♫“We’re Off To See the Desert, the Wonderful Desert of Egypt!”♫ – Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23†


 

 

Today is “Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph”

 

 

 

73 Days till Ash Wednesday and the Start of the Lenten Season!

& only 364 days till Christmas
I had too – sorry (kinda)!

            

Today in Catholic History:


    
†   268 – Death of Dionysius, Pope/saint
†   418 – St Zosimus ends his reign as Catholic Pope with his death
†   795 – St Leo III begins his reign as Catholic Pope with his death
†   1350 – Death of Jean de Marigny, French bishop
†   1574 – Death of Charles of Guise, French cardinal (b. 1524)
†   1751 – Birth of Clement Hofbauer, Austrian hermit, missionary, and patron saint of Vienna; known as the second founder of the Redemptorist Congregation (d. 1820)
†   1862 – Four nuns serving as volunteer nurses on board USS Red Rover are the first female nurses on a U.S. Navy hospital ship.
†   1948 – Cardinal Mindszenty (March 29, 1892—May 6, 1975) is arrested in Hungary and accused of treason and conspiracy.
†   St. Stephen’s Day, a public holiday in Alsace, Austria, Catalonia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Ireland.
†   Synaxis of Theotokos and feast of St. Joseph, King and Prophet David and St. James the Just (Orthodox Christianity).
†   The first of the twelve days of Christmas in Western Christianity.

 (From the “On This Day” Blog Site
otday.wordpress.com) &/OR
“Today in Catholic History”
http://www.historyorb.com)

 

 

Quote or Joke of the Day:

  

 

 

Franciscan Formation Reflection:

 

Franciscans are called not only to change themselves but also to be agents of change in the larger community.

Francis began his conversion in the Church of San Damiano, when he heard the crucifix challenge him, ‘Francis, repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.’  Throughout the course of his life, he realized that the ‘house’ that was in need of repair was his own contemporary society and Church.  Today Franciscans are still called to evangelize by their example, both in society and in the Church.  Following the examples of those who have gone before us, we accomplish this task in a spirit of service and humility, giving ‘testimony in word and work that there is no all-powerful one but the Lord’ – (Letter to the Whole Order, 9).

(From the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) website:
http://www.franciscanaction.org)

 

 

 

Today’s reflection is about God telling Joseph in a dream to flee Israel, and his going to Egypt in order to protect Jesus from King Herod the Great.

  

13 When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.  Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”  14 Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.  15 He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  19 When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”  21 He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel.  22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go back there.  And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee.  23 He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He shall be called a Nazorean.”   (NAB Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23)

 

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.  Joseph was given a unique task as the guardian and protector of Mary and Jesus.  But as a Dominican Priest (unknown to me) said of their escape and journey to Egypt with the infant Jesus, “What they guarded, guarded them.”  This Gospel reading encourages us to consider Jesus’ step-father’s protection of his “adopted” child who was brought forth into this world – and immediately placed in the face of danger from a cruel and ruthless King.  Just as happened with the announcement of Jesus’ birth (the Annunciation of Joseph), the archangel Gabriel appears to Joseph in yet another dream.  Gabriel warns Joseph of Herod’s plan to kill the infant Jesus if he can find Him.  Joseph follows Gabriel’s command and escapes with Jesus and Mary, taking flight to Egypt some 250 (or so) miles away.  They only return to their homeland after receiving word in yet still another dream telling him that it was now safe to do so.

The “Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph” has always been a part of the Christmas season liturgical celebrations for as long as I can remember.  As such, we should look at today’s Gospel about the “Holy Family” in the context of what Holy Scripture tells us about Jesus’ birth.   Today’s reading directly follows the story of the Magi’s visit, and continues with Joseph (and not Mary) as the primary character in Matthew’s infancy narrative story.  So, what can we learn from the example, witness, and faith of Joseph?

Among several themes in Matthew’s infancy story, Jesus being the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies in regards to the “Messiah” is paramount.  In Matthew’s approach to chronicling the Holy Family’s “flight to Egypt” story, he is also figuratively recalling, and renewing, the exodus story of Moses found in the Book of Exodus.

Traditions about Moses applies to the child Jesus in the in today’s reading presented here, though the vital or essential  focus of the Old Testament “Biblical typology” – – (a method of biblical interpretation wherein an element or verse found in the Old Testament is seen to prefigure one found in the New Testament) – – is not Moses, but instead on “Israel” itself.

Other than because of being told to do so by the Archangel Gabriel, why does the Holy Family “flee to Egypt”?  Well, I can think of two.   Egypt was known as the “long-established” area of sanctuary and a safe haven for anyone escaping from danger in Palestine.  Examples in Old Testament Scripture can be found in the books of 1 Kings and Jeremiah:

“When Solomon tried to have Jeroboam killed for his rebellion, he escaped to King Shishak, in Egypt, where he remained until Solomon’s death.”  (1 Kings 11:40)

“When King Jehoiakim and all his officers and princes were informed of his words, the king sought to kill him. But Uriah heard of it and fled in fear to Egypt.”  (Jeremiah 26:21)

 However, the primary reason why the Holy Family is told to go to Egypt is because Jesus (and us) must relive and experience again the “Exodus” incident of Israel.  Remember, the Old Testament lives in the New Testament, and the New Testament fulfills the Old (something a lot of Catholics either forgot or was never taught).  The fulfillment reference in verse fifteen (15) is taken directly from Hosea 11:1; the basic experience of salvation, the exodus from Egyptian bondage.

“When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1)

The nation of Israel, God’s “chosen son”, was called out of Egypt at the time of the Great Exodus through Moses.  Jesus, the true “Son of God”, was similarly called out of that same Egypt in a “NEW” Exodus: a new migration.  The father-son relationship that exists (still today) between God and the nation of Israel was taken to a far higher and more divine level of importance with the relationship of God to Jesus – – (His Only Son) – – who even still today represents the beginning of the return, and the renewal of all Israel for all times (The Alpha and Omega).

 “Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  (Matthew 19:28)

 “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”  (Matthew 21:43)

Here the “son” is not a nation adopted as a “son of God,” – – but the child Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit in a unique and especially divine relationship to and with God.  Jesus is a son of David, and of Abraham, and of Mary, and of Joseph, BUT, – – above all, – – is THE Only Son of God!  Solely in Jesus Christ, the history, the people, and the institutions of all Israel (of all faithful followers)are concentrated and condensed, taking aim and beginning on the next (and final) era of salvation.  The flight of the infant Jesus with the Holy Family is a new exodus – – with a new and greater Moses found only in Jesus Christ.

In Exodus 2:15, Moses fled from Egypt because the Pharaoh sought to kill him.

“Pharaoh, too, heard of the affair and sought to put him to death.  But Moses fled from him and stayed in the land of Midian.”  (Exodus 2:15)

In Exodus 4:19, He was told by God to return to Egypt, ‘for all the men who sought your life are dead.’

“In Midian the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all the men who sought your life are dead.’”  (Exodus 4:19)

 

After Herod (the Great’s) death, his kingdom was divided between his three sons.  With the agreement of the Roman Emperor Augustus, “Archelaus” received about half of his father’s kingdom which included Samaria, Edom, and Judea.   He had been given the titleethnarch” (a national leader of a province) and named as Herod the Great’s successor.  His reign was from 4 B.C. to 6 A.D., with him dying about 18 A.D.

His brothers “Antipas” and “Philip II” were given the lesser titles of “tetrarchs” (similar to a governor).  Antipas ruled over Galilee (north of Jerusalem) where Jesus was brought up and carried out most of His public ministry.  Antipas also had charge over the east bank of the Jordan River.  Philip II ruled over the “Golan Heights” area northeast of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis.

 

The Holy Family did not want to be around the ruthless Herod Archelaus in Judea/Samaria, so when they settled in Galilee (the area ruled by Antipas), they set up their household in a small, obscure, and easily unnoticed village of about 200 people, called Nazareth.    

Jesus “shall be called a ‘Nazorean’”.  The tradition of Jesus’ residence of youth is firmly established by scholars as being in the town of “Nazareth.”  His public ministry “headquarters” though (at least His human one on earth) was in the seaside town of Capernaum instead.  In recently watching a special on EWTN, I learned that his headquarters was actually in a “back room” of the Apostle John’s (and John’s mother) home.  Jesus was literally a “back room” Prophet-Priest-King- Savior!! (Doesn’t that little tidbit just put a smile on your face?)

Matthew sees the quaint town of “Nazareth” as being in synchronization with God’s plan, though Nazareth is not mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament – even once.  Nor can any such prophecy regarding Nazareth be found in the Old Testament either.  Matthew may have perhaps inserted this little “detail of residence” here in his Gospel, to provoke his readers to consider several possibilities or elements:

T   First, simply just as a reference to a little town that just so happens to have never been mentioned in the Old Testament (though it had existed since at least the 7th century B.C.), or,

T   As a reference to the Messiah as the “branch” (neser) found in Isaiah 11:1, or finally as,

T   A reference to Jesus as a “nazir”, a “consecrated person”, in the same line as that of Samson and Samuel.

The seemingly vague expression “through the prophets” (verse 23) may be due to a connection Matthew saw between Nazareth and other texts having words remotely similar to the name of “Nazareth”.  In Isaiah 11:1, the future “Davidic king” will be “a bud”, and that this bud will blossom from the “root of Jesse.” 

“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”  (Isaiah 11:1)

The connection between “Nazareth” and Isaiah’s verse above is that “neser” (pronounced nay-tser) is the Hebrew word for branch or sprout.   It could sound like the name Nazareth – – if said fast, and with a ton of crackers in your mouth – – I guess.   Matthew saw the connection anyhow (even if I don’t).  Isaiah’s prophecy about the sprout (neser) could definitely be interpreted to mean that Jesus the “Messiah” would have a simple and humble beginning.   

To Matthew the very word “neser” from Isaiah’s prophecy finds its true and totally full meaning and realization in Jesus being a “Nazarene”.  Read the rest of Isaiah 11, to its end, for further proof of this fullness and realization.  To paraphrase Isaiah 11, this lowly “Nazarene” is prophesized to become a great and righteous King, empowered by the Holy Spirit, yet ruling in a simple and peaceful way of, and with, LOVE! 

 

In Judges 13:5 and 7, the future deliverer of Israel will be one who is consecrated (a “nazir”) to God.

“As for the son you will conceive and bear, no razor shall touch his head, for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb.  It is he who will begin the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines.  But he said to me, ‘You will be with child and will bear a son.  So take neither wine nor strong drink, and eat nothing unclean.  For the boy shall be consecrated to God from the womb, until the day of his death.’”  (Judges 13:5, 7)

A Nazirite (an alternative spelling is “Nazarite”), from the Hebrew word, “nazir” means “consecrated”.  The term refers to individuals who consecrated their lives to God; taking ascetic vows (someone who is self-denying and lives with minimal material comforts).  In taking these vows, it required of them to abstain from wine, refrain from cutting their hair, and avoiding any contact with the dead, graves, and tombs in any manner (see Numbers 6:1-21).  Three well known “Nazirites” found in Holy Scripture include Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist, (and some say perhaps Jesus himself).  In taking Nazirite vows, Jesus could be called a “Nazarene”, which may be derived from the word “Nazirite” rather than “Nazareth”. 

I see “nazir” as people who would be very strong, very direct, and very demanding in stature and speech – – such as the aforementioned Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist.  Though the word nazir is closer to the word Nazareth than neser (for me anyway), I am having some difficulty seeing Jesus (even though He was consecrated to God’s service) in an “expectedly direct” role of this type.  Remember Jesus broke the mold for being unconventional in His abilities, ways, and nature.

In reality, the Holy Family probably settled in Nazareth because Joseph could find abundant work in the neighboring city of Sepphoris (about 4 miles from Nazareth), which Herod Antipas was rebuilding as his capitol at the time.  I have been given unconfirmed information that Herod Antipas was revitalizing Sepphoris – using “tax increment financing funds” (TIFF’s) to build many inns, restaurants, and Wal-marts.  It seems Antipas liked to dabble in cooking and he was well known for his “Caesar” salads & “Antipas-tas”!

 

It should also be realized that today’s reading from Mass skips over, – – totally omits – – verses 16, 17, and 18, that relates Herod the Great’s order for the massacre of the “Holy Innocents”, the infant boys (2 years of age and under) living in and around Bethlehem around the time of Jesus’ birth.  This sad event will be remembered in the Catholic Church on the “Feast of the Holy Innocents” occurring this year on Tuesday, December 28 (in just two days).

 

Today’s Mass readings should remind all of us of the complex reality and yet simple truth of Jesus’ human birth.  While the story of the Magi’s visit will be recalled at Masses on the “Feast of the Epiphany” (Sunday, January 2nd), our Christmas celebration is tempered by recognizing the fact that not everyone in Jesus’ time period (and sadly still today – I believe) received Christ’s birth with joy,celebration, respect, or submission.  

Herod’s profound greed, jealousy, and hatred fully contrasts with Joseph’s humble generosity, trust, and love for God, as well as for his obedience to God’s words relayed to him by Gabriel – the archangel messenger.  The Holy Family’s escape to Egypt – – and from the massacre that Jesus is saved from in his infancy – – could, and should, remind us that struggles and sacrifices are often required as part of the preparation for God’s salvation.  If God (in the second person of the Godhead, and divinely human nature of Jesus) is not immune from trials, persecutions, and sufferings, why do we think we should be?!

 Joseph courageously and valiantly sets aside his own preconceived plans when God called him to “get away – escape now”.  Without hesitation or question, he leaves his familiar surroundings and home lands: his home, friends and relatives.  Joseph also left behind his trade and business, his self-assured security in a livelihood of known work.  He leaves all of this, solely in order to pursue a hidden mission that God Himself entrusted to Joseph: becoming the “guardian” of the long awaited newborn King and “Messiah”!  

 

The infancy narrative, – – the birth story of Jesus Christ, – – comes to an end here.  After this Gospel reading, Joseph simply disappears, never to be seen or mentioned again.  Joseph is the only “main character” in Holy Scripture (that I know) who does not actually speak a single word in the entire Bible.  Yet he still makes his relationship, his love, his trust, and his dynamic obedience to God’s plan known without speaking “that single” word.  St. Francis most certainly had to love Joseph, for St. Joseph “preached” the Gospel without using any words!  God bless St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

Do you want to know something uniquely special?  God has a specific goal, plan, and task for each one of us!  With your individual action plan, God also gives you the grace and the assurance of His guidance and His loving trust and support.  Do you trust God’s plan for your life?  Are you willing to sacrifice your own private and/or public plans for God’s plan?  Are you willing to give God your total faith, trust, and service (Your ALL) to follow whatever mission or task He gives to you, without hesitation or questioning

On this beautiful Sunday, it is quite apropos that we are asked to linger for a short time and think about the Holy Family, – – and to do this only one day after Jesus’ birth celebration.  Today, we reflect on how Joseph protected his step-son, Jesus, from imminent danger by relocating the Holy Family to Egypt; and doing so in absolute and trusting obedience to God’s word.  

Using the “Holy Family” as a perfect model for all families, we should use this feast day to recall the responsibility each family member has for each other in the family as a whole, and for your responsibility to contribute to the “good” and “needs” of the family individually.  Use today’s message in the Gospel reading as a way to recommit yourself to each other in your immediate and extended families.  After all, to be present is the greatest “Present” one can give to anyone else.

 

A Christmas Prayer by Robert Louis Stevenson

 

“Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world.  Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.  Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.   Amen.”

http://www.prayerguide.org.uk/christmas.htm

 

Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO

 

*****

 

A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Stephen (d. 36 A.D.?)

 

All we know of Stephen is found in Acts of the Apostles, chapters Six and Seven.  It is enough to tell us what kind of man he was:

At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenist (Greek-speaking) Christians complained about the Hebrew-speaking Christians, saying that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.  Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”  The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit…. (Acts 6:1-5)

Acts says that Stephen was a man filled with grace and power, who worked great wonders among the people.  Certain Jews, members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen, debated with Stephen but proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke.  They persuaded others to make the charge of blasphemy against him.  He was seized and carried before the Sanhedrin.

In his speech, Stephen recalled God’s guidance through Israel’s history, as well as Israel’s idolatry and disobedience.  He then claimed that his persecutors were showing this same spirit.  “[Y]ou always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors” (Acts 7:51b).

His speech brought anger from the crowd.  “But [Stephen], filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God….’  They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him…. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…. Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:55-56, 58a, 59, 60b).

Comment:

Stephen died as Jesus did: falsely accused, brought to unjust condemnation because he spoke the truth fearlessly.  He died with his eyes trustfully fixed on God, and with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips.  A “happy” death is one that finds us in the same spirit, whether our dying is as quiet as Joseph’s or as violent as Stephen’s: dying with courage, total trust and forgiving love.

Patron Saint of: Bricklayers; Deacons; Hungary

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 25 & 26 of 26:

 

25.     Regarding expenses necessary for the life of the fraternity and the needs of worship, of the apostolate, and of charity, all the brothers and sisters should offer a contribution according to their means. Local fraternities should contribute toward the expenses of the higher fraternity councils.

 

 

 

 

26.     As a concrete sign of communion and co- responsibility, the councils on various levels, in keeping with the constitutions, shall ask for suitable and well prepared religious for spiritual assistance. They should make this request to the superiors of the four religious Franciscan families, to whom the Secular Fraternity has been united for centuries.

To promote fidelity to the charism as well as observance of the rule and to receive greater support in the life of the fraternity, the minister or president, with the consent of the council, should take care to ask for a regular pastoral visit by the competent religious superiors as well as for a fraternal visit from those of the higher fraternities, according to the norm of the constitutions.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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