The image of Blessed Mary that comes to us from these pages of Scripture is the image of a person of great calm and wisdom, one who takes the time to reflect upon all that is going on around her. Mary didn’t live in the fast-paced world that surrounds us on all sides today. We not only may drive 90 MPH at times (I’m sure you don’t do that!), but there’s also the real possibility of living at 90 MPH too. Just think about preparing for Christmas in whatever ways we prepared for Jesus’ birth; buying food, shopping for gifts, work, trying to fit a visit into our ramped-up schedules. Heaven forbid the funeral of a loved one should happen around Christmas-time. It’s good to stay busy, but it’s also good, if not better, to be calm and reflective like Mary. Mary, the Mother of God, is a feast that was drawn from the early Church Council of Ephesus in the year 431. The title Mother of God was a title that needed to be emphasized, and determined by the Church Fathers to be infallible, meaning divinely revealed. The reason for the emphasis being that some purported Christians were labeling Mary the mother of Jesus, and not the Mother of God. The mother of Jesus title emphasizes the humanity of Christ while not recognizing his divine nature. The Mother of God title points to both Jesus’ human and divine nature, being the truth of who he is. So, the title Mother of God was a title given to Mary in the 5th century, not because of her own actions, but because of who her Son is. All things Mary point to Jesus, and the whole truth of who her Son is, and not a partial truth. That’s the quick theology behind the title Mother of God. But from a spiritual angle, an angle that serves us in our religious lives, Mary as Mother of God is a title that exudes the image of calm and wisdom. The image of taking the time to be reflective concerning all the things that were being spoken about her Son. Granted, Mary was in a stable and had just given birth, and probably didn’t feel like getting up and doing some jumping jacks, or walking south to Egypt. She was resting in the manger, which is what mothers try to do after giving birth. So, she wasn’t going anywhere soon. But Mary as Mother of the Most High was not forced into the calm and wisdom we see on display in this holy scene. She wasn’t forced into reflecting on all that was said about her Son. They were choices Mary made in the moment. And the Mary, Mother of God title is the most proper title that is consistent with the visitation of the shepherds. Because the shepherds made known the message that had been told them about this child. The message, spoken by an angel from heaven, passed on to Mary by the shepherds that said, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” Christ meaning Messiah, Lord meaning God. The title Mother of God is the most proper title for Mary. It fits perfectly into this scene of Jesus’ birth, revealing his human and divine natures. Mother of God is a title to rejoice in. But, we also rejoice in something that speaks to us; that in the midst of some amazing events, Mary remained calm, possessing the great virtue of wisdom, taking time to reflect upon the events of her life. This is how we too get in touch with the Lord, draw close to him, and remain his handmaid, in likeness of the Mother of God.
Our Mass schedule for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, a Holy Day of obligation in the Church is as follows: Vigil Mass, Monday, December 31 at 4:00 p.m., and Mass on Tuesday, January 1 at 9:00 a.m.
In today’s opening prayer for the Mass of the Holy Family, we heard the words, “Graciously grant that we may imitate them (the Holy Family) in practicing the virtues of family life and in the bonds of charity (love). What are the virtues to be practiced by Christian families imitating the Holy Family? Virtues, I pray, we practiced over the celebration of Christmas? We heard some of those virtues in Paul’s Letter to the Colossians; “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another if there’s a grievance against one another. And over all these put on love, the bond of perfection.” That’s quite a list of family virtues that St. Paul so eloquently provides for right Christian living, imitating the Holy Family. And when we consider the likes of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, we can see how those virtues that came down from heaven most notably displayed in the Person of the newborn child, we can understand how it’s possible to succeed at applying them in our own lives. If, that is, we seek to imitate the Holy Family in practicing the virtues of family life. When considering the three main characters in today’s Gospel, a 12-year-old boy and his parents, with those three, we can all agree that the list of St. Paul’s virtues are possible…for them. Are they possible for us? It’s not hard for to us to picture Jesus, Mary and Joseph experiencing heartfelt compassion toward each other. Or being kind, humble and gentle toward each other. Those virtues fit perfectly into our Catholic image of all three of them. Being patient and bearing with one another, especially when it appears a 12-year-old boy was left behind, never catching up with the caravan heading back to Nazareth after the Passover celebration. There was a damper placed on the joyful celebration of Passover when the parents figured out their firstborn son and only child was not with them when the caravan had traveled miles up the road toward the insignificant village of Nazareth. The absence of their son was anything but insignificant. It must have been an interesting conversation home after the parents discovered their Son teaching the teachers. A conversation that began with, “Son, why have you done this to us?” was likely finished somewhere on the road with kindness, gentleness, and patience, all grounded in the bond of perfection, love. This is why they are the Holy Family. Not because every day was a perfectly sunny day with roses in bloom, birds chirping away in the backyard, the temperature that of San Diego, and as holy as St. Juan Diego. I pray we do understand that the feast day today of the Holy Family is not the equivalent of celebrating a family that lived and experienced a world of perfection each day. That their home in Nazareth, or the entire village of Nazareth of about 200 people, was enclosed in this bubble of no issues, protected from a crooked world that never penetrated the holy bubble. It would be nice if we could live in that bubble, but that’s not an accurate picture of Nazareth or our own families. In today’s world, the created bubble would be similar to parents trying to protect their children as much as possible from all the ugliness we know is out there, or at their fingertips, in so many ways. You plant good seeds, you protect them and guide them, advise them in the ways of Christ, but do so knowing they will be out their one day, getting lost in the Temple. But hopefully making the choices you taught them. At some point, the created bubble will burst, praying they will choose, not to bury themselves in the sinful ways of our culture, build to up the Kingdom of God thanks to you parents and grandparents. Today’s joyful celebration of the Holy Family, in one sense, is a Lenten call, of all things. To imitate the Holy Family, which one of those virtues in the list of St. Paul is the one needed the most in our estimation, at this time? Which one is lacking the most? Is it forgiving? Is it kindness, rather than being unkind? How about being more gentle in the way Mary and Joseph were gentle with Jesus when they finally found him in the Temple after three very long days? By the way, Jesus wasn’t lost. He was completely at home in his Father’s house. His parents at this point could not fully comprehend his natural comfortability in the Temple, which is not a sin on their part. Or, do we need to practice more heartfelt compassion in the family circle, or, as in my family, the Family Circus? There’s a Lenten similarity to this Feast Day because during Lent one of the objectives is to work on our worst sin, but here on our most needed way of building family. Most families don’t hit that high plateau where virtues are practiced perfectly. It would be false to think we do. That’s like the person who comes to Confession and says, “I really don’t have any sins to confess; I just came by to say hello.” All of our families can imitate the Holy Family in deeper Christian ways, from that holy list of St. Paul because, and I put this in quotations, “we all have a 12-year-old lost in the Temple.” It might be 70-year-old Uncle George who hasn’t grown up yet. He still living his hippie days from Woodstock. We all have a 12-year-old seemingly lost in the Temple. The opening prayer beckons us to imitate the Holy Family. St. Paul provides a long list of virtues to apply. The Gospel provides the potential scenario for all our Christian families. Choose one from Paul’s list, and continue to build up God’s Kingdom in the nucleus of our families.
For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.” These words of Isaiah from today’s first reading make me want to shout from the tops of the mountains so the whole world can hear, “He’s ready to reintroduce himself to each of us. He will do it a thousand times over our lifetime if needed. He’s persistent. He loves you. He cares for you, in good times and in bad. He tells you you shall be called by a new name, pronounced by the mouth of the Lord. You shall no longer be called “Forsaken” or “Desolate.” Those are names that belong to the enemy. The Devil is desolate; he has nothing good to offer you. Instead, you shall be called “My Delight,” my “Espoused,” for God has come to marry us. Not like a spouse as we understand it. But as our Creator who penetrates the deepest part of your soul, making a home within you, living within you, helping you carry your cross if you allow him.” Such beautiful words on Christmas from the major Prophet Isaiah. But do we really understand how close he is, and how close he wants to be? In my conversations, in my travels, in my observations, in my listening to people, I find much lukewarm faith that holds people back from their potential in Christ to unleash the deep love within them; love grounded in the Word becoming flesh; love that will raise their faith to the heights of heaven through actions of Christian faith on Earth. I pray in my lifetime I will witness the Great Awakening; a time where God will somehow in his way of doing things, will reawaken the faith of millions and millions of good people, and a few presently not so good people, to a place where their zeal for their Christian faith will shine forth like the stars in the sky, rather than remaining in the desolate, forsaken place that no God-fearing person should be. 9-11, as someone recently reminded me, filled the Churches for a weekend, a month maybe, for a short time, as good people searched for answers to national tragedy. My most recent funeral, a brave Worcester Firefighter, the most difficult event of my priesthood, it may lead a few on the department back to their faith and its practice. But will it stay? Will they marry their Lord? Will it hold, will they marry Christ, or will they live in the word “Forsaken?” The Great Awakening of the lukewarm that I pray for is not to come about, I pray, through tragic events. That obviously doesn’t have the sustaining power needed to permanently reawaken the faith of millions of people. The Awakening I pray for will come, I pray, strictly through the compassionate power of God’s love for us, where countless souls will recognize and embrace the essential importance in this one quick life of putting into practice the faith that God grants us through his grace. For it is only through his grace and favor that we arrive at “My Delight,” rather than wallowing in that awful set of words, “Forsaken” and ‘Desolate.” What does this have to do with Christmas? Everything. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your blessed home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” Joseph, stay married Mary. Don’t divorce her. Stay married to Mary, Joseph, because you, my friends, are at the heart of this story of God coming to us so that we can love each other now, bring Good News to a world overcome with not-so-good news, and reach that great potential of faith within us, a faith that screams out, “God is alive within me. As alive as the child from Bethlehem.” Herod may try to kill our faith like he tried to kill Jesus. We live in a time that tries hard to kill our faith, and so many Catholics have allowed such killing to flow through our veins, effecting our souls. The living out and practice of our faith in this newborn child does away with all forsakenness and desolation. Joseph, stay married to Mary. Why should he? Because in Joseph’s marriage to Mary, we are wedded to Mary’s Son. We are “Espoused” to him! Joseph, you cannot leave Mary alone. She needs your help. She needs your protection from Herod. She needs your participation and love. She needs your companionship. She needs your friendship and holy advice. The completion and fulfillment in this Christmas story is bringing this family together as one. In their being one, we are now married to the Son of Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit. Our marriage to him is realized most fundamentally in the sustained practice of our worship of him in the Body of Christ, his Church. A tough time it presently is for the Body of Christ, between those two dreaded realities; lukewarm and abuse. Forsaken and Desolate. But in the celebration of our Lord’s holy birth, in the oneness of his family, in the marriage of Joseph to Mary, we are known by God as “My Delight” and “Espoused.” May you live up to those words. “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.” We’re married to Him, and it’s a beautiful thing. Merry Christmas.
Our Mass schedule for Christmas is as follows: Christmas Eve Mass, Monday, December 24, will be held at 4:00 p.m., and Christmas Day Mass, Tuesday, December 25 will be at 9:00 a.m. A merry Christmas to all as we celebrate “And the word became flesh.”
Back in my younger days about 300 years ago, Saturday mornings were synonymous with cartoons on TV. Looney Tunes, Popeye, Fat Albert (which today would be politically incorrect to say), and a bunch of others were enjoyed by myself, my siblings, and millions of other youngsters, and those young at heart, throughout this country.
Two people who would have made great Saturday morning cartoon characters that never made it were, first, Big Papi, because he wasn’t yet born, and second, John the Baptist. John probably never made Saturday morning TV for kids because God didn’t want anyone laughing at him. Between his odd dress of camel’s hair, and his odd diet of locusts and wild honey, there would have been too much to chuckle at. But God nixed that idea from the minds of all cartoon creators, then and now. Maybe John the Baptist will still become one of the Avengers in today’s world of make-believe characters with super-human strength.
But as we know, John the Baptist is not make-believe. To make certain that we know this, it’s why the Gospel writer Luke grounds the ministry of John in history, alongside names like Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas and Caiaphas. Those names represent a bunch of history at a certain time in a certain location. Luke’s purpose is not to raise them up in any way as models for his Gospel, for most of them will play a role in the deaths of both John and Jesus. The writer’s purpose is, though, to raise the Prophet who would have made a great Saturday morning cartoon character, John the Baptist.
Why is John so necessary to our faith, as we prepare for the coming of Jesus’ birth? Why not leave him out of the Gospel pages altogether, skip over his conception in the womb of St. Elizabeth, move past his birth and time in the desert, his preparation for Jesus, his baptism of Jesus, and John’s subsequent death? Why not leave his name out of history? We would still be saved in the Person of Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection, without John. That’s all we really need. God could do it all on his own. But obviously He chose not to. And John is a central figure since God’s plan unfolded with the inclusion of human beings playing certain roles in leading us back to God.
If God saw John as necessary as the Precursor to Jesus his Son, then John is necessary for us too. So, why is the Baptist necessary in history? Well, this is the first responsibility of John; to lead us back to God again, and again, and again with the poignant reminder of “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This Prophet is the serious voice chosen by God to preach the Good News, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” A voice not to be laughed at.
As we know so well in our Christian faith, these words of John go well beyond our Sunday attendance. This is where we begin our preparation for doing God’s work at the start of each week. An upcoming week that will include unexpected moments and surprises for many of us, whether good or not so good. A week that will present a normal routine in many respects, but not all the way through the entire week for any of us.
The message of John to prepare the way of the Lord without question begins with our proactive move toward repentance. This is the heart and soul of his message. But, preparing the way of the Lord for this upcoming week as we prepare for Christmas too, and the weeks to follow, is also preparation by way of works of mercy; preparation for forgiving another; preparation for being dedicated to a daily prayer life; it’s preparation for visiting the sick and homebound, which is the job of all the baptized.
So, John’s serious message a couple weeks before the birth of our Savior, is preparation of the whole person, body, mind and soul, for Jesus’ birth. But John begins always with repentance, going through Ernie’s Car Wash for the Soul, coming our sparkling clean, but expands to a continued commitment to prayer and good works.
John the Baptist’s second responsibility is to be the best example of the message he brings from heaven. We call this practicing what is preached. This is where John is perfect, leaving us an example of holiness and commitment to Christ that is second only to Blessed Mary.
Because of the apparent hardness of John’s message of repentance, or his language to the Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them a “brood of vipers,” a group of snakes, a nickname for a criminal, what we can miss in John’s “Saturday morning” character is that he is a Prophet of the greatest devotion and love. If John was not a man of the greatest love, he would never prepare the way of the Lord, for God is love. And when we prepare the Lord’s way for others, we too practice what we are called to preach.
On this 2nd Sunday of Advent we look to John the Baptist, but also hear and listen to John and his message from above. We see how true he was to the words he preached, and how faithful he was to God’s mission. Heeding the message of the Baptist – mercy and good works – is solid preparation for our Savior’s birth.
He would have made a great Saturday morning cartoon character, or one of the Avengers. But he makes a far greater Prophet for Christ, with a Divine message we won’t find in any cartoons. Following the words of the Baptist this Advent will make certain our upcoming trip to Bethlehem will be filled with joy and glad tidings.
Our Mass schedule for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a vigil Mass on Friday, December 7 at 4:00 p.m. and Saturday morning, December 8 at 8:00 a.m.