Six (6) Days till CHRISTmas. Are You Ready?!
Make plans to come home to your family, even if it involves some forgiveness. Come home to the Catholic Church, even if it involves some forgiveness – perhaps in BOTH directions! No home, NO Church is perfect. It’s simply a place where imperfect people treat each other with a kindness no one has earned.
Yesterday was my youngest Son’s anniversary. Sadly, an anniversary we do not necessarily celebrate. My 11-year-old was diagnosed with type I diabetes 6 years ago.
He is a typical, and sometimes VERY TYPICAL pre-teen. The difference between him and his three brothers is that he wears a device on his belt with a catheter going under his skin, providing him with the required amount of insulin he has to have to metabolise the “sugars” in his food.
The flip side of this “coin of fate” is that he has become a very sensitive, intelligent, conceptual, and caring person, whom I often say is the most mature person in the family – – and that includes my wife and myself at times.
Thank you God for the grace of his diabetes. (Now, please give a cure!)
Today in Catholic History:
† 401 – St Anastasius I ends his reign as Catholic Pope
† 1370 – Death of Urban V, [Guillaume de Grimoard], the first Avignon Pope (1362-70)
† 1744 – Birth of Jacobus J Cramer, priest of Holland/Zealand/West-Friesland
† 1749 – Death of Francesco Antonio Bonporti, Italian priest and composer (b. 1672)
† 1891 – Charles Uncles becomes the first Black Catholic priest ordained in US, in Baltimore
† 1914 – Death of Johann F Ritter von Schulte, German catholic lawyer, at age 87
(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
“Today in Catholic History”
Franciscan Formation Reflection:
The Franciscan vision stresses the right relationship of justice.
“From the very beginning, Franciscans were seen as ‘fraters’ (and ‘sorores’) ‘minors’, lesser brothers (and sisters). The Franciscan tradition emphasizes a genuine meeting of justice and charity. Franciscans do not try to domesticate the prophetic words of the Gospel but rather are called to live out a renewed vision of life and relationships based on justice. Like all Christians, Franciscans are called to read the Signs of the Times, critique abuses of power, and follow an ethic based on the inviolable dignity of all people.”
The following is from St. Bonaventure’s reflection on St. Francis’ image of himself. St. Bonaventure writes:
“In his own opinion he was nothing but a sinner, though in truth he was a mirror and the splendor of holiness. As he had learned from Christ, he strove to build himself upon this like a wise architect laying a foundation.” – St. Bonaventure, Major Life, Chapter VI
(From the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) website:
Quote or Joke of the Day:
Two Jesuit novices both wanted a cigarette while they prayed. They decided to ask their superior for permission. The first asked but was told no. A little while later he spotted his friend smoking and praying. “Why did the superior allow you to smoke and not me?” he asked. His friend replied, “Because you asked if you could smoke while you prayed, and I asked if I could pray while I smoked!”
(from http://www.thebricktestament.com Website)
Today’s reflection is about Gabriel appearing to Joseph and directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.
18 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. 20 Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. 21 She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. (NAB Matthew 1:18-24)
We are at the fourth (and last) Sunday of Advent. Our Gospel reading at Sunday Mass finally permits us to begin contemplating the mysteries of the Incarnation Catholics love to celebrate at Christmas:
“Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” (Matthew 1:18).
The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective, and not Mary’s. In the preceding verses, Matthew had listed the genealogy (family tree) of Jesus, following His family tree (or lineage) to King David; and then even further back to Abraham (Luke’s genealogy goes back to Adam). In the chapter immediately following this one, Matthew recounts the visit and adoration from the Magi visitors from the “east”, the Holy Family’s rapid flight into Egypt after Jesus’ birth, and King Herod’s massacre of the “Holy Innocents” – the infants (two years of age and younger) of Bethlehem who were found and executed mercilessly in order to satisfy King Herod’s greed and selfishness and to relieve him of fear of another king replacing him. The other stories we often associate with Christmas, – – the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the choir of angels appearing to the shepherds and sending them to the infant Jesus, – – are found only in the Gospel of Luke.
The virginal conception of Jesus is at work in the Holy Spirit: the third “person” of Godhead. Matthew sees the virginal conception as the transcendent fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
We should not skim too quickly over the difficult circumstances described in today’s Gospel. Peel away the top layers of the “onion” of theology and bible study; look under these top layers to find a hidden message meant only for you to discover (a revelation)! The way Joseph and Mary faced these circumstances tells us a humungous amount about the Holy Parents – and their faith, love, and trust in God. I have high suspicions that Jesus’ earthly ministry was infinitely and definitely shaped by Mary and Joseph’s parenting and nurturing skills.
Joseph and Mary are “betrothed.” This is often described incorrectly as an engagement period; it is much more than an engagement. In first century Jewish history, Mosaic Law, and cultural tradition, a “betrothal” was the first part of a marriage contract – – a covenant. It established a couple (the man and woman) as husband and wife in a legal, but not in a physical way. (Hmm; Sometimes I think my marriage is like that now! – only joking Honey Pie, Sweety, Snookums!) A betrothal was followed at a later time, usually some months later, by the husband finally and physically receiving his wife into his home. At this time a normal married life began (per our modern traditions) for the Jewish couple. Any breach with infidelity or unfaithfulness to this covenant was considered “adultery”.
A “righteous man” was the term for a devout observer and follower of the Mosaic Law and Jewish religion – – such was Joseph. Joseph wanted to sever his marriage bond with Mary whom he initially suspected of a morally gross violation of sacred law and tradition. In reality, the “law” required him to sever his relationship, however, the Mosaic Law used for this requirement or interpretation (Deuteronomy 22:20-21) did not clearly pertain to Joseph’s situation: The Deuteronomical reference flowing states:
“But if this charge is true, and evidence of the girl’s virginity is not found, they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there her townsmen shall stone her to death, because she committed a crime against Israel by her unchasteness in her father’s house. Thus shall you purge the evil from your midst.” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21)
Mary was never “unchaste!” She was a virgin, (and remained a virgin for her entire earthly life)! The Law therefore did not truly apply to her, (and Joseph realized such after his dream revelation), even though Mary is truly found to be with child while still betrothed.
Mary had to face an enormous challenge to her faith and trust in God. She was asked to assume a burden of tremendous and unending responsibility. Pregnancy outside of wedlock was not tolerated well, if at all, in those days. She easily could have been rejected by Joseph, by her family, and by all her own people. Mary probably knew that Joseph and her family would not understand without a revelation from God. She nonetheless believed and trusted in God’s promises. (Remember, she said to Gabriel, “May it be unto me according to your word!” – Luke 1:38)
Joseph had to be troubled with the situation, and most likely took this upsetting matter to God in his prayers. He was not hasty to pronounce judgment or to respond with hurt and anger. For this, God rewarded Joseph with direction and comfort, AND with a divine assurance that He Himself had “called” Joseph to be Mary’s husband. God Himself had “called” Joseph to take on a duty that would require the utmost of faith, confidence, and loving trust in God.
Joseph’s decision to divorce Mary was overcome by a heavenly command delivered by the Archangel Gabriel. God intervened through this “messenger” in a way that Joseph could understand, believe, and act on. After this divinely motivating dream, Joseph immediately not only took Mary into his home, but also accepted the child (Jesus) as his own legally, emotionally, fatherly, and spiritually.
The “natural” genealogical line (on Joseph’s side) may have been broken in physical terms; however, the promises to King David are fulfilled primarily, naturally through Mary, and supported legally through Joseph’s “adoption” of his son Jesus. Jesus belongs to, and is part of Joseph’s family. Jesus is now rooted (Hmm, from the root of Jesse; see Isaiah 11:1), received, and welcomed into the line of David, and through the eyes of Mosaic Law. Jesus is forever rooted in continuity, association, and relationship with all the notable figures of Israel.
In listing Jesus’ genealogy (in Matthew 1:-1-17), Matthew broke with the Jewish tradition of listing ONLY the male descendants. He breaks tradition by mentioning four (4) women (and mothers): Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bethsheba. Another split from Jewish tradition and heritage were these women’s behaviors and histories, which definitely did not reflecting the ideal models for womanhood (but neither do some of the men in this genealogical list). Consider the following:
T One woman was alleged to be a prostitute (Rahab),
T Another became pregnant by a scam she played on her father-in-law (Tamar),
T Three of these women were “foreigners” (Rahab, Ruth, & Bethsheba), and
T One was a victim of lust, or a consenting collaborator to adultery and conspiracy (Bethsheba).
Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to shame, for he knew she was still a virgin. Joseph and Mary are both cooperating with God’s plan. For this trust they both had in God, they are both recognized as the perfect models for Catholic and all Christian followers of Christ. They both knew what it truly meant to be faithful servants of God.
Four (4) of the five (5) dreams in the birth story of Jesus found in Holy Scripture were Joseph’s. It seems this man lived through his dreams! The only other dream in the story of Jesus’ birth was directed to the “Magi” in Mathew 2:12.
Gabriel, an “angel of the Lord” was the usual “messenger” in the Old Testament and now again in the New Testament. He is the designated messenger by God for communication with human beings. The message given to Joseph in his dream tells us much about the child that Mary bears and Jesus’ role in God’s plan.
Joseph truly dreamed about his future. As mentioned above, Gabriel came to Joseph four (4) times (see Matthew 2:13, 19, & 22). Could these dreams be meant to recall the dreams of another Joseph (with the multi-colored dream coat), son of Jacob the patriarch from Genesis 37:5 and 48:19? Could a closer parallel be found in the dream of Amram, who was the father of Moses, as related by Josephus in “Antiquities 2, 9, 3”
“A man whose name was Amram, one of the nobler sort of the Hebrews, was afraid … was very uneasy at it, his wife being then with child, and he knew not what to do. … Accordingly God had mercy on him, and was moved by his supplication. He stood by him in his sleep, and exhorted him not to despair of his future favors. He said further, that he did not forget their piety towards him, and would always reward them for it, as he had formerly granted his favor to their forefathers, and made them increase from a few to so great a multitude. … She was afterwards by him enabled to conceive seed, and bare him sons. … He became well known to strangers also, by the greatness … make thee famous; for that child, out of dread of whose nativity … shall be this child of thine, and shall be concealed from those who watch to destroy him: and when he is brought up in a surprising way, he shall deliver the Hebrew nation from the distress they are under from the Egyptians. His memory shall be famous while the world lasts; and this not only among the Hebrews, but foreigners also: – all which shall be the effect of my favor to thee, and to thy posterity.”
The name “Jesus” (a Greek form of the Hebrew “Joshua”) is interpreted as “Yahweh saves.” Jesus IS the fulfillment of the prophecy heard in today’s first reading from Isaiah (7:14):
“. . . The virgin shall be with child . . . and shall name him Immanuel.”
“Emmanuel” translates to “God is with us.” Emmanuel was the “how” of God’s promise of deliverance to Judah to come, as prophesied by Isaiah seven (7) or so centuries before Jesus’. In knowing prophesies of old, Matthew saw this biblical “Emmanuel” as being fulfilled in the personhood of Jesus. To strengthen this position, the name Emmanuel is also alluded to at the end of Matthew’s Gospel wherein the Risen Jesus assures his disciples of his continued presence:
“I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
(Emmanuel versus Immanuel: WHAT GIVES?! “I”mmanuel is a transliteration of the Hebrew (OT) and “E”mmanuel is the Greek spelling for the Hebrew (NT). A simple way to remember the difference is “’I’ before ‘E’, except after the years B.C.!”
Whenever you’re sad, lonely, or afraid, how inspiring and mood elevating it is to have said to you, “I am with you!” Out of an unlimited, endless, and vast love, God sent His only Son to share our destiny and to live, teach, die, and rise again, solely to save us from the causes of sin (which is spiritual death). Jesus is “God – With – Us”!
Even when Joseph and Mary’s circumstances seemed unclear for them; when they felt inadequate for their roles, – – they trusted God. They trusted God individually and together as a couple and family. Healthy relationships and families are built on a solid foundation of mutual trust in, respect for, and love – – for God – – and for one another.
How important is trust in your personal and family life? Do your children and spouse trust you? Do you trust your children and spouse? Do you trust God in everything?! Are you ready to believe in the promises of God, even when confronted with circumstances that seem insurmountable?
Pray that your life is built on a SOLID foundation of trust, respect, and love – as was so perfectly modeled by Joseph and Mary. Let us celebrate Christmas, – – the Feast of the Incarnation, – – with most joyful hearts. Let us renew our faith, hope, and love in God, and how He works “in” and “through” us.
God thoroughly departed from human expectations of the time and brought about something new and different – – Jesus Christ! During this Advent and CHRISTmas (or CHRIST@MASS) season, take some time to contemplate on how God is trying to accompany and guide you beyond your believed potential. God wants to help you see all people and creation in a new, kinder, and loving way. He wants you to see His face in all people, and especially in the poor, marginalized, and outcast of society.
It is never too late to get ready for God. It is never too late to see God in others around you. Just ask Him to give you a new perspective on the ordinary and unexpected (but always amazing) situations in your life. When you feel “inadequate” for a role, task, or situation – – turn to Jesus. Never, ever forget that God is with you – Emmanuel!
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO
A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day: Blessed Pope Urban V (1310-1370)
In 1362, the man elected pope declined the office. When the cardinals could not find another person among them for that important office, they turned to a relative stranger: the holy person we honor today.
The new Pope Urban V proved a wise choice. A Benedictine monk and canon lawyer, he was deeply spiritual and brilliant. He lived simply and modestly, which did not always earn him friends among clergymen who had become used to comfort and privilege. Still, he pressed for reform and saw to the restoration of churches and monasteries. Except for a brief period he spent most of his eight years as pope living away from Rome at Avignon, seat of the papacy from 1309 until shortly after his death.
He came close but was not able to achieve one of his biggest goals—reuniting the Eastern and Western churches.
As pope, Urban continued to follow the Benedictine Rule. Shortly before his death in 1370 he asked to be moved from the papal palace to the nearby home of his brother so he could say goodbye to the ordinary people he had so often helped.
Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)
Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule #’s 19 & 20 of 26:
19. Mindful that they are bearers of peace which must be built up unceasingly, they should seek out ways of unity and fraternal harmony through dialogue, trusting in the presence of the divine seed in everyone and in the transforming power of love and pardon. Messengers of perfect joy in every circumstance, they should strive to bring joy and hope to others. Since they are immersed in the resurrection of Christ, which gives true meaning to Sister Death, let them serenely tend toward the ultimate encounter with the Father.
20. The Secular Franciscan Order is divided into fraternities of various levels — local, regional, national, and international. Each one has its own moral personality in the Church. These various fraternities are coordinated and united according to the norm of this rule and of the constitutions.