marriage and childbirth in such great honour, and even more so bearing in mind the attitude to childlessness in Mary’s own family background where her cousin Elizabeth considered childlessness to have long been ‘her reproach among men’ which the Lord had finally deigned to take away through the birth of her son John, the future Baptiser.  Moreover, today’s readings show us that the idea of a formal consecration or dedication of her virginity by Mary is not necessary if we can rightly follow the teaching available to us in the first reading about King David and use it to carefully appreciate Our Lady’s answer to the angel Gabriel.
David, you heard, had planned to build a temple for the Lord:
When the LORD had given King David rest from his enemies on every side, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” Nathan answered the king, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.”
It was God, however, Who would build the temple He wanted when the time was right.  Therefore He sent Nathan back to David with this message:
Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: Should you build Me a house to dwell in?  When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm.  I will be a Father to him, and he shall be a son to Me.  Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before Me.
In those words there is a most important point for us to recognize and appreciate:  what we do before God is essentially secondary to the attitude in which we do it.  David was adopting a somewhat condescending attitude to God:
            Should you build Me a house to dwell in?
David, we are told, was a man after God’s own heart, but here he had spoken from his position of recent security, power, and assumed personal achievement, all of which had led him to speak ‘generously’ to God.
A somewhat faint trace, it might be thought, of the original pride that had led Adam to follow Eve into disregard of God’s authority and providence; nevertheless, any trace whatsoever of the original catastrophic evil would, in such circumstances and if left uncorrected, quickly sour David’s present zeal for the glory of Israel’s God and sincere gratitude for His goodness.  Therefore the prophet was instructed to lovingly make it clear to David, Who was doing the leading and guiding, Who would protect and save.
Mary, on the other hand, could never think like David of bestowing anything on God, because of her insatiable longing to give Him glory and receive His blessings; she had no treasured virginity to offer Him, because her total, life-long, desire to belong entirely to God, was her virginity because it was so absolute; and that overwhelming passion was not – like a supposed vow -- alien to Jewish aspirations, as we know from St. Paul, who had been himself a supremely observant Jew:
Brothers and Sisters: In regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who, by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy … an unmarried woman, a virgin, is anxious about the things of the Lord so that she may be holy in both body and spirit, (but) she who is married cares about the things of the world.  (1 Corinthians 7:25, 34)
 So, in her reply to Gabriel, Mary can only speak from that looking-to and longing- for God which was fundamental to her character: there had never been any question in her mind such as ‘who shall I marry?’; and even now, hearing the angel addressing her, no marriage-envisioning question such as ‘who has been chosen for me?’ came to her mind, nothing but those limpidly simple words:
How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?  Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
She had always been, and had always longed to better-be, ‘the handmaid of the Lord’; and whereas David had spoken generously out of his present fullness to God, Mary was complete emptiness and total longing … with nothing to offer other than that abiding and absolute longing for God, which we rightly call her virginity, the supreme and spotless virginity of her immaculate being.
David lived long enough before God in his restored humility and hope, not only to gladly look forward to, but also to prepare for, the beginning of the fulfilment of the Lord’s promise through his son Solomon who did indeed build an earthly Temple for the Lord in Jerusalem.  However, this first Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians after some 350 years  and was not replaced until a second and most truly splendid Temple was later built by the wicked King Herod, who did indeed produce a wonderful structure which amazed the world of its time but was in no way pleasing to God in so far as it had not been built for God’s glory – as was the case with Solomon’s temple before -- but for Herod’s own glory and the renown of his kingdom under the watchful eyes of his imperial overlords in Rome.  And, in the event, it was those very Roman overlords who -- as Jesus foretold -- not only destroyed, but indeed totally obliterated, that symbol of Herod’s glory before one hundred years had passed. 
And so, God’s word to David by the prophet had been aimed over and beyond Solomon, for it envisaged Jesus Himself, Whose risen, glorious, Body would become the ultimate Temple of God among men: a Temple not built by human hands, and one where Jews and pagans without distinction would have access to the Father in the one Spirit.
The Jews said to Him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”   The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?”  But He was speaking about the temple of His body.   (John 2:18-21)
Consequently, our Gospel story was all about God choosing when (in the fullness of time), by Whom (His own Son), and through whom (the immaculate virgin Mary of Nazareth), salvation would ultimately be offered to the human race:
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall name Him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David His father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.  
It is God alone Who gives salvation and works wonders.  However, we are by no means excluded from His purposes, for we are called – in Jesus -- to share in and contribute to His work.  For, although the Lord did not allow David himself to build the Temple in Jerusalem, his desire to do so was most pleasing to Him, and therefore He rewarded David with great blessings, the greatest of which being that He, the Lord, would build David a house, and from that house the Messiah Himself, Israel’s supreme King, would eventually come. 
With Mary, on the other hand, her desire was so supremely pleasing to God that it would be immediately and most sublimely fulfilled in the way God wanted: Mary would indeed remain a virgin; notwithstanding that however, she would give birth to a Child, her Child indeed, but above all, the very Son of God Himself incarnate.
We find a similar pattern repeated in the lives of certain great saints, People of God:  Francis of Assisi longed to be a martyr for Christ, he even went to preach Christ among the Muslims.  Though God had His own plans for Francis, He did make him great, and even gave him the signs of Jesus’ own martyrdom: the stigmata!  Again, St. Thérèse of Lisieux most ardently desired to become a martyr, or else a missionary; indeed, she did not know how to satisfy her manifold and ardent desires for God’s glory.  God, however, wanted her to remain in the solitude of an enclosed convent where she was to serve Him with whole-hearted love in each and every one of the minutely regulated, and very ordinary, details of her life as a nun.   For all that, He did love and respect her ardent desires, as is shown by the fact that He had her proclaimed as the heavenly patroness of all those living, working, and dying in the mission fields of Mother Church today.
My dear people, it is a fact that God alone does the work of salvation, for to Him alone is the glory and power.  Nonetheless, He wills to associate us in the work His own dear Son accomplished in human flesh and blood, to the extent that even the bread and wine we offer Him at daily Mass must be, and must be declared to be, made by human hands.  Moreover, God does not use human beings like tools: for, in Jesus, we are called to co-operate with Him as true children trying to please and glorify their heavenly Father; and it is through such work that we are enabled to receive, by the Holy Spirit, the gift of a personal share in God’s own infinite holiness and eternal blessedness.
Since, in the work of God, there is absolutely nothing any of us can do of ourselves, therefore, none of us can excuse ourselves by complaining that we are less talented than others.  Whereas our physical powers and mental abilities are personally distinct and strictly limited, our spirit, on the other hand, is capable of being tuned into the infinity of God Himself, and this happens for each and every one of us through our exercising the freedom -- won for us by Jesus -- to love good and reject evil.  The true criterion for a faithful servant of God is, therefore, the nature and the depth of that person’s desire for God and the goodness He wills.  What do you desire most sincerely and – ultimately -- above all else?   Do you want to make something of your life with and for God, to love and serve Him faithfully and supremely?  Do you want, most sincerely, to become a true Child of God in Jesus?  If you can say “Yes” to such questions, and if you can keep on aspiring to serve Him even though, despite your efforts, you see little of real worth in your life … if you will keep on telling God of your desire even though you have not yet been able to hear any reply, then you will indeed be used by Him for His purposes -- be they secret or manifest -- and you will become a disciple after Jesus’ own most sacred heart, and in Him, a true child of the heavenly Father.
Of course that is not easily done, nor is it to be done in the short term, for it is a life’s work.  Today, people want to see results come quickly, that is part of the character of our modern Western society; and when, in the spiritual life, things do not seem, are not seen, to come quickly, the temptation for many is to give up the attempt to live life religiously. 
There are other ways of succumbing to sin and the world however, than by openly falling away from the practise of the Faith.  Some yield to pride, and try -- by subtle or by blatant means -- to make themselves appear holy, to put on for themselves what they cannot wait to receive from God, seeking to establish a reputation in the sight of men rather than humbly persevering before God Who might seem to be ignoring them.
Those, on the other hand, whose mind and heart are firmly centred on God, though they may, at times, be painfully aware of their own nothingness, do not   thereby become downcast or disheartened, precisely because their mind is always occupied with desires for His good-pleasure and glory, and thus they are always looking forward and hoping in Him rather than despairing of themselves. 
People of God, our readings offer sure guidance for our celebration of Christmas: following our Mother Mary who, responding to the angel Gabriel’s God-given message, expressed her total and unconditional longing for God, let us, welcome Jesus -- the very Word of God made flesh -- into our lives anew this Christmas with like sentiments of love and longing, of trust, hope and commitment:
I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your Word.
There is no surer way to find Christmas joy and peace.   

Friday, 12 December 2014

3rd Sunday of Advent (B) 2014

3rd. Sunday of Advent (B)
(Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; 1st. Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28) 

Advent is a time of expectation … what are we to look for, what should we prepare ourselves to expect?

On reading today’s Gospel I was somewhat surprised at St. John’s version of the words between John the Baptist and the priests and Levites from Jerusalem.  John does not present the Baptist reported by all three of the Synoptic Gospels who tell of him saying that though he himself baptized with water, the One to come would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and also -- according to Matthew and Luke -- with fire.

Now the cause of this omission is not something I want to discuss here, but the result of it might be of significant help for us today, since, undoubtedly, the mention of the Holy Spirit connotes supreme, sublime, power, while that of fire confirms that impression of power and colours it, so to speak, with one of threat.  John’s Gospel, on the other hand, simply reports the Baptist as saying:

I baptize with water; but there is One among you Whom you do not recognize, the One Who is coming after me, Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.

There we have it: just pure expectation … indeed, tantalizing expectation because the expected One is already present, among them at that very moment -- someone wonderfully holy -- and yet, they are not seeing Him!  Why?

Here, Mother Church in her Spirit-gifted wisdom comes to direct our Advent expectancy, for she sets before us a most beautiful passage from the prophet Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, and to announce a year of favour from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.

According to that, we are expecting One the Lord has endowed with His Spirit to bring glad tidings to the lowly, bestow healing, restore liberty and grant freedom: all favours from the Lord in vindication of His people.  No threatening mention of supreme power, nor one of destructive -- though purging -- fire …. Just Someone wonderful, coming peaceably, and bringing with Him so much that is totally desirable and longed-for in those days and in our present state.

Now notice what joy, gladness, and blessing results for the recipients of His gifts:

All who see them shall acknowledge them as a race the LORD has blessed.  I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; For He has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, Like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.  As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations.

And how wondrously did Isaiah, having begun with the many:

All who see them shall acknowledge them as a race the LORD has blessed

continue with words referring to but one … a woman most beautiful … as if he knew, prophetically, that only Mary, the Immaculate Maid of Nazareth, would be able to fully receive and possess all those blessings from the Lord.  For all that, however, since she is one of us, she represents us, and all faithful disciples of Jesus do indeed receive their measure of His blessings.  Of that, Mother Church assures us with her choice of the second reading taken from St. Paul’s exhortation to his converts in Thessali:

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in all circumstances give thanks.  May the God of peace make you perfectly holy: (for He) the One Who calls you is faithful and He will also accomplish it.

I believe all of us will wholeheartedly agree that Mary, our Mother, is indeed rejoicing in the Lord as depicted by Isaiah and in accord with all our readings today; but the question is, does she indeed represent us therein, does our experience of the Christian faith and of life in the world today cause us similar heartfelt rejoicing as befits Mary’s true children?

Without doubt, it did and does bring such joy and happiness to God’s saints and Mother Church’s most committed members; again, it can bring and does offer such joy and happiness to all faithful disciples of Jesus and sincere members of the Church.  But why, indeed, do we come across so many lapsed or lapsing Catholics, hear so often of Christians, who are unsure disciples of Jesus, or dissatisfied with their experience of faithful living?

We should look again at Isaiah’s reading today, for he rightly foresaw and portrayed the great glory and abounding goodness and generosity of the One to come; however, he also was prophetically endowed and enabled to appreciate that only a unique individual -- the Immaculate Mary of Nazareth -- would allow the Lord to freely bestow on her all those heavenly blessings.  What then, hinders so many Catholics and Christians, from being faithful enough, willing enough, open enough, hungry and empty enough, to follow in the steps of our Mother, the handmaid of the Lord?
Let me just give you a short passage from a recent book about the experiences of one journeying in the Caucasus (the area of Grozny in Chechnya) where there are lots of Christian sects to be found:
Before going to church, Sergei explained how he would call on those in the community whom he thought he might have offended. He would ask their forgiveness.  It took time but he didn’t mind because he loved to talk and he was able to go to church happy.  “It’s difficult in those services because they’re so long.  They go on and on, for hours!  You stand and stand and you can hardly go on standing.  But then afterwards you come home and you feel not just clean in your soul but in your body as well and you’re all dressed up and your wife looks beautiful and everything else looks beautiful too.”
In our modern, affluent, Western society many do not experience their own Church-going as did Sergei: they seem to find regular Sunday observance a burden, even when they do not find it also a bore.  Perhaps the difference is at least partly due to the fact that Sergei made “going to Church” something special:  it involved being at peace with others, and required that he take greater care with his dress for the honour of God.  Many members of our Western culture, on the other hand, having their minds filled with money matters and the many varied opportunities available to them for their enjoyment of it, easily find themselves not even noticing harm done to others in the general struggle for success; and, thinking that they are doing God a favour by attending Church on Sunday, would scoff at the very idea of what they would call “dressing up” to come before His Presence.
Now, that is not something I want to enter into here, but there can be no doubt that the joy and peace Sergei experienced after Church on Sunday was, as I said, in some way related to his efforts to make that day special; and that is in perfect accord with a dictum of St. John of the Cross: ‘where there is no love put love and you will find love’. 
Yes, People of God, during Advent the true disciple not only hopes for future joy, but can even aspire to experience, here and now, something of that joy which is described by the prophet Isaiah.
However, John the Baptist, giving clear testimony to the Lord, used words that express precisely why many contemporary Catholics find too little joy in their religious observance:
There is One among you Whom you do not recognize, the One who is coming after me, Whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.
John’s words: “there is One among you Whom you do not recognize” are, sadly, still too true for many Catholics and Christians, although in a manner somewhat different from that intended by John.  John was saying to the crowds on the banks of the Jordan, where he was immersing penitents in the waters flowing by, that they did not know, were not aware of, could not recognize, the Holy One standing in their midst.  Most Catholics and Christians today, however, do know, are aware of, Jesus, in that sense.  Where they fail in knowledge of the Lord however, is in the fact that they have no personal relationship with Him: their minds know of Him, but their hearts are not attuned to Him, nor are their lives lived with Him or for Him.  Their knowledge of the Lord in their midst is merely objective, not personal. 
Now, it is indeed necessary to know the truth of and about Jesus, because any relationship with Him has to be based upon reality open to our minds, which is why Mother Church insists that her catechetical, scriptural, and dogmatic teaching be based on accurate scholarship, backed up by philosophical and scientific truth, and exemplified by authentic Catholic and Christian spirituality.  Such true teaching about the reality of faith, however, is meant to enable us to aspire and attain to personal contact and living communion with the Lord, in and through the Scriptures and sacraments of Mother Church and the intimacy of personal prayer; for only such sincerity and commitment can lead to real love for, and joyful fulfilment in, the Lord Jesus.
In our modern sophisticated social structure, money and education are readily available, and consequently we are inclined to self-satisfaction; and, having no real, basic needs of a material kind, we easily imagine that we have no spiritual needs either.   Because our experience of the world seems to offer everything for relatively easy taking, many are unwilling to make efforts to satisfy spiritual needs of which they are almost unaware.  Therefore they do not search for Jesus: their Bible is rarely opened, let alone studied; their reception of Holy Communion is routine and perfunctory; and since the house of God is no house of prayer for them, Jesus is left in splendid isolation in the tabernacle. It is because of such things that the divine truth in the Church’s teaching, and the heavenly grace available through her sacraments, bring forth but little fruit in the lives of many.

However, it is lack of personal prayer that is the most fundamental failing in most nominally Christian and Catholic lives, and St. Matthew, quoting Isaiah
, gives us the reason:

Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.

Gross, coarse, are the hearts of too many to hear the Lord speaking with them, whether He be seeking to guide and encourage, or admonishing and warning them. For a society where normality it too often considered boring and excess routinely craved; where joy is inconceivable without pleasure and peace unbearable without excitement; there is little opportunity for the voice of the Lord to make itself heard, perhaps even less possibility that He will be appreciated or understood.   Too little good soil into which the divine seed can fall and take root; no humble mind or longing heart where divine love can take hold and flower. 
People of God, seek Jesus more and more; Advent is a time for joy, peace, and hope.  His promises are true and His coming is at hand; it is we ourselves we must indeed attend to but not despair of, because He comes with gifts to offer: not to those imagining themselves worthy to receive them, but to those aware of their need, and wanting and willing to accept them: wanting and willing to turn away from themselves and embrace Him on His terms, willing to forget self and to serve God and their neighbour.
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.  In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Refrain from every kind of evil.
He Who is to come shall come; He will not delay.  But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.  (Hebrews 10:37-38)

Thursday, 4 December 2014

2nd Sunday of Advent Year B 2014

 2nd. Sunday of Advent (B)  
(Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2nd. Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8)

John came baptizing in the Jordan and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to those members of God’s Chosen People who were sufficiently religious and humble to want to hear him.   This was his message:

One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals. I have baptized you with water; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist, the greatest of the prophets of Israel -- indeed, as Jesus said, the greatest of all those born of woman -- was sent to immediately precede Jesus and  personally introduce Him to His People, and John fulfilled that commission by proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.  And that, People of God, is what makes us Christians and Catholics: the fact that we have believed in and been baptized into Jesus from Whom -- as members of His Body in the Church -- we have received the gift of His Holy and life-giving Spirit which has made us adopted children of the Father, aspiring to and hoping for eternal fulfilment in His heavenly Kingdom.  It is the Holy Spirit within us Who enables us to cry out “Abba”, “Father” in response to the One God Who not only speaks to us but also with us, thereby enabling us, even here on earth, to share in some measure the Heavenly Communion which is the life and love of the Most Holy Trinity: being loved by the Lord Who died and now lives for us, cherished by the Spirit Who guides and forms us, and called by and to the Father Who will glorify us.  John the Baptist was brief and to the point, in a few words giving us the essential characteristic of the coming Messiah Whom he John would point out:

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

The person of John is no longer with us, but his words remain for all time as the only preparation whereby we can fittingly receive the Lord into our lives:

John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus Himself, indeed, when later on as a man He began His public ministry, simply took up John’s call in His own very first words, as St. Mark tells us (1:14-15) :

After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:  “This is the time of fulfilment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

Now, there are many who regard that call to repentance proclaimed in Mother Church today as over the top and excessive, looking for sin, for fault and guilt in all aspects of our lives.  Should not our lives as Catholics and Christians, they would  say, be characterised rather by manifest joy in the Lord?

Yes, it is possible for certain people who specialise in being their own spiritual guide to become obsessive in their introspection as they search for sin to be repented, but such a mere and unhealthy possibility can in no way justify any general teaching that would proclaim a sort of truce with sin; for neuroticism is no true fruit of authentic Catholic teaching or practice. 

Again, it is most true that our lives should bespeak our joy in the Lord, but such witness is not one that can be ‘stirred-up’ and ‘put on’ in a clap-happy display of emotional excitement.

For the authentic Christian understanding and practice of repentance we need to look closely at our readings today in order to appreciate Mother Church’s teaching in this matter.   What was it that John said?  What had Isaiah proclaimed?  What was Peter’s warning?

John said ‘repent’ first and then -- to Andrew and another of his disciples -- ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ just as Jesus was passing by. Such is the composite nature of conversion, repentance: first turn from sin, then turn to the Lord.

Turn from sin, start to correct the ravages of sin in your life.  That is what we heard from Isaiah in the words:

A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!   Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.

Such indeed is the first requirement of repentance in our lives, turn away from sin in all sincerity; and, in doing that, turn to the Lord:

Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.  

Were would-be-Christians simply to give themselves to turning from sin without turning to the Lord -- that is, without actively acknowledging that the Lord (alone) is good -- that could only lead to pride, even of devilish proportions.  Were such would-be-Christians, on the other hand, to simply proclaim the glory of the Lord without a serious endeavour to reject and avoid sin, such praise would be hypocritical, certainly not what ‘the mouth of the Lord has spoken’.  The prophecy of Isaiah is one, entire and whole:

In the desert prepare the way of the Lord …make it straight, level, and plain … then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Notice too, People of God, that Isaiah’s prophecy provides us with a sure way to test the quality of our repentance, to appreciate how much and what sort of repentance we need: is the glory of the Lord being revealed to you?  Do you, as you grow older year by year, see and admire in Jesus more and more of the glory, that is, of the beauty, the goodness, the truth, and the wisdom, of God?  Do you, as the years pass by, become ever more grateful to the Father for His goodness to you in Jesus: perhaps, even, for His goodness to all mankind?  Do you find yourself more and more willing to trust Him completely, to trust Him alone?  Do you aspire to know, love, and serve Him with your whole being?  If you can say “Yes” to questions such as these then indeed, you are both sincerely repenting and truly seeking the face of the Lord; and I can say that confidently, because the glory of God is, indeed, being gradually revealed to you.

But what if, as the years go by, when you seriously look at yourself and sincerely question yourself before God, what if then you recognize that you are thinking less and less of Jesus because you are increasingly absorbed in worldly interests and aspirations, more and more preoccupied with cares about people and money and less and less attentive to God speaking to you in your conscience or touching your heart-strings?  Do you feel yourself obliged to respond in kind for every little benefit you receive from others -- a Christmas card for a Christmas card, an invitation for an invitation, a gift for a gift -- and yet never think that you owe a debt of gratitude to God for all the many blessings He has bestowed on you throughout Hyour life?
All these failings are quite possible, People of God, where Christian people are no longer living with God, for God, sufficiently, but always looking at and responding to others in order to justify, protect, satisfy and advance themselves.

In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah we heard his striking evocation of Israel’s return from her Babylonian exile as a triumphal procession of God’s People, freed from the chains of captivity and having paid for their sins, following the lead of the Lord their God towards a Jerusalem urged to become a radiant herald of good news.   And that good news was that:

            The Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.

After 500 years that prophecy approached fulfilment when Jesus, the glorious Son of God made flesh, Himself entered Jerusalem with humble acclaim shortly before He was delivered over to an ignominious death on a Roman cross at priestly behest.  Then, indeed, on the third day, the Glory of God was most truly and sublimely revealed in His glorious resurrection: not visible to the bodily eyes of some few then present in Jerusalem, but to be seen by all people together, as the prophet says; to be seen, that is, with eyes of faith offered equally to all people, of all times, and in all places.

Mother Church, however, now bids us hear St. Peter speaking as a prophet of the New Testament, and telling us:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

That day will be the final coming and manifestation of the Lord, a divine and transcendent vision of ultimate reality, both solemn and glorious, introducing no mere jingoistic national triumph, but individual judgement and universal consummation.  However, Saint Peter adds for those who are impatient or doubting:

With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

And so, no matter what might be the state we find ourselves in at this moment, advent is the season when we are urged by Mother Church to aspire to welcome Jesus into our lives anew: that His truth might enlighten us, His love inspire us, and the Gift of His most Holy Spirit be our sustenance and guide along His way to the Father.   The moment in time is irrelevant to God, His glory, and our salvation; what matters is that we be found to have the desire to listen and the humility to learn, the love and the longing for the good He promises, and finally the patience and fortitude to forget ourselves and to trust Him for the achieving of it.

Oh, the wisdom of Mother Church who sets before us today two prophets: Isaiah, so lyrical and Peter so solemn!  Yes, how very different, but ultimately how very complimentary they are for us today. Isaiah was proclaiming comfort to my people in the name of God for those returning home from exile in Babylonia, following the Lord journeying with them to dwell once again in a renewed Jerusalem …. Peter was comforting too, but he was offering comfort to a people suffering persecution and experiencing uncertainty.  For those hearing Isaiah the nation was about to be re-established, the capital city to be rebuilt, and the Temple -- the glory of Jerusalem and of the whole nation -- was to become glorious again with God’s Name dwelling there!  For those reading St. Peter’s letter, however, there was no nation, no capital city, no renowned Temple or Church, just the wide and thinly spread Christian body, a spiritual unity indeed, but almost invisible in a hostile and multitudinous world.  Both Isaiah and Peter were appealing to faith in their hearers, but in Isaiah’s case national pride and expectations were also very strong in the hearts and minds of the people …. whereas for Peter’s message there was nothing but the faith of confessors and martyrs to welcome and uphold it … no national pride to identify themselves, or to unite and bolster them against their enemies. 

Nevertheless, Isaiah’s message was heard by a people unaware of the dangers inherent to their apparent strength, while Peter’s message was given to a scattered group whose sore-tried faith was becoming, under much pressure, a firm basis for the nascent Church.

The joyful remembrance of the birth of Our Lord is not an end in itself.   Christmas joy is a means towards our salvation, it is a providentially repeated stage on the way: a time of refreshment, renewal, and re-direction.

At Christmas we are meant to recall the Almighty God and Lord of Hosts Who became, for love of us, a little Child destined:

            For the fall and rising of many, and for a sign which will be spoken against;

a Child Whose mother would have to experience a sword pierce her soul, when ultimately, despised and rejected of men, He was crucified on a little hill just outside Jerusalem.  And St. Peter reminds us that the memory of such unheard-of love, promising us atonement and eternal salvation, is for our unfailing and grateful refreshment as, conducting ourselves in holiness and devotion, we journey on, eager to be found without spot or blemish before Him; at peace, and waiting for the coming of the day of the Lord, when there will be new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.  Therefore, such Christmas joy and heavenly expectations must never be used as a pretext for, soiled by, earthly revelry replete with drunken and/or sordid excesses.

During this Advent and the Christmas season therefore -- in the spirit of Isaiah’s original prophecy -- let us indeed embrace St. Paul’s words (Philippians 4:4-7):

Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say, rejoice!   Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.