This day we celebrate that God is born man. That our salvation is offered to us through the babe. The angels rejoiced at this amazing gift for us, we are loved. But today, Mary witnesses the fruit of her belief. It was Mary who believed in God and by doing so brought salvation into the world. She is the first of believers and her belief in God guides us as her children in our faith. We believe because she believed before us. May our Blessed Mother always be in our hearts and my we always look to her for belief in her Son.
On this feast day, The Epiphany of the Lord, Holy Mother Church does something that at first glance doesn’t seem to fit with the celebration, something out of place. She proclaims an announcement; a sort of housekeeping chore, where she announces future dates of the liturgical year – the moveable dates.
But let’s look deeper at this celebration of Epiphany, in particular – the Magi. Their competence was in the science of the heavens, astronomers. The field was more than just cold science, it was much more encompassing, and it was colored with philosophy and religions. They looked to the stars not so much to understand the stars as they did to understand the meaning of life both now and what lies ahead for mankind; they were guided by the stars towards the future. But these particular Magi were truly wise people in that they were learned who knew they didn’t know everything.
This star, the star that they expected and hoped for appeared as they thought. However, this star called to them, urged them forward to explore it’s meaning for being there. They understood from a foreign religion that it revealed a new king in a far-off kingdom. But there were many kingdoms and many kings and rulers, why would the heavens announce this one? They went far to understand what this meant for them. What they learned was epiphanic, life changing. The gospel tells us they were not the same afterwards, they went home by a different route. They grew.
Brothers and sisters Holy Mother Church, in her great wisdom, gives us these moments for epiphanies throughout the year. Events, that if we participate in whole-heartedly, celebrate properly, reflect on devoutly, will bring us an increase in wisdom and faith. They will enable us to open ourselves to a deeper understanding of who we are and are meant to be. It is not surprising that on the Solemnity of the Epiphany we hear proclaimed the Announcement of Easter and Moveable Feasts. These star-like points on the liturgical calendar will lead us to the same person that the Magi found at the end of their journey. They will lead us to our Lord and we too will never be the same afterwards. Let’s mark our calendars
Today is the Feast of St. Stephen and for me, a deacon, it is a special feast day. I make sure to read his account in the Acts of the Apostles. Quite a heroic ‘play’, Stephen out-argues the established intelligentsia, doesn’t fear the outcome (death) and proclaims great words. Usually when I am done I reflect on what he did and whether I could do the same, then I pray for the strength that he had.
All of this is good. But this year I am struck by the idea that his great acts weren’t things he all-of-a-sudden did; his actions are really the result of how he lived his life. That he fearlessly held to the truth regardless of the outcome was the result of his firm understanding of the truth and that God was with him always. His, ability to pray for those who gave false witness and those who stoned him wasn’t some great feat of will that he had to dig deep for but came from the daily love of neighbor that he had. These events in his life were not some heroic self-sacrifice that he rose to, but was the result of another sacrifice that he knew was for him. He was a loving servant of Christ!
C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.’ Brothers and sisters, this is the paradigm of a Christian, we recognize the truth of Jesus Christ in which contains the knowledge that Jesus is within everyone. When we can obtain this paradigm then those ‘great acts of heroism’ we are called to are actually just living our life as always.
St. Stephen pray for us.
 C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses’
This past Thursday, the senior staff of the parish where I work, along with the pastor, sat in a classroom and celebrated our year in serving the mission of the parish, and of course the upcoming Christmas. There were just the five of us, celebrating in an empty parish since we closed the office at noon. The main part of our celebration was watching the movie ‘The Nativity Story’. We ‘gifted’ this movie to the rest of the staff, but we sat together and watched it.
I have seen this movie a few times, it is always a beautiful and spiritually fruitful experience. Today, however, I was struck with something that, though obvious now, I seemed to have missed in the past. What we were watching was a movie about individuals trying to follow their faith in the daily trials of their lives. Towards the end, at the birth of Christ, the movie powerfully showed two people, man and wife, who had gone through so much together, enduring the fear and joy of childbirth, alone. They were facing the next trial of their lives which was parenthood, and they were also facing a new phase of their faith life. Could they raise the child of God? Could their wisdom and love bring to adulthood God Himself? Were they worthy of such trust? I kept reflecting on that throughout the rest of the day and during the evening I remembered the Responsory of morning prayer that day in the Liturgy of the Hours.
‘You will see his glory within you;
The Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.’
Brothers and sisters, as we enter the celebration of the Nativity of Lord, as we gaze with our hearts in amazement and humility at the baby in the crib, God Himself, let’s remember that it was the daily lives of Mary and Joseph, that brought us this celebration. It was by struggling through each day of their lives, through the temptations and hardships of life, that Mary and Joseph participated with God in His incarnation and nativity. No great plan on their part, it was just living their lives as best as they could by following God that mankind is given the chance to receive God’s gift of salvation.
Let’s remember and follow their example. It is not doing great things that we bring the Kingdom Heaven to earth as much as it by living our lives in faith, day by day, seemingly unnoticed, that the great things God offers comes about. St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote: ‘Have you noticed how human love consists of little things? Well, divine love also consists of little things.’ It is by living as Mary and Joseph did, and the countless saints since, that we will truly see His glory within us, and by doing so the Lord will continue to dawn on us in His radiant beauty.
May the God of mercy and love reign in our hearts, especially in those ‘unnoticed minutes’ of our lives.
One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that the secular holiday season of ‘Xmas’ has gotten more and more withdrawn. In spite of the increased decorations and festive environment the interaction among the people out and about has become less. People used to smile and wish each other good will; there were events that drew them together and they were well attended. There was fellowship, regardless of any religious meaning. This has seemingly diminished greatly – and I have to ask myself why.
There is a societal numbness today that is the result of a loneliness, an isolation that comes from, as Fr. Thomas White writes: ‘the negative peace of nonjudgmental tolerance.’ Modern society has built itself into a great amalgam of views and attitudes, life styles and choices. This amalgam of life philosophies allows each of us to find our own path to happiness which is a false happiness – a false peace of heart. It offers a ‘peace through coexistence’ by allowing each of us to detach ourselves from those around us because they don’t adhere to our understanding of truth and happiness. In reality it is a false peace of coexistence by not co-existing. There is nothing to bring us together in a healthy fellowship. There is no internal fulfillment, because mankind is meant to be together. So, as evidenced in the holiday scene people pass each other by oblivious to anything except their selves – a social numbness.
As I just mentioned, this mindset of individual philosophies of life doesn’t bring us to fulfillment and mankind needs to be fulfilled in order to have real peace in our hearts. This is shown by the manic tint of the daily experience that comes from the hunger for wholeness not addressed by these individualistic philosophies of modern society. Why? Maybe because philosophies are cold, lifeless exercises of the mind not the heart. Maybe because philosophies look within and away from others. Maybe because philosophies don’t offer and accept human emotion. Maybe because philosophies can’t affect the soul. In short, maybe because philosophies don’t offer love. Men and women need to feel loved, they need to embrace and be embraced. Mankind needs to realize the true value of each other and celebrate it. We need relationship not philosophy.
There is a gap between what mankind is striving for and what they are meant for. This gap has been around since the fall of Adam and Eve. That our society has taken it to new and aggressive limits is worrying, but in varying degrees and intensities it has always been there. We can see it in the great and ancient O’Antiphons that we started to celebrate yesterday. We can also see in the O’Antiphons the answer to this philosophical malady – Jesus Christ. Christ is the love that brings all other love together and makes it healthy. Christ is the fulfillment of mankind’s needs and goal to their journey. Christ is the center of what mankind needs the most – relationship – love! It shows us the realization of what is important – Jesus Christ – a person, not a philosophy. When we proclaim the O’Antiphons we are calling out to a person who is the:
Guide of creation,
Giver of law,
Sign of God’s love,
Opener of gates,
Splendor of eternal light and sun of justice,
King and keystone.
Who is: God with us.
We call to Him who are these things, and we ask Him to do something for us, to:
Shine on us,
Come to us,
Be with us,
Brothers and sisters, we have now reached the time in the Advent season when we turn our minds and hearts to the great medicine for modern society. We start to focus on the start of what gives us hope and shows us total fulfillment – Christmas. When the transcendent God, aloof from mankind and almost an abstract indifferent ideal, made Himself present to us, real. When the true philosophy of life, the one that makes everyone whole, became touchable and touching, lovable and loving. Let’s prepare ourselves to allow His touch, His love, tangible and real, to affect our hearts, to affect our minds, and maybe just as important to do the same, through our witness, to those we encounter. The O’Antiphons, after all, are not just titles of Christ and petitions to Him, they are also charges to each of us and actions required of us. Because, Emmanuel, God with us, is more effective, more fruitful, when we bring Him to each other as gift.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
May your Christmas be a blessed one.
May the infant Christ reign in your hearts and minds, and guide you in your witness of His love.
O Come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
O Come, O Come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe.
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
O Come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
 Catholicism In An Age Of Discontent, Thomas Joseph White, O.P., First Things, November 2016
I am always on the lookout for those ‘cute and clever’ church signs that are supposed to get you think. They do, but probably not in the way the volunteer intended. Last week a church in town had the following ‘Looking back keeps you from moving forward’ Considering that we are in the season of Advent I couldn’t help but reflect this message.
Modern society is all about today, never yesterday. Not just today, but what today can do for tomorrow. The past is the past and isn’t that important; a curiosity at best, but irrelevant to my life now. It is truly all about the goals of tomorrow. I have to plan, act, react and struggle today for what I have planned tomorrow. There is not much ‘enjoying the moment’ in society today.
There is no better example of this then the secular holiday season Xmas (Xmas as opposed to the holy celebration of Christmas). Hectic activity pointing towards a special day ahead of us. Not just the great gift-giving day of Xmas, but the parties and events that lead up to it. Pressure, deadlines, responsibilities, and the ever-present fear of not being able to make that certain day special. We put up holiday lights, make holiday food and treats, listen to holiday music in an almost manic way. But to sit back and actually enjoy the moment, remember times past, relax and be at peace with the present – well – that is something in books and movies.
This so-called modern understanding is also why it is so hard for people to embrace the religious season of Advent. Two reasons come to mind:
The first reason is that the Advent season comes in middle of this secular Xmas Season. More accurately, Advent was always there but this manic secular season has pushed Advent out of the way.
The second reason is that Advent is counter intuitive to those who live within this ‘memory disconnect malady’ because Advent looks to the uncertain future with a certainty from what happened in the past. As we enter into the Advent Season the message we are confronted with are the last things of life: death, judgement, heaven and hell; but we are given an assured hope with the message Advent brings us towards the end – memory of our past. Christ the judge has already shown us His love and mercy by coming among us. He knows us and He desires a positive outcome for each of us. The Advent season brings the great and good news that what happened is still happening, and what will happen is already happening.
Christ, who came among us 2,000 years ago and showed us the way and His mercy, is among us today continuing to show His mercy and give us His grace. We are not alone on this journey to the final judgement, we still have the benefit of His presence. And, of course, the end of days, the final judgement, eternity, is not something that is to come so much as it is the end of what is happening now. We are living in eternity right now – Christ’s judgement is what is guiding us on the true path home. Christ gives us the knowledge of how to achieve Heaven, He gives us His love to strengthen and urge us on and His mercy when we stumble.
Brothers and sisters, Advent is the cure for this ‘memory disconnect malady’ that affects the world today. It gives us peace about the future because of what happened in the past. It brings joy to our hearts because of the knowledge that our past is with us in the present and won’t leave us in the future. The phrase that I saw on the Church sign can be answered with another phrase: ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’
 HEB 13:8
As I opened my Breviary this morning I realized that this was a sort of special Good Friday (as if Good Friday wasn’t special enough). Today, is March 25th, and if it wasn’t Holy Week we would be celebrating the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the feast of the incarnation of our Lord. As I reflected on the import of the symbolism that the day of His death is being celebrated on the day of His conception it brought me back to the early representations of the manger scene. In those paintings and other artworks you could see Jesus in the swaddling bands that also were used in death.
Here is a powerful lesson in just what our Lord came to do. He had a mission and that mission is each of us. But I fear that this understanding and appreciation of what God did for us and what we mean to Him has been faded in the past 100 years. Does our Lord’s passion impact us as it should? And when I say ‘us’ I mean ‘me’ first and foremost.
I pray that this year I can open myself up to the greatest act of love ever. I pray that this year I can allow the grief of what I did to our God to bring the sting it should; and the overwhelming wave of unworthiness and joy explode in my heart for His 33 year act of love for me.
I wish the same for each of us.
Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.
 Such as:
The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekial, 1308-11 by Duccio
Nativity by Jacopo Torriti
Nativity Scene Fresco (1310) by Giotto Di Bondone
Stained Glass at St. Denis Basilica in Paris (ca 1100s)
Madonna and Child (1319) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti