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Translation

THE JEWISH WAR
War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

THE ANTIQUITIES
Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

OTHER WRITINGS
Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2
Autobiog.


Apocrypha
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Introduction

Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Various
Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Tests_12_Patriarchs
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Barnabas
Bartholomew
John
Matthew
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Barnabas
Philip
Pilate
Thaddaeus
Thomas in India
Lectionary
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MASS-CALENDAR-2014
January 2014
February 2014
March 2014
April 2014
May 2014
June 2014
July 2014
August 2014
September 2014
October 2014
November 2014
December 2014

Readings Generic
Sundays of
Advent
Xmastide
Lent-A
Lent-B
Lent-C
Easter-A
Easter-B
Easter-C

Solemnities
Funerals
Weddings

Ord-Time Year-A
Suns 1-11
Suns 12-22
Suns 23-34

Ord-Time Year-B
Suns 1-11
Suns 12-22
Suns 23-34

Ord-Time Year-C
Suns 1-11
Suns 12-22
Suns 23-34

Weekdays of
Advent
Lent
Eastertide
Ord-Wks 1-11
Ord-Wks 12-22
Ord-Wks 23-34

Patristic
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Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria

Christmastide Readings and Homilies

Sunday within Octave (Holy Family)
Year A
   Year B   Year C

Mary, Mother of God

2nd Sunday after Christmas

The Epiphany of the Lord

The Baptism of the Lord

Nativity

The Nativity of Our Lord

Midnight Mass

Is 9:1-6. The beautiful prophecy of a saviour-child who will rescue his people from darkness and oppression and bring them to peace and security.

Tit 2:11-14. Saint Paul reminds us that our Christian faith still looks forward to the final coming of Christ in glory at the end of time.

Lk 2:1-14. At a priveleged time in history, and in very ordinary circumstances, Jesus, the long awaited Saviour, was born.

Theme: Today, the birthday of Jesus Christ, born in a stable because there was no room at the inn. We can best honour his birthday by opening our hearts and homes to whoever needs our care.

For the Homily

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness-on them light has shined.

You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

His authorityshall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Resp. Psalm: Ps 96:1-3, 11-13

O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
Let the heavens be glad,
and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.

Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Gospel: Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

We pray:

- that as he once was born in utter simplicity, Jesus Christ will be reborn in our own hearts today.

- that we may open our hearts and even our homes to the most needy of our brothers and sisters.

- that Christians may show a special concern for the homeless, and for the unemployed, this winter.

- that at this time of family reunions, all visitors will be received in a great spirit of kindness and - if need be - of reconciliation.

 

Dawn Mass

Is 62:11-12. With the birth of our Lord the Christian people can taste a great joy, like that of the Jewish exiles returning from Babylon.

Ti 3:4-7. We ourselves did nothing to merit the birth of Christ; rather, God sent his Son out of compassion for us.

Lk 2:15-20. With Mary we are invited to ponder on the deep meaning of the birth of Christ so that, with the shepherds, we may be moved to glorify and praise God.

For the Homily

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 62:11-12

The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth:
Say to daughter Zion, "See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him."
They shall be called, "The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;"
and you shall be called, "Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken."

Resp. Psalm: Ps 97:1, 6, 11-12

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
and all the peoples behold his glory.
Light dawns for the righteous,
and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!

Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Gospel: Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Mass during the Day

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 52:7-10

Resp. Psalm: Ps 98:1-6

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6

Gospel: John 1:1-18

Is 52:7-10. A prophecy describing the joy of the faithful watchmen, when they see the Lord, their Saviour, face to face. The whole world will see the saving work of God.

Heb 1:1-6. The son born of Mary is the eternal Son of the Father, the image of the invisible God, and the one through whom all things were made.

Jn 1:1-18. The opening words of Saint John's Gospel which describes in sublime terms the eternal nature of the Word who in his incarnation became the source of light and life for all men.

Theme: Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in our world, though he was with God the Father before all ages. His birth opens up for us a glorious new identity, as children of God.

For the Homily

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.

Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

Resp. Psalm: Ps 98:1-6

O sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.

Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son"? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."

Gospel: John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'")

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.


Sunday within Octave (Holy Family)

Year A

First Reading: Book of Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

Resp. Psalm: Ps 128:1-5

Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21

Gospel: Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

Sir 3:3-7,14-17. A practical application of the fourth commandment, that we should honour our parents, not only when we are young, but also when they are old and in need of care.

Col 3:12-21. Paul's summary of the kindness and help which should characterize the relationships between all Christians, but are particularly applicable within the family.

Mt 2:13-15,19-23. Tells of the flight into Egypt and of the early dangers faced by the Holy Family before they settled down to the hidden life of Nazareth.

Theme: Family life is experiencing a crisis of stability, often not caused by economic hardship. Today's feast invites us to meditate on our own contribution to family life.

For the Homily

Becoming a holy family

Inspiration for Christian families

Refugees, Anchored by Family

The Holy Family of Nazareth

First Reading: Book of Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

For the Lord honors a father above his children,

and he confirms a mother's right over her children.

Those who honor their father atone for sins,

and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure.

Those who honor their father will have joy in their own children,

and when they pray they will be heard.

Those who respect their father will have long life,
and those who honor their mother obey the Lord;
My child, help your father in his old age,
and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
even if his mind fails, be patient with him;
because you have all your faculties do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
and will be credited to you against your sins

Resp. Psalm: Ps 128:1-5

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord,
who walks in his ways.
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion.
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life.

Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-21

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.

Gospel: Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

- that, like the family of Nazareth, we may appreciate those with whom we live, and treasure the virtues of harmony and peace.

- for the whole human race, often divided by national, religious and social conflicts, that we may grow towards a better family atmosphere.

- for those whose home life has broken up or whose marriages have proved unhappy, that they may turn to God and be comforted.

- for children whose parents have separated or divorced, that their own lives may not be overshadowed or derailed by this experience.

- for ongoing loving partnership between husbands and wives, and that they may fulfil their married vocation of mutual love and support.

Year B

First Reading: Book of Genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3

Resp. Psalm: Ps 105:1-6, 8-9

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19

Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3. God gave assurance to Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child, to pass on the family inheritance. After long delay, the promise is fulfilled, when Isaac is born.

Heb 11:8,ff. Continues the theme of promise and inheritance, but adds that Abraham's rugged and obedient faith played an important part, as his response to God's promise.

Luke 2:22-40. The presentation of Jesus in the Temple shows how Joseph and Mary were faithful to Jewish religious law. With joy, old Simeon makes his prophecy about Jesus' future mission.

Theme: Today's feast of the Holy Family invites us to meditate on our own place, both in our domestic family and in the family of the church.

For the Homily

Becoming a holy family

Inspiration for Christian families

Refugees, Anchored by Family

The Holy Family of Nazareth

First Reading: Book of Genesis 15:1-6, 21:1-3

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."

But Abram said, "O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the Lord came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness...

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.

Resp. Psalm: Ps 105:1-6, 8-9

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
O offspring of his servant Abraham,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
He is mindful of his covenant forever,
of the word that he commanded,
for a thousand generations,
the covenant that he made with Abraham,
his sworn promise to Isaac.

Second Reading: Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-and Sarah herself was barren-because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, "as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore."

By faith (too), Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, "It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you." He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead-and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
"Master, now you are dismissing your servant
in peace, according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Year C

First Reading: First Book of Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28

Resp. Psalm: Ps 83:1-2, 4-5, 8-9

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24

Gospel: Luke 2:41-52

1 Sam 1:20-22, 24-28. Hannah's joy, when she finally gives birth to her long awaited son, Samuel. Out of sheer gratitude, she offers the boy to serve God in the temple at Shiloh.

1 Jn 3:1-2, 21-24. God's loving care for us is such that we are truly his children. The sign that we are living as God's family is when we fulfil Jesus' great commandment of love.

Lk 2:41-52. While attending a Passover festival, Jesus is lost in Jerusalem and is found only on the third day. Mary and Joseph discover that he must be in his Father's House.

Theme: Today's feast of the Holy Family invites us to meditate on our own place, both in our domestic family and in the family of the church. (ad lib.; celebrant may choose same texts as Year A)

For the Homily

Becoming a holy family

Inspiration for Christian families

Refugees, Anchored by Family

The Holy Family of Nazareth

First Reading: First Book of Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28

In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the Lord." The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, "As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time."

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, "Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord." She left him there for the Lord.

Resp. Psalm: Ps 83:1-2, 4-5, 8-9

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.
Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed.

Second Reading: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Gospel: Luke 2:41-52

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety." He said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.


Mary, Mother of God

(January 1st, Octave of Christmas)

First Reading: Book of Numbers 6:22-27

Resp. Psalm: Ps 67:1-2, 4, 5-6

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7

Gospel: Luke 2:16-21

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

Num 6:22-27. The solemn priestly blessing, a prayer that God would bless and protect us and be gracious to us, is especially apt at the beginning of a new year.

Gal 4:4-7. Through the Incarnation, the distance between God and man has been bridged and now we can call God "Abba! Father!"

Lk 2:16-21. The visit of the shepherds on the first Christmas night. The closing verse, about Jesus' circumcision eight days later, makes it an apt reading for the octave day of Christmas.

Theme: We grow attached to our religion by tasting its stories and images. One of the most powerful is the Christmas story, that introduces Mary, the virgin Mother of God.

For the Homily

Splendour in Simplicity

The Mary-Image

New Year Resolution with Mary

Surprised by God

New Start

First Reading: Book of Numbers 6:22-27

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Resp. Psalm: Ps 67:1-2, 4, 5-6

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known upon earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
May God continue to bless us;
let all the ends of the earth revere him.

Second Reading: Galatians 4:4-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Gospel: Luke 2:16-21

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

We pray:

- that Mary, the Mother of God will lead us to a closer friendship with Jesus her Son.

- that Mary, the Mother of God and mother of mercy, will be the model inspiring our concern for others.

-that Mary who stood by the cross as her Son was dying, may comfort all who are bereaved or grieved by illness or loss.

- that Mary, the Mother of God will pray for us and protect us "now and at the hour of death."


2nd Sunday after Christmas

First Reading: Book of Sirach 24:1-2, 8-12

Resp. Psalm: Ps 147:12-15, 19-20

Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18

Gospel: John 1:1-18

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

Sir 24:1-2,8-12. Lyrical praise of the wisdom which God has revealed to men. This was most fully revealed in Christ, Wisdom incarnate, or the Word made flesh, as today's Gospel tells.

Eph 1:3-6,15-18. We are God's adopted children, belonging to him as the adoption through his only Son, Jesus. We should try to grow in our understanding of this dignity.

Jn 1:1-18: If the eternal Son of God has become man for our sakes, we ourselves must become more fully human, and treat others with a spirit of grace and truth.

Theme: It seems, the more our standard of living improves, the less we practice the virtue of hospitality. But this virtue is not an optional extra for whoever values our Christian identity.

For the Homily

Come Into The Parlour

A Word We Can Touch

How do we answer?

He came to his own

The Word Became Flesh

First Reading: Book of Sirach 24:1-2, 8-12

Wisdom praises herself,
and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:

"Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, "Make your dwelling in Jacob,
and in Israel receive your inheritance."
Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.

In the holy tent I ministered before him,
and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
and in Jerusalem was my domain.
I took root in an honored people,
in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

Resp. Psalm: Ps 147:12-15, 19-20

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your children within you.
He grants peace within your borders;
he fills you with the finest of wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his ordinances.

Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world
to be holy and blameless before him in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ,
according to the good pleasure of his will,
to the praise of his glorious grace
that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.

Gospel: John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

We pray:

- that our hospitality may not be limited to social acquaintances only.

- that we may always welcome guests and strangers into our homes.

- that we may in some practical ways share our bread with the world's hungry.

- that the goodness and love of Christ may shine out through us, his followers and friends.


The Epiphany of the Lord

Sunday between 2 January and 8 January (Same, all Years)

Is 60:1-6. In the age to come, the Messiah, the Saviour King, will reveal his glory to all the nations. To work for this is now the mission of the Church.

Eph 3:2-3, 5-6. The salvation revealed in Christ is for everyone. In his Church, there can be no exclusivness or racial distinction.

Mt 2:1-12. The visit of the Magi fulfils of the prophecy that the glory of the Messiah would be manifested to all the nations.

Theme: The Wise Men followed a star to discover the birth of God's Son in Bethlehem. If there is to be epiphany in our lives, like them we must use our heads as well as our hearts in our search for Christ.

For the Homily

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 60:1-6

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look around;
they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms.

Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Resp. Psalm: Ps 71:1-2, 7-8, 10-13

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king's son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute,
may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts.
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations give him service.
For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.

Second Reading: Epistle to the Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6

Surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

We pray:

- that our minds and hearts may always be enlightened by the gift of Christian faith.

- that the expression of our faith may be intellectually honest, and that we may continue as searchers for truth, all through life.

- that the church may always cherish its writers and intellectuals, and allow for loyal criticism of our practices.

- that a spirit of probing scholarship be nurtured and respected, in our society and in the church.


The Baptism of the Lord
(Sunday after Epiphany)

= First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Is 42:1-4, 6-7. A servant of God, a chosen one, will courageously serve God and help others to salvation - like Jesus, this servant "fulfils all righteousness."

Acts 10:34-38. The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan was an "anointing with the Holy Spirit" after which he went about doing good. Baptism gives us, too, the power to do good.

Mt 3:13-17. Although baptised by John, Jesus was not personally a sinner. His mission was to show whatever sinful man had to do in order to be restored to friendship with God.

(Alternatives available for Year B and Year C, below)

For the Homily

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Resp. Psalm: Ps 29:1-4, 9-10

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, "Glory!"
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

Second Reading: Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38

Then Peter began to speak to them: "I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Gospel: Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented.

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom am well pleased."

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

We pray:

- that we, followers of Jesus, may bring forth justice to others, seeing things through his eyes, and his spirit.

- for the victims of violence, that you may heal their wounds.

- for the perpetrators of violence, that you may extinguish the hatred in their hearts.

- for ourselves, that we may love our country without hating its enemies.

 

Christmastide Homilies

Midnight Mass (Christmas)
(Is 9:1-6 - Tit 2:11-14 - Lk 2:1-14)

Long Awaited Saviour

In the countryside close to Bethlehem, on the first Christmas night, St Luke tells us, there were shepherds watching over their flocks, when an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them. At first fearful and bewildered, the shepherds were reassured by the angel. "Do not be afraid," he said to them, "here is a sign for you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

"Here is a sign for you." In the Old Testament there were many such signs which were regarded as visible evidence of the presence and purpose of God. For example, in the greatest of these, when Moses received the Tables of the Law from God on Mount Sinai, we find the traditional signs of that time denoting the presence of God, peals of thunder, lightning, flashes of fire, the ground shaking. The reaction of the people was one of fear and awe, and they said to Moses, "Do not let God speak to us, or we shall die." Yet, while Moses was speaking to God on their behalf on the mountain, their faith grew weak, to the extent that they fell into idolatry and worshipped a golden calf.

Four hundred years later, on the same mountain, we have another sign, a further self-revelation by God, this time to the great prophet Elijah, who stood in a cave while the Lord passed by. Then, we are told, there came a mighty wind, followed by an earthquake and by fire, but God was not in any of these; he was no longer associated with the forces of nature. But after the fire there came the "whisper of a gentle breeze," or taking the Hebrew literally, "a still small voice," and when Elijah heard this he covered his face, because he felt himself in the presence of God, and no one, it was believed, could gaze upon the face of the Almighty God and live. Elijah regarded God as a Spirit who was beyond human comprehension. Yet again, while all this was taking place, the people of Israel were in a state of revolt against God, and lapsed into idolatry.

In the light of these two signs we can try and understand the sign granted to the shepherds of Bethlehem, that of the baby in the manger. For it is here, we can say with certainty, that we have the greatest self-communication of all time by God to the human race. There is nothing of the fire or lightning of Mount Sinai, but the glory of the Lord. There is no dreadful rumbling of earthquake or thunder, but a heavenly host praising God and proclaiming peace to the world. And although there is the still small voice, which somehow recalls that which was heard by the prophet Elijah, it is rather the first earthly sound made by a newborn child. But in complete contrast to the other two signs, this new sign of the baby in the manger,is not one to instill terror into the hearts of those privileged to gaze upon him.

Later on in his public life, Christ in a reference to the Cross was to say, "when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself" (Jn 12:32). And in the humility of his birth, in the gathering of some lowly shepherds drawn to his manger, he was from his first moments on earth already preaching the lesson of self-abandonment that he would preach in so complete a way during his last moments on Calvary. What one among us is not touched by the helplessness of a new born babe. The infant lying in the manger, on the threshold of life, is a sign to melt the heart, to draw all people, as would the crucified one on the Cross with the last agonising breath of his life.)

But the tragedy is that this sign, like the other two, would be met largely with unconcern, misunderstanding and disbelief. Christ would be rejected by the leaders of Israel, the Pharisees, Scribes, Priests, and the majority of its people, because he did not correspond to their expectations of what the Messiah should be.

We should not travel down that road, nor turn our backs on the actions of the Holy Spirit by trying to hold on to our own concepts of God. Rather opening our minds, we must let ourselves be drawn, let our hearts be melted by the consideration of God assuming a tiny, frail human form, and being laid in a manger. May our faith in Christ then be reborn this Christmas day, because only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of those things which at present remain "hidden from our view" (Heb 11:1).

No Room For Them

I have never quite been able to make up my mind about Christmas cards. From year to year, I blow hot and cold about it.

There is a commercialism about them which I find mildly offensive. The real problem is deciding who to send them to. My friends are easily counted. If I settled for that as the criterion, I would add little to the postman's load. But the lines get blurred and the list expands. in the end, I include everybody who might be vaguely suspected of choosing me as a recipient of their seasonal greetings. The lists never match and invariably there is a last minute rush to fill the gaps. Whatever the defects of the custom are, the thought behind it is undeniably good.

It is a pity Christmas cards so rarely reflect an authentic gospel message about the birth of Christ. My ideal one can only be transmitted verbally. it is a simple black and white line drawing, depicting a street with a row of houses. A few subtle touches - a milk bottle outside the door, a cat curled up on a windowsill, an open window with a fluttering curtain - indicating that all the houses are lived in. In the centre of the picture, a man stands knocking at a door. His head is turned towards the street, where a woman stands waiting. Below, there is a caption, only visible to the inner eye. What is remarkable about this card is that the street depicted is instantly recognisable to each recipient. It is, in fact, the street where each lives. The stranger is standing at the door of your home. To read the caption, you must look deeply into your own heart. There, unless you are a Mother Teresa or an Abbé Pierre, you will find in bold capitals: NO ROOM.

The litmus-test is easy and foolproof . When last did you stretch out a helping hand to someone in need? Or open your heart and your home to somebody in want? How often have you shut your eyes and your door on the needs of others? Every knock on our door left unanswered is a rejection of Christ. If Christ is not born in our hearts and in our homes this Christmas, then what happened in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago is no cause for celebration.

Grafted to the Tree of Life

Words are often the weakest method of communication. However, we have to use words, and today's gospel is an attempt, in simple language, to describe what happened on that extraordinary day, so long ago. It speaks of Jesus being born, and of the second meeting of heaven and earth, on that same night, when the angels appeared to the shepherds. This was the beginning of a process that is still on-going, as I speak. It is an old story that is ever new.

I don't know a great deal about gardening or horticulture, so I'm just passing on to you something that I heard from a person who works in this field (if you'll excuse the pun.). If you took a branch from an oak tree, and grafted in on to an apple tree, it would never produce apples. It is a different species of tree, with different genes. If you took a branch from a crab tree, and grafted it on to an apple tree, you would be coming nearer to the ideal, even though this branch would never produce apples either. It is, of course, of a similar species and genes, but there remains one last obstacle. The branch of the crab tree is full of its own sap, so the sap from the apple tree cannot enter into it. Firstly, it is necessary to stick the branch of the crab tree in the ground, and leave it there until it is completely drained of all of its own sap and, to all intents and purposes, looks as if it is actually dead. It is then grafted on to the apple tree, it draws new life from the tree, and within a year, it is producing apples. If Jesus did not take on my nature, I could never be grafted on to him. Our species and genes would be different, and I could never possibly become a branch of the vine that he is.

"Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and always." With God there is no such thing as time. All of time is totally present to him right now. God's work among us is always in process, it never comes to an end. In God's eyes, Christmas is an everyday event, that involves Jesus knocking on the door of my heart, seeking admission. The God-dimension never changes, the offer is always there, the good news is delivered with greater consistency than the morning newspaper. What happens after that is totally dependent on whether I accept the offer, open the door, and make my heart available as a manger.

One important point: The shepherds were given the message by angels, which is fairly good authority, and yet they said, "Let us go to Bethlehem and see for ourselves this wonderful thing which the Lord has made known to us." The life of the Christian is a journey from revelation to faith. It involves coming to find out for myself the truth and the reality of what I had been told by my parents, teachers, or preachers in church. I have to cross that bridge. The gospel is in between two phrases. At the beginning, we are invited to "Come and see," and, at the end, we are instructed to "Go and tell."

The Jesus of Bethlehem is the same today as he was last year, as he was that first Christmas night. What can have greatly changed are the conditions within my heart. It could happen, for example, that today is the first day he has really felt at home in my heart, because it might be the first occasion in which he is genuinely welcomed, and made at home. If I can get this right, then, of course, this will certainly be the greatest Christmas in my life.

When you think of a washing machine, you are conscious of all the cycles through which the wash must go. If you were told now that you were on the final rinse, and that this was your last Christmas on earth, what difference would it make to your celebration of this day?

Have you got a clear idea in your mind exactly what is meant, and what is entailed, in going to Bethlehem to see for yourself this news, which the Lord has told you? Bethlehem, for you, is not a place on a map, it a space within your heart. It is not possible for a human being to fall on his knees, cry out to God, and not be heard. Maybe you haven't been broken enough yet? Maybe you have not yet arrived at any conviction about your powerlessness, and your inability to manage your life. There is little point in speaking about a Saviour to someone who is not convinced that he is a sinner. We own nothing. Everything we have, including life itself, can be snatched from us in an instant.

This is a time of gift giving, and that is just wonderful. All of the gift giving, however, is based on the fact that God gave us his greatest gift of all, his Son Jesus. St Paul reminds us, "Having given us Christ Jesus, will the Father not surely give us everything else?" All is gift, from creation to salvation, redemption, and eternal life. "In this is love, not that we love God, but that God first loved us." The whole idea of Christmas, of love, of gift, of life began with God, comes from God, and belongs to God. Therefore, without God at the centre, the celebration of Christmas is a mockery and a total charade.

For some people Christmas is not a happy time. It is a time of loneliness, a time when a departed one is most keenly missed, when one spends this day far away from family and home, or when, because of alcohol, it becomes a day of violence and abuse. Do I have it within my power today to ensure that those around me find happiness, at least in so far as I can contribute to that?

With all the thanks expressed today for gifts received, make sure you take a few seconds out, now and then, during the day, to say "Thank you, Father, for sending Jesus." "Thank you, Jesus, for coming to speak our language, and to walk the journey with us." Our greatest thanks, of course, is not expressed in words, but in an inner disposition of gratitude, that is, in itself, real prayer. It is not possible to be grateful and unhappy at the same time The coming of Jesus on earth, or into our hearts and homes, is but the beginning of a journey. His coming is more than a one day-wonder. It is the beginning of a journey, the beginning of a story that ends with the words "And they all lived happily ever after." This journey is lived, one day at a time, with each new day requiring its own yes. Life is a journey towards something, which is its completion. Jesus came to lead us on that journey.

"They who follow me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." Like the Wise Men following the star, we are given a way in which to walk, and the gospel is a map for the journey. Jesus himself is our Moses, as well as our manna. "Man/woman will live for evermore, because of Christmas Day."

The young couple were newly married, blissfully happy, but very poor. It was during the Depression in the late 1920s. It was impossible to find work, and social security was almost non-existent. There was one special possession that each had, which gave great joy to each, and to both. She had an absolutely beautiful head of hair that drew attention wherever she went. He had a gold pocket watch, which was precious, because it was a family heirloom from the days of plenty. Part of their love for each other was his joy and delight as he looked at her beautiful hair, and she was forever admiring his gold watch.

It was Christmas Eve. He had gone out in search of a few hours work, and she was at home. Each, unknown to the other, was totally preoccupied with the same single thought, i.e. how on earth can I possibly get some little gift to give the other for Christmas? As she thought about it, she had a sudden reckless impulse, so, out she goes, down town, into a hairdressing salon, has all her hair cut off. She was paid for the hair for use as material for a wig; not much money, but just enough to buy a chain for her husband's watch. She was both happy and afraid, as she returned home - happy to have something to give him, and afraid that, when he saw her cropped hair, he would be annoyed. Her heart missed a beat, mostly from fear, as she heard her husband coming in downstairs, and climbing towards their apartment. She faced away from him as he entered, but finally, she had to turn around. His face was aghast, so she ran towards him with her gift, explaining why she did it, and showing him what she had bought for him. He appeared to wilt with weakness, as, without a word, he reached in his pocket, and handed her a gift. Not a word was spoken, as she opened her gift, to discover that he had bought two beautiful ivory clips for her hair and he had sold his watch to be able to do so.

Love is the only gift that is worthy of Christmas.

Christmas fits in Everywhere

The big celebration begins, a festival of light and love, of joy and laughter, of family and community and world. Light is mentioned almost twenty times in the course of today's liturgy. On one of the darkest days of the year, light explodes all around us. The sun is sneaking back, just as Jesus kind of sneaked into the world in the quiet of Bethlehem. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is a midwinter feast, a time when the days grow a little longer and light and warmth return slowly. For those who live in the Southern Hemisphere, however, it is the beginning of summer. School is over. It is a time for vacation (or as they would call it "holidays"), for rest and relaxation. It marks not the shortest day of the year but the longest, the day of the most light and on the average the most warmth. Christmas fits in everywhere.

Once upon a time there were two kids who were fed up with Christmas. They began an anti-Christmas campaign among their friends. Look, they said, everyone is tense and worn out, moms are tired from cooking, dads from putting up trees and decorations, kids from wrapping presents, neighbours from all the noise and bustle. We open the presents and they're not really what we wanted, though we thought we did. The house is littered with torn wrapping paper, expensive ornaments get knocked off the trees, the little kids go out of control, big kids sulk, mass is too long, the sermons are boring, the music is yucky. We eat too much . . .Who needs it all. So what should we do asked their friends. Strike. Said the two trouble-makers who were, if truth be told, Anarchists of a sort. Refuse to participate. Don't buy any Christmas presents, don't ask for any, refuse those that are given to you, don't decorate the tree, don't eat the pumpkin pie, don't drink the eggnog, don't say merry Christmas to anyone. A few of their friends thought they were crazy. The others thought it was a great idea. But what should we do? The strike leaders went to the priest and asked him what they should do. Well, he said, if you want to welcome the Christ Child without all the fuss and bother, come to church and pray. They thought that was a great idea. How could parents and other grown ups object to their praying on Christmas Day. Well, they prayed for a solid hour, which maybe doubled all their prayer for the whole year. Then one of them rushed out of church and flagged down the priest who was about to drive off to his family's party. We prayed for an hour, Father, the kid said. Can we go home now? An hour? That's a long time to pray. Yeah it kind of is. Well, said the priest I don't think that Jesus would mind one bit if you went home and celebrated with your families. The kids poured out of church with a whoop and a holler just like it was the last day of school.

Christmas Day
(Is 52:7-10 - Heb 1:1-6 - Jn 1:1-18

or (Dawn): Is 62:11-12 - Ti 3:4-7 - Lk 2:15-20)

The light shines out in darkness

For the people of the Old Testament, light and darkness were more than natural phenomena. They tended to associate them often with virtue and wickedness in the community, and also with the day of the Lord's coming. Indeed, at Qumran on the Dead Sea shoreline, during the life-time of Jesus, light and darkness were seen as two opposing kingdoms, and the sun's victory over darkness was held to be a symbol of the triumph of faith over the blind pursuit of evil. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." So begins the Bible account of the first creation, and when it was ended, "God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good."

But this original goodness and justice was to be shattered, because of our first parents' abuse of the freedom of will granted them by God, so that once again, as the prophet Isaiah describes it (Is 60:2), "darkness came to cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples." To dispel this darkness, a new creation was needed, and the ideal of goodness and perfection became a living reality, when the light of Christ came into the world. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; for those who lived in a land of deep shadow a light has shone" (Is 9:2). For God, who had created man in his own image and likeness, had now identified with the human race, and by assuming the body of a child in the image of man, had lowered himself and become one of us.)

It has become a tradition to associate snow with Christmas, and when it does come, shrouding everything with its white mantle, a stillness settles over the countryside, especially at night-time. That combination of darkness and stillness was the setting for the first Christmas. As the Book of Wisdom states, "When all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the middle of her course, your almighty Word leaped down from heaven, from your royal throne" (Wis 18:14f). It was as if God was saying a second time, "Let there be light" - let the gloom and darkness, which to such an extent exemplify the fallen and corrupt nature of the human race, be lifted, ushering in a new age of glory to God and peace on earth among all its people. And so an angel of the Lord appeared to some humble shepherds tending their flocks in the enveloping darkness, and the brightness of the Lord shone round them. "Do not be afraid," the angel reassured them. "Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

These words are addressed to us also. We too must listen, listen in the stillness of our hearts, and, like the shepherds, we must hasten, and with eagerness draw near to Christ. "And the shepherds came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger." They "found" implies effort on their part; they had to search. But their search was not in vain. "And seeing, they understood the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child."

Likewise, we must search for Christ, hasten to him with eagerness, and in the quiet times of prayer, when we are alone with God, understanding of our need for Christ will come to us. St Augustine says that prior to conceiving Christ in her womb, Mary first conceived him in her heart, in a spiritual manner, by her faith. The Church in faith is referred to as the Spouse of Christ, in other words, its members are called to be sisters and brothers of Christ. It is more difficult, Augustine goes on, to understand that the Church is the Mother of Christ. But this is also true, and it was Christ himself who first gave it that title, when he declared, "Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother and sister and mother" (Mt 12:50). The Church is the Mother of Christ in that, by obedience to the will of the Father, she brings Christ into being in the world. But we, its members, are the Church, and so we can give birth to Christ, become mothers of Christ, in a purely spiritual way, by doing God's holy will.

And Augustine is quite adamant, "this is something that is not out of your reach; it is not beyond you, it is not incompatible with you. You have become children; be mothers as well" (Sermon 72A). In the final sentences of the Bible, Christ makes this promise, "I shall indeed be with you soon." May our response be "Amen, come Lord Jesus" (Rev 22:20).

Hear ye! Hear ye!

We are all familiar with the story of today's gospel (using Luke 2). It is a balanced gospel, in that it speaks about the birth of Jesus and, in the shepherds, we see a clear response to the good news of his birth.

We are all familiar with the evidence that the news on television, radio, and in the papers in often bad news. It may not strike us that if good news became so scarce and so unusual that it merited front page coverage whenever it happened, we'd be in serious trouble indeed. We also hear the phrase that "No news is good news." Something that betokens our fears of the possibilities in our lives. Bad news for one person is often good news for someone else, as we listen to the results of football matches, or the Lotto results. On the other hand, bad news can be bad news for everyone, as we read about some natural catastrophe, or some carnage on the roads. It would be interesting to reflect on my answer to the question, "What good news would I like to hear today?" I must remember, of course, that my answer to that question can be different with each new day. And then there is good news that is good for everyone for now, for always, for eternity.

This is a day for rejoicing, for singing songs of praise with the angels in heaven. The long-awaited Messiah has arrived, the long night of darkness is over, and the Saviour has come to bring us home Out of the slavery of Egypt. The whole thing was so simple, without fanfare, without fuss. No wonder we sing "Silent Night." It is also a holy night. Emmanuel has come and his name is Jesus. "Emmanuel" means "God is with us," and the name "Jesus" means "Saviour." It is a "Hear ye. Hear ye." night, when the heralds should be sent to every corner of the globe to proclaim the birth of freedom, of hope, and of victory.

As it happened, the heralds on the night were angels, and the hearers were shepherds. There is a strange irony in this, because, in those days, no one believed the word of a shepherd. Many of us remember the same being applied to the stories of sailors about all the places they visited, and all the wonders they saw. The shepherds spent their nights out under the stars and, with the occasional falling or shooting star, and being in a state of falling in and out of sleep, it is understandable that strange things seemed to happen, and to go bump in the night.

If today's gospel went on for one more paragraph, it would present us with a very important message. The angels proclaimed the message, the shepherds heard it. What were they to do next? The gospel goes on to tell that they decided to go to Bethlehem and see for themselves all the things which the Lord told them. That is the bridge we all have to cross; from knowledge to experiential knowledge, to go and see for ourselves. The gospel is in between two phrases, "Come and See" and "Go and Tell."

In a beautiful way, children can often be seen to have it right. They get terrific excitement about what is a wonderful occasion, jingle bells and all, and yet, to watch the face of a child as she kneels at the crib is to get a glimpse of just how uncomplicated the whole story is. If you were to continue watching the child as she gets up from the crib, you may well see her dash out the door to display her new clothes, or rush home to enjoy the goodies. It is all part of the gift. The greatest gift of all, of course, is the gift from the Father of his Son Jesus. All other gifts get their meaning from that. "If God has so loved us, then we, surely, should love one another."

It is not uncommon today to hear a young person complain of being bored. It is interesting to note that this word "bore," as against drilling holes in something, comes from the French bourrer, which means to stuff until full, to satiate. It implies being full, with no room for more. No room in the Inn? Another expression we hear is when someone is described as being full of herself, once again implying someone who has no space for others in her life. There is a hole in the human heart and, despite all the pursuit of wealth, power, or pleasure; nothing can fill it but God. "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts can never be at peace until they rest in you," was the prayer of St Augustine.

I can think of today in two ways. One way is to think of it as something that happened thousands of years ago. Another way is to think of it, and see it, as something that is happening today, something of which we all are part. I believe that if I don't bring it into today, and become part of it, I will miss the whole thing. Another Christmas will have come and gone, and the manger of my heart still lies empty, and I'm out in the open, minding and counting sheep, and not going anywhere. Today is a wonderful moment of grace and, like any moment in my life, it can be grasped and embraced, or ignored and let slip by.

Probably none of us lives an enclosed life, or lives the life of a hermit. Therefore, most of us have to find time for things amidst the bustle of life, which is already making great demands on our time. On a day like today, however, I must have time, prime time, to get involved in the real reason for the season. The consolation about this is that it needs only a few moments, but they must be moments when I go down into my heart, throw myself on my knees before the manger there, and welcome Jesus to make his home in me. It must be my own personal welcome, my own personal "yes." For all the hearts and homes that have been closed to him since that first Christmas night, I can throw open the door of my heart and of my home, and say "Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus," which are the last words of the whole Bible, something that is very significant.

One of the blocks I can have, when it comes to dealing with the Lord, is that I may have settled for being unworthy, not good enough, someone who would not be very "religious," if I may use that word. This has absolutely nothing to do with it. Do you think that the world, and everybody in it, was good enough, was open and ready, and was welcoming on that first Christmas night? The very reasons that might come up in my mind to prevent me being open to the gift of today are the very reasons why I qualify for that same gift. Jesus came to call sinners. Do you think you qualify?

It is important to remember that God doesn't give me anything; rather he offers me everything. It's entirely up to me whether I decide to accept the gift or not. Scripture quotes God as saying "I offer you life or death. Choose life." Jesus said that he came that we should have life, and have it more abundantly. "Man/woman shall live forevermore, because of Christmas Day." Part of our experience of this occasion is the giving and accepting of gifts. The Father offers each one of us the gift of his only Son, Jesus. I often receive gifts for Christmas for which I have absolutely no use, and which I do not require. In this case, however, I am offered a gift that is essential for life now, and for eternal life. Even God can do no better than make the offer, and await your reply. (Note: Need for a few moments of quiet reflection at this time.)

Supposing it was announced throughout the world that God was sending his Son down on earth to live among us, to forgive and heal us, and to accompany us through death into eternal life. How do you think the preparation would go, for those who would be interested? The first thing to do would be to set up a Committee, with full plenary powers. This would be done by a deed of charter from the UN, and the Committee would be representative of all colours, gender, and ages. This Committee, in turn, would appoint several sub-committees, to whom it would delegate the nuts and bolts of the welcoming, co-ordinating, and organising needed for such an event. Firstly, there would be the Welcoming Committee, whose task would involve the choice of location, and all the logistics that would be needed for such a place. Next there would be a Public Relations Committee, to whom would be entrusted the job of maximising the advertising of the event, through public media, the Internet, and posters on every lamppost. Another Committee could be the No Hard Feelings Committee, to whom would be entrusted the difficult task of settling all rows and disputes that would surely occur during the preparation for the event, and, certainly, during the event itself. There would, of course, be a Protocol Committee who would take care of all the niceties of dealing with dignitaries, red carpets, guards of honour, etc. And, finally, of course, there would be the Fund-raising and Finance Committee, with the all-important task of raising the vast sums of money, from all over the globe, that would be required for the proper and successful undertaking of such a world event.

Just imagine their disbelief and frustration if someone told them that he had already arrived in a completely unknown place, with nobody to welcome him, and with nothing better than a few fists of straw for his bed.

He was homeless

'Only where He was homeless are you and I at home.' So goes one of the lines of GK Chesterton's famous Christmas poem.

Born into a world full of troubles; born into a family getting ready to do a moonlight flit; so came Christ into our world. The harsh realities of his birth were no different to those experienced by the vast majority of human beings over the centuries. It was deliberately so. Not simply so that he could experience human life in all it joys and sorrows and so bring it to redemption; that was hardly necessary for God. No, he was born into our world in poverty and in persecution so that we could more easily identify with him. As Chesterton said, 'Only where He was homeless are you and I at home.'

And we are homeless; we are without a roof over our heads. Not a material roof, certainly none of us here this evening has that problem. But in some way we are homeless, without a home, without a dwelling place. This is what is recognised here in this parish. This community of believers has come together because of a deep realisation on the part of its members that there is no lasting home for us here on earth; that our true dwelling place lies in heaven.

One would think that here in the Catholic Church one would find certainty, stability and changelessness. And in one sense it is so. In any Church ancient traditions are carefully preserved; great efforts are made to provide stability; change is only reluctantly accepted. But in another sense it is not so at all. Here in the Church there is also a deep awareness of the transitory nature of human life. Here there is a concrete realisation of human frailty. Here is a clear understanding that each member is deeply dependent on the others.

The world is changing. In the new Millennium we observe a great increase in the rapidity of change, a great desire for everything to be modern and new. But the danger is that it the change is too fast and modernity too superficial. The impression becomes more important than the substance. And the spin-doctors have become the main determinants of our political and social agenda.

We saw in the last decade of the outgoing 20th century the triumph of capitalism over communism, after a struggle lasting over seventy-five years. But the danger now is that capitalism, left untrammelled, will turn everything into a commodity and the poor will be trampled underfoot.

We have also seen the increased struggle by ethnic groups to assert their national identity and the fragmentation of nation states. All these things, all these threats and uncertainties unite us with the Christ Child. The circumstances of his birth draw us close to him. The vulnerability of the child whose life would be under threat within a few days. Our knowledge of the eventual outcome of his life -at the same time both tragic and victorious. The realisation that all the power of God is focused on this tiny infant, and that also within us is a spark of that same Godliness. These things inexorably draw us towards him.

The years hurtle by and the faith waxes and wanes. In one century it is strong, in another weak. In one country there is powerful witness to Christ, in another we see the debilitating effects of indifference. But whether Christianity is strong or weak this feast of Christmas attracts the whole world, Christian and non-Christian alike. The infant, the lowly manger, his vulnerability, his destiny -it is compelling.

We certainly approach Christ at Christmas in a way that is unique from the rest of the year. The blood and gore of Good Friday and the strange mystery of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday are more difficult for us to deal with. But at Christmas we easily identify with the infant Jesus in his cradle and in his vulnerability, and we feel at one with him. Moreover we feel that he is at one with us.

This parish community gathered here tonight in the dark, in the middle of winter to commemorate in solemn liturgy the mystery of the incarnation is a living witness to the power of this tiny child to conquer our hearts and lives.

This tiny child makes us aware of our own vulnerability. This tiny child makes us aware that all is transitory. In the midst of a great feeding-frenzy of materialism that is the modern-day Christmas this tiny child helps us to realise that material things don't matter and that it is the real values of the Gospel that count -faith, love, hope, trust, reconciliation and all the rest.

He who was born in a stable, and who was so soon to become a refugee helps us to realise the profound importance of a properly ordered family life. He helps us to get our priorities and values straight. He helps us to value all life and to realise that all that lives and breathes has life only from God.

Chesterton was right: 'Only where he was homeless are you and I at home.' And he was right because it is only where Christ is that we truly can be at home.

Mystery of God's Love for Us

Here's a Meditation I have sometimes used instead of a Christmas homily...

Let us adore baby Jesus in the manger. A baby easily wins the heart and love of anyone with human feelings, but how much more does this baby win our heart and love. Let us kneel before baby Jesus and thank him for coming to save us. Thank baby Jesus now in your own words.

Imagine, Jesus, the Son of God and our Saviour born in a stable and placed in a manger instead of in a cot. When God comes he usually comes in humility, silently and peacefully, without causing a great disturbance. Gods humble coming in Jesus would not surprise us if we knew God better. But of course we will never know God sufficiently to understand. So no matter how much we try to understand God becoming human in Jesus we will not be able to comprehend, it will remain a mystery. The best reaction is that of the shepherds, simply to praise God. Let us praise God now in our own words.

As we look on baby Jesus we think of the mystery of Gods love for us. Why did God who is almighty and all-powerful become small and powerless as a baby? Quite simply, out of love for us. God became human so that we might become more like God. Jesus if you had not come as a human like us, we might have had difficulty in believing that God really loved us. But now we know for sure. John the Evangelist says, This is the revelation of Gods love for us, that God sent his only Son into the world that we might have life through him. Let us thank God for revealing his love for us in Jesus, that he who is so big and powerful became so small and weak for us, that he became one of us, to help us be more like him, to have life through him.

As we see baby Jesus in the manger we reflect on Gods way being a way of gentleness and tenderness. Gods way is not one of violence but gentleness. There is a lack of goodness and love in the world but God is tender and loving. As we look on baby Jesus in the manger we see that he is the answer to todays problems. Instead of violence, in baby Jesus in the manger we see gentleness. Instead of hatred, in baby Jesus in the manger we see tenderness. Instead of selfishness, in baby Jesus in the manger we see love for us. Let us ask baby Jesus to help us to be gentle, tender and loving with those around us as he was in the manger.

Jesus in the manger, you give us hope. In the darkness of our world, your light has shone. Your coming in gentleness encourages us to hold out the hand of reconciliation, to help one another, to work for peace. We remember the message of the angels; Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace. Baby Jesus, help us to be people of peace and to spread peace everywhere we go. Let us pray now for peace.

The Reindeer Gospel

 

Santa's most popular reindeer by far is Rudolf, Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer. Here is his story as told in music by Johnny Marks: Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw him, you would even say it glows. All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolf play in any reindeer games. Then one foggy Christmas eve Santa came to say: "Rudolf with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" Then all the reindeer loved him as they shouted out with glee: "Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history." The story of Rudolf, is the story of salvation. It is our story both as individuals and as the human family. In our own case it is not Santa who saves us but the Child Jesus.

To begin with, Rudolf was a misfit. Compared to the image of the ideal reindeer we can say that something was definitely wrong with him. What is more, he was not in any position to help himself. So are we all, misfits, as the Bible tells us. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6). Like lost sheep we are not in a position to help ourselves. Rudolf could not help himself. All that his fellow reindeer did was to makes things worse for him. Only one person could help him, Santa, the messenger from heaven.

Today we celebrate the birth of the Messenger from heaven. As we read in today's gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:1, 14). He comes to liberate us from the human predicament, our sinfulness. For it is sin that mars and disfigures the beautiful image of God that we all are. Sin turns us into a despicable Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer. But the heavenly Messenger comes, not to take away the red nose but to declare to us the Good News that we are acceptable to God even with the red nose. Rudolf's red nose was a defect. But Santa chose him precisely on account of that. The heavenly Messenger has the ability to turn the defects and red noses of our tainted humanity into assets for the service of God. Jesus is this heavenly messenger.

What makes the reindeer gospel so poignant is that Santa does not use his magic wand to heal Rudolf of his red nose defect. He let him go on with the red nose even as his chosen reindeer. Certainly Rudolf would have wanted nothing so much as to be a normal reindeer like all the rest. Similarly Jesus does not simply make us good men and women, rather he makes us into people who can use all their strengths and defects to the service and the glory of God. This is the proof to us that it is not by our own will power that we are able to become children of God. It is by God's grace, by God's unmerited and unconditional love of us. As God tells St Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

How does the grace of God achieve this transformation in us? God's grace works two things in us: enlightenment and empowerment. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). God's truth enlightens us and God grace empowers us. God's truth enlightens us to see ourselves and our world in a new light. It is a word that brings reassurance, affirmation and hope. You can imagine how Rudolf felt when he heard the words of Santa, "Rudolf with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" That is why we call it the Good News. It is news that is liberating and empowering. It empowers us by changing our former disposition of insecurity, despair and hopelessness into that of blessed assurance, new hope and enthusiasm in the Lord's service.

Like Rudolf before Santa, let us today listen to the Message that the Child Jesus brings us, let us commit ourselves into his service without looking back, even when we do not know where the journey will lead us, knowing one thing for sure: that the grace of God will supply the strength we need for the long journey of faith ahead. "For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12).

Sunday within Christmas Octave (Holy Family)
(Sir 3:3-7,14-17, - Col 3:12-21 - Mt 2:13-15,19-23)

Becoming a holy family

Mary and Joseph, by bringing Jesus to the Temple to present him to the Lord, were obviously doing nothing different from any other such family in their area. They fully conformed to the norms of their Hebrew tradition. They never thought of themselves as being in any way exceptional because, anything they had was seen as total gift from God. They led as normal a life as anyone else, and they treated Jesus as any parents would treat a child in those days. It is important to stress the ordinariness of their lives. At no stage did they fully understand the full implications and possibilities of their lives with Jesus. Life is mystery and, like any mystery, it can reveal itself as time goes on. So ordinary had their lives become that, when Simeon spoke his words of prophesy over the baby, we are told that "Joseph and Mary were amazed at what was being said about Jesus."

Thomas Aquinas was probably the greatest theologian, and the greatest mind in the whole field of theology, that this world has ever seen. What amazed everybody about him was that, as a child, he was considered to be stupid, and was treated as such. This is typical of the ways of the Lord. Grace builds on nature, it never replaces it. At Cana it was water; later on it was a few loaves and fishes. It wasn't much, but it was made available to the Lord, and he did the rest. St Paul tells us that God selects what is weak and unimportant in this world so that, by doing so, he can confound the strong. It was important that Jesus, his life, and everything about him, be seen as being absolutely ordinary, because he was like us in all things but sin. The holy pictures of angels flying in and out of the windows of the home in which Jesus grew up is a travesty of the truth, and is most unhelpful in our understanding of the Incarnation. Every family can be a holy family. This does not include the extraordinary, but the ordinary becomes extraordinary when it involves the reality of God and his presence among us.

Mary is the perfect role model for the Christian. She said "yes" to God, and anything that happened after that was total gift, and was the work of the Lord. When she visited Elizabeth, she brought Jesus there, which is the role of the Christian. When she met Simeon, she could place Jesus in his arms, fulfil his life-long ambition, and enable him to face death with joy. When we speak of Jesus, we use words like "Dying you destroyed our death, rising, you restored our life. By your cross and resurrection you have set us free." In other words, if Jesus is in my life, if I have any sense of belonging to the family of God, then surely death should have totally lost its sting, to use the words of St Paul.

Family is an important word in our understanding of relationships. Famulus is the Latin word for servant, and to be a member of a family is to be in a relationship that presumes service of some kind or other. Familia is the Latin for what we call household, which implies a special way of belonging. Being familiar with someone or something implies a certain level of relationship that is comfortable, non-threatening, and mutual. In what we call the Holy Family, there was a totally comfortable relationship between the human and the divine, between the mundaneness of being human, and the omnipotence of being divine. Never before or since has there been such an example of what we can well call a family of God, to which we are all now called. Making space and time for God within the confines of our own family living is to become a holy family.

There is no such thing as the perfect family. I certainly wouldn't like to grow up in a perfect family, because I would be totally unprepared to meet and deal with the realities of living, where nothing is perfect. The highest tribute to a family is to describe it as being good enough. That's as much as a family can hope to achieve. Many of us may have had the privilege of growing up in a family that was good enough. Human goodness is fragile, frail, and limited. Only God can provide a goodness that will be there tomorrow, and for all our tomorrows. A family, where God is given space and time, is truly rich, even if they're not wealthy. (In parenthesis, for those of us who have no immediate family, the word can be used to encompass close friends and associates).

While allowing for the reality of change being part of living, it would be a great pity to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Many of us grew up in homes where there were external images to show that God was part of the home. If you entered a Jewish home, for example, you would touch what I might call a small Torah-box at the front door, which is a reminder of the covenant and the commandments, to all who enter that house. In today's world, some of us may feel ashamed to proclaim our allegiance to God, and to the Christian message, by giving prominence to some public Christian symbol, to remind those who live there, and those who visit, that this is a Christian home. "If you deny me before people," says Jesus; "I will also deny you before my Father who is in heaven."

There are ferocious pressures on family life today. That is a fact, and there is no use moaning about it, or trying to deny it. The question that faces each family member is: "Would I really like this family to be united, to have a sense of closeness, to be a life-giving unit for all its members?" If my answer is "yes," then I have no choice but to face reality. This is something that we cannot do by ourselves. Human nature has within it the power of its own destruction. This is where humility (truth) comes in, that enables us get on our knees, ask for God's blessing, and ask him to do for us something that we can never do for ourselves. Holy means whole or wholesome, and I believe that we all would like to be a member of a holy family.

Before you leave this church today, may I suggest that you go on your knees and ask God's special blessing on your family. This is even more necessary if you see that situation as being hopeless, and beyond repair. Please do this for about one minute every day, and I promise you that you will soon see evidence of being blessed.

It is easy to sit in front of a television set, and feel great compassion for those who are suffering elsewhere. This is good, but it loses its credibility if that same compassion is not available to those nearest to me. If you want to promote justice, peace, and well being in the world, you can take a giant step towards that by beginning in your own family. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

When I am finished talking now, I am suggesting that we should be seated for just one minute to reflect on the following point: Think of each member of your family, and get in touch with how exactly you see each of them. Then unscrew the top of the head of each member, look out through their eyes, and imagine how they might see you.

The building of the kingdom of God has two characteristics: The bricks that go into the building are tiny, and quite hidden. (Salt, yeast, seed, etc., to use the words of Jesus.) It is through all those unremembered acts of kindness and of love that you can turn your home into a life-giving, peace-loving place. Do one thing today, something different, with the awareness that it is done for others, for those around you.

There can be a big difference between a house and a home. One is made up of bricks and plaster, and the other is made up of people. How healthy, how preserved, how safe is your home? (I am not speaking about your house, but your home.) Are you aware of any repairs that are needed, that you can do, and will cost nothing? -

Most of our lives are humdrum and ordinary, and life is what's happening when you're making other plans. On the occasions of baptisms, first communions, weddings, etc., we generally move up a gear or two. We have Christmas, and we have birthdays, to help us be more aware of those around us. The ordinariness of life in Nazareth for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, is not just a nice concept, but also a sacred reality, because Incarnation means that God became ordinary, which is one way of saying that he became one of us.

The day began badly. Whatever he said, he shouldn't have said it, because his wife snapped back at him. Like reading the weather forecast, he could see some lows coming in for the day, so he quietly got his lunchbox ready, slipped out the door, and off to work. The children, however, were not so wise, or so lucky. One lad was doing his homework in the middle of the cornflakes, another couldn't find his socks, and a third was asking for money for something or other. The atmosphere in the kitchen was getting tenser by the second, and, minus their normal hug and good wishes for the day, they were turfed out the door to school. They met their pals but, because they were still upset, they didn't speak to them, and this sparked off another row. Later, in class, not only did Junior not know the answer, but he hadn't even heard the question, so he ended up in the principal's office. What had begun in that kitchen this morning had spread quite a bit by lunchtime.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, ten cigarettes, and twelve cups of tea later, the mother was still in her dressing gown, and she just couldn't get this day off the ground. She was a good woman, a woman of prayer, and someone with a lot of love in her. Suddenly it dawned on her: Not one thing that happened in this house this morning came from God. The thought shook her, she sank on her knees, asked for help, and then she got out her bottle of holy water. She sprinkled the holy water, using the authority given her by Jesus, through her baptism and confirmation, and, within seconds the cloud had lifted, which it always will. She apologised to God for forgetting the only real and true source of peace and well being, and then she phoned her husband, and assured him that it was safe to come home.

If she had continued to forget, she could easily have gone down the road of tranquillisers, alcohol, breakdown, etc. Only God can do God-things, and preserving love, unity, and mutual respect is uniquely the work of God's Spirit.

Inspiration for Christian families

The poet, William Wordsworth, writing about the French Revolution as it appeared to enthusiasts said,

"Bliss was it that dawn to be alive,

but to be young was very heaven."

The same perhaps could be said about Christians in the Apostolic Age, which had a glory and splendour about it that inspired people to acts of heroism in spreading the gospel and living up to its demands. But as early as 100 A.D. things were beginning to change. The thrill of the first years, to a certain extent, had passed. Christianity had become a thing of habit, the wonder had faded, and there were some who wanted to adapt the teaching of Christ to the secular philosophy and outlook of the day. What's new, you might say. The infant Church was in real danger of breaking up into opposing factions under the influence of emerging heresies.

St John, the only surviving Apostle, saw only one remedy for this, and in his First Letter to the Christian communities he expressed it in this rather surprising sentence, "If God has loved us so much, then we also ought to love one another" (4:11). Note he did not say "we also ought to love God," but rather "we ought to love one another." In other words the immediate response to God's love as it envelops each one of us should be to have respect and consideration and love for one another. This is the way we manifest our love for God.)

On this, the Feast of the Holy Family, we could find no more apt advice for all Christian families, especially those which are in danger of splitting up under the stresses and strains of this modern age. Following the advice of St John, we can say that from the moment husband and wife are joined together in marriage, the only way for them to be faithful to God is by being faithful to each other; the concrete way they express their love for God is by the pure and steadfast love that they have for each other. If this love between a husband and wife persists, then their children will grow up in God's love. We can even say that when the children respond to their parents" love for them, then they too are responding to God himself. That which sustains the married relationship of such a couple will be, not so much the house they live in, or the material things they possess, or the securities they have built up for the future, but rather this true love, which they show to each other, and the children God grants them.

The perfect model for any family has got to be the union of Mary and Joseph, who had no possessions, no securities, not even a house to call their own, during the period covered by today's gospel story. We find the protective instinct of Joseph trying to shield Jesus and Mary from the hostility of King Herod. And just as the day would come when Joseph would no longer be there to supply this protection, so no modern father or mother can hope to control indefinitely the situations in which their children find themselves. After all Jesus was only twelve when, lost in the Temple, he began to see the will of his Father for himself in a way completely incomprehensible to both Mary and Joseph.

Mary in the Incarnation being disturbed, Joseph in his dreams being urged to go against traditional custom, Jesus in the Temple acting as he did, all these show that tensions did exist within the Holy Family, tensions which were in no way the consequence of sin, but rather an indication of evolution and growth. It is within the family that spiritual and moral values, attitudes towards each other, towards life, towards God himself, are being passed on, and this not so much by a process of indoctrination, as by a free and natural initiation.

We can only guess as to the extent to which the attitudes of Jesus were formed by Joseph, the man of inner vision, the man of respect for the law, of seeing love as greater than the law, and by Mary, not the meek, male-dominated woman portrayed by commentators in the past, but the one, who could make such far reaching decisions as she did at the Annunciation, the mother who did not try to hold on to her Son, who displayed such remarkable inner strength and calm in the face of all kinds of adversity, in standing by her Son to the end, even to his death on a Cross.

May families always look to Jesus, Mary and Joseph for guidance, for inspiration, for courage, in the glorious but demanding task to which God has called them. Not only will the Holy Family be a model, it will be a source of grace to them as well.

Refugees, Anchored by Family

The gospel tells us about Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to Egypt, to avoid the evil plans of Herod, and of their return from there, when that danger had passed. It is a simple story, but a significant one, and one from which we can learn a great deal about God's overall plan of salvation for all of us.

We are all too familiar, unfortunately, with the reality of refugees in today's world. How often we have seen the ravaged faces of young and old, of mothers and babies, all fleeing before the destructive onslaught of the bully and the tyrant. With all their riches, and all their power, such tyrants are miserably poor, and tragically weak. The greatest evil is that it always seems that it is the innocent who are the victims of greed, aggression, and violence. Not much has changed in this world since the time of Jesus. He himself would be the first to say that, when we look at any one of those innocents on our television screens, we are looking at him.

The journey to and from Egypt has a powerful significance. For the Hebrews, Egypt was a place of slavery and returning from there was the redemption of God, who leads them into the Promised Land. Moses had been a foreshadowing of Jesus, who has come to us in our slavery, to redeem us, and to lead us safely home. His journey into Egypt was a symbol of his joining us in our exile. In becoming like us, he was joining us in our humanity, and was prepared to accompany us on our journey into freedom.

Twice in today's gospel, we are told that what Jesus did was to fulfil a prophecy that had been made about him. In other words, there was a deliberate purpose in the act. He had come to do the Father's will, and to carry out everything that was ordained for him to do. If he was to undo the evil of the original disobedience, then he had to become obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He lived in the sure knowledge that what happened to him was the Father's will. This is not predestination, or being programmed in such a way that one loses one's free will. Far from it. What happened to Jesus is what Jesus wanted to happen. He gave himself into the Father's hands, with a deliberate offer of "Not my will, but yours, be done." His prayer to the Father was total trust, abandonment, and obedience.

Sometimes we hear the expression about being "anchored" in life, implying that one's security comes from within, and I am not tossed around by the storms that surround me. This is farfetched, even as I say it, because Jesus was a helpless infant at the time of today's gospel. However, throughout all of his adult life, "my meat is to do the will of him who sent me." Both he and his life were the fulfilment of a promise, the completion of a plan. If the Old Testament was radio, the New Testament was television. His had come to fulfil the promises of the prophets, and to complete the work of creation, by making it possible for sin to be forgiven, for slavery to be turned into freedom, and for death to become eternal life.

Very few of us, if any, have experienced the trauma of being a refugee, or of being homeless. Our security is important to us, and we need to have a sense of being in control. I personally have been deeply impressed, and indeed in awe, at colleagues who left home and headed off into a completely unknown and uncharted mission field. This was pure gospel to me. They took Jesus at his word, went where they felt he wanted them, and trusted him totally to provide, to bless and to fulfil his promises. In today's gospel, Jesus is a helpless child, but, in their own way, each of those of whom I speak were also powerless. It is in such powerlessness that God's power works most effectively.

Jesus was brought to Egypt as a result of a dream Joseph had, and, again, following another such dream, he was brought back to Nazareth. The Joseph of the Old Testament was mocked by his brothers as being a dreamer. Many of us interpret that to mean that a dreamer is someone who sits around with a head full of crazy and impossible ideas, but who never does anything to make those dreams come true. It is important for us to remember that some of the greatest human beings this world has ever seen have been dreamers, have been people with dreams. We all remember Martin Luther King's famous speech, which includes those immortal words "I have a dream ..." unlike those nocturnal dreams that we all have when we sleep, the real dreamer is the one who is most awake and alert. Joseph was fully open to any word from God, and he was willing and ready to carry out that word. "Happy are they who dream dreams, and are prepared to take the steps to make those dreams come true."

Humility is a difficult concept to grasp, and this can be because its meaning is so simple. It is nothing more than the plain and simple truth. It is a gift that enables me see myself as I really am and, being fully conscious of my human weakness, I can easily see how dependent lam on God, and why I should live every day with a constant awareness of that dependence. Mary and Joseph were humble people. When she visited Elizabeth, Mary spoke of how God had regarded her lowliness, and how he had done wonderful things for her because of her own powerlessness to do any of that herself. She magnified God, which is like looking at something through a strong magnifying glass. The bigger your God, the smaller your problems. Despite the human hardships, Mary was quite willing to leave everything, and head off into a foreign country, if that is what God wanted her to do. Sin is pride, which is my way of insisting that I do things my way; that my way is best. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit had come upon Mary at the annunciation, and she would continue to be led by that Spirit throughout her life.

I said earlier than when I look into the face of one of those refugee children, I am looking into the face of Jesus. Racism and bigotry is the worst form of blindness, and there is no nation on earth that can pretend to be free of that. Racism and Christianity certainly don't go together. "Whatever you do to the least of these, my sisters and brothers, that's what you do to me." I myself may not have had to experience the trauma of being a refugee or of being homeless, but I can find out a lot about myself when I reflect on how I see, and how I relate to those who are in such a predicament. I don't necessarily have to personally meet one such person to discover what my inner attitudes are.

The first time I was carried into a church, I wasn't consulted, and the next time I'm carried into a church I won't be consulted either. To attempt to run the show in the meantime is insanity. I own nothing. Everything I have is on loan. One heart attack and life is over. Humility is the gift of seeing and accepting things as they really are. Saying yes to God can be a constant and continual form of prayer. I don't ever have to worry what I'm saying yes to, because God will always make that perfectly dear, as time goes by. He doesn't treat us like robots, nor does he ever want to avail of our services without our goodwill, and willing co-operation. In Twelve-Step recovery programmes for alcoholics, narcotics, etc., Step Three says "We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God." What the person is really saying is, "You should have seen me and my life when I was in charge." You could do nothing better than take a few moments out today to reflect on the whole idea of turning things over to God. When you die you're going to have to let go of everything, anyhow, so why not begin with little things now?

I spoke earlier of the significance of Jesus going into Egypt, the land of slavery for the Jews, and his subsequent return from there. Slavery is a word I could do well to dwell on. I could be quite enslaved and not know it. The alcoholic is the last one on the block to believe that he is an alcoholic. If Jesus is to be my Redeemer, then I must be willing to get in touch with those areas in my life which are in need of redemption, in need of being restored to healthy and happy living. There is no doubt at all in my mind that the Spirit will certainly reveal all of this to me if I am willing to find out. As you listen to me now, or as you read this, remember that there are two characteristics of the Word of God, i.e. it is always challenging, but it is never discouraging. I hope that you will be challenged by today's gospel, and that you will be prepared to accept it as a pointer for you today, rather than as something that happened thousands of years ago.

I remember a simple incident in which I was involved many years ago. It was very early in the morning, and I was travelling to give a Retreat in a place quite a distance from home. I passed through many small towns and villages on the way. As I was leaving one town I encountered a young man thumbing a lift. I stopped to give him a lift, and discovered that he was going to a town only a few miles short of my own destination. I went through the usual litany of questions. "Are you going to work etc." He told me what was happening. There was a centre for alcoholics in the town where I met him, and it is well known the length and breadth of the country. The previous evening, under pressure from family and friends he had decided to check himself in. He attended the opening session on the previous night and, as soon as the doors were unlocked the following morning he made good his escape. I'll never forget his comment, and the sense of shock in his voice as he spoke it. "Do you know what they wanted me to do in there? They wanted me to change my whole life." That was too much, and he got out of there before anything happened. I've often thought of him since, and have wondered what happened to him. If he was not prepared to change his whole life he is probably dead by now. The road that was pointed out to him seemed impossible to travel. Without knowing it, he took the most difficult road of all and, as I said, it may well have cost him his life.

The Holy Family of Nazareth

The Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph are put before us by the Church this weekend as a model for our families. We call them the holy family but that does not mean that they did not have problems. Just as every family has to face problems and overcome them, or to put it another way, has to carry a cross, so also the holy family had to carry crosses. Their many crosses come to mind from reading the Scriptures. We can easily imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been when Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. Their story would never be believed. Even Mary herself had it very rough early in the pregnancy when Joseph was planning to divorce her before the angel intervened in a dream. When the time for Jesus delivery came it took place in an animals shelter since Bethlehem was already so crowded. Then the family had to flee to Egypt as refugees because Jesus life was in danger due to Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries are now entering many western countries. Mary and Joseph suffered the awful experience of losing Jesus for three days when he was twelve years old and the only satisfaction they got from him was that he had to be about his Fathers business. We do not hear of Joseph any more so we presume that before Jesus began his public ministry in Galilee Joseph had died, the holy family suffering the greatest pain of all families, the pain of bereavement and separation through death. Jesus public ministry must have taken its toll on Mary. Simeon had predicted in the Temple that a sword of sorrow would pierce Marys soul. We can imagine one such occasion was as we read in Mark 3:21 that when Jesus returned to Nazareth one day his relatives came to take him by force convinced that he was out of his mind. Not a pleasant experience for any family, no matter how holy. There was also the pain caused by the rhyme made up about Jesus: Behold a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners (Luke 7:34). And there was the growing hostility to Jesus by the Jewish authorities that must have caused huge pain to both Mary and Jesus, especially as it became increasingly obvious that Jesus would have to pay for his mission by dying. The saddest moment of all came when Mary watched her son die on the cross.

What kept the family together and sane throughout all of these trials and crosses? The answer is Love for each other and God. Jesus love for Mary and Marys love for Jesus, and the love of both of them for God the Father or we could say faith in God. We can see Jesus love for his mother when he was dying on the cross and was worried about leaving her behind so he asked his close friend and disciple John to look after her, saying to Mary, Woman behold your son, and to John behold your mother (John 19:26-27). What holds our families together also in times of difficulty is love and forgiveness. It is love which triumphs in the end, even if for a while love may have to take the form of some honest talking. When discipline needs to be given, if it is not given in love it is reduced to abuse. If ever our families fail in any way, it is because of a lack of love on someones part. Whenever our families are successful, it is because they are places of love.

I believe that the greatest threat facing families now is simply that we dont spend enough time together. We are so busy working, or socialising, or watching TV that we have less and less time for each other. What a pity. There is a story about a solicitor who lived a considerable distance from her elderly father. Months had passed since they had been together and when her father called to ask when she might visit, the daughter detailed a list of reasons that prevented her from taking the time to see him, e.g., court schedule, meetings, new clients, research, etc., etc. At the end of the recitation, the father asked, When I die, do you intend to come to my funeral? The daughters response was immediate, Dad, I cant believe youd ask that. Of course, Ill come. To which the father replied, Good. Forget the funeral and come; I need you more now than I will then. As I said, I believe one of the greatest threats facing families now is simply that we do not spend enough time together.

Just as the holy family survived all its crises through love for each other and faith in God, let us pray during this Mass that our families will conquer all difficulties through love for each other and faith in God.

Mary, Mother of God
(January 1st, Octave of Christmas)
(Num 6:22-27 - Gal 4:4-7 - Lk 2:16-21)

Splendour in Simplicity

In the gospels we read that the most common reaction of those who witnessed the actions, or heard the words of Jesus was one of astonishment and amazement. For example, at the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, when his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzlingly white, and Moses and Elijah appeared speaking to him, Peter spoke for all three Apostles present, when he said, "Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here." But when they heard a voice speaking from the cloud that covered them, all three fell on their faces, overcome with fear. Ordinarily, we have to say with the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1), "It is only faith which can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of those realities which at present remain unseen." And by way of example, it adds, "It was for faith that our ancestors were commended."

To nobody is all this more readily applicable than to the one who was the first to believe in Christ, our Mother in faith, as well as Christ's earthly Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. There are many of us who, in our approach to Mary, place her on a lasting pedestal, and look on her after the manner of the three Apostles gazing on the transfigured Christ. All too often we imagine her as the Madonna of the Christmas card, serene, immobile, seated forever in the immaculately clean stable of golden straw and glistening snow outside, with adoring angels hovering overhead. Such a figure is simply not real. For the plain fact is that Mary, on earth, knew neither triumph nor heavenly spectacle. No one has ever lived, suffered, died in such simplicity, in such deep unawareness of her own supernatural dignity.

What evidence do we have for this, you may ask? And the answer is there in the few short sayings attributed to her in the gospels. For, in her own eyes, Mary was the handmaid, the servant of the Lord, depending entirely on God's will, and sustained by God's goodness. The fathers of the Vatican II Council acknowledged this when they stated that Mary stands out among the poor and the humble of the Lord, who confidently await and receive salvation from God (Lum. Gent. 55). Indeed, in the first four centuries of the Church, Christian writers placed greater emphasis on the simple faith of Mary at the Annunciation, than on her divine motherhood. The Virgin believed, and in her faith conceived, or as St Augustine strikingly wrote, "She first conceived Jesus in her heart, before conceiving him in her womb." Mary, whom we venerate as the Mother of Good Counsel, wants above all to be our guide and counsellor in this area of faith. She wants to beget faith in us, to be our Mother in faith. That is why, in the gospel of St John, she is present at the beginning and the end of Christ's public life.

She is there at the wedding feast of Cana, fully believing before Jesus had worked a single miracle. It was only after the changing of water into wine that Jesus' disciples began to believe in him. In fact it was Mary herself who brought about this very sign by her request to Jesus to intervene. "Do whatever he may tell you," she told the attendants, words which only one who believed totally in the power of Jesus could utter. Cana was the first of the signs recorded by St John, in order to bring us, as it did his first disciples, to believe in Jesus. But as to the Mother of Jesus, she is represented as already believing before it.

Significantly, John's gospel also is the only one to record the presence of Mary at Calvary. "Near the cross of Jesus stood his Mother" (19:25) is the terse statement we read there. When all the signs and wonders of the public mission of Christ seemed, in the estimation of many, to have been a delusion, and all but one of his carefully chosen Apostles had deserted him, his Mother was still there witnessing him draw his last breath, and still believing. For Mary's faith in her Son had never been founded on the evidence of astounding miracles or visions, but rather on a complete, absolute, childlike trust in the mysterious ways of God our Father. Nor did her role as Mother on earth cease when her Son departed this world. For in his dying moments, Jesus had ensured its continuation when he said to John, "Behold your Mother." Here Jesus reveals that his own natural Mother will henceforth be the Mother of the disciple also, the disciple who was a figure of all of Jesus' true disciples, you and I included. At that moment Mary assumed a new role in God's plan of salvation for the human race, that of spiritual Mother to us all.

The Mary-Image

The American sociologist , addressing the question "Why do Catholics stay in the Church?" - particularly nowadays when so many of them seem to disagree with much of its official teaching - suggests that it is because of its images, metaphors and stories. And the most powerful image of all is Mary, the Mother of God.

It all begins when a mother brings her little child to see the Christmas crib. The child gazes in wonder at this exotic scene of angels, animals, shepherds, kings, mother and father, all gathered around a little baby in its cot.

"Who is the baby?" the little child asks.

"That is Jesus."

"And who is Jesus?'

"Jesus is God."

"Oh." the little child says.

"And who is the lady?'

"That is Mary, God's mammy."

It is a hard story to beat. it is many children's first introduction to theology and a most effective one at that. Nothing in later life shakes their attachment. They may disagree and sometimes violently with the Church's pronouncements on certain issues. They may fall foul of its discipline in areas as intimate as marriage and family life. They may be disillusioned by the lifestyle of their clergy but they remain Catholics or at least the great majority of them do.

An American survey a few years back showed the actual defection rate among Catholics as remaining fairly steady over the previous thirty years, at about 15%. Some "hard-liners" within the church like to dismiss many of their fellow-worshipers as "a la carte" Catholics, who prefer to choose their own menus than swallow the official line. But the rank and file of Pobal Dé (the People of God) remains unimpressed by labels, and Catholic to boot. They have their stories, images and rituals and nobody will detach them from them. The most powerful object of attachment is the metaphor of Mary, the Mother of God. Research on young Catholics in America shows that the Mary image continues to be their most powerful religious image. I personally have known some older people, very often men, whose attachment to religion was tenuous, to say the least. Yet they carried in their pockets a rosary beads and stopped occasionally in places like Knock to pray before a statue of Our Lady. And the people I knew, were far to intelligent to be duped by superstitious charms or miraculous madonnas. I remember reading somewhere that Brendan Behan Wrote a letter to the newspaper protesting vehemently against some journalist who described him as a "non-Catholic." He was not a non-Catholic, he insisted, but a bad Catholic and there was a world of a difference between the two.

There's a story heard from nuns who taught grade-school in Chicago. One day God made a tour of heaven to check out the recent arrivals. He was taken aback at the quality of many of those allowed in and he went out to confront Peter about it.

"You've let me down again" he told Peter.

"What's wrong now?" Peter asked.

"You let a lot of people in that shouldn't be there."

"I didn't let them in."

"Then, who did?'

"Well, I turned them away at the front gate, but they went round the back and your mother let them in."

It is the sort of story that may make intellectuals squirm or non-Catholics sneer. But it strikes a chord in our Catholic sensibility. It tallies well with our conception of mother and the gospel image of Mary. She is the Mother of God and our mother too and like any mother, she will not be baulked by bureaucratic red-tape or hair-splitting moralists, when it comes to the happiness of her children.

New Year Resolution with Mary

 

The name "January" comes from the Roman god Janus, the god with two faces, one looking to the past and the other looking to the future. This is indeed a time to look back at the year that has just ended and to look forward to the new year ahead of us. How did I spend this one year of my life that has just passed? Did I use it to advance my goals and objectives in life? Did I use it to enhance the purpose of my existence? Could I have done better last year in the way I invested my time between the demands of work, family, friends and society, and the demands of my spiritual life? What things did I achieve last year and what did I fail to achieve? How can I consolidate the achievements of last year while reversing the failures and losses in this new year? Through soul searching questions like these we find that a review of the past year naturally leads to setting goals and resolutions for the new year.

There are people who tell you that there is no point making new year resolutions. Do not believe them. We must set goals and make resolutions as a necessary conclusion to our review of the past year. And we do need to review our lives from year to year because, as Socrates says, the unexamined life is not worth living.

Today's newspapers are full of individual and collective new year resolutions. Most of those, however, are not resolutions at all but only wishes. What is the difference between a resolution and a wish? A wish identifies a goal one wants to reach, a resolution specifies the steps one will take to reach it. A wish says this is where I want to be, a resolution says this is the road I will take, this is what I will do to get there. The wishful person says "I want to pass my exams this year" and the resolved person says "I will devote an extra hour to my studies everyday in order to pass my exams." The wishful person says "I will have more peace and love in my family this year" and the resolved person says "I will spend more time with my family at table instead of rushing off to the TV, so that we get to know and understand ourselves better." The wishful person says "I will live a life of union with God this year" and the resolved person says "I will set aside this time everyday to pray and hear God's word." The difference between wishing and resolving is: are we prepared to do what it takes to make our dreams come true, are we prepared to pay the price?

The gospel today presents Mary to us as a model of that new life in Christ that all of us wish for ourselves in the new year. There we see that Mary was prepared to do something to realize this goal. What did she do? We read that the shepherds, when they went to adore the Child Jesus in the manger, told all that the angels had said to them. "But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Again after the boy Jesus was found in the Temple, we are told that "His mother treasured all these things in her heart" (Luke 2:51). Mary was a woman who valued the word of God, who treasured it and made time to meditate and ponder it. It is true that the holiness of Mary is attributed to the grace of God, but this should not make us forget that she needed to make an effort in order to cooperate with the grace of God. She pondered the word of God in order to discern what God was saying to her at every stage in her life as the handmaid of God.

The two examples above of Mary pondering the word of God, namely, after the visit of the shepherds and after the finding in the temple, show that Mary found the word of God both in divine revelation (the angels' words to the shepherds) and in her own experiences (her encounter with her son in the temple). Similarly God speaks to us today through divine revelation (e.g. the Bible, the teaching and preaching of the Church) as well as through our personal experiences, if only we made time to reflect on them as Mary did.

Whatever the situation in which we find ourselves - a hardship, a disappointment, a decision to make - God has a solution, an answer that is right for us. We tell God about it in prayer but we also listen to what God has to tell us about it. Prayer is a conversation with God but sometimes all we do is pick up the phone, read out the list of our problems to God and drop the phone without listening to hear what God has to say to us. Let us today resolve to listen more to the voice of God, to treasure God's word and ponder it in our hearts. Then shall we be able to realize our new year resolution of a new life in union with God.

Surprised by God

Because we have grown accustomed to our yearly celebration of the Christmas season, the Incarnation-event no longer surprises us. Like so many of the mysteries of our faith, we just expect it to be that way. One of the functions of the liturgy is to foster amazement at the things God has done, to present the mystery of Christ in its freshness. Today on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, which is the octave day of Christmas, we see Mary wondering at what has happened, treasuring the events of Christmas in her memory, and pondering them in her heart. By celebrating the eighth day with Mary, we share in her sense of awe before God's merciful love made known in Christ: 'The Almighty has done great things for me; holy is his name.

The image of Mary put before us today is not that of the intercessor of Cana nor of the compassionate one on Calvary; rather, she is portrayed the silent virgin, the contemplative one, whose fruitful stillness brings to birth the glory of God, and who continues to ponder the marvels the Almighty has done for her. What better way is there to begin a new year than by silently gazing on the silent virgin-mother. New Year's Day is a bridge between the past and the future; Janus, who was for the ancient Romans the 'man who stood at the gate of the year', is depicted as looking back and at the same time looking forward. The Christian attitude to this is summed up in the tradition of celebrating the Te Deum yesterday and the Veni, Creator today: our attitude is one of gratitude for all we have received and dependence on the Spirit as we face an unknown future. For many, New Year's Day is a day for making resolutions, but what better resolution could we make today than that of adopting Mary's stance before the Word-made-flesh, making her contemplative gaze our own and keeping the incarnate God constantly before our mind and heart.

Mary is the woman who stands at the gate of the year; she is the gate-way to heaven ('felix caeli porta' the hymn Ave Maris Stella calls her). As mother of Christ and mother of the Church she is the doorway between yesterday and tomorrow, that point of contact between the world that is and the new world that is to come: Salve radix, salve porta, ex qua mundo lux est orta. She is the open door through which the light of Christ pours into a darkened world.

As we look back over the past year, we can ask ourselves how much of it has been spent in the imitation of Mary, the silent one who pondered God's saying and doings in her heart, or how much of it has been wasted in running away from silence, afraid of encountering the Word-made-flesh. As we look to this new year, which begins today, we can entrust it to Mary's watchful care, placing ourselves in her hands, and asking her to teach us how to gaze with love on the incarnate God.

New Start

New Year's Day is not a bad time to speak on the possibility of making a significant new start, both as individuals and as members of our civil and church communities. Many will be happy to reflect on possible New Year's resolutions, to bring a new quality into the year just beginning. January 1st is also designated a day of prayer for peace in a world which is only too prone to make war. One might easily build the homily around the things that make for peace. New Years are deeply felt by most people as a time for asking God's blessing on the year ahead, which is a still unforseen future holding a mixture of both hope and fear. The first reading offers the reassurance that the God we love and worship is One who goes with us on our journey, who is gracious and familiar to us. And the Gospel tells of the welcome God gives us, sending us His Son, born from a human mother, and bearing the name "Jesus" which offers the ultimate solution for all human ills, since he will save his people from their sins.

Recently, the Church proposes another important idea to be celebrated on this significant start-day of the year. In the feast of we say thanks for the wonderfully human way that God came close to us us, through the motherhood of Mary, the Virgin from Nazareth. Through this theme, we can recall the real Jewishness of Jesus, whose parents brought him to the Temple, to fulfil the Law of circumcision.

By mothering him, Mary not only gave Jesus a body, she also fundamentally shaped his personality and moulded his early identity. Part of her shaping of Jesus' identity was in the religious upbringing she gave him, teaching him prayer and love towards God, and handing on the core of Jewish belief in the reliably faithful God, whose faithfulness was shown through the story of his people. The spirituality of the Magnificat (Lk 1:46ff) would have been taught to Jesus by his mother.

From his home life with Mary, and Joseph (the too-often forgotten man in the story) Jesus first came to know the meaning of faithful love in its human practicality. The second reading points to the cosmic dimension of Mary's role, that her total 'Yes' to God, the Saviour was "Born of a woman, born under the law;" and so the divine Son took a human face and received a human name. It is a day for joining in her deep pondering on the Word of God.

2nd Sunday after Christmas
(Sir 24:1-2,8-12 - Eph 1:3-6,15-18 - Jn 1:1-18)

Come Into The Parlour

"If you're Irish, come into the parlour,
There's a welcome here for you.
If your name is Timothy or Pat,
As long as you come from Ireland
There's a welcome on the mat."

This Irish-American come-all-ye underlines the tradition of welcome associated with the Irish. It has deep roots in our Gaelic past. Céad Mile Failte (a hundred thousand welcomes) was our'traditional greeting. Hospitality was the queen of the virtues in Gaelic society. The Annals of the Four Masters record the obituaries of Gaelic chieftains and ecclesiastics. By our standards now, many of them were corrupt and unsavoury. Yet, the Annals describe them in glowing terms as men renowned for their hospitality. The lives of the early Irish saints highlight those incidents which show their hospitableness, especially for the poor and needy. We know little more about St Brigid other than her extraordinary concern to provide food and shelter for the deprived. One charming legend links her to the Holy family in Bethlehem. It recounts how the dour innkeeper turned away Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary, who then took shelter in his outhouse. Mary's time had come and Joseph ran back to the inn, pleading for someone to help deliver the baby. No one would come except the innkeeper's daughter who was severely handicapped. She was blind and had no hands. But she came gladly. When the child was born, she was the first to hold him in her arms, miraculously restored: the first one these once sightless eyes were to see was the Saviour of the world. Legends such as these earned for her the title, Mary of the Gael.)

Such stories are no longer handed down from generation to generation, but some customs evoking our ancestors" high regard for hospitality still survive in some rural parts. There are places where a lighted candle is placed in the window at Christmas time, offering hospitality to the Holy Family.

With the urbanisation of modern society, that custom and the virtue of hospitality it symbolises, are well on the way to extinction. High-rise flats with their burglar-proof locks, alarm systems, Judas-windows and door codes, are hardly intended to encourage the casual visitor. We do throw the occasional party or give the odd dinner for a few intimate friends, but it is a far cry from setting an extra place at our table for the hungry stranger. Our standard of living may have risen considerably but the same cannot be said for the quality of our lives.

Hospitality is not an optional extra for the Christian. It is the very language in which the story of our salvation is couched. It is in these terms that the gospel describes the rejection of Christ. "He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him." Whatever else the Christmas crib illustrates - most of them are so pretty, only the eyes of faith could unlock their secret - it is that there was "no room in the inn" for the Son of God. Our faith is an invitation to an eternal banquet in our Father's house. Our hospitality here will determine our fate later. "For I was hungry and you gave me to eat."

A Word We Can Touch

We are familiar with the saying: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me. Like a lot of proverbial sayings, this one expresses a truth, but by no means the whole truth. We know from experience that words can be very harmful. Somebody's reputation can be unjustly undermined because somebody else puts out a story about this person. The story may have some truth in it, but it is likely to be only one of many stories that could be told about the person, and, if it becomes the dominant story, an injustice is done to that person. I remember once seeing a collection of old posters that were commonly displayed in Britain during the Second World War. One of them read, "Careless talk costs lives." That poster expresses a truth which applies as much to peace time as to war time. Careless talk can cost lives, not necessarily in the sense that it results in people being shot, but in the sense that it can seriously damage or even destroy a person's reputation. Careless talk can be damaging in other ways. We are all aware from our experience how words spoken in anger can damage a relationship. Words can be either harmful or life-giving. The proverb, "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never arm me" does not seem to take seriously enough the power of language, a power that can be for good or for ill.

The gospel reading from the gospel of John could be understood as a hymn to the power of language, God's language. It begins, "In the beginning was the Word." That Word that God spoke in the beginning became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here was now a Word that could not only be heard, but could be seen and touched as well. The words we speak reveal who we are only to a limited extent. There is always much more to us than is revealed in our words. However, the Word God spoke in the beginning revealed God fully, and when this Word became flesh in Jesus, he became the fullest revelation of God that was possible in human form. God said all that could be said about who he was in the person of his Son. To look on Jesus is to look on God. As Jesus says to Philip, later on in John's gospel, "he who sees me sees the Father." God has spoken to us in a language we can understand, the language of a human life. This Word who is Jesus is full of the life of God, radiant with the light of God. He calls on us to receive from his fullness, grace upon grace. He does not force his fullness upon people. At one point in John's gospel he turns to the twelve and asks, "Do you also wish to go away?" Simon Peter on that occasion spoke for us all when he said, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life." Jesus had the words of eternal life because he himself was the Word of life.

The words people speak to us do not always do us good. The words we hear from various quarters do not always leave us blessed. On the contrary, they can leave us damaged and diminished. The Word God spoke to us in his Son has greatly blessed and enriched us. St. Paul recognizes this in the second reading today when he sings, "Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ." Having been blessed by God's Word in this way, we are called to bless others by the words we speak, by the lives we live. We are called to keep on receiving from the fullness that is always being given to us in Christ, so that we can enrich others from that fullness. As was said of John the Baptist in today's gospel reading, we are to be witnesses who speak for the light.

Today we might give thanks for the times when we have spoken for the light, when the words we spoke or wrote gave life and strength to someone, or brought some light into a situation of darkness or cover-up. These were the times when our words had something of the quality of the Word that God spoke in the beginning and that became flesh in the person of Jesus. Parents have a wonderful opportunity to speak such words to their children, as have spouses to each other, and those unmarried to people close to them. All of us in different ways have the potential to speak words that make a difference for the better, that leave people more alive and enlightened. We can speak and live in a way that is experienced by others as good news. As we begin a new year we might resolve to speak words that have something of the life-giving quality of God's Word, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us.

How do we answer?

St Luke, in chapter nine of his gospel, has a curious reference to Christ. "Now it happened," he says, "that as he was praying alone, his disciples were with him." How could he be alone, you might ask, if the disciples were with him? It could perhaps mean that he was praying out of hearing, but not out of sight, of the disciples, or more likely that for once he was away from the throngs of people who pursued him everywhere seeking favours from him. And one good reason for this latter was the locality in which he then was, the vicinity of a northern town called Banyas, a Greek name meaning the town of Pan. It was a place shunned by all strict Jews, because for centuries it had been a centre of pagan worship of the fertility god Pan, and also the spot where Herod's son Philip had built the city of Caesarea Philippi around a great white marble temple dedicated by his father to the godhead of Caesar Augustus. This was regarded by the Jews as being idolatry. The fact that Jesus came here at all shows the extraordinary freedom of his spirit. He could disregard taboos, mingle with and sometimes cure Samaritans, sinners, tax collectors, gentiles, from whom members of the religious establishment of the day among the Jews kept their distance.

It was on this occasion near Caesarea Philippi that Jesus posed to his disciples the surprising question, "Who do you say I am?" It is a question which every year, during the celebration of Advent and Christmas, Christ addresses to us also. Finding an answer was something which occupied the minds of the first Christians for quite some time, something also which led to several heresies in the first centuries A.D. about the nature and person of Christ.

The Church uses the scriptures, and in particular the gospels, to awaken in us a response in faith to this mystery. In what is the first gospel to be written, St Mark tells us nothing about Christ's life before his public ministry, but he begins with an account of the work of John the Baptist as being the fulfilment of a prophecy by Isaiah. What Mark is saying is, that the story of Jesus really began far back in Israel's history, and that his public life, his death, and his resurrection show us that he is God.

Matthew and Luke in their accounts of the birth of Jesus, read every year at Christmas, go a step further. They are saying that it was evident from the moment, not only of his public life, but of his birth, that Jesus was a divine person. Matthew traces the genealogy of Christ back to Abraham, the father of Jewish faith and also of ours. By this he is indicating to us, that the promises made long ago to Abraham, that he would be the father of a great people, were now about to be fulfilled in the life and work of Jesus. Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back even further, to the first man Adam. The story of Jesus, he is saying, really began with the creation of man, and what God was doing through the life and death of Jesus, was to create, not only a new Israel, but a new humanity, for himself. It is well to remember that St Paul saw Christ as the second Adam, the new Adam, in whom all humanity would be renewed.

Today the beginning of John's gospel goes back to the moment when time began. Its first words, "In the beginning," show us what John has in mind. For these are the same words with which the Bible begins its account of the creation, "In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was God." And in that first chapter, no less than ten times we read, "God said," that is God spoke the Word. "God said, "Let there be light" - God said, "Let there be a firmament" - God said, "Let the waters come together" - and so on. The creative Word of God was at work, and the story of Jesus, St John is telling us, is the story of this Word, after becoming flesh.

John emphasises also that what took place as the work of God in the life of Jesus, was not a kind of afterthought on the part of God, a means of plugging a gap, of setting right a defect which had appeared in creation because of the original sin of which Adam and Eve were guilty. No, Christ is, and always was, at the centre of God's plans for creation, and every created thing derives its meaning from him. Our task, then, for the new year should be to put Christ at the centre of our lives, so that, as we read at the offertory, by the mystery of the water and wine in the Mass "we may come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

He came to his own

This gospel is pure poetry. It is as if John opened his mouth, and let the Spirit of God within him pour out the sparks of the furnace within his heart. It is hard to grasp the profound nature of what he writes, compared to the letters he wrote at the end of his life, which can be summarised in one sentence: "Little children, let us love one another, because God loves us." This is written with the total conviction of who Jesus is, why he came, and what happens if we are open to his message. At the end of his gospel, John will have to admit that, if he wrote down all the things Jesus did and said, the whole world couldn't contain all the books. John is known as the beloved disciple, and it is obvious that his heart is overflowing with love, gratitude, and joy; because of the Jesus he is about to write about in the following pages of his gospel.

The heart of the message is that Jesus came to his own, the Jews, but they did not accept him. The message is now offered to all of us and, for those of us who do accept it, Jesus will allow us full membership within the family of God. This privilege is pure gift, and has nothing to do with merit, birthright, or achievement.

When I was a kid we had a popular song for all singalongs called "All my granny has left you is her old armchair." It was about the jeers and sneers of family members directed against the one who was left an old armchair, while they shared her house and property. The part of the song that always gave me great joy was when the one who received the chair discovered that all of granny's savings were carefully concealed within the chair and that he turned out to be the lucky one; something that wiped the sneers off the faces of the others, and filled them with a jealous rage.

A poor way to illustrate today's gospel, but I'm sure you get the idea. In John's day, for example, Jesus had left them nothing tangible beyond the memory of a man who had died as a public criminal and, I'm sure, in the eyes of John's family, he was seen to be really foolish to have followed such a one, and he deserved nothing but disdain.

I like the following statement: "For those who do not understand, no words are possible, and for those who do understand, no words are necessary." That is part of John's problem in today's gospel. While he witnessed Jesus healing the blind, he himself had come to see much clearer. All of the miracles Jesus worked for him were within him. Jesus was, indeed, the light that had come into the world and John, as one of his followers, had been handed the torch to carry that light to others. John the Baptist was not the light, nor is John the Evangelist claiming that he is the light. The role of one was to prepare the way, the role of the other was to proclaim the message, and guide others to the Way, which is Jesus.

From the beginning, Jesus was not accepted. John would later write in one of his letters, "you are children of God. Only those who are of God will listen to his voice. The proof that the word is from God is that the world will not listen to it." The Word became flesh. Word can mean many things. It can be a word in a dictionary: it can mean a message as in "Did you get any word from John yet?"; it can mean a promise as in "I give you my word on that." Jesus is the Word of God, he is God's message, God's statement, God's promise. Jesus wants decisions, not discussions. "You are either for me or against me," he said. One of the ways of not getting around to doing something is to talk about it long enough. Debates and discussions can turn the flesh back into word again, and what is a reality becomes a thesis or a theory, something involving mental assent, which has nothing whatever to do with faith.

The Law was given through Moses and, by the time Jesus came along, the people were totally hamstrung by the love of law. This law was studied and taught by the scribes, imposed by the Pharisees, and scrupulously obeyed by the people. Jesus came to replace this love of law with the law of love. John is really excited about that, as we see in the last paragraph of today's gospel. Many years later, as an old man in exile on the island of Patmos, he had simplified the gospel message to one simple truth: "Little children, let us love one another, because God loves us." (Do you remember hearing words like that from Mother Teresa?)

There are none so deaf as those who don't want to hear. You could be sitting there wondering what I'm going to say, while I'm up here wondering what you're going to hear, and we can all forget that only God can speak God's word, and only those who want to hear will actually hear that message.

There are two parts to the history of salvation: What Jesus did, and whether we accept that or not. He came to his own, but they weren't interested. For you, for me, for any or all of us gathered here today, however, it is our moment of decision. The only yes God is interested in is my yes of now. I cannot live today on a yes that was said on my behalf at my baptism. For those who did receive him he gave the right to become children of God. All they had to do was to trust him to save them. That is the offer that is made to us today. God doesn't give me anything; he offers me everything.

In the beginning was the Word. John also knows only too well that, at the end, the Word will still be there. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. In other words, no matter whether people accept or reject his word, no matter what way the world chooses to behave, no matter how bad things might appear to be, at the end of time Jesus will be Lord; the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of Satan will have come to an end, and there will only be the kingdom of God, which Jesus came to establish. (As you know, the last Sunday in the church calendar is the Feast of Christ the King.) It's like knowing the result of the race before you go into the bookies. You can have no excuse for not being on a winner. God won't send you anywhere when you die. Rather will he eternalise the decisions and directions you take now.

Give some serious thought today to the yes of your baptism, to ensure that you personally have taken full responsibility for it, and that you are a member of the Christian family by deliberate choice, and not by some coincidence or accident of birth.

If the Word becomes flesh, if Jesus takes on our human nature, then, surely, he has taken on your human nature. This should lead to some serious reflection along the following lines:

If Jesus has taken on my human condition, then I am faced with a serious situation. He can take over and effect only that which I allow, and the limits to what he can do in and through me, are set by me. The implications of such a possibility are frightening.

There is nothing automatic about God. He will not enter where he is not welcome. And he needs my goodwill as the foundation for all his work in me. Did you hear about the man whose beard went on fire, and he prayed it would start raining? He himself wasn't prepared to do anything.

There was a dark cave deep down in the earth, and it had never seen light. One day the sun invited it to come up to visit it. The cave was amazed at the light, and it invited the sun to come down to visit it, because the sun had never seen darkness. The following day the sun came down into the cave, looked around, and asked, "Where's the darkness?'

When the sun entered, there was no darkness anymore, just as when Jesus, the Light of Life entered this world.

The Word Became Flesh

(from: Rosary Meditations)

In 1850 John Millais (1829-1896) painted a picture of Jesus working in Josephs carpentry workshop, entitled Christ in the House of His Parents. Jesus had given himself a bad gash in his finger and blood streamed down onto his feet. Mary was there comforting him. Although only an imaginary incident, it portrays well what John means in his Gospel today, The Word became flesh.

In the first line of his Gospel, John makes us jump in at the deep end by beginning immediately with his description of God, In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. That Word existing since the beginning and with God is Jesus. It is truly amazing almost unbelievable that this Word, Jesus, which existed since the beginning would become flesh. We wouldnt expect God to mix with us by becoming flesh. But the Word became flesh, God became one of us. Because the Word became flesh we would expect Jesus to have the same emotions as us, and he did. ) He loved other people, Martha, Mary and Lazarus, his disciple John and the rich young man. He cried when he hurt a lot; when his friend Lazarus died and before entering Jerusalem when he knew that the city would not accept him as the Messiah. He enjoyed social occasions. In Luke's Gospel in particular we read of Jesus attending many dinners, so much so that a rhyme was made up about him, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. Jesus felt pity for people when he saw them suffering, so when they were hungry he multiplied the loaves and fish. He got angry when people used the Temple for the wrong purpose. He needed companionship, so he took Peter, James and John aside with him on many occasions and John was his close friend. At the end of a hard day Jesus fell asleep in the boat, he was tired like all of us. He felt fear before his passion, Father let his cup pass me by and in John 12 he says, now my soul is troubled. Imagine Jesus saying, now my soul is troubled. When John says the Word became flesh, he really means it. After all, he had seen Jesus and been his close friend.

The Word dwelt among us. The Word, Jesus, didnt just become flesh and live a quiet life. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He was a man of the people. Thats why they said of him, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. When curing the lepers he touched them. Lepers were not supposed to come near towns and according to Jewish Law Jesus would be impure after touching a leper and could not enter the Temple or synagogue until after washing. But Jesus was a man of the people, he dwelt among them, and so Law or no Law, when a leper wanted healing he touched him. Because Jesus was a man of the people he concentrated much of his ministry among those who really needed him, the sinners. They knew they were welcome in his company, he was known as a friend of sinners.

This Word, Jesus, became flesh, and dwelt among us, and made the Father known to us. The last line of our Gospel today says, No one has ever seen God, it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Fathers heart, who has made him known. John is saying the reason why the Word became flesh was so that we would get to know the Father. Jesus is the Fathers Word to us. Jesus is the revelation of God the Father. How do we get to know the Father? By getting to know Jesus. In John 14:6 Jesus says I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. In John 14, Philip says, Lord, show us the Father - and then we shall be satisfied. And Jesus said Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father? Do you not believe that I'm in the Father and the Father is in me. What I say to you I do not speak of my own accord: it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his works. Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the way to the Father. If we want to know the Father, we must get to know Jesus. How do we get to know Jesus? The same way as we get to know anybody. By spending time together. We spend time with Jesus when we pray to him and when we read the Gospels. So let us get to know Jesus who became flesh so that we might get to know the Father, through prayer and reading the Gospels. We cannot say anymore it is too difficult to get to know God. He has revealed himself to us in his Son Jesus.

The Word became flesh and lived among us. No one has ever seen God, it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

The Epiphany of the Lord
(Is 60:1-6 - Eph 3:2-3, 5-6 - Mt 2:1-12)

Searchers Find Him

"Shine out Jerusalem, for your light has come; the glory of the Lord is rising on you, though night still covers the earth and darkness the people. The nations come to your light. Everyone in Sheba will come bringing gold and incense." These sayings of the prophet Isaiah must have been in the mind of St Matthew when he described the coming of the Magi to worship the new-born Saviour of the world in Bethlehem. So too must have been the words, which were recorded by Matthew but uttered by Jesus during his public life, when he praised the Roman centurion, a gentile, a foreigner, for his great faith, "I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from the east and the west to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of heaven, but the subjects of the kingdom (meaning the Jews) will be turned out in the dark" (8:10+).)

Roughly twenty-five years after his death on Calvary, this acceptance of Christ by the gentiles was described in his gospel by Matthew, in his beautiful story of the Wise Men from the east being drawn to Bethlehem by a star that shone especially bright in the darkness of the night sky, resulting in the epiphany or revelation to them of God in the person of the infant Jesus. The Apostles when trying to understand the events of Christ's life had been taught by Christ himself to look for their meaning in certain passages of the OT, and so it is more than likely that Matthew linked the star of Bethlehem, shining serenely in the sky while night covered the earth and darkness the peoples, with a prophecy in the Book of Numbers, which promised, "A star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (24:17).

Originally, this was seen as a reference to the founding of the royal house of David from which the Messiah would come. But Matthew went on to link the star with Bethlehem, which was the city of David, and moreover the town foretold by another prophet (Micah) as being the place chosen by God where the promised Messiah would be born. Since the royal line of David had long since vanished, the Messiah would not be a political leader but rather a spiritual one, and his coming, to a large extent, would be ignored by his own people.

It was mainly the gentiles, represented by the Wise Men, who were to be drawn to this Star of Bethlehem, and came to believe in God's greatest self-revelation, through the person of Jesus Christ. We are told nothing of what the Magi said, but the gospel, in a concrete way, describes the sublime act of their perfect faith in him, whom they sought, "Falling to their knees they paid him homage." Then they offered him gifts, gold as befitting a royal person, frankincense reserved for the worship of God, and myrrh, a substance used in dressing wounds and embalming bodies, signifying that this child was truly man, capable of suffering, and destined one day to die.

You may perhaps say that we have no gold, or frankincense, or myrrh. That is true, but we have something more valuable, precious treasures that we can present to Christ, our Saviour and our King. We bring gold to Christ when we try and make him king of our hearts. We offer frankincense when by our worship and prayer we proclaim his divinity. And we can, in some small way, alleviate the pain of the wounds he suffered for us by applying the myrrh of our own sufferings, our sorrow, our humiliations and tears.

The departure of the Magi from their own country is symbolic of every response of faith. When we make an act of faith, we abandon something, the kind of outlook which urges us to rely only on the tangible material world, and we allow ourselves to be drawn, as were the Magi, by someone who, although invisible, is more real than the world of sense around us. But we must always remember that we could never begin to seek God, draw nearer to God, unless God had already found us. The desire for God, the secret thirst for salvation that arises within us, is not begotten of any human emotion, but rather kindled by God himself.

When we are baptised in this faith we become the enlightened; we carry within us the light of faith; we are marked with the sign of God; we become Magi to others in our turn. As Pope St Leo the Great once said, "Whoever preserves in himself, or herself, the brightness of a holy life, becomes for many a star which lights the way to the Lord."

Contrasting responses to Him

We know from experience that different people can respond in different ways to the same thing, to the same event. People have different reactions to the Spire of Dublin. Some consider it to be a wonderfully modern symbol of Dublin at the beginning of the 21st century. Others regard it as a monstrosity and a scandalous waste of money. The gospel reading puts before us two contrasting responses to the news that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah had just been born. Astrologers from the East were so excited by this news that they set out on a long journey to find the child so as to pay him homage. King Herod in Jerusalem was so perturbed by the same news that he sought to kill the child.

Today on this feast of the Epiphany we are asked to identify with the response of the astrologers, the wise men, from the East. They were people who were very observant of nature, God's natural world, in particular that dimension of God's natural world that came into view when darkness descended. They observed and studied the stars. Yet, they were not so fascinated by the stars that they worshipped the stars. They recognized that the stars, for all their splendour, pointed beyond themselves to some more wonderful reality, to God. So, when they heard that God was visiting our world in a new way through a child who had just been born, they set out in search of that child. These exotic figures from the East show us how being attentive to God's natural world can draw us closer to God. This can happen in different ways for different people. For the wise men it was their fascination with the stars that led them to the true light of the world. For me, the sea can have a similar impact, revealing to me in some mysterious way the depth and power of God. The redness of a rose spoke to Joseph Mary Plunket of the redeeming death of Christ. God can speak to us in a variety of ways through the world of nature. The wise men teach us to be attentive and observant of that world, so that in and through it we may experience the presence of the living God.

There came a point on the journey of the wise men when they needed more that the signs of nature to find the child whom they were seeking. When they came to Jerusalem they had to ask, "Where is the infant king of the Jews?" To make the last short step on their long journey, they needed more than the light of a star. They needed the light of the Scriptures. The chief priests and the scribes who knew the Scriptures were able to point them in the direction of Bethlehem. On our own journey towards the Lord, we too need the light of the Scriptures as well as the light of nature. The Scriptures are a fuller revelation of God than the natural world. It is in and through the Scriptures that we meet God in a special way and his Son. St. Jerome, one of the great saints of the church and a Scripture scholar of his time, said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ. The Scriptures are human writings, a human word. But we believe that they are also God's word, God's word in human words. Through the Scriptures God speaks to us in a privileged way. He asks us to listen and to allow our lives to be shaped by what we hear. The wise men allowed themselves to be guided by the Scriptures, as well as by the star. They showed something of that responsiveness to God's word to which we are all called.

Having been moved by the presence of God in nature and in the Scriptures, the wise men came face to face with God in a child. They did not worship the star; they did not even worship the Scriptures. But they did worship the child, because they recognized that here was Emmanuel, God-with-us. We too worship Emmanuel, and we do so in a special way every time we celebrate the Eucharist. As the wise men expressed their worship by offering the child their precious gifts, we express our own worship of the Lord in the Eucharist by offering him our lives. We give ourselves to him in response to his giving of himself to us as bread of life. The gospel reading tells us that, after worshipping the child, the wise men returned home by a different way. Their meeting with the infant king of the Jews somehow changed them. Our own worship of the Lord in the Eucharist will often prompt us to take a different path too. We come to the Eucharist open to being changed by the Holy Spirit. We are sent forth from the Eucharist to follow the way of the Lord more closely. We pray on this feast of the Epiphany that we would be as open to the Lord's call as the wise men in today's gospel reading.

Star Of Bethlehem

Nobody disputes the fact that Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day. But dating it is quite another matter. Historians have never been able to agree on the year Jesus was born. There is even less certainty about the day or the month. Oddly enough, almost the only scientific data they have to help them in their search is today's star. Astronomers can, with reasonable accuracy, date the appearance of this star. Inter-stellar activity follows its own fixed rhythms and so the appearance of new stars in different regions can be determined by computation. Fact is stranger than fiction. That part of the Infancy Narrative one would be most tempted to discard as fairy-tale, turns out to be the only thing that is scientifically verifiable. Whatever else has changed since Christ was born, the sky at night remains the same. Star-gazers today can follow the same Star the Wise Men followed.

Western tradition chose three as the number of the Wise Men and even found exotic names for them, Caspar, Melchior and Baithasar. Some suggest that they travelled from Persia or South Arabia, though Matthew simply indicates that they came from the East. The gospel leaves no doubt that they were individuals of strong conviction, enquiring minds and adventuresome spirit. In a word, intellectuals.

The point should not be overlooked. The church has not often shown such welcome to that beleaguered community as its infant-founder. In those rare periods when it did, religion truly blossomed. Oddly enough, the improvement of conditions in the communist east traces its origin to an alliance between the churches and the dissidents. They make natural bedfellows though it often takes persecution to convince them. It was intellectuals who first discovered the star of Bethlehem. No church, no religion can be authentic, that does not cherish specially its poets, its writers and its thinkers. The true church in the world is an island of saints and scholars. Stars reveal their secrets only to dreamers.

Their astronomical enquiries brought the Wise Men as far as Jerusalem. Astronomy could take them no further. There, they had to consult other experts. The Jews were the people of the Book. Only biblical scholars could shed further light on where the Messiah was to be born. So the chief priests and the scribes were called in, through the intervention of Herod. They had not long to wait for an answer. The Bible quickly yielded up its awesome secret. "And you Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means least among the Leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel." Their search had narrowed down to Bethlehem. Enquiries at the inn might well have led them to the manger. The star, the symbol of their inquiring minds, went forward and halted over the place where the child was. Or did they hear a baby crying?

The investigation of the Wise Men is a fine illustration of the Latin adage intelligentia quaerens fidem (intelligence seeking faith). The message for us is simple. If ever there is to be an epiphany in our lives we will need our heads as well as our hearts. We can ill-afford to ignore the insights of intellectuals.

Meditation on the Epiphany

We imagine ourselves in the presence of baby Jesus, and Mary and Joseph. We are surprised to see men of eastern appearance come. They see baby Jesus and fall on their knees. They offer him homage and give him presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh, gold because Jesus is king, frankincense since Jesus is divine and myrrh prefiguring his passion. They tell us about the star and about Herod who knew nothing about Jesus' birth. After their stay they set out on their return journey eastwards but not via Jerusalem since they want to avoid Herod. After their departure we spend time with baby Jesus. Baby Jesus, we do not have gold, frankincense and myrrh to give you but we can give you our love. Let our love be your manger. For a moment now let us love baby Jesus.

Baby Jesus, even while you were only a little baby you experienced both acceptance from the wise men and rejection from Herod. The wise men and Herod had two opposing attitudes, searching for God and being closed to God. Baby Jesus, we see that the wise men were blessed in their search for you by finding you. We are searching for you too, we want to come ever closer to you. Help us to draw ever closer to you and if we are closed to you like Herod, help us to open so that we can find you. Let us ask Jesus to help us in drawing closer to him.

Baby Jesus, not only had the wise men and Herod different attitudes to you, they also had different attitudes to life. The wise men were generous, Herod was selfish wanting to hold on to his throne. The magi gave you gifts, Herod killed all boys under two years of age. The wise men were willing to put energy and goodness into life, Herod wanted to get all he could from life. The magi who sacrificed to put into life were happy, Herod who took all he could from life was unhappy. Baby Jesus help us to foster a healthy attitude towards life, giving and caring, instead of grasping, and being selfish and possessive. Let us pray now asking Jesus to help us develop ever more wholesome attitudes towards life.

The magi were lucky. They were given the guidance of a star. In the darkness of this world we have all been given help on our journey to God; the beauty of nature, the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, Spirit-filled witnessing and preaching, the faith of others and our own faith. For a moment let us thank God for giving us stars to lead us to him.

When the wise men arrived in Jerusalem, it seems they no longer had the guidance of the star, otherwise they would not have had to ask Herod for advice. Sometimes we too feel as if we're in the dark, like the magi. Sometimes what or whom we relied on is not there any more. Sometimes we see only darkness around us. But we know that you are there, Jesus, and that eternal life awaits us even if sometimes in this world there is no star for us. Lord in our moments of darkness without a star, help us not to give up but to keep searching, hoping and praying because that would be the best way forward. Let us pray now for strength to remain steadfast when there is no guiding star.

Follow Your Star

In this year's readings the whole story of the Epiphany is told. Next week we read the story of the second manifestation of the Divinity of Jesus at his Baptism and the following Sunday - "Cana Sunday" we witness the third manifestation at the Marriage Feast in Cana. Today we hear about the first manifestation to the "Magi" or "kings" who were more likely astrologers. They tell us a story of Jesus coming for all humankind, a story with richer and deeper implications today than at the time of the Gospels. Despite our tradition of Caspar, Belthassar, and Melchior, the Greeks and the Russians hold that there were twelve kings. Since there were twelve tribes of Israel and twelve apostles, they argue that there had to be twelve kings. Our tradition of three is based on the fact that three gifts were mentioned. No matter how many of them there were, they were men who, as the carol says, had the courage to follow their star.

Once upon a time, there were three young women, best friends since their early school days. They were bright, imaginative and creative young women who in the eyes of their peers seemed a "bit different." In their high school days, their peers considered this difference a sign of weirdness, and thus an excuse for excluding them from all the cool things that the "in crowd" did. Some wondered why they wanted to spend so much time studying or doing volunteer things or reading or, God forbid, going to the symphony instead of rock concerts. At times, the three friends were hurt by the words and actions of their peers. But, being women who dreamed great dreams, they couldnt give up the things that challenged them to want something more, even when they weren't sure what that more was. Imagine the surprise of their peers when at their ten year reunion, the three were the most successful members of their class, had traveled widely, had charming escorts and were up and coming stars in their careers.