Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Keep Mary in Mind and Jesus Will Grow in Your Heart

The Catholic Liturgy for the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, Jan.1, 2020. Galatians 4:4-7; Gospel of St. Luke 2:16-21. Theme: Keep Mary in Mind and Jesus Will Grow in Your Heart

The figure of the Madonna and Child has been a favorite subject of artists and sculptors for centuries.  I think it’s because it’s an image that captures the heart, warms the soul and directs the mind to that special bond that exists between mother and child in every culture. Our Catholic devotion, too, has always considered the intimate bond between Jesus and Mary to be something precious and vital. As a matter of fact, the most ancient title given to Mary by Christians is the one that honors this relationship and that we are celebrating today: Mother of God.

Isn’t it an amazing thing to think about? God the Son, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Word through whom all things were created, had a mother who carried Him in her womb, nursed Him, raised Him, taught Him, loved Him, was always there for Him, and who pondered who He was throughout her life, as today’s Gospel reminds us. But at the same time, it’s important to remember that in calling Mary the Mother of God we do not mean that she pre-existed God or is greater than God as some people erroneously think.  

Instead, this beautiful title of Mary attests to the fact that she made it possible for God to come to earth as our Beloved Brother and Savior. She made it possible for the God of Creation to actually and personally experience his creation as a real man, living in every way we do except for sin.  Her motherhood made it possible for Jesus to truly be Emmanuel, God-with-us, and so heal and transform our humanity by blessing it with his divinity.

Calling Mary the Mother of God tells us why she is so very important to the story and mission of Jesus.  But it also tells us that she is very important to the stories and lives of everyday Christians like you and me. Without her we would not be Christians. Without her we would not be the sons and daughters of God.

St. Paul emphasizes this fact in our second reading.  He reminds us that we have received our divine adoption as children of God the Father precisely because Jesus was born of a woman, born of Mary.  And so, the blessings of her motherhood have also been extended to us and become an important part of our story. But Jesus didn’t just use Mary as a means to an end and then disregard her. He didn’t toss her aside once she served the purpose of enabling him to come in the flesh to planet Earth. Her mission as Mother of God, Mother of Christ and Mother of Christians is meant to continue forever.

And so, we should strive to have a bond with Mary as Jesus had and to open our hearts to her love just as he did. Jesus and Mary lived in a deep and mutual relationship of love, a life-long relationship as Mother and Child.  Imagine what this must have been like for two people who, because they are both free from sin, loved perfectly, loved unselfishly. Consider the deep emotion, the joy in each other’s presence, the unbreakable bond between them, from the first-time Mary held that precious Infant in her arms at Bethlehem to the last time she held Him, bloody and lifeless, on Mount Calvary. Their relationship should be the inspiration for our own personal love for and devotion to Mary, Mother of God and our spiritual Mother.

So, let’s ask Jesus for the grace to love and honor Mary like He did. And let’s ask her to mother us as she mothered Him: to form us through her prayers and her active presence in our lives into images of Jesus, her Son and our Beloved Brother.  You know, there’s a saying in Catholicism which goes like this: “Keep Mary in mind, and Jesus will grow in your heart.” I think this would make an excellent New Year’s resolution for us all!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

We All Live in Nazareth

The Catholic Liturgy for Holy Family Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019. Gospel of St. Matthew 2:13-23. Theme: We All Live in Nazareth

Even though it’s still Christmastime for a couple more weeks, you’ve no doubt noticed that many of the sights and sounds of the season are slowly disappearing. Things are gradually starting to look and sound and smell rather ordinary again.  And today’s Gospel is very much like that as well.  

It starts out feeling like Christmas, with the extraordinary intervention of angels and God-inspired dreams, but ends with the more ordinary down-to-earth reality of a devoted husband looking for a safe place for his little family to live.  There are many interesting things in today’s story of the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt and their return home. But what catches my attention is the closing verse which summarizes the entire next 30 years of the Christ Child’s life in 6 simple words: “He shall be called a Nazorean.”  

Nazareth was the Virgin Mary’s hometown and so that’s probably a big reason why the Holy Family chose to go there upon their return from Egypt.  But another important reason is that it was considered the boonies, the sticks, a backwater village of only a few hundred people.  So, it was far out of sight and far away from any possible lingering danger to Jesus that was started by King Herod.  There are no heavenly angels proclaiming God’s praise to shepherds there. There are no mystical magi following a miraculous star and bringing precious treasures to a king. Those extraordinary things all belong to royal Bethlehem and majestic Jerusalem.  

But Nazareth is an ordinary everyday kind of place, where the Holy Family lived an ordinary everyday kind of life.  That’s why it speaks to me so powerfully. I’m at very much more at home in Nazareth. For me, Nazareth symbolizes living by faith and not by miracles. Nazareth means going to work and earning a living. Nazareth means trying to do our best to know, love and serve God within the ordinary situations in which we find ourselves. 

That’s where I live. That’s where most of us live.  But most amazing of all: that is where God the Son, freely chose to live for 90% of his life as a human being. Bethlehem is forever privileged as the place where God became flesh, but Nazareth has the honor of showing us what this means and what it looks like. It is where the extraordinary happenings of Christmas give way to the ordinary, because it is in Nazareth that 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 the Savior who heals and blesses and transforms our humanity by sharing fully in it.  Nazareth is where he lives out his Christmas name of Emmanuel: God-with-us. God-among-us. God-as-one-of-us:
  • ·       He chose to live and grow up in a family like we all do, experiencing life among those with whom he lived, worked and socialized;
  • ·       He became a craftsman, a laborer, following in his adopted father’s trade and earning his living by the sweat of his brow and the work of his hands.
  • ·       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 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. 

Now stop for a moment and ask yourself: what does this say about the dignity of our 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 our everyday lives being potential pathways to holiness? About living our everyday lives in an intimate relationship with God so as to reach the Kingdom of Heaven? I believe it says a whole lot about how these things which are, after all, the reason why we have Christmas in the first place!

Because of Nazareth, because Jesus chose to live the kind of life we all live, we are able infuse our ordinary lives with extraordinary grace and blessings.   We can do this every morning by offering up our day and everything it in a spirit of solidarity with the life lived on earth by the Lord Jesus. And when we do so, when we choose to live our ordinary lives in union with his, then everything we do – all of our prayers, works, joys and sufferings – everything…becomes a gift to God and a means of blessing for us and those we love. We become partners with Jesus, our Beloved Brother and Savior, in the work of transforming humanity and bringing salvation to the world.

Yes, the events of the Bethlehem manger were awesome and I do love Christmas very much… But the glorious angels gave their message to the shepherds and then returned to Heaven…And the mystical magi paid their homage to the Newborn King and then returned home to the East…However, Nazareth…Nazareth has never ever disappeared from the face of earth but has lived on for centuries in Christians like you and me who make the decision to live our ordinary everyday lives in solidarity, in loving union, with Jesus the Nazorean.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Promised One Has Come!

The Catholic Liturgy for Christmas Day. Gospel of Luke 2:1-20. Theme: The Promised One Has Come!
In celebrating 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 we praise God for being a Father who always keeps His promises, especially those that made about the coming of his Son as the Savior of humanity. 

Even though millions of people celebrate Christmas, enjoying the sights and sounds of the season, they seem to have historical and religious ignorance about the uniqueness and facts concerning Jesus of Nazareth. They assume that He was simply one spiritual leader among the many who have entered human history. 

But, if we take the time to investigate the facts, we discover that God prepared the world his coming for over 1,000 years before it actually took place. He sent prophets who foretold many things about him, from his miraculous conception to His rising from the dead. 

As a matter of fact, the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament can be called a “book of promises” because they contain over 70 of these prophecies about the Messiah.  This is just one of the many unique things about Jesus. And it is somethings that is not true about any of the other founders or major figures of other world religions.  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.

So, what do some of 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 after Jesus’ birth; 
* He would live for a time in Egypt for a time but return and become a resident of Nazareth;
* His mission would be like a light shining in darkness, with great signs of God’s power and presence: the blind receiving their sight; the deaf being able to hear; and the lame being able to walk;
* The Messiah would die a sacrificial death on behalf of the people, a death that would heal us;
* 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 alone is the Way to that leads us to Heaven. He alone teaches the Truth that sets us free from spiritual wandering and ignorance. He alone gives us a full and abundant Life that never ends.

Because of this Baby in the manger we no longer need to live in morally dark places or in spiritual blindness, groping and searching for answers to life’s deepest questions.

Because of this Baby in the manger we can each be transformed from the inside out, embracing a new way of thinking, a new way of living that leads to a sense of wholeness and to real happiness, both here and hereafter.

Because of this Baby in the manger, we no longer need to live lives that are so easily dominated and crushed by sin and selfishness.

Each and every one of us can allow the him to become real in our own lives and dwell within us as he promised. All we need to do is trust in Jesus who is mercy and love, and express our desire to have Him be spiritually reborn within our hearts, so that He can live and reign there always as Brother, as Savior, as Messiah and King.