Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Mary, the Holy Mother of God
Num 6:22-27  +  Gal 4:4-7  +  Lk 2:16-21
January 1, 2020

When eight days were completed for His circumcision, He was named Jesus, the Name given Him by the angel….

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click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Solemnity (4:55)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Solemnity

click HERE to read the homily from Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland for this Solemnity

click HERE to watch the homily for this Solemnity from the cathedral in Phoenix, Ariz. (16:24)

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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 homily for this Solemnity

click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2011 homily for this Solemnity

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2002 homily for this Solemnity

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In the year of Our Lord 431, the bishops of the Church gave glory to God by giving honor to Mary, pronouncing her to be “the Mother of God”.  In that year, the third world-wide—or ecumenical—council of the Church took place in the city of Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.

According to tradition, Ephesus is where the Blessed Virgin Mary lived the last years of her earthly life under the care of St. John, the Beloved Disciple.  So it’s very fitting that the Council of Ephesus was the setting for the Church to proclaim Mary to be “the Mother of God”.

The bishops gathered in Ephesus to contend with the heresy being taught by the archbishop of Constantinople.  He was falsely teaching that the child who was born to Mary in Bethlehem was actually two separate persons:  the human Jesus and the divine Christ.  Mary, according to that faulty logic, would certainly be the mother of the human Jesus, but could not be called the mother of anyone who is divine.

Fortunately, that way of thinking was condemned by the Council of Ephesus.  The teaching of the Church, the bishops proclaimed, is that there is only one person in Jesus Christ, and that if Mary is the mother of Jesus—Jesus Christ who is fully God and fully man—then she can be honored as the Mother of God, as we do especially on this day, the eighth day of Christmas.

Still, even if we know all this—if we know in our heads that we can call Mary the Mother of God—why should we?  Why is this feast so important that we celebrate it as a holy day of obligation?

Keep in mind that whenever Holy Mother Church obliges us to do something, she’s acting like any good mother.  What she does is for our sake, not hers.  At the heart of this great mystery is the truth that Mary is the “Mother of God”.  This truth teaches us something about Jesus, about us, and about her.

What does the title “Mother of God” say about Jesus?  The mystery that the Council of Ephesus reflected on is not principally that Mary is the Mother of God, but rather, that this baby whom we see lying in the manger is in truth God.

The Christmas hymn asks “What child is this?” and our answer is that “this, this is Christ the King!”  This helpless infant is the same God who creates the stars of the heavens.  This helpless infant is the same God who destroys our sins on the Cross.  In Jesus, God and man are united.  The infinite and the finite wed.  Because of this wedding, our lives on this earth, naturally destined to last maybe seventy or eighty years, can be lived forever in Heaven.

In your imagination, picture today’s Gospel Reading.  You see the infant Jesus in the manger, with His mother on the ground next to Him.  Saint Joseph keeps watch over them. The Holy Family had already made the perilous journey to Bethlehem.  When they had arrived, they had found themselves rejected by everyone whom they asked for shelter.

Later, there were angels and shepherds and kings from the east praising the newborn child.  What a strange turn of events:  from rejection to adoration!  It’s no wonder that as Mary rested in the hay, she pondered these things in her heart.  The Holy Family experienced complete rejection and utter acceptance because of the same person.

Mary was beginning to see how the world treats people.  You remain the same person throughout your life, but because of changing circumstances, others react very differently toward you.

Mary realized that this was going to be the pattern throughout her son’s life:  acceptance or rejection, based merely upon the attitudes of others and the circumstances of life.  She could see, even at such a young age, that if others were given the chance to witness miracles—angels singing in the sky, water turning to wine, or a blind man regaining his sight—they would very likely praise her son.

However, if following Jesus meant watching him being turned out of the synagogue in Galilee where He had grown up, or being mocked by the scribes and Pharisees for trying to teach them something new about God, or being whipped and crowned with thorns after being condemned to a traitor’s death—what would people say about her son then?

Many of us are going to make resolutions for the new year.  How successful will we be?  For most of us, the new year won’t be much different than the last.  If we truly want to change, it will take the grace of God.  The grace of God is what made Mary the “Mother of God”, and so also our Mother.  Ask her intercession before her divine Son each day of this new year.

Mother of Divine Providence mosaic

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas
1 John 2:18-21  +  John 1:1-18
December 31, 2019

   Thus we know this is the last hour.   

Because the Nativity is always celebrated on December 25, the seventh day of the Octave of Christmas is always December 31.  While the world prepares to celebrate tonight the passing from one year to the next, the Church encourages us to meditate upon what is eternal by means of one of the most beautiful passages from the Gospel.

The prologue of St. John’s Gospel account—John 1:1-18—summarizes the whole of his account, but even also the whole of salvation history.  In fact, the prologue stretches even beyond history into eternity.  This Scripture passage is proclaimed at the end of almost every Mass celebrated in the Extraordinary Form.  This proclamation, as the Mass ends and those participating in it prepare to return to “the world”, reminds us that our destiny lies within eternity and not in the world.

About two-thirds of the way into this passage are the words that make this passage especially fitting for proclamation during Christmastide.  “And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us….”  In the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass, at the proclamation of this phrase all genuflect in honor of Our Lord, who became Flesh in order to offer that Body and Blood, with His soul and divinity, for the remission of sins on the Cross.  In the Ordinary Form of the Mass, an echo of this practice remains, as on two solemnities of the year—the Annunciation and the Nativity—all those present genuflect at the proclamation of this same truth during the profession of the Creed.  This truth lies at the heart of our salvation, and certainly also at the heart of the Mystery of the Eucharist, by which we as disciples enter into the life of Christ both now and, we pray, for eternity.

Last Gospel altar card SMALLER

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas
1 John 2:12-17  +  Luke 2:36-40
December 30, 2019

   Do not love the world or the things of the world.   

Throughout the weekdays of Christmas, our First Reading is taken from the First Letter of Saint John.  In one sense, it can seem in listening to the letters of John that he treats of a very few number of themes, repeating them over and over.  However, these themes—love, light, and life—are repeated and are simple because God is simple.

As best as history can tell us, St. John wrote his letters in his old age.  Remember that he was the only one of the Apostles (excepting Judas, of course) not to be martyred.  As so many older persons do, with advancing age John realized the simplicity of the Gospel.  Advanced age allows one to see that so many of the things we believe are important when younger are shadows and illusions.

In today’s First Reading addresses children, fathers, young men:  to all of them as something of a patriarch, as the last remaining Apostle of Jesus.  He’s speaking simply and bluntly about priorities, and in the midst of his teaching he warns them about “the world”.  If St. John speaks simply about God, he also speaks simply—if not as often—about “the world” as the alternative to God.  We as children of God can live for God, or for the world, but not for both.  In our modern world where we tell ourselves that it’s possible to “have it all”, we need St. John’s message of simplicity:  we cannot have both God and the world.

Nativity Fra Angelico 2

 

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph [A]

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary & Joseph [A]
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14  +  Colossians 3:12-21  +  Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
December 29, 2019

   He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.   

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click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday

click HERE to watch the homily from the Cathedral of Phoenix, Ariz. for this Sunday (9:44)

click HERE to read the homily of John Cardinal O’Connor for this Sunday

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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2013 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2010 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2001 Angelus address for this Sunday

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On this Sunday after the feast of the Lord’s Birth, the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Family.  Throughout all of Christmastide, God calls Christians to reflect upon the Gift of the Child Jesus.  Yet today’s feast has a specific focus.  This focus helps us by considering how Mary and Joseph responded to the child Jesus.

When we reflect upon God the Father’s Gift of His only-begotten Son, we realize that it is not an “unrestricted gift”, as a charitable organization might put it.  When God the Father gave the Gift of His Son to mankind, He did so with a special intention.  If we don’t honor God the Father’s intention when we accept the Gift of Jesus, we are rejecting the Gift as given, and being dishonest with God the Father.

Mary and Joseph had certainly not accepted God the Father’s Gift dishonestly.  Nonetheless, it did take time for God the Father’s intention to dawn fully upon them.  From the beginning, they understood that this child was a gift conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.  This child was to be called “Son of the Most High”.  But why had God the Father sent Him to earth?

Every parent wonders and worries about the future of each of their children.  But every child, as a gift from God, comes with an intention that God has for each child.  God has an intention in mind, not just from the moment a child is conceived, but from all eternity.  God’s ultimate intention is for each child to reach Heaven.  Yet that’s much less likely to happen without the cooperation of parents.

Yet parents face a daunting challenge:  in all things to align their human wills with the providential will of God the Father.  In this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, God the Father calls Mary and Joseph to great self-sacrifice.  They leave behind family and homeland, not knowing how long they might dwell in a foreign land.  Only after a second dream may they return to their homeland of Israel, settling in Nazareth.

In this regard, St. Matthew the Evangelist quotes one of the Old Testament prophets.  He quotes only the second half of Hosea 11:1 in order to give context to the Holy Family’s return from Egypt.  But the entire verse offers even more context:  “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son.”

This verse is a clear allusion to Israel’s Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land.  Yet two persons in the Gospel Reading play roles connected to this allusion.  The first is the foster-father of Jesus, whose actions in the Gospel Reading mirror the Old Testament patriarch Joseph, whose journey to Egypt under compulsion led many years later to the Exodus.

The second is Jesus Himself.  In the light of Hosea 11:1, Jesus is a mirror of the Old Testament patriarch Israel, and so also of the people who bore Israel’s name.  It was for Israel that the land that was the goal of the Exodus was named.  But Jesus’ earthly vocation was to involve an Exodus that transcends earth.

Jesus’ words when His mother and foster-father found Him in the Temple echoed in the hearts of Mary and Joseph.  “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s House?”  They echoed because their meaning wasn’t limited to that one occasion when Jesus was twelve years old.  Those words of Jesus echoed in Mary’s heart, mind and soul throughout His public ministry, and especially as she followed her Son up the hill of Calvary.

When Jesus was twelve years old, the words “my Father’s House” specifically meant the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, where Mary and Joseph found Him.  But Mary and Joseph began to see that those words also had a second, deeper meaning.  “My Father’s House” is the Promised Land of Heaven.  That’s why Jesus was born, and that’s what this Christmas Season is about.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to die on Calvary, so to open the gates of Heaven.  The gifts of the human family and the Holy Family help us make our way there.

Holy Family - flight to egypt 04

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs
1 John 1:5—2:2  +  Matthew 2:13-18
December 28, 2019

   Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet….   

As did the feast of St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr, today’s feast on the fourth day in the Christmas Octave points our attention to the way in which birth and death are intertwined.  Birth and death are not just ends of an earthly spectrum.  The link between them is more profound than that.

Of course, today’s feast commemorates not the experience of natural death, or even the death of martyrs who chose to offer themselves in witness to Christ.  The horror at the heart of today’s feast—the slaughter of untold innocent infants by a king—stands as a stark contrast to the joy of the Nativity.

Nonetheless, King Herod in his rage and fear takes seriously the threat that the newborn king poses to his earthly power, even if he doesn’t understand the purpose of this infant’s birth into this world.  Certainly the reign of Christ the King will put an end to the thrones of all earthly powers.  But Christ is the King of Kings.  Unlike Herod, Christ seeks to destroy no one, but to give life to everyone, and to give it to the full.  Even for those who seek the end of His earthly life, Christ reigns to give them unending life in Heaven.

Holy Innocents - LeBrun

St. John, Apostle & Evangelist

St. John, Apostle & Evangelist
1 John 1:1-4  +  John 20:1,2-8
December 27, 2019

… what we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us ….

“God is love.”  There’s hardly a less controversial statement in modern Western culture than this one.  But if you were to press people as to the implications of this simple statement, you’d quickly see a divergence from the scriptural profession of belief that God is, in His very Three-Personed nature, self-sacrifical love.

It is St. John the Evangelist, whose feast the Church celebrates on this third day of the Octave of Christmas, who tells us that “God is love” [1 John 4:8].  But St. John—often called “the Beloved Disciple”—also unpacks that simple statement throughout his three epistles and his Gospel account.  We might say that these four books of the New Testament are a primer in the nature of divine love.

My favorite single verse of Sacred Scripture is from St. John’s first letter:  “In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and offered His Son as an expiation for our sins” [1 John 4:10].  The life of St. John the Evangelist bears witness to this truth.

The Beloved Disciple was, of course, the only one of the twelve Apostles to remain with Jesus during His Passion and death.  Perhaps owing to this fidelity, he was the only one of the Apostles (excepting Judas Iscariot, of course) who was not martyred.  Perhaps also owing to his fidelity to the Crucifixion of Love in the Flesh, it was to John that Jesus entrusted His Blessed Mother.  All this illustrates why St. John the Evangelist is called “the Beloved Disciple”, and illustrates the model of discipleship he sets for us.

St. John the Evangelist vision of Mary CROPPED

St. Stephen, The First Martyr

St. Stephen, The First Martyr
Acts 6:8-10;7:54-59  +  Matthew 10:17-22
December 26, 2019

   Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.   

Today’s feast is similar to the feast of the Holy Innocents, whom we’ll honor in the Sacred Liturgy in two days.  To some, the celebration of these martyrs within just days of celebrating the birth of the tiny God-man might seem inapt, if not downright macabre.  In truth, the Sacred Liturgy is focusing our attention on the integrity of our Faith.

After all, today’s First Reading—relating to us the martyrdom of Stephen—is set not long after the birth of the Church at Pentecost.  St. Stephen, we might say, is the “first fruits” of Pentecost.

“Jesus was born into this world only in order to teach us how to die to this world.”  St. Stephen’s faith-filled martyrdom focuses our attention on this truth.  Each of us in our turn must accept death, by means of the spiritual practice of mortification, as a way of life.

St. Stephen Stoning - Rembrandt

The Nativity of the Lord

The Nativity of the Lord
[VIGIL MASS]  Isaiah 62:1-5  +  Acts 13:16-17,22-25  +  Matthew 1:1-25 or 1:18-25
[MASS AT NIGHT]  Isaiah 9:1-6  +  Titus 2:11-14  +  Luke 2:1-14
[MASS AT DAWN]  Isaiah 62:11-12  +  Titus 3:4-7  +  Luke 2:15-20
[MASS DURING THE DAY]  Isaiah 52:7-10  +  Hebrews 1:1-6  +  John 1:1-18
December 25, 2019

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click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Solemnity (5:31)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Solemnity

click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Solemnity (10:27)

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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2018 homily for this Solemnity

click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2012 homily for this Solemnity

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2000 homily for this Solemnity

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And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us ….

When we live for so many years as Christians, we can become numb to just how strange an idea Christmas is:  two thousand years ago, the God who created the heavens and the earth was born as a human being.  We might appreciate this mystery better if we described Christmas as a celebration of love being born as a human being.

Love is something that all of us want in our lives, and all of us pursue love throughout our lives.  The difficulty with love is that so many people define love in so many different ways.

Often when we try to offer love to others, we find ourselves at cross-purposes.  Love, for many, is an idea that we have in our minds.  Unfortunately, it often doesn’t serve as the anchor of what we say and do.

God, however, is always straightforward in what He says and does.  On this Christmas Day, He proclaims to the world, “A child is born in your midst, and He is My Son.”  To Mary and Joseph, God entrusted Love incarnate in a manner that they could see, hear, and hold in their arms.  It was the vocation of Mary and Joseph to care for this treasure as He grew up in Nazareth.

It was the vocation of Mary and Joseph to care for Jesus as He drew closer to the purpose of His life on this earth:  the revelation upon Calvary of God’s love as Divine Mercy.  This is a love that is given not only to relatives and friends, but a love that is given to sinners.

“Love” is the definition of God.  St. John tells us in his first letter that “love consists in this:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has given us His Son as an offering for our sins” [1 Jn 4:10].  The Love who is born in the flesh on Christmas Day is the Love who offers His life for us on Good Friday.

By sending His Only Son to be become one of us, God the Father is proclaiming to us our destiny.  He is revealing to each of us how much He longs for us to live forever as His adopted daughters and sons in Heaven.  The means loving others as God loves us.

While we might not usually think of Christmas this way, at Christmas God the Father is reminding us that we humans are sinners, and that we cannot live on our own.  This is the second mystery revealed by calling Jesus “Emmanuel”.  When we say that Jesus is “God with us”, we believe not only that God became an infant.  We also believe that He came for our sake, to reveal true love to us in His Divine Mercy.

He’s not only God with us:  He is God for us.

Nativity - Rembrandt

December 24 – Late Advent Weekday [Morning Mass]

December 24 – Late Advent Weekday [Morning Mass]
II Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16  +  Luke 1:67-79
December 24, 2019

   “…the dawn from on high shall break upon us….”    

This morning’s Scriptures are beautiful in their simplicity.  The Gospel passage is a prophecy.  We’re so familiar with the Benedictus from praying Lauds each day that we might forget the words by which St. Luke the Evangelist introduces this hymn:  “Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying….”

Zechariah, remember, was a priest “of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron” [Luke 1:5].  Zechariah and Elizabeth symbolize the priestly power of the Old Testament, and God’s transformation of it into prophecy within the New Covenant.  Zechariah the priest prophesied.

Also, Zechariah here was “filled with the Holy Spirit”.  St. Luke the Evangelist uses this phrase throughout his infancy narratives purposefully.  When the angel appears in Temple to announce to the priest Zechariah, who was burning incense, the conception of his son, the angel proclaims that “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” [Lk 1:15].

Six months later at the Visitation, “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry” [Lk 1:41-42].  Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and thereby exclaims a prophecy about Mary and her Son.

Likewise, in today’s Gospel passage, the Old Covenant comes to an end.  Zechariah, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, prophesies about his new-born son, John the Baptist.  The canticle concludes with imagery of a morning, which is fitting on this morn that lies on the threshold of Christmastide:  “In the tender compassion of our God / the dawn from on high shall break upon us, / to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, / and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  That way starts tomorrow morning.

Advent December 24