Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Day


December 25, 2011
Mass during the Day
Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18

          No matter how many times we celebrate this feast, it remains fresh and exciting. Although the readings remain the same, something within in changes each year. We are more experienced and perhaps a little wiser and we always come to the point in which we realize that we need a savior to be born for us. When we see the way God acted, we are amazed at this tiny child who was given to us so that we will no longer be separated from God.

          Isaiah's words speak to the heart of our need for a savior: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shone." When we realize how mucked up our lives are, we appreciate what God has done for us. With each passing year, we get more battle scars and wounds that continue to smart, and if they do heal, scar tissue remains. We look upon this feast with soberly because we know our salvation cannot come from within us.

          I have listened to many stories from people who have lost loved ones recently or a long time ago. These friends and relatives are sorely missed and the sorrow of those losses, though they lessen, will not go away. We do our best to remember them and keep them present in our celebrations, but a piece of us is missing as they are gone. The death of a parent or child is so final and we feel like orphans. There is part of us that we cannot reclaim or replace.

          Holiday celebrations get messy as the usual family patterns show us that as much as we try, wholesale changes will not occur in the family or in a particular relative. We realize we cannot change a person and it is best to not even try to fix someone else. We try to be careful with our choice of words, but self-editing makes us feel guarded at a time we want to be free. The whole business of gift-giving creates great anxiety because of the many attachments that go along with one's generosity or failure to receive well. Throughout it all, we are determined to enjoy the day, to experience the true meaning of Christmas, and to come away with good memories of people we deep down love.

          Christmas is complicated. The build-up to the day creates its own concerns and we have great expectations despite our experiences. Each Advent, we set out with good-will to make this present holiday special and it is awful when that good-will gets battered. Many times we fret the advent of the day.

          But somehow, the arrival of the tiny child warms our heart and begs us to give one another leeway. He makes us look upon even our greatest adversary with whatever tenderness we can muster. We know the Christ-child only wants what is good for us and for our neighbor. He knows the cruelty that exists in human hearts. He wishes we would change but he doesn't force it. In fact, he doesn't do anything but rest in a crib or in his mother's arms. He causes us to gaze upon him and marvel at him. This tiny boy will become everything that Isaiah said: Wonder-counselor, God-hero, Father-forever, and Prince of Peace.

          He is not that today. He is merely a human infant who hungers for food and human affection. He merely wants us to pick him up and hold him close to our chests. Nothing more. How else are we going to know him unless we hold him tightly and let him into our shattered world. We can save all the stories for later, but it is good for us to tell him our hopes and dreams. All he can do is absorb at this point. It is our time just to be with one another. That's all he wants.

          As we look at him, we are also pointed to God, the Father, who set this blessed event in motion. Jesus exists for us because God willed it. God long desired to bring us back to him because he misses us as we miss our loved ones. The birth of Jesus is like God giving the human race a big kiss on the forehead. It is merely a token of the great love God has for us. No wonder why the choirs of angels sing, "Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people of goodwill." May we sing heartily and fully like the angels on this happy day of our salvation.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  Stephen is honored as the first martyr to the faith the day after Christmas to show the serious nature of discipleship. John the Evangelist, who is often referred to as the Beloved Disciple is celebrated on the 27th. As he was the one who reclined on the shoulder of Jesus at the Last Supper and is known to be a cherished friend, his feast day is celebrated close to Christmas. The Holy Innocents are remembered on the 28th. They are the young boys of Bethlehem slaughtered by Herod to eliminate the newborn king. The first letter of John is read to show the true aspects of discipleship. The one who knows Jesus will keep his commandments out of love and respect for him. John also warns against those who come falsely in the name of Jesus. We have to do our best to know him so we can tell who is not of the Holy One. In the devotion to the Holy Family, the Genesis account of Abram receiving the covenant from God is recalled. Offspring, land, and prosperity will belong to the children of Abram. 

Gospel: In Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to beware of men because they will hand you over to courts and will persecute you because of your faith in him. On John the Evangelist's feast day, the account of his running to the tomb ahead of Peter is recalled. John looked into the empty tomb and believed that Jesus was raised from the dead. In Matthew, Herod realizes he is deceived by the Magi and send his army into Bethlehem to kill all the boys under two years old. Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt. As the time for purification had come, the parents of Jesus bring him to the Temple where he meets Simeon who takes the child into his arms and blesses him. He then meets the elderly Anna who tells his mother that her heart will be pierced by a sword for the boy will be the savior of many, but his unfortunate circumstances will cause her heartache. The Prologue of John's Gospel presents the main theses of the Fourth Gospel: that Jesus who was with God at creation dwelt among humans, but they failed to know and accept him.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Stephen, the first Martyr (d. 35), was one of the seven original deacons chose to minister to the Greek-speaking Christians. The Jews accused him of blasphemy. Though he was eloquent in his defense, Saul of Tarsus condoned his death sentence.

Tuesday: John, Apostle and Evangelist (d. 100), was the brother of James and one of the three disciples to be in the inner circle. He left fishing to follow Jesus and was with him at the major events: the transfiguration, raising of Jairus' daughter, and the agony in the garden. He is also thought to be the author of the fourth gospel, three letters, and the Book of Revelation.

Wednesday: The Holy Innocents (d. 2), were the boys of Bethlehem who were under two years old to be killed by King Herod in an attempt to eliminate the rise of the newborn king as foretold by the astronomers from the east. This event is similar to the rescue of Moses from the Nile by the slaughter of the infant boys by the pharaoh.

Thursday: Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr (1118-1170), was the lord chancellor and archbishop of Canterbury in England during the time of King Henry II. When he disagreed with the King over the autonomy of the church and state, he was exiled to France. When he returned, he clashed again with the king who had him murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.  

Friday: The Family of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, was a feast instituted in 1921. It was 
originally the 3rd Sunday after Christmas. The Holy Family is often seen in Renaissance paintings - and many of those are of the flight into Egypt.

Saturday: Sylvester I, pope (d. 335), served the church shortly after Constantine issued his Edict of Milan in 313 that publicly recognized Christianity as the official religion of the empire and provided it freedom of worship. Large public churches were built by the emperor and other benefactors. Sylvester was alive during the Council of Nicaea but did not attend because of old age.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Dec 25, 1545. Isabel Roser pronounced her vows as a Jesuit together with Lucrezia di Brandine and Francisca Cruyllas in the presence of Ignatius at the church of Sta. Maria della Strada in Rome.
·         Dec 26, 1978. The assassination of Gerhard Pieper, a librarian, who was shot to death in Zimbabwe.
·         Dec 27, 1618. Henry Morse entered the English College at Rome.
·         Dec 28, 1802. Pope Pius VII allowed Father General Gruber to affiliate the English Jesuits to the Society of Jesus in Russia.
·         Dec 29, 1886. Publication of the beatification decree of the English martyrs.
·         Dec 30, 1564. Letter from Pope Pius IV to Daniel, Archbishop of Mayence, deploring the malicious and scurrilous pamphlets published against the Society throughout Germany and desiring him to use his influence against the evil.
·         Dec 31, 1640. John Francis Regis died. He was a missionary to the towns and villages of the remote mountains of southern France.