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Friday, 22 December 2017

Christmas Day Mass 2017

 Christmas Mass of Day 

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

War was never far removed from the experience of Israel of old; few indeed would have lived their lives without having experienced several war campaigns: not only those on foreign soil, but also those necessary to repulse attacks on Israel and Judah, or perhaps even to endure a siege where an enemy had been camped outside their city within which were crowds of refugees suffering from shortages of food and drink, and ever- deteriorating public health.

Therefore, many people in Isaiah’s time might have been able to recall an occasion when they themselves had been anxiously waiting in their city -- on its walls -- for news of an approaching threat: they would remember the dreadful occasion when they had first seen, from a distance, a long, slow-moving, motley string of people, obviously  fleeing exhausted, in terror and under a cloud of defeat; and they might still find themselves unable to repress a shudder as they recalled how that sight had first filled their hearts with fear and foreboding.

They might also have been able to recall those other, happy occasions, when a single figure had been perceived in the distance, running with vigour in his stride and joy in his bearing; a runner who, when within hailing distance, had shouted out glad tidings of proud victory along with joyful assurances of security and hope.   Then there was overflowing relief, gratitude, and a treasured scent of peace, perhaps only to be short-lived, but oh so, so precious!

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things.

Such a messenger is evoked by Isaiah in our first reading.  What is the message he brings?  Isaiah has him report the supreme message of good tidings and joy for all Israelites:

          (He) says to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

Then he pictures for us those who had been watching on the walls running to the sector from which the messenger was said to be visible so that they might glimpse him for themselves; whereupon they would break out into shouting and singing, for it was no illusion, they could indeed clearly see the runner, perhaps they could even imagine themselves already able to hear him:

Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye.

Finally, having both seen and heard the watchmen’s jubilant excitement, the whole heaving population -- crushed and crowded inside the city walls – bursts out, in one great sigh of relief and thunderous explosion of joy, into a paean of praise:

Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem!  For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.  The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations.

The ultimate reason for such extreme jubilation, is that a victory has been won, and an enemy conquered; not, however, an ordinary victory over an earthly enemy, a victory that might be reversed when armies go out to war again next season, but a victory of universal and eternal significance and validity:

For the LORD has redeemed Jerusalem, He has (indeed) comforted His people;

and He has done this by means of a bloody victory, for:

          The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations.

It has been a victory of such magnitude that:

          All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

And so, this ‘comforting’ of the God’s Chosen People is not to be understood in the exclusive context of childlike innocence restored and maternal tenderness; both are there, of course, in some measure, but this comforting of Israel is above all to be recognized as arising out of a titanic battle of momentous earthly consequence and eternal significance.

This means that only those can fittingly appreciate the Incarnation and receive the consolation of God in the tenderness of Mother Church who have been made aware, have become aware in themselves, of the prodigious contest implied behind such peace and joy.
All the pain and suffering, all the anxieties and torments of the world, all the hatred and greed, envy and jealousy of society, all the selfishness and indifference of individual human beings, is the result of sin .... sin is the most terrible enemy of mankind and indeed of the whole of creation, and only those who have come to appreciate something the evil that has been ruling in them, over them, and through them, that is those who have appreciated and whole-heartedly accepted the truth of repentance preached by Jesus and His forerunner, John the Baptist, only those repentant ones can fittingly and fully embrace this Christmas feast where our Redeemer comes into our midst, and the dawn of our redemption begins to appear on the horizon of history.

With such an understanding in our minds we can now allow the second reading to make clear for us the wonder of this occasion of which Isaiah the prophet spoke, and in which Mother Church now invites us to share:

God, Who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds; Who, being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person, upholds all things by the word of His power.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Mother Church today announces this glorious news of salvation to us and invites, indeed urges and exhorts, us all to respond with heart-felt joy and acclamation to her news and her gift.  For she not only proclaims God’s Good News, she also bestows God’s gracious Gift: the Lord Jesus, our Saviour, Himself; and with Him, through Him, the Holy Spirit, ever to remain with us in Mother Church, and abiding in His faithful ones.  For, as the Gospel reading proclaimed:

(God’s co-eternal) Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld (and are called to share in) His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 

How blessed are we who are privileged to perceive and to receive this salvation!  For, as John said:

          No one (absolutely no one) has (ever) seen God at any time.

It is true, John admits, that God’s Law had been given through Moses to prepare God’s people.  However, God Himself was only clearly revealed and truly known when:

The only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, declared Him, (for) grace and truth came (in and) through Jesus Christ.

As you heard, dear People of God:

To which of the angels did He ever say: "You are My Son, today I have begotten You"? 

But, precisely, that is what God is saying to each one of us today, and this is the second and confirming reason for our great rejoicing.  To each and every one of us here with good will and in sincerity of mind and heart, God the Father is saying, that thanks to His only begotten Son Whose birth we are celebrating:


Isaiah had said:

Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem!  For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.

And so it is today.  For all those whom the Father is now comforting and calling, all those He has chosen in His Son, cannot fail to recognize that we, like those shut up in the threatened cities of old, are indeed today in “waste places”: this world, even this our own society, is evil to the extent that it disgusts us, even though it also touches our heart, because it is our society, our world, besmirched indeed with something of our own failures and filth.  And, in this condition, lest we fear this coming of the Holy One of God to do battle with the evil and filth around us and within us, He comes as a Child, for He is well aware of, and full of compassion for, our weakness.  And surrounding Himself at His Birth with shepherds from the midnight fields He assures us that He Himself comes as our Shepherd, for He comes into our darkness in order to search out those of His sheep who have strayed and, disregarding the mud that may cover their feet and flanks, the thorns that may entangle their wool, He wills to take them up in His arms and carry them back to the flock which He is leading to a fold where His heavenly Father awaits Him, Himself looking into the distance, as it were to see the runner returning with good news, to see Jesus that is, His own dear Son, at the head of a flock He is leading with joy towards  the eternal pastures of salvation.

4th Sunday of Advent Year B 2017

4th. Sunday of Advent B)

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

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, all our readings this week-end speak about what God is going to do.  David, you heard, 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.”

However, it was God Who would build the temple He wanted when – in accordance with His Providence -- 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 kingdom and your house shall endure forever before Me.’

In those words there is a most important point for us to recognize and appreciate:  whatever good work we do for God is essentially dependent upon the intention we have in mind when doing it; but even when our work and our intention are both good, the attitude in which we do it can be of essential importance.  David was adopting a somewhat condescending attitude to God, therefore the Lord answered him:

          Should you build Me a house to dwell in?

A comparatively faint trace, you may think, of the original pride that led to Adam and Eve’s disregarding of God’s authority and providence; but any trace whatsoever of that original catastrophic evil left uncorrected would quickly sour David’s present zeal for the glory of Israel’s God and gratitude for His goodness; therefore, the prophet was instructed to make it clear to David just Who was leading and guiding, just Who was protecting and saving.

David subsequently lived long enough before God to gladly look forward, in his restored humility and hope, to 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, that first Temple would be destroyed by the Babylonians after some 350 years  and was not replaced until a second and truly splendid Temple was later built by the wicked King Herod, who did produce a wonderful structure which amazed the world in its time but was in no way pleasing to God in so far as it had been built with the wrong intention, not indeed for God’s glory -- as with David and Solomon before -- but for the personal glory of Herod and the renown of his kingdom under the watchful eyes of his imperial overlords in Rome.  It was, however, the Romans 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 by the prophet was looking 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, a Temple wherein Jews and Gentiles without distinction would have access to the Father by the one most Holy 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 was all about God choosing when -- in the fullness of time -- by Whom (His own Son), and through whom (the virgin Mary of Nazareth), salvation would ultimately be offered to the human race:

The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!’ But she was greatly troubled at what was said, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  Then the angel said to her, ‘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 His father David.  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 not excluded from His purposes for we are called – in Jesus -- to share in and contribute to His work.   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. 

Now Mary had always wanted to give her utmost for the God of Israel, and therefore she had longed to devote herself completely by offering her virginity to Him.  However, such a gesture was almost inconceivable among the Jewish people who held marriage and childbirth in such great honour, but it was the only way Mary could think of that would give expression to her burning desire to belong entirely to, and totally glorify, Israel’s God.  Therefore, she said in response to the angel Gabriel’s good news:

How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?

Here, as in the case of David, her desire itself was most pleasing to God and so would be neither disregarded nor frustrated; on the contrary, it would be most sublimely fulfilled in the way God wanted: Mary could, indeed, remain a virgin; notwithstanding, she would bear a child, God’s Child, the very Son of God.

We find this pattern so often among the 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 He even gave him the signs of Jesus’ own martyrdom: the stigmata!  Again, St. Therese 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 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 glorify their Father, and that is the attitude we should always have as we work to do His will for His glory; for it is through such work that we are enabled to receive, by the Holy Spirit, a personal share -- in Jesus -- of God’s 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 natural physical powers and mental abilities are individual and strictly limited, our spirit, on the other hand, is capable of being tuned into the infinity of God Himself, but this can only come about, if each and every one of us, diligently and perseveringly, exercises our 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 desires and intentions. What do you desire most sincerely and, ultimately, above all else?   Do you, in all truth, want to make something of your life with and for God, to serve Him faithfully and supremely?  Do you want with most sincere desire 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 you see little of worth in your life … if you will keep on telling God of your desire even though He never seems to hear you, 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 done in the short term, it is a life’s work.  Today people expect to see results come quickly: that is part of the character of 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.  The advantages resulting from sin in the world are more easily, quickly, and intensely, experienced than the blessings accruing to us through devotion to God and constancy in the Faith; and consequently, though the wages of sin are ultimately pernicious, their passing pleasures can cloud over God’s eternal and sublime blessings for those who prefer the present delights of earthly solicitation to God’s promise of eternal fulfilment in Jesus, as beloved children of His in heaven.

There are other ways of succumbing to sin and the world, however, than by openly falling away from the practise of the Faith.  Some, yielding to pride, 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, however, whose mind is centred on God, though they may, at times, be made painfully aware of their own nothingness, do not become thereby downcast or disheartened, precisely because their mind is always occupied with desires, intentions, for His good-pleasure and glory, and they are, consequently, always looking forward and hoping in Him rather than despairing of themselves. 

People of God, our readings today reveal to us something of the secret of Christmas joy and peace.  Let us welcome Jesus anew into our lives this Christmas; let us seek to serve Him humbly as King David learned to do, allowing Him to guide and rule our lives, for St. Paul told us that God is able to strengthen us by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Mary, our Mother, urges and encourages us to follow the example she herself gave in our Gospel reading, when, abandoning worries about herself and her standing before men, she explained her attitude before God to the angel He had sent to her:

Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord! May it be done to me according to your word.

Than that, there is no surer way to experience the unique quality of Christian, Christmas, joy, which comes from the divine fulfilment -- by His most Holy Spirit -- of the sum total of our human potential; a joy that bathes us in peace while it heals our wounds of sin and separation by our human fellowship in and for Jesus our Brother, and by forming us as  faith-committed disciples of the heavenly Father’s only-begotten Son, sent to us and given for us who were destined and have been called, to become, in Him, members of God’s family in heaven.