Sunday, December 30, 2018

We All Live in Nazareth

HOLY FAMILY SUNDAY. December 30, 2018. Gospel: Luke 2:41-52. Theme: We All Live in Nazareth.

What touches me the most about today’s Gospel are the closing verses which summarize the next 30 years after Bethlehem. It tells us that Jesus lived an ordinary family life in the little village of Nazareth. The reason this speaks to me so loudly is because it is where Jesus, Mary and Joseph begin to really touch my life as real persons living a real life as we all do. There are no heavenly angels proclaiming God’s praise to shepherds. No mystical magi following a miraculous star and brining precious treasures. Those extraordinary things all belong to magical Bethlehem but not to ordinary everyday Nazareth.

I feel at home in Nazareth.  Nazareth, for me, is a symbol for the ordinary everyday life we all live.  Nazareth means living by faith not by miracles. Nazareth means going to work and earning a living. Nazareth means enjoying meals with family and socializing with friends.  That’s where I live. That’s where we all live.  And most amazing of all that is where the Son of God freely chose to live for 90% of his life as a man. 30 of His 33 years on earth were spent in the ordinariness of Nazareth.

Now let’s pause for a moment and ask ourselves: what does this say about ordinary life if God himself came down from Heaven to live it for 30 of his 33 years? What does it have to say about holiness? About living life so as to reach the Kingdom of Heaven? Because those are precisely the things that Christmas is all about. I believe it says a whole lot about how we become holy, how we live the Gospel and become more like Jesus. 

Somewhere along the way we have gotten the idea that God is best loved and served by doing great things and carrying out “churchy” or religious works. When someone decides to live their life for God, they think they have to go off to a monastery or to a Third World country in serve the poor. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with those things if that is indeed what God asks of an individual.

But for most of us, Nazareth shows us how wrong that way of thinking can be! Nazareth shows us that God can be loved and served in the ordinary everyday realities of life, which we offer up to Him in a spirit of praise and in union with the ordinary life lived by our beloved Brother and Lord, Jesus.
·       He was obedient to his parents; he played with the village kids and attended synagogue with them as one of them;
·       He grew up to become a craftsman, a laborer, earning his living by the sweat of his brow and the work of his hands, just as we do.
·       He had to pay taxes to the emperor, deal with bills, and meet with the men of the village to arrange for protection and provisions.
·       He went to the synagogue every Sabbath, and prayed with Joseph and Mary every night;
·       He enjoyed times of celebration with weddings and births, and mourned in times of sickness and death.

So, I think it is very important for us to remember that by sharing in a life just like ours, Jesus as God-in-the-flesh has made everyday life a pathway to holiness.

Yes, the events of Bethlehem were awesome and each had its role in the Christmas story…But the angels gave their message to the shepherds and then returned to Heaven…And the magi paid their homage to the Newborn King and then returned home to the East…

But Nazareth…Nazareth has never disappeared but has been lived on for centuries and is being lived even today, in the ordinary everyday lives of Christians like you and me. Nazareth is where I think we find the real meaning and purpose of Christmas lived out, because it is where the extraordinary became ordinary, where the God who created each one of us, lived every-day of his life just like each one of us. Nazareth is where we truly find Jesus as our Savior who is Emmanuel: God-with-us. God-among-us. God-as-one-of-us.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Birth of the Promised Messiah

The Catholic Liturgy for Christmas, Dec. 25, 2018. Gospels – Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20; John 1:1-18. Theme: The Birth of the Promised Messiah.

In celebrating the great feast of Christmas, we Christians rejoice that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Word and Son of God, freely chose to come among us as one of us, to live with us our human experience in everything but sin, and to enable us to actually become children of God.  

It’s very interesting that even though millions of people celebrate Christmas and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season, there are many who seem to have a kind of religious ignorance about Jesus of Nazareth. They assume that He was simply another religious leader among the many who have entered human history. 

But, if we take the time to investigate, we discover that He did not come out of happenstance, but intentionally. God prepared the world his coming for over 1,000 years before it actually took place. He sent prophets who received the Word of God concerning the Messiah, and they gave poetic hints and messages about everything from his conception to His rising from the dead. 

As a matter of fact, the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament contain about 70 of these prophecies about the Messiah.  However, there have never been any prophecies alerting the world to the coming of Muhammad (Islam), Joseph Smith (Mormonism), Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Siddhartha (Buddhism) or any of the other figures in the various religions of the world. Jesus Christ alone is utterly unique among the world’s religious leaders.

So, what do these ancient Jewish prophecies foretell about Jesus the Messiah? 
* He would be conceived and born of a Virgin and would be Emmanuel, which in Hebrew means “God-with-us”; 
* He would be born in Bethlehem, the city of his ancestor King David; 
* A star would announce his birth and foreigners would coming bearing gifts; 
* Bitter agony would grip the mothers of Bethlehem, which happened with Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents; 
* His mission would be like a light shining in darkness, with great signs of God’s power and presence;
* He would triumphantly enter Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, which happened on the first Palm Sunday;
* He would be betrayed by a friend and this betrayal would be agreed upon for 30 pieces of silver;
* The Messiah would die a sacrificial death on behalf of the people, a death that would heal us;
* He would be mocked, and people would gamble for His clothes;
* Finally, and marvelously, He would rise from the dead and be given glory and praise.

These ancient prophecies began to see their fulfilment on that very first Christmas in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.  This Baby in the manger - whose birth was proclaimed by angels and announced by shepherds - was indeed the Promised One.  He would grow up to identify God as His Father, and would declare that He alone is the Way to that leads us to Heaven, that He alone teaches the Truth that sets us free from spiritual wandering and ignorance; that He alone gives us a full and abundant Life that never ends.

Because Jesus is the true Light that came into the world, enlightening everyone, we no longer need to live in morally dark places or in spiritual blindness.

Because Jesus is the Father’s Son, filled with grace and truth, we can each be transformed by Him from the inside out, embracing a new way of thinking, a new way of living that leads to real happiness, both here and hereafter.

Because Jesus is the Word who became flesh and made his dwelling among us, we no longer need to live as slaves of sin and selfishness. We can each - all of us – allow the Word to become real in our own lives and dwell within us as he promised. All we need to do is profess our faith in Him and ask Him to make a manger out of our hearts, where He can live and reign as Savior, as Christ and as Lord. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Jesus Living in Mary

The Catholic Liturgy for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 23, 2018. Gospel – Luke 1:39-45. Theme: Jesus Living in Mary.

As we get ever so close to Christmas, the liturgy reminds us that when the Son of God became man, He feely chose to do so through Mary. Since Jesus came to live among us in and through Mary, we believe that He intends for us to live our Christian lives in and through Mary, who will teach us what it means to open our hearts and lives to her Son, and thus allow Him to touch others through us.

I find this to be a very important lesson in today’s gospel wherein St. Luke recounts for us the visit of Mary to her relative Elizabeth. The unborn Jesus, living in Mary, touches both Elizabeth and John, bringing them the joy of experiencing God up close and personal. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out with joy that she was blessed to receive a visit from the Mother of God. The unborn John the Baptist was touched by grace and leapt in his mother’s womb when encountering the presence of the unborn Savior within Mary.

Both of these awesome religious experiences were made possible through Mary. She always brings Jesus to others and is a vessel of His power and presence.  Like her, we also can experience Jesus living within us and be living vessels of His presence and power as well.

The great teacher of faith, St. Augustine, tells us that we can conceive Jesus in our hearts and become His spiritual dwelling places by obedience to His Word. He says that this was true about Mary before she ever conceived Jesus in her womb. Her heart was open to embracing his Word and she placed herself generously at His disposal. And so, by faith she received Jesus within her spiritually, which then enabled her to do so physically.

Jesus says pretty much the same thing in another passage of Luke’s gospel where he states that those who hear the Word of God and live it are blessed like His mother. How often do we take the time to read some part of the Scriptures and prayerfully ponder the Word of God? How open are our hearts to really hearing this Word and embracing it? Pope Francis tells us that this should be a part of a Christian’s everyday prayer-life.

Another way Jesus truly lives within us is, of course, through the Real Presence of the Holy Eucharist. We know that through the priest’s ministry at Mass, it is no longer merely bread and wine that we receive, but the actual Risen Body and Blood of Christ.  We receive Him into us and become His living, walking, breathing tabernacles. Holy Communion makes us so much like Mary, doesn’t it?  

So, it seems to me that if we want to truly welcome and embrace Jesus’ powerful presence within us, we should ask Mary to teach us the way. This is why I have a personal habit of reciting a short little prayer that I was taught long ago to repeat within my heart as I await my turn to receive Holy Communion: Mary my Mother bring me to Jesus, prepare my heart for His coming.

Through our intimate union with Jesus in both Word and Sacrament, sustained and nurtured by a meaningful and vibrant personal prayer-life, we cannot help but become instruments of his power and presence like Mary. Notice that Mary did not do anything unusual towards Elizabeth or John to bring about their spiritual experience. She simply “rang the doorbell” so to speak, and when it was answered the Holy Spirit took over and Jesus living in Mary touched both of them.

And that’s how simple it can be for you and for me. In our ordinary everyday life, we can be like Mary with Jesus living within us. We, too, can bring Jesus Christ to a spiritually sick and hungry world. We simply need to cherish and nurture our relationship with Him through prayer, through embracing His Word, and through our Eucharistic devotion, so that He can reach out to others through us, blessing and touching those with whom we live, work and socialize.