Tag Archives: Judea

“If They Sought Advice from Herod, Were the ‘Magi” Truly Wise? I believe the Answer Is ‘Uncertainly Maybe Possible!’” – Matthew 2:1-12†


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“Epiphany of the Lord”

. table_of_contentsToday’s Content:

 

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Quote or Joke of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer 

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:. pencil

 

Because of the supportive and positive feedback I received concerning my success of explaining the Advent and Christmas symbols used in the Catholic Church, I decided to address occasionally other symbols used throughout the Church year.  Today I will discuss the Liturgical colors of vestments.

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The Church’s liturgical norms do prescribe specific vestment colors for various celebrations.  The purpose of utilizing different colors for vestments is twofold: first, the colors highlight the particular liturgical season and the faithfull’s journey through these seasons.  Second, the colors punctuate the liturgical season by highlighting a particular event or particular mystery of faith.  The following explanation is based on the norms of “The General Instruction on the Roman Missal”.

White or gold, a color symbolizing rejoicing and purity of soul, is worn during the liturgical seasons of Christmas and Easter.  White vestments are also used for certain other feasts throughout the year.  White may also be used for Masses of Christian Burial and Masses for the Dead to signify the Resurrection of our Lord, when He triumphed over sin and death, sorrow and darkness.

Red has a dual imagery: symbolizing the shedding of blood and is therefore used on Palm Sunday, Good Friday, any other commemoration of the Lord’s passion, the votive Mass of the Precious Blood, the days marking the martyrdom of the apostles (except St. John), and the feasts of other martyrs who offered their lives for the faith.

On the other hand, red also signifies the burning fire of God’s love.  Red vestments are won on Pentecost; for the Sacrament of Confirmation; and for the votive Masses of the Holy Spirit.

Green is used during the liturgical season called Ordinary Time.  We focus on the life Jesus shared with mankind during His time on this earth, the life we share now with Him in the community of the Church and through His sacraments, looking forward to sharing an everlasting life with Him perfectly in Heaven.  Green symbolizes this hope and life, just as the hint of green on trees in early spring arouses the hope of new life.

Violet or purple is used during Advent and Lent as a sign of penance, sacrifice and preparation.  At the midpoint of both of these seasons—Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent) and Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent—rose vestments are traditionally worn as a sign of joy: we rejoice at the midpoint because we are half-way through the preparation and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas or Easter.  Purple vestments may also be used for Masses of Christian Burial or Masses for the Dead.

Although not seen very frequently in the United States today, black vestments may be worn for Masses of Christian Burial as a sign of death and mourning.  Black may also be used on the Feast of All Souls or for any Mass of the Dead, such as on the anniversary of the death of a loved one.

In all, the colors of the vestments awaken us to the sense of sacred time. They are another visible way to make present the sacred mysteries we celebrate.

http://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/LITCOLOR.HTM

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. thought2Quote of the Day:

 

“Kings may be judges of the earth, but wise men are the judges of kings.” ~  Solomon Ibn Gabirol

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Today’s reflection: The “Magi” seek out Jesus and do him homage.  When have YOU last sought out Jesus, giving Him homage as these “Wise Men”?

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(NAB Matthew 2:1-12)  1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”  3 When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”  7 Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.  8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”  9 After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

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G. Reflectionospel Reflection:

 

The “Feast of the Epiphany” ends the Catholic Church’s Christmas Season. Though it is true that the “Magi” were led to the “Mejesus-and-maryssiah” by a special “star”, G. K. Chesterton once wrote:

Mary [Jesus’ mother] leads us to Christ, but Christ leads us back to His mother, for without Mary’s maternity, Jesus would become a mere abstraction to us.  The Lord wills to ‘let His face shine upon’ us through the face of the Mother of God.  We ‘serve a Mother who seems to grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed.’” (G.K. Chesterton)

The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “showing forth.”  Historically several moments in Jesus Christ’s early life and earthly ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” as “manifestations” of the divine of this newborn, beginning with His birth in Bethlehem, in the visit of the Magi, in His baptism by His cousin, John – the Baptist, and in His first miracle at the Cana wedding feast.

There are some fascinating implications about Jesus in the differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s “infancy narrative”: Christmas2012

(1)In Luke’s Gospel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, includes the Census required for Jesus to be “registered” in their father’s hometown (will say more about this later).

(2) Matthew’s Gospel today focuses on the strange event of “learned” non-Jews, the “Magi”, seeking to visit the prophesied “new king” to be born of Jews, “Israel”.

In retrospect, this text and its story anticipates the future of this “king” on one hand, AND, His acceptance by the non-Jewish “Gentiles” on the other.  We have here a veiled image of the future Church composed of non-Jewish believers, and Jewish believers – – a new “Israel” of faith and worship.

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So, let’s take a deep breath and relax – – and consider this: If Jesus is truly “who” He claims to be – – “the eternal ‘Son’ of God the Father, the prophesied “Anointed One” (Messiah), and the ‘Savior’ of the world’” – – then why was He not recognized by everyone who heard His “Word” and saw His works?  Well, John the Evangelist states in his Gospel that when Jesus came into the world:

The world knew Him not and His own people received Him not” (John 1:10-11).

Hmm, my faith has grown to realize that there is NO neutral stance when it comes to Jesus Christ, during His lifetime, and still today.  Once people hear and see who Jesus claims to be, and what the implications of His coming are for them, they either accept or reject Him outright.  

Jesus was born in unassuming obscurity.  Only a few lowly Jewish shepherds were graced to recognize this Jewish infant boy (Jesus) –wisemen3 – as “King” – – at His birth in a lowly place and fashion; however, some “Magi” also found their way, over a short period of time, to Bethlehem, in order to pay “homage” to the newborn “King of Israel”.  These men were not Israelites, but were instead “outside” foreigners.  Nevertheless, they were likely well-versed in the many “Messianic prophecies”, and were anxious to see the true “great” Messianic King when He appeared as prophesied and promised. 

What are “Magi” anyway?  Well, “Magi” was a designation originally used for a Persian priestly order.  However, over a period of time, the word became used more so for anyone regarded as having a “more than human knowledge”. mcconnellwisemen For this reason, the term frequently used for them is: “Wise Men”.  We also get our word “magic” from this specific word.  Matthew’s “Magi”, from the “east” (probably around the area of Babylon in present day Iraq), were most likely astronomers and/or astrologers, as they obviously saw things in the heavenly skies that others quite apparently and easily overlooked when viewing the VERY SAME stars and constellations.

We know little about the “Magi”.  We know they came “from the east” and journeyed to Bethlehem, via “Jerusalem”, following a “heavenly” astrological sign (the “star”) which, in itself, was of some type ofth “divine importance” to them.  God the Father led them across the vast desert, by means of an extraordinary celestial “happening”, to the little town of Bethlehem, wherein, Jesus was born in a lowly manger.  (Can you hear the song “Oh, little town of Bethlehem” in your head.)  The “Magi’s” journey had to be a difficult one indeed. Roads were poor, no road signs in the desert, Inns (CamolTels) were not the best – – even for the camels.  And let’s not forget the thieves and the lack of police intervention.  All they had was a “star”- – but the best “star” in the heavens.

In their diligent search, these “three” Kings were led to the source of true knowledge – – to Jesus Christ Himself, the “Light and Wisdom” of God the Father.  When they found the newborn child Jesus, they humbly worshiped Him, and gave Him “gifts” fitting for a “true King”, even for a “divine king”.

What fueled the Magi’s search for this specific – – and uniquely special – – “Messianic King”?  I would like to think it was a confident and assured faith in the promise God gave to the Jews, to them and their people – – and to us.  The prophetic promise was to send a Redeemer – – a “King” – – who would establish God’s reign of peace and righteousness for all peoples: 556238_10151178055187903_1249455228_n

Days are coming when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; as king He shall reign and govern wisely, He shall do what is just and right in the land.  In His days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security.  This is the name to be given Him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

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My question to you: “Was it Matthew’s intention to use these men of ‘strange lands’ to represent the Gentiles’ search for a M11 ADVENTtable_html_m309f20f1essianic Savior?”  I believe so.  In essence, the “Magi” could easily and correctly represent the rest of the world, as a whole.  As such, they are truly representative of OUR search for Jesus in our own lives and journeys today.

Also, there are a couple of Old Testament verses inferring that the “Magi” were truly “kings” themselves:

May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts.  Long may he live, receiving gold from Arabia, prayed for without cease, blessed day by day” (Psalm 72:10, 15).

And,

“Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD” (Isaiah 60:6).

Tarshish and the islands”, in the above verse from Psalm 72, refer to the far western part of the “known world”, and Arabia and Seba [Sheba] in the fProject1ar southern portion.  These Magi “from far away” foreign lands, – – yet still possessing advanced knowledge of Jewish faith, practices, traditions, and writings, – – “saw His star”. 

What did Matthew mean by saying “saw HIS star”?  Well, it was a common belief among nearly all in the ancient Middle East that a “new star” would appear at the time of any significant  ruler’s birth: be it a secular king or religious ruler.  For this reason, I believe Matthew drew upon his knowledge of an Old Testament story in which “Balaam” prophesied:

I see him, though not now; I observe him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel, That will crush the brows of Moab, and the skull of all the Sethites” (Numbers 24:17).

The “star” in this case means the physical Messiah King, Jesus Christ Himself; not the astronomical phenomenon in the Middle East the “Mafollow-the-star_t_nvgi” are following all the way to Bethlehem.  In a “Christian” messianic interpretation, the “star”, as also the “scepter” from Israel, would refer to Jesus Christ as “King”:

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

In reality, how many “Magi” do you suppose came to give “homage” to the child Jesus?  Where, in Holy Scripture, does it say that “three” Wise Men travelled to Bethlehem?  The answer is NOWHERE!  We actually base the number of “Magi” as “three” solely on the naming of the three “gifts”- – “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” – – but the actual number of “Magi” that paid “homage” is truly unknown to us. 

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For me, what is interesting is that neither King Herod, nor His trusted officials recognized the prophesied “Word” being “written” in the heavenly stars.  (They did not connect the twinkling dots in the sky.)  King Herod (the Great) reigned from about 37 B.C. until 4 A.D. when he died.  Per Wikipedia, he may have been an “Edomite”, an Arab from the region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.  Herod was described by the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius (a favorite of mine) as:

 “A madman, who murdered his own family, and a great many rabbis.” 

However, King Herod was also known for his colossal building projects throughout Jerusalem, and elsewhere in his kingdom, including the rebuilding of the “Second Temple” in Jerusalem (also referred to as Herod’s Temple).

Herod had a “say what!” moment upon listening to the “Magi” about what the “heavenly skies” prophesied.  He was confused and also concerned about his lack of knowledge AND for getting NO preemptive warninthCAB77DFPg about this “NEW” king in “his” territory from his own priests, astronomers, and astrologers.  Herod was also worried about his personal future welfare, prestige, and physical life, with a “Messiah” king in “his” territory.  So, Herod immediately calls ALL his chief advisors, priests, and “scientists” to an immediate presence before him. (Hmm, first century pagers, cell phones, and sirens were going off throughout his kingdom!)

Herod’s consultations with the Temple leaders (the chief priests and Scribes), astrologers, and astronomers of his realm had a very strong similarity to the following “Jewish non-biblical legend” (per a NAB-RE* footnote).  This footnoted story is about a child, later learned to be Moses, in which the “sacred scribes” warn the Pharaoh about an imminent birth of “one” who will deliver Israel from Egypt.  In this story, the Pharaoh King makes plans to destroy him.  (WOW!!!!  Moses and Jesus have nearly identical infancy stories.  I believe this is one reason why Jesus is often called the “New Moses.”) *(NAB-RE is “New American Bible – Roman [Catholic] Edition”)

Herod’s “chief priests and scribes” also reminded Herod of the prophecy found in the Jewish Scripture (Old Testament) Book of Micah:

You, Bethlehem-Ephrathaha least among the clans of Judah, From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; Whose origin is from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:1).

The Book of Micah shared with Isaiah the expectation that God the Father will deliver “Israel” through a “king in the line of David”.  “Bethleimage002hem-Ephrathah” is the birthplace of David, and therefore, of his whole “Davidic line”.  Today, it is known to us as simply, “Bethlehem”. 

Herod, and his “chief priests and scribes”, in a somewhat defensive maneuver to what is written in the prophecies found in Jewish Scriptures, asked these “Magi”, these first Gentile believers to be an [unlikely] envoy for King Herod.  So, after meeting with Herod, the “three kings” – – the three “Magi” – – travel to Bethlehem, and away from King Herod’s presence (as his “envoy”):

He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’” (Matthew 2:8).

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Continuing to follow the “star”, the “Wise Envoy’s” eventually find the Holy Family still in Bethlehem:  holiness-title-slide

 “On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his motherThey prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).

Upon finding Christ, the “Magi prostrate themselves”, an action given ONLY to God.  Thus, Jesus is confirmed to be the true Son of God through their action.  These “Magi”, – – these three kings, – – willingly left everything they knew: their home and homeland, as well as their friends and family, in an intensely personal search for discovering, and further knowing, this “heavenly” announced “God-King”.  They followed THE “star” in pursuit of a personal quest for finding the desire of their hearts, and their pursuit for a personal relationship with this “new divine king” whose name they learn was – – Jesus Christ.   – – (They had the ultimate “Map of the Stars”, and did not have to buy it on a Hollywood street corner or on the internet either!)

In the midst of their pilgrimage these “Magi” can serve well as a model for “contemplative listening” today.  Whoa, – – what did I say?!  Well, what I mean is that their “actions” flowed directly from their personal – – their focused – – learning and true discernment through divine guidance.  They had set out on their journey because they perceived the sign of their times in a unique “star” announcing:

the newborn king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).

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Can you see the three gifts of the “Magi”, given to the Holy Family, as a foreshadowing (prophecy) of Jesus’ role in salvation hichristmasbitters5story?  I believe the meanings of their gifts are “Christological” in nature (representing the spirit, the person, and the actions of Jesus Christ).  “Gold” represents Jesus’ kingship.  “Frankincense” is a symbol of His divinity (priests burned frankincense in the Temple).  And “Myrrh” was used to prepare the dead for burial, and thus, was offered in anticipation of Jesus’ death.  Jesus Christ “was”, “is”, and forever “will be”!!

So, “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” are understood to be symbols of Jesus Christ’s royalty, divinity, and eventual suffering and death (for OUR salvation).  In giving these special gifts, the “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”, to Jesus gold_2Christ Himself (and to us through His nature), the “Magi” – – those unknown “Gentile” men from foreign lands and cultures – – were the first to acknowledge the “who” Jesus was – – FROM BIRTH – – as the Savior KING – – as OUR Savior King!

The journey we take to God is a long one, lasting our entire lives; only ending with our earthly deaths.  Mary, Joseph, and ALL the saints experienced the same long and difficult journey we need to experience. 

To know and encounter Jesus Christ is to know the Trinitarian Godhead personally.  In today’s story of the “Magi’s” finding and encountering the child Jesus, we see God the Father’s personal plan for salvation to, and for, ALL nations, ALL peoples.  God’s divine plan included giving His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as King and Savior for ALL mankind (even those from far-away lands).  God gave us His true and full – – both human and divine – – personhood (in the singular), – – not solely for just the Jewish faithful, – – but for ALL people everywhere!! 

In addition to the gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”, these three men made a “gift” of their individual, unique, and personal “liveGifts-with-a-Meaning-behind-Them_001-608x456s” with each step taken in the search for the prophesied “Messiah-Savior-King”.  Matthew, by his account of today’s event, eloquently reveals the sincerity and depth of the three “Magi’s” searching quest:

They were overjoyed at seeing the star” (Matthew2:10).

They “fulfilled” their individual and collective desires in meeting this “singular” “King of Kings”.

After giving Him “homage” and bestowing “gifts” to the newborn child “king”, Jesus Christ, they heeded the Lord’s message to them in a dream, warning them not to return to Herod.  So, they returned to their country by another route:

Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way (Matthew 2:12).

Nothing is written or otherwise known about what happened to the “MagiAFTER they left the child-Jesus.  They found Jesus – – so their journey seems to have ended for them.  BUT, their journey actually did NOT end, and neither has ours; it was just a “turning point” for them as it is for us.  Our journeys never end when we finally “find” Christ in our lives; it just puts us on the “proper path” to Him and to everlasting life with Him in paradise..wise01

By their faith, they followed the “star.”  By their faith, they found the true Messiah King of ALL peoples.  And, by their faith, they returned to their “far off” country via a different route.

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F. summarize titleaith is an entirely free gift which God the Father offers to us, and imparts to each of us personally.  It is through the help of the Holy Spirit, – – moving in our individual hearts, and opening our individual souls and being – – that we are able to understand, accept, and believe the real divine “truth” which the Trinitarian Godhead reveals to us in personal and unique ways.  With trust, love, and faith, OUR human “will” and “intellect” cooperates with God the Father’s imparted grace to each of us:

Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace” (Thomas Aquinas).

No matter where I am in my personal search of discovery in God’s faith, Christ is present with me – – and within me – – ALWAYS.  I always have the same “star” the “Magi” followed, lighting my way, never leaving me in the dark, distancing me from MY Messiah-Savior-King!!

The visit of the “Magi”, which we celebrate as an “Epiphany”, or manifestation of God’s glory, reveals that the child Jesus whom the “Magi” hailed as the “newborn King of the Jews” (cf., Matthew 2:2), AND who will be crucified under the same title, “King of the Jews” – – is also King of ALL peoples

I sell myself short in my faith-life often.  I don’t always appreciate the power of my faith within me!  I don’t realize my capabilities in knowing God.  Sometimes, I believe my faith is weak, that myencountersThumbnail level of sanctity is low – – in my eyes – – not in His.  To know and to encounter Jesus Christ is to know and encounter God (in the three Persons: the Trinitarian Godhead) personally and uniquely!!  Jesus Christ came so that both Jew and Gentile might find a true and ever-lasting peace with God the Father AND with each other. 

We usually do – – and definitely should – – think about God’s goodness to human beings.  Today’s story of the “Magi” has turned such thinking the in the opposite direction, around the goodness of human beings TO God instead.  Three human beings, the Wise Men, the Magi, brought and gave “gifts” to the “Son of God”.  Even though we try to imitate this action in our individual lives, the Son of God is a hard one to shop for.  How does one give gifts to the Son of God, who certainly has everything He needs or wants?  Well, Jesus Christ helped us with this specific inquiry.  He more or less revealed His answer, making it easier for us when He said:

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

How can we become a people and nation which defers to God?  We can begin with ourselves. The mysteries of this season invite us to imitate the “Magi”:

They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts” (Luke 2:11).

Let us prostrate ourselves before Christ the true and promised Messiah-Savior-King, worshiping and adoring Him.  Let us offer ALL we have, and listen to His “Word”.  Then we shall be ready to serve Him and His Kingdom in heaven and on earth, here and now!! 

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To. conclusion some people, the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time is believed to have been established in remembrance of the gift giving of the “Magi” in today’s Gospel reading.  For this reason, in many cultures even still today, gifts are exchanged on the “Feast of the Epiphany” instead of on “Christmas Day”.  This makes me think: giftofpresence-ckwe should offer gifts to the newborn Jesus today – – and EVERY DAY – – in the form of our personal and public “SELVES” – – our true “Present Self”!!  Our “three” “special” gift offerings should be “praise”, “adoration”, and “thanksgiving” for all He has done, all He is doing, and all He will do – – in our lives!  Our individual spiritual gifts are much more valuable to Him, and to each other, than the monetary value of ALL the “gold, frankincense, and myrrhin the entire world!!

The way we devote our time; the way we interact with family and friends, neighbors and strangers, and other creatures and creations; and the way we regulate our material goods, can be signs of Christ’s “kingship” in our lives.  How can we offer our very “selves”, our “lives”, more fully to God the Father’s personal and collective love and personal plan He has for each of us?  Hmm, let me know what your thoughts are on HOW YOU can do this task.

Let me please finally pass on a couple of reflection questions to each of you.  “Do you truly bring Jesus Christ to others in your psales-questionsersonal path of life?  Do you actively ‘LOOK’ for Jesus Christ in others you encounter along your path of life; especially the ones you would prefer not to look upon?”  God loves it so much when we speak “Words” of love, and perform “acts” of blessing, hope, and encouragement as the norm – – instead of the exception.  He rejoices when our “Words” and “actions” help to create a positive environment wherein tiny “mustard seeds” of faith can grow to beautiful blooming bushes and trees of immense size.  (So, become the “spice” of life; enhance the flavor of God’s working in, with, and through you for and to OTHERS!!)

Take some time to reflect on the tradition of “gift-giving”.  (Yes, I know it just passed a few days aGiftGiving_12-04go for most of us.  But, please, reflect on gift-giving again.)  What was the best gift you have ever received (?), and what made it special for you?  Was it the actual gift itself that made it special (?), was it the thought that went into it (?), or was it the person who gave it to you which made it special?  (There are no “right or wrong” answers”, so don’t stress out on the correct answer.)  Do you bring the twinkling “light of Jesus Christ” to those you meet – – through the witness of your personal and public life, and through the witness of your personal and public testimony of, and to, Jesus Christ?  Has this specific reflection today been a gift to you?  It has been a gift writing my thoughts on this Gospel reading. gift-keep-giving-13

Please pray that you will also acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal “Savior” in all that you do, say, and “impartto others throughout your personal and public route in life.  Let us ALL pray today that Jew and Gentile alike will find the “true” divine King and Savior, Jesus Christ, on each of our personal journeys through life.  Let us ALL become “Magi” Wise One’s – – “Camel Jockey’s” – – in OUR search of the true “Way, Truth, and Life”!!  So, head towards to the light – – of the “new shining ‘star’”!

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Reflection Prayer: 

 

Epiphany Morning Prayer

 

Father,Epiphany 6
you revealed your Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star.
Lead us to your glory in heaven
by the light of faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen

From:
The Liturgy of the Hours

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“Bible History: 103! How Well Do You Know Your Bible Rulers and Prophets?!” – Luke 3:1-6†


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2nd Sunday of Advent

. table_of_contentsToday’s Content:

 

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Quote of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer

 

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D. pencilan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

 

The Real and TRUE Santa Claus

 

Santa Claus is also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and simply “Santa”.  Santa Claus is also known as “de Kerstman” in Dutch (“the Christmas man”), and “Père Noël” (“Father Christmas”) in French. 64680_535815893112792_1263747424_n He is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical, and folkloric origins.  In many western cultures, he brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24. 

As you see in the picture of “Santa”, he is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white-bearded man – – sometimes with spectacles – – wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and.  This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” along with caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast’s depiction.  This image has been maintained and reinforced in contemporary society through song, radio, television, children’s books, and films.

However, that is not the TRUE “Santa Claus”!! 

The modern “Santa” was derived from the Dutch figure of “Sinterklaas”, which, in turn, is partly based on hagiographical (reverent or saintly) tales concerning the historical figure of a Christian Bishop and gift giver: “Saint Nicholas”.  Greek Orthodox and Byzantine Christian folklore has a nearly identical story, attributed to Saint Basil of Caesarea.  Basil’s feast day, on January 1, is considered the time of exchanging gifts in Greece.

Saint Nicholas of Myra” is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of “Sinterklaas”.  He was a 4th cSaint_Nicholasentury Greek Christian Bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia (now in Turkey).  Bishop Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, and, in particular, presenting three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. 

Nicholas was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity.  In the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Germany, he is still usually portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes.  “Saint” Nicholas is the patron saint of many diverse groups including archers, sailors, children, and pawnbrokers.   He is also the patron saint for two major metropolitan cities, Amsterdam and Moscow.

In the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, Saint Nicholas (“Sinterklaas“, often called “De Goede Sint” – – “The Good Saint”) is depicted as an elderly, stately, and serious man with white hair and a long, full beard.  He wears a long red cape or chasuble over a traditional white bishop’s alb and sometimes red sinterklaasstole, dons a red miter, and holds a gold-colored crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd’s staff with a fancy curled top.  He traditionally rides a white horse.  His feast, on December 6th, came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts, and is still called “St. Nicholas Day”.  Saint Nicholas is believed to ride his white horse over the rooftops at night, delivering gifts through the chimney to the well-behaved children, while the naughty children risk being caught by Saint Nicholas’s aides who carry jute bags and willow canes for that specific purpose.

Later, in another location, older images of the “gift-giver” from both church history and folklore – – notably “St Nicholas” and “Sinterklaas” – – merged with the British character “Father Christmas”.  This merger produced a character known to Britons and Americans as “Santa Claus”.  As an example, in Washington Irving’s “History of New York” (1809), “Sinterklaas” was Americanized into “Santa Claus” (a name first used in the American press in 1773); however, this image portrays Santa Claus without  his bishop’s apparel (Can you guess why?!).  So, in Great Briton and the United States, Santa Claus was at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat.  Washington Irving’s book was a satire of the Dutch culture of New York of his era; and much of this satirical portrait is his joking invention.

With all this information in mind, let’s not forget the REAL HERO of the CHRISTinMASS Season:

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(Information from Wikipedia)

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Quote of the Day:

 

“John the Baptist was supposed to point the way to the Christ.  He was just the voice, not the Messiah.  So everybody’s ‘calling’ has dignity to it – – and God seems to know better than we do what is in us that needs to be called forth.” ~  James Green 

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Today’s reflection: John the Baptist preaches repentance, baptizing in the region of the Jordan.  Ready to get wet?

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(NAB Luke 3:1-6)  1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.  3 He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.  5 Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

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G. Reflectionospel Reflection:

 

This Sunday and next, our Gospel readings invite us to consider John the Baptist’s relationship to Jesus.  John the Baptist is part of the tradition of the great prophets, preaching repentance* and reform* to the people of Israel.  To affirm this, Luke purposely quotes – – at length – – from the prophet Isaiah.

**       (The process or “repentance”, and the beginning of “reform”, is a four stage, step-by-step, process:

1)    Acknowledging faults and endeavors to give a lesser good, or something harmful – – IS SIN!
2)    Confessing what you did (or DO), and what you are not happy about.
3)    Believing in God’s IMMEDIATE mercy and forgiveness.
4)     Receiving – – through faith – – the confidence’s in God’s faithfulness to forgive.)

The Synoptic Gospels – – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – – attest to the importance of the baptism of Jesus by John in Jesus’ pJohn_the_Baptist%20imagereparation for His earthly mission.  However, only in the Gospel of Luke, do we see the connection between these two men, Jesus and John, related to their births. The first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel contain the “Infancy Narrative”, relating each of their births.  

In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist is presented as THE preeminent prophetic figure who bridges the time before Christ the Messiah Savior, to the first prophet who prepares the pencil-pusher-564x272way for the expected Jewish Messiah, who John the Baptist knew to be Jesus Christ in His saving and redemptive ministry of salvation, not only to the Jews, but also to the whole world.

Just as Luke’s Gospel began with a long sentence (cf., Luke 1:1–4), so too does this opening verse of this section:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (Luke 3:1–2).   

Here, Luke reveals the “calling” of John the Baptist in the form of an Old Testament prophetic calling:

“…the Word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert(Luke 3:2)’

This calling of John extends and amplifies similar verses, from the same “prophet” of Old, when Luke reports:

A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his pathsEvery valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made lowThe winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3:4-6).

250px-Isaiah_(Bible_Card)This prophet, which John the Baptist is amplifying, is Isaiah:

A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5).

In doing so, Luke presents his theme of the “universality of salvation”, which he announced in an earlier chapter – – in the words of Simeon:

My eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:30–32). 

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Luke relates the story of “salvation history” to events in contemporary world history of Jesus’ time.  He is connecting his “salvation’ narrative with the current events happening right in front of their eyes, portraying Jesus in the light of tsistinehese prophetic events.  There is a cornucopia of historic information given solely in the first sentence of today’s reading:

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (Luke 3:1-2). 

This one sentence, two bible verses, has seven items of historical and prophetical significance for discussion.  They are underlined above and I will discuss each one individually.

(1) “Tiberius Caesar” (born Tiberius Claudius Nero in 42 B.C.) succeeded Augustus as emperor of ALL Roman territories in 1steve11/people25/134 A.D., and reigned until his death in 37 A.D.   Therefore, his “fifteenth year of reign”, depending on the method of calculating his first regal year, would have fallen somewhere between 27 A.D. and 29 A.D.  Tiberius was one of Rome’s greatest generals.  However, he is remembered as a dark, reclusive, and somber ruler.  A renowned Roman person of influence, “Pliny the Elder”, describes Tiberius as a “tristissimus hominum”, “the gloomiest of men” (Pliny the Elder, “Natural Histories” XXVIII.5.23).   Eventually, Tiberius exiled himself from Rome and left his governments administration largely in the hands of his unscrupulous “Praetorian Prefects”.  Caligula, Tiberius’ grand-nephew and adopted grandson, succeeded the emperor upon his death in 37 A.D.

(2) “Pontius Pilate” , mentioned next, was the “prefect” of Judea from 26 A.D. to 36 A.D.  The Jewish historian “Josephus” describes Pontius Pilate as a “greedy and ruthless prefect” who had little regard for the local Jewish PilatePicpopulation and their religious practices.  Luke describes Pontius Pilate’s sacrileges behavior:

At that time some people who were present there told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices” (see Luke 13:1).

The slaughter of the Galileans by Pilate is reported much later in Luke’ Gospel.  However, Josephus reports that such a slaughter would be in keeping with the “character and personality” of Pontius Pilate.  Pilate even disrupted a religious gathering of Samaritans on Mount Gerizim, slaughtering the participants (Antiquities 18, 4, 1 #86–87).  On another occasion, Pilate killed many Jews who had opposed him when he appropriated money from the Temple treasury in order to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem (Jewish War 2, 9, 4 #175–77; Antiquities 18, 3, 2 #60–62).

(3) Next in descending order of royal importance is “Herod Antipas”, the son of Herod the Great.  Antipas ruled over Galiherodantipaslee and Perea from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D.  His official title, “Tetrarch”, literally means, “Ruler of a quarter”.  It came to designate any subordinate prince of the Roman Empire.  

We are now half-way through the first sentence from today’s Gospel.   A huge sum of political/societal/historical information has been given; and there is still more to come.  We need to remember that, when reading Holy Scripture, we should do so while keeping the following four principles in mind:

  • The social and historical circumstances;
  • The relationship between allegorical truths (Parables and other stories) and literal truths;
  • The past and present theological beliefs, their influence on faith’s perspective; and,
  • Application, how this reading applies to me and you NOW, today, – – and in the future.

So, let’s mosey on to the fourth person mentioned in this first verse of today’s Gospel:

(4) “Philip” was a son of “Herod the Great”, as was Herod Antipas.  His birth name was Philip “ben” (son of) Herod.  The Herod family line was partially Jewish.  As a “Tetrarch” over a large portion of territory – – to the north and east of the 552758Sea of Galilee – – from 4 B.C. to 34 A.D., Philip had a bad reputation.   

He married “Salome”, who was a member of the Herodian dynasty, as he was.  Thus, Salome was his niece.  She will become more well-known in connection with the execution of John the Baptist (cf., Matthew 14:3-11).

It is known that Philip the Tetrarch rebuilt the city of Caesarea Philippi, calling it by his own name to distinguish it from the Caesarea on the sea-coast, which was the seat of the Roman government.  He died in the year 34 A.D. (only one year after Jesus’ Crucifixion and death).

(5) “Lysanias” is an aloof character in history and in the Bible.  Nothing is truly known about him other than He is believed to have been Tetrarch of “Abilene”, a territory somewhere northwest of Damascus.

After situating the call of John the Baptist in the time of the “civil rulers” of Jesus’ era, Luke now goes on to mention the “religious leadership” of this same time period.

(6) “Annas and Caiaphas” were the “high priests” at the time of Jesus’ public ministry.  “Annas” had been high priest frhigh priestsom 6 A.D. to 15 A.D.  After being deposed by the Romans in the year 15 A.D., Annas was succeeded by various members of his family and eventually by his son-in-law, “Caiaphas”, who was the Jewish high priest from 18 A.D. – 36 A.D.  Luke refers to “Annas” as “high priest” at Jesus’ time of public ministry, possibly because of the continuing influence of Annas or because the title continued to be used for the past-high priest’s.  According to John’s Gospel:

The band of soldiers, the tribune, and the Jewish guards seized Jesus, bound him, and brought him to Annas firstHe was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.  It was Caiaphas who had counseled the Jews that it was better that one man should die rather than the people” (John 18:12-14). 

We finally get to the seventh – – and main character – – of this first verse, “John the Baptist”.  He is the true predecessor and herald of Jesus Christ. This is the one about whom scripture says: john-baptist-001

Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you” (Luke 7:27).

John the Baptist was God’s chosen transitional figure, inaugurating the period of “the fulfillment of prophecy and promise”:

“The child [John the Baptist] grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80).

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The last aspect I wish to discuss in regard to this lengthy first verse is about “the Word” coming to John:

The Word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert” (Luke 3:2).

Luke, among the other New Testament writers, is alone in linking the preaching of John the Baptist as a true “calling” from God the Father.  Therefore, Luke is thereby identifying John with the prophets of Jewish Holy Scripture – – our Old Testament – – whose own individual ministries also began with very similar calls.  Luke amplifies John the Baptists calling however.  In later verses from Luke’s Gospel, John the Baptist will be described, by Jesus Himself, as “more than a prophet”:

“Then what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I [Jesus] tell you, and more than a prophet (Luke 7:26).

Wow!! Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, his brother Tetrarch Philip, Tetrarch Lysanias, High Priests Annas agods-redemptive-plan1nd Caiaphas, along with John the Baptist are all truly historically correct people.  All had important roles in the salvation mission of Jesus Christ among His Jewish Brethren AND His Roman neighbors.  Some roles were more pronounced and more important than others.  Some roles were to be truly cruel and callous in fact, but they ALL hold a place in the historically REAL redemptive mystery of Christ dying in order to save us from Adam’s and Eve’s sins.

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Let’s go on with the rest on today’s story (which will not be as long as the first part).  John travelled throughout ALL of Jordan, acting out and living out his special mission:02advientoC2

He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).

John knew his role in Christ’s plan; he knew he would be the predecessor to herald – – to proclaim – – the messiah’s coming, with an enthusiasm and excitement only he could harbor and exhibit.  Also, he knew his mission of baptizing and preaching forgiveness made him a strong focus and religious figure in his 1st century society.  John probably also knew the religious authorities would recognize the prophets meaning of his beginning at the “Upper Jordan River”.  This is the exact location where Joshua led the Jews out of the desert, across the Jordan River, into the Promised Land, thus initiating a new phase of prophecy and promise “fulfilled” (cf., Joshua, Chapters 3 and 4)!  Moreover, with pious humility, John the Baptist still knew God’s royal role was NOT for him, but for the one coming AFTER him:

“John heralded His {Jesus} coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I amI am not He.  Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of His feet’” (Acts 13:24-25);

What did John the Baptist mean by his preaching of repentance and forgiveness?  Well, I believe he was (and still is) calling for a change of heart and conduct in one’s life – – a “true” conversion.  He is insisting that everyone continuously turn from a life of rebellion to that of obedience towards God the Father – – on a daily, even hourly basis!! 

John, being a strongly pious Jew, was very familiar the expectations found in Jewish apocalyptic writings: God’s kingdom was to be ushered in by a judgment in which sinners would be condemned and perish.  This was also THE expectation shared by John the Baptist.  

JohPrepareTheWayn the Baptist (and Luke) were well-versed in Prophetic literature, especially those of Isaiah:

As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”’” (Luke 3:4).

This verse from Luke, in today’s reading, is nearly identical to a verse found in the Book of Isaiah:

A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORDMake straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3–5).

Isaiah is actually describing the return, to Jerusalem, of the Jewish exiles from Babylonian captivity.  The language used by the prophet Isaiah is figurative, describing the route the ex-exiles will take home.  In this allegorical description,captivity “the Lord” leads them, so their route lies straight across the wilderness rather than along the well-watered routes usually followed from Mesopotamia to Israel.  Luke, in his Gospel, parallels this allegory, symbolizing his verses to represent the witness of John the Baptizer and his mission to that of Jesus’ redemptive mission of salvation for ALL.  John is leading the Jewish faithful across the dangerous wilderness, both physically and spiritually, to that of the true Savior Messiah of Israel, Jesus Christ.

John’s Gospel, unlike Luke, even goes so far as to not only imply this mission, but also to say it desertwww_washington_edunewsroomdirectly:

“He [John the Baptist] said: ‘I am “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’”’” (John 1:23).

The last two verses continue this allegorical, symbolic, description which Luke is borrowing from Isaiah:

Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:5-6).

Again, Luke’s words are nearly identical to Isaiah’s:

A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!  Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; The rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.  Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3–5).

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I. summarize titlen today’s Gospel we note Luke’s attention to political and historical details.  Luke shows that “salvation” is for all people and is situated in world events.  Therefore, Luke lists the political and religious leaders at the time of John the Baptist’s appearance in the desert.  “Salvation”, for Luke (and me), is understood as God’s encroaching into this political and social history, and working Salvation2intimately from within this historical background.

John the Baptist stood at a pivotal juncture in the history of God’s dealing with His “chosen” people.  He was responsible for bridging the Old and New Testaments. He is the last of the Old Testament prophets whose mission was to point the way to the Messiah Savior.  He is also the first of the New Testament “witnesses” AND “martyrs”.  John was a “prophet” – – a “called spokesman” – – for God Himself, and was the preeminent “Servant of the Word”, Jesus Christ – – the true “Word” of God who became flesh for our sake and for our salvation (cf., John 1:1).  

John the Baptist’s preaching of the coming of the Lord is a key theme of our present Advent season.  As John’s message prepreparepared the way for Jesus, we too are called to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming.  We respond to John’s message by repentance and reform in our daily lives (hopefully).  We, as John the Baptist was, are also “called” to be “prophets” of Christ, announcing and witnessing by our personal and public lives the coming of the Lord, just as John did in his life.

We know that during the Advent season, we celebrate the promise of fulfillment in the coming of Emmanuel (“God-with-us”) manifested in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ AND in His return in glory at His second coming (the Parousia).  We see so much around us – – and within us – – contradicting the “selfless love” of the infant Jesus Christ.  We see so much in this world contradicting the authority of the Universal “Christ the King”.  At the same time, we also want so very much to experience the “fullness of this fulfillment” – – Christ Himself – – and to see the salvation of God the Father as well.

Let’s joyfully remember the Apostle Paul’s faith, and how it can encourage us: t_1cb51300-5993-11e1-bb75-053d1da00004

I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Although we cannot achieve this completion on our own, we can join in Paul’s prayer:

That your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Philipians1:9-11)

May our EVERY thought, word, and deed “witness” to Jesus Christ as we prepare for Christmas and for ALL times.  Let’s keep Christ in Christmas – – CHRISTinMASS!!

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Durin. conclusiong the season of Advent, we choose to add many activities to our schedules in order to prepare for our Christmas celebration.  John the Baptist reminds us that our “repentance” is another way in which we can and SHOULD prepare for the Lord’s coming – – as significant and substantially a vital part of our celebration for each and every Christmas Season.  Parish communities often offer a communal celebration of the prioritiesSacrament of Reconciliation during the Advent season.  You can choose to participate in the communal celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or you can seek out this Sacrament on an individual basis.  Whichever you choose – – DO IT – – please!!!

Reflect on how John the Baptist called upon the people to prepare the way of the Lord through repentance.  On a nightly (or daily) basis, in a peaceful and prayerful area (perhaps near the Advent wreath), pray silently, asking God to forgive your sins.  Then, finish by praying your own version of the “Act of Contrition”.  (If you do not know one, you can use to old “tried and true” version below. 

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Reflection Prayer: 

 

Act of Contrition

 

“My God377983_10150459373288643_96426468642_8348446_1692711191_n, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy.  Amen.”

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♫ “Oh Johnny Boy, The Christ, The Christ Is Com-um-ing!”♫ – Luke 1:57-66, 80†


 

Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s Content:

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Today in Catholic History
  • ·        Joke of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer
  • ·        Catholic Apologetics
  • ·        A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day
  • ·        Reflection on part of  the OFS Rule

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

           

Many churches of both the Eastern and Western faiths celebrate the birth of John the Baptist on this day. The Nativity of St John the Baptist is one of the oldest festivals of the Christian church, being listed by the Council of Agde [Southern France] in 506 as one of that region’s principal festivals, where it was a day of rest and, like Christmas, was celebrated with three Masses: a vigil, at dawn, and at midday.

 The Nativity of St John the Baptist on June 24 comes three months after the celebration on March 25 of the Annunciation, when the Archangel Gabriel told Our Lady that her cousin Elizabeth was in her sixth month of pregnancy, and six months before the Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus.  The purpose of these festivals is not to celebrate the exact dates of these events, but simply to commemorate them in an interlinking way.

(per Wikipedia)

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Today in Catholic History:

†   1386 – Birth of Giovanni da Capistrano, Italian saint (d. 1456)
†   1519 – Death of Lucrezia Borgia, the illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander, dies at 39
†   1529 – Zurich & catholic kantons sign Peace of Kappel, ending an armed conflict in 1531 between the Protestant and the Catholic cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy during the Reformation in Switzerland.
†   1542 – St. John of the Cross, Spanish Carmelite mystic and poet (d. 1591)
†   1546 – Birth of Robert Parsons, English Jesuit priest (d. 1610)
†   1572 – Death of Joannes van Naarden, OFM priest, hanged
†   1572 – Death of Ludovicus Voets, priest, hanged
†   1923 – Pope Pius XI speaks against allies occupying Ruhrgebied
†   1967 – Pope Paul VI publishes encyclical Sacerdotalis coelibatus, an encyclical on the celibacy of the priest
†   Feasts/Memorials: Feast of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Québec, brush makers and knife sharpeners; also Festival of San Juan observed in Bolivia and Peru, Jaaniõhtu in Estonia.

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

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Joke of the Day:

 

Why did John the Baptist take his shoes off before going into the water?

Why?

He wanted to save soles!

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Today’s reflection: John the Baptist is born.  All wonder what he will grow to become.

 

(NAB Luke 1:57-66, 80) 57 When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son.  58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.  59 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.”  61 But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.”  62 So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.  63 He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed.  64 Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.  65 Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea.  66 All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be?”  For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.  80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.

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Gospel Reflection:

 

Today, we read from the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.  He opens with Jesus’ infancy narrative, a collection of stories about the birth and childhood of Jesus.  However, Luke also presents the parallel scenes (diptychs) of angelic announcements of the birth of John the Baptist AND of Jesus.  Luke’s account shows the parallelism of their births, circumcisions, and presentations in the Temple.  With his parallel stories, the ascendency of Jesus over John is stressed in Luke’s Gospel:

John is the “prophet” of the Most High:

“You, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways (Luke 1:76);

And Jesus is the “Son” of the Most High:

“He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father (Luke 1:32). 

Then, John is said to be “great in the sight” of the Lord:

He will be great in the sight of [the] Lord.  He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.  He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15);

And Jesus “will be ‘Great’”:

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father (Luke 1:32). 

Finally, John “will go before” the Lord:

“He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God.  He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16–17);

And Jesus “will be” Lord:

“How does this happen to me [Elizabeth], that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord (Luke 1:43; 2:11).

In the verses before those read today at Mass, the birth of John the Baptist had been announced by the angel Gabriel to an elderly man, Zechariah, performing his duties as a priest in the Jerusalem Temple.  The Archangel Gabriel would then go on to announce the birth of Jesus to Mary in her home in Nazareth.  Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth never had children.  And, Mary is engaged to Joseph, but they have not yet come to live together. So, two women physically impossible to get pregnant are graced by God to give birth nonetheless.  The story of John (the Baptist) is placed in the center of the Jewish environment into which he and Jesus were born.  In the next chapter (Luke 2), Jesus’ annunciation and birth begins a movement of the Gospel into the environment of the occupying Roman Empire of Jesus’ adulthood, setting the stage for His Passion. 

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The birth and circumcision of John contained within the Gospel today emphasizes John’s incorporation into the people of Israel by the sign of the covenant, as promised in Genesis:

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said: I am God the Almighty.  Walk in my presence and be blameless.  Between you and me I will establish my covenant, and I will multiply you exceedingly.  Abram fell face down and God said to him: For my part, here is my covenant with you: you are to become the father of a multitude of nations.  No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a multitude of nations.  I will make you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings will stem from you.  I will maintain my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting covenant, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now residing as aliens, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.  God said to Abraham: For your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the agesThis is the covenant between me and you and your descendants after you that you must keep: every male among you shall be circumcised.  Circumcise the flesh of your foreskin.  That will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.  Throughout the ages, every male among you, when he is eight days old, shall be circumcised, including houseborn slaves and those acquired with money from any foreigner who is not of your descendants. (Genesis 17:1–12).

And, again in the book of Leviticus (a great and easy read for first-time bible readers – NOT!!), circumcision is again alluded to as the sign of the covenant:

“The LORD said to Moses: the eighth day, the flesh of the boy’s foreskin shall be circumcised (Leviticus 12:1,3).

Did you know circumcision was actually widely practiced in the entire ancient world, usually as an initiation rite for males at puberty well before Abraham and Moses’ time?  However, with the Jewish nation shifting the time of circumcision to “the eighth day after birth”, the Jewish religion made it no longer a “rite of passage”, but THE sign of an eternal covenant between God and the community of, and descending from, Abraham.

The narrative of John’s circumcision also prepared the way for the subsequent description of the circumcision of Jesus in Luke’s next chapter:

When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:21).

So, at the beginning Luke’s books of Holy Scripture (His Gospel and the Book of ACTS), he shows those who play crucial roles in the inauguration of Christianity to be – – as a whole – – a part of the people of Israel.  On top of this acclamation of faith, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles (cf., Acts 21:20; 22:3; 23:6–9; 24:14–16; 26:2–8, 22–23), Luke makes a case for Christianity being a direct descendant of Pharisaic Judaism which accepted the supernatural origin of the universe, and of Abraham’s family, believing of a life after death, angels, and so on.  Our Jewish friends and brethren are truly our brothers in, and through, Christ – – their Messiah and OUR Savior!!

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The practice of Judaism at this time in Jesus’ time in human form in this world was to name the child at birth.  Furthermore, though naming a male child after the father is not completely unknown, the usual practice was to name the child actually after the grandfather, per biblical footnotes:

There is no one among your relatives who has this name” (see Luke 1:61).

In the original Greek, the word-by-word translation for this verse states:

eneneuon {THEY MADE SIGNS} de tw {AND} patriautou to {TO HIS FATHER} ti an {[AS TO] WHAT} qeloi {HE MIGHT WISH} kaleisqai {TO BE CALLED} auton {HIM}.

patri is a male ancestor.  This male could be the nearest ancestor, a father of the corporeal nature, such as a male parent.  Or, the male ancestor could be a more remote ancestor, the founder of a family or tribe, a forefather such as a Grandfather.

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Zechariah was a godly man who was tuned to God’s voice.  He was born into a priestly family and it was his privilege to be chosen to enter the inner court of the Temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifice to God in the “Holy of Holies”.  

The naming of the infant John, and Zechariah’s recovery from his loss of speech, should be understood as fulfilling the Archangel Gabriel’s announcement, given to Zechariah in the Holy of Holies:

“The angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.  But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.”  (Luke 1:13, 20).

Luke records that the people wondered at Zechariah’s delay from emerging from the Holy of Holies, and were amazed that he was speechless when he withdrew from the inner sanctuary:

“When he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary.  He was gesturing to them but remained mute.” (Luke 1:22).

I believe Zechariah also lost his hearing too.  WHAT did I say?!  How can I presume this “strange” fact?  You might even say, “I have NEVER been told this before!”  Well, my evidence comes directly from what is written ALSO in Luke’s Gospel:

“So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called” (Luke 1:62).

Why did they need to make “signs” to ask him a question if Zechariah was able to hear?  Zechariah himself would have had to make the signs to answer questions, since he was unable to speak.  Thus, I believe Zechariah was, in actuality, a “deaf – mute”, and not just deaf.

Well, actually, that is what I believed for some time.  I allowed my understanding of American English trapping me into believing what is NOT really there in the original word and meaning.  In the original Greek, the word-by-word translation proves my error in fact:

eneneuon {THEY MADE SIGNS} de tw {AND} patri  autou to {TO HIS FATHER} ti an {[AS TO] WHAT} qeloi {HE MIGHT WISH} kaleisqai {TO BE CALLED} auton {HIM}.

eneneuon actually translates to mean “signifying or expressing ‘by a nod or a sign’”.  So, in reality, Luke 1:62 simply says, “They ‘nodded’ at Zechariah, asking him what he wished for the infant to be called”.

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The last verse from today’s Gospel jumps fourteen verses to this next verse:

The child [John] grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel (Luke 1:80).

Interestingly, Luke uses very similar words to describe Jesus’ growing into manhood as well:

The child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40).

Jesus too, goes into the desert, starting His public Ministry by attending John the Baptist preaching and observing him baptizing in the Jordan River.  Jesus presented Himself to be baptized by John in the Jordan River – – two more parallels between John and Jesus indeed.

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To summarize, in today’s reading Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives rejoice with her because God had shown her mercy in the birth of a son – – an heir.  However, they were confused when Elizabeth told them her infant’s name was to be “John”, which means “God has been gracious”.  Zechariah had been unable to speak since the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him, because, unlike Mary, he doubted the angel’s word.  When Zechariah writes “John is his name” all are amazed.  Then, a great fear comes upon everyone; and this event is spread and heard throughout all Judea:

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea” (Luke 1:65). 

Fear – – Awe – – along with joy and praise – – is the appropriate response to God’s mercy, per Luke.  I am sure people present and/or hearing of this event wondered what this infant would become, but this question was already answered by Gabriel:

He will be great in the sight of [the] Lord.  He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.  He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb, and he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. (Luke 1:15-16).

Zechariah responds with praise in his famous hymn of prayer, the “Benedictus” or “Canticle of Zechariah”:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.  He has raised up a horn for our salvation within the house of David his servant, even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old: salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us, to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father, and to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies, without fear we might worship him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.  And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high will visit us to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79).

This canticle (a true song of praise) is not part of today’s Gospel reading at Mass.  Instead we jump to the last verse of this chapter (Luke 1:80), which explains that John will become strong in spirit, living in the desert until it is time to show himself to the people of Israel.  When John appears again at the beginning of Chapter 3, after the stories of the birth and childhood of Jesus, he will prepare those people for the ministry of Jesus by preaching a baptism of repentance for the acceptance of God’s mercy and forgiveness of sins.

John lived as a “Nazarite” (cf., Numbers 6) – – a person set apart for the Lord (The Old Testament “Samson” is another example of a Nazarite).  Filled with the Holy Spirit, even within his mother’s womb, he was sent to the people of God – – in the spirit and power of Elijah – – to turn hearts to God and one another, by turning the “disobedient to the wisdom of the just” (Luke 1:17).  When God acts to save us, He graciously fills us with His Holy Spirit, making our faith “alive and active” to, and through, God’s promises (cf., 2 Peter 1:3-4).  

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To conclude, names have special meanings.  Some people are named after parents or other relatives and ancestors.  Sometimes peoples’ names are symbolic, suggesting something unique about the person or recalling an event or experience related to that person’s birth.  Sometimes, names are even randomly bizarre and of their own in origin.  In today’s Gospel, Elizabeth gives her son the name John, meaning “God has been gracious”.  This name truly sets John apart – – in a special way – – for it was normally the father’s responsibility to name a child, and the name was usually a family name.  The unusual nature of John’s naming suggested (and still suggests) to everyone that he is truly a special child with a special purpose in God’s kingdom.

Spend some time focusing on your name – – and others’ names.  What is the significance of each of these names (?), and how did the naming take place?  Review the parts of today’s reading describing how John received his name.  

How important are names?  How are we as Catholics called to honor the name of God?  How can we emphasize and honor God’s name in our daily lives?  How can we promise to live “our lives” in and with God’s name?

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I would like to end with my favorite verse from today’s reading:

“You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth (Luke 1:14).

Both John’s birth (June 24th) and Jesus’ birth (December 25th) are not only celebrated once a year, but are celebrated with each and every Baptism, Confirmation, and Sacrament of Reconciliation.  Their “births” are remembered by, and Jesus’ birth is renewed in me (and in you) each time I receive Him:  Resurrected body, blood, soul, and divinity during the Eucharist.  So, we can celebrate His (and our) birthday EVERY day if we wish.  In doing so, we will live by another verse (my all-time favorite verse, the bible verse I take as my personal motto):

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).

When God draws us into His presence, He wants us to be still and quiet – – before Him – – so we can listen to His voice as He speaks to our consciences and our hearts.  In doing so, He reveals His Word, Will, and Plan to us personally, uniquely, and intimately.  Do you listen attentively to the Lord (?) and do you ponder his Word in your heart with a certain trust and confidence in Him? I will finish with the prayer I say continually throughout the day:

My Lord and my God; I love You and I trust You”.

 What else is there to say!!

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Reflection Prayer:

 

The Sign of the Cross

 

“In the name
of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.”

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 Catholic Apologetics:

My reason and purpose for this section on my blog is to provide “scriptural confirmation” for our beliefs and doctrines, not to cause dissention or opposition with my fellow believers in Jesus Christ, yet not in union with the Roman Catholic Church.  Whether God speaks to us through the “Bible”, or through “Tradition”, it is the Holy Spirit who inspires the “Word” from which all authentic tradition flows.

Tradition can be separated into two aspects: oral and behavioral.  Oral tradition includes written forms.  After all, it ALL started with oral tradition.  Behavioral tradition includes Baptism, Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, Laying on of hands for healing, Intercessory prayer, and Ordination.  

All Scriptural verses are taken from both the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible and the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

Faith and Works

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’  Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith….Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren?” (James 2:18-20) RSV.

“Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.  Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.  But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:18-20) KJV.

***

“You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24) RSV.

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only” (James 2:24) KJV.

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A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  Solemnity of the Birth of John the Baptist

Jesus called John the greatest of all those who had preceded him: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John….”  But John would have agreed completely with what Jesus added: “[Y]et the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).   

John spent his time in the desert, an ascetic.  He began to announce the coming of the Kingdom, and to call everyone to a fundamental reformation of life.

His purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus.  His Baptism, he said, was for repentance.  But One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  John is not worthy even to carry his sandals. His attitude toward Jesus was: “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John was humbled to find among the crowd of sinners who came to be baptized the one whom he already knew to be the Messiah. “I need to be baptized by you” (Matthew 3:14b).  But Jesus insisted, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15b).  Jesus, true and humble human as well as eternal God, was eager to do what was required of any good Jew.  John thus publicly entered the community of those awaiting the Messiah.  But making himself part of that community, he made it truly messianic.

The greatness of John, his pivotal place in the history of salvation, is seen in the great emphasis Luke gives to the announcement of his birth and the event itself—both made prominently parallel to the same occurrences in the life of Jesus.  John attracted countless people (“all Judea”) to the banks of the Jordan, and it occurred to some people that he might be the Messiah.  But he constantly deferred to Jesus, even to sending away some of his followers to become the first disciples of Jesus.

Perhaps John’s idea of the coming of the Kingdom of God was not being perfectly fulfilled in the public ministry of Jesus.  For whatever reason, he sent his disciples (when he was in prison) to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah.  Jesus’ answer showed that the Messiah was to be a figure like that of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah (chapters 49 through 53).  John himself would share in the pattern of messianic suffering, losing his life to the revenge of Herodias.

Comment: John challenges us Christians to the fundamental attitude of Christianity—total dependence on the Father, in Christ.  Except for the Mother of God, no one had a higher function in the unfolding of salvation.  Yet the least in the kingdom, Jesus said, is greater than he, for the pure gift that the Father gives.  The attractiveness as well as the austerity of John, his fierce courage in denouncing evil—all stem from his fundamental and total placing of his life within the will of God.

Quote: “And this is not something which was only true once, long ago in the past.  It is always true, because the repentance which he preached always remains the way into the kingdom which he announced.  He is not a figure that we can forget now that Jesus, the true light, has appeared.  John is always relevant because he calls for a preparation which all men need to make.  Hence every year there are four weeks in the life of the Church in which it listens to the voice of the Baptist.  These are the weeks of Advent” (A New Catechism).

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)

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Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) Rule
Article #’s 24 & 25 of 26:

24.  To foster communion among members, the council should organize regular and frequent meetings of the community as well as meeting with other Franciscan groups, especially with youth groups.  It should adopt appropriate means for growth in Franciscan and ecclesial life and encourage everyone to a life of fraternity. The communion continues with deceased brothers and sisters through prayer for them.

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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.

 

 

“FedEx or UPS May Have Been Easier, But Not As Fulfilling!” – Matthew 2:1-12†


 

The “Epiphany” of the Lord

Today’s Content:

 

  • Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • Today in Catholic History
  • Quote of the Day
  • Today’s Gospel Reading
  • Gospel Reflection
  • Reflection Prayer
  • Catholic Apologetics
  • A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day
  • Franciscan Formation Reflection
  • Reflection on part of  the SFO Rule

 

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

Blessing of a Home at Epiphany

 

Leader: Peace be to this house.

All: And to all who live here.

Leader: Bless, O Lord, this household and family, and allow all of us who live in this home to find in it a shelter of peace and health.  Inspire each of us to develop our individual talents and to contribute wisdom and good works for the benefit of the whole family.  Make our house a haven for us all, and a place of warmth and caring for all our friends who come to visit us.  Enlighten us with the brilliance of your Epiphany star, so that, as we go into the world, we might clearly see our way to You and discover You in our work and play.  This we ask to your glory and in the power of your kingship. All: For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory now and forever, Amen.

Then, bless the house with the sign of the cross.

After the blessing, the initials of the Magi (traditional names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar) are written with chalk over the main door way of the house, like this: 20 + C + M + B + 12 (the + is a cross; the “12” stands for 2012; change the year accordingly).

Adapted from commonly used parish prayer

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Today in Catholic History:

†   482 – Death of Severinus, German monastery founder/saint, dies
†   1100 – Death of Antipope Clement III (b. 1029)
†   1198 – Death of Coelestinus III (aka, Pope Celestine III), [Giacinto Bobo], pope (1191-98)
†   1198 – Lotario di Segni elected Pope Innocentius III
†   1456 – Death of St Lawrence Justinian, Italian bishop and first Patriarch of Venice (b. 1381)
†   1635 – Birth of Luis Manuel Fernández de Portocarrero, Spanish Archbishop of Toledo (d. 1709)
†   1735 – Birth of John Carroll, American Roman Catholic archbishop (d. 1815)
†   1892 – Death of John Heykamp, old-catholic archbishop of Utrecht, dies at age 67
†   1894 – Birth of St Maximilian Kolbe, Polish martyr (d. 1941)
†   1904 – Pope Pius X banned low cut dresses in the presence of churchmen
†   1905 – Birth of Franjo Cardinal Seper, Croatian Catholic cardinal (d. 1981)
†   1932 – Death of Eurosia Fabris, Italian Catholic (b. 1866) †   Feasts/Memorials: Our Lady of Prompt Succor in the Roman Catholic Church.

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

 

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Quote or Joke of the Day:

 

 “The wise man in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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Today’s reflection is about the Magi seeking out the child Jesus and doing Him homage

 

(NAB Matthew 2:1-12) 1When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”  7 Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.  8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”  9 After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

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Gospel Reflection:

 

The “Feast of the Epiphany” ends the “official” Christmas Season. Though it is true that the “Magi” were led to the “Messiah” by a special “star”, G. K. Chesterton once wrote:

Mary [Jesus’ mother] leads us to Christ, but Christ leads us back to His mother, for without Mary’s maternity, Jesus would become a mere abstraction to us.  The Lord wills to ‘let His face shine upon’ us through the face of the Mother of God.  We ‘serve a Mother who seems to grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed.’” (G.K. Chesterton)

The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “showing forth.”  Historically several moments in Jesus Christ’s early life and earthly ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” including His birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, His baptism by His cousin John, and His first miracle at the Cana wedding feast.

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In Matthew’s Gospel, the visit of the “Magi” occurs immediately prior to the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.  It is apparent Matthew tells a different version (actually, just a different viewpoint or emphasis) of Jesus’ life than what is written in Luke’s Gospel.  Of the infancy narrative – – covering the actual birth of Jesus Christ, – – Matthew barely tells us little more than:

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod.” (Matthew 2:1)

Other differences in covering Jesus Christ’s infancy event, between Matthew and Luke, are found in the:

(1) Census being addressed only in Luke’s Gospel, and
(2) Visit of the “Magi” only being confirmed in Matthew’s Gospel (today’s reading).

The future rejection of Jesus by His own people, “Israel”; AND Jesus’ acceptance by the “Gentiles” (the perceived “heathens” by Jewish faithful) are projected backwards (actually, retrojected) into the scene and circumstances of today’s reading.

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If Jesus truly is who He claims to be, “the eternal ‘Son’ of God the Father, and ‘Savior’ of the world”, then why was He not recognized by everyone who hears His “Word” and sees His works?  John the Evangelist states that when Jesus came into the world:

The world knew him not and His own people received him not.” (John 1:10-11)

 Jesus was born in unassuming obscurity.  Only the lowly shepherds recognized Him at His birth.  However, some “Magi” also found their way to Bethlehem to pay homage to the newborn “King” of Israel.  These men were not Israelites, but were instead “outside” foreigners.  Nevertheless, they were likely well-versed in “Messianic prophecies”, and were anxious to see the “great” Messianic King when He appeared.  

What are “Magi” anyway?  Well, “Magi” was a designation originally used for a Persian priestly social order at one time.  However, over a period of time the word became used generally for anyone regarded as having “more than human knowledge” (Hence, the term the term frequently used for them: “Wise Men”).  We get our word “magic” from this root word.  Matthew’s “Magi”, from the “east” (possibly the area of Babylon in present day Iraq), were probably astrologers as they obviously saw things in the heavenly skies that others seemingly – – and apparently – – quite easily overlooked.

We know little about the Magi.  We know they came from “the east” and journeyed to Bethlehem, following a “heavenly” astrological sign (the star) which was of some type of “divine importance” to them.  God the Father led them by means of an extraordinary celestial “happening” across the desert to the little town, Bethlehem, wherein, Jesus was born in a lowly manger.  In their diligent search these “three Kings” were led to the source of true knowledge — to Jesus Christ, the Light and Wisdom of God the Father.  When they found the newborn King they humbly worshiped Him and gave Him gifts fitting for a “King”.

What fueled the Magi’s search for this Messianic King?  It was a confident and assured faith in the promise God the Father gave to send a Redeemer, a “King” who would establish God the Father’s reign of peace and righteousness:

“Days are coming when I will raise up a righteous branch for David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security.  This is the name to be given him: ‘The LORD our justice.’” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

 

We base the number of “Magi” as “three” solely on the naming of the “three gifts”, but the actual number of magi that paid “homage” is truly unknown to us.  My question: Was it Matthew’s intention to use these men of “strange landsto represent the Gentiles’ search for a Messianic Savior?  In essence, the Magi represent the rest of the world, as a whole.  In such, they are representative of OUR search for Jesus in our own lives.

There is a couple of Old Testament verses which may be used to infer the “Magi” as being “kings”.

May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Arabia and Seba offer gifts.  Long may he live, receiving gold from Arabia, prayed for without cease, blessed day by day.” (Psalm 72:10, 15)

And,

Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.” (Isaiah 60:6)

These Magi “from far away” foreign lands, – – yet still possessing advanced knowledge of Jewish faith, practices, traditions, and writings, – – “saw His star”.  It was a common belief among nearly all in the ancient Middle East that a “new star” would appear at the time of any ruler’s birth: be it secular or religious.  For this reason, I believe Matthew drew upon his knowledge of the Old Testament story in which Balaam had prophesied:

A star shall advance from Jacob, & a staff shall rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17)

However, the “starin this case means the Messiah King Himself [Jesus Christ], and not an astronomical happening in the Middle East.

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For me, what is interesting is that neither King Herod, nor His trusted officials recognized the “Word” being written in the heavenly stars.  King Herod (the Great) reigned from about 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.  Per Wikipedia, he may have been an “Edomite”, who is an Arab from the region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.  Herod was described by the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis.”  However, King Herod was also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem, and elsewhere in his kingdom, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as Herod’s Temple).

Herod had a “say what” moment upon listening to the “Magi”.  He was confused and concerned about his lack of knowledge AND getting no preemptive warning about this “NEW” king in “his” territory.  He was also concerned about his future welfare, prestige, and life, with a “Messiah” king, again, in “his” territory.  So, he immediately calls ALL his chief advisors, priests, and “scientists” to his personal presence. (Hmm, Biblical pagers, cell phones, and sirens were going off throughout his kingdom!)

Herod’s consultations with the Temple leaders (the chief priests and Scribes), astrologers, and scientists of his realm had a very strong similarity to the following “Jewish non-biblical legend” (per NAB footnote).  This story is about a child (later learned to be Moses), in which the “sacred scribes” warn the Pharaoh about an imminent birth of “one” who will deliver Israel from Egypt.  In this story, the Pharaoh king makes plans to destroy him.  (WOW!!!!  Moses and Jesus have nearly identical infancy stories.  I believe this is one reason why Jesus is oft called the “New Moses.”)

The “three kings” travel to Bethlehem, from King Herod’s presence, in response to prophetic Hebrew Scriptures, which the “chief priests and scribes” also shared with these first Gentile believers through an unlikely envoy: Herod:

He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the childWhen you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’” (Matthew 2:8).

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Let’s Continue.  Verse 11 from today’s reading offers a huge amount to ponder in itself:

And on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.(Matthew 2:11)

These “Magi”, – – these three kings, – – willingly left everything they knew: their home, their homeland, as well as their friends and family, in an intensely personal search for knowing this “heavenly” announced “God”.  They “followed a star” in pursuit of their personal quest of discovering and knowing true divinity — Jesus Christ.   (They had the ultimate “Map of the Stars”, and did not have to buy it in Hollywood or on the internet either!)

In the midst of their activity, the three “Magi” serve as a model for contemplative listening.  Whoa, – – what did I say?!  Well, their action flowed directly from their personal – – and focused – – discernment of divine guidance.  The “Magi” set out on their journey because they perceived the sign of their times in the star which announced:

The newborn king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).

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Can you see the three gifts the “Magi”, brought to the Holy Family, as being a foreshadowing of Jesus’ role in salvation history?  I believe the meanings of their gifts are “Christological” (representing the spirit, character, and actions of Jesus Christ) in character, and as found in nature.  “Gold represents Jesus’ kingship.  “Frankincense is a symbol of His divinity (priests burned frankincense in the Temple).  And “Myrrh was used to prepare the dead for burial, and thus offered in anticipation of Jesus’ deathJesus Christ “was”, “is”, and forever “will be”!!

So, “gold”, “frankincense”, and “myrrh” are understood as symbols of Jesus Christ’s royalty, divinity, and eventual suffering and death (for OUR salvation).  In giving these special gifts, the “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”, to Jesus Christ Himself (and to us through His nature), the “Magi” (those unknown “Gentile” men from foreign lands and cultures) were the first to acknowledge “who” Jesus was [from birth]: our Savior KING!

To know and encounter Jesus Christ is to know the Godhead (Divine Trinity) personally.  In the story of the “Magi” encountering the infant Jesus, we see God the Father’s personal plan for salvation to ALL nations and ALL peoples.  This divine plan included giving His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as King and Savior for ALL mankind (even those from far-away lands).  God gave to us His truly and fully – – both human and divine – – personhood (in the singular), – – not solely for just the Jewish faithful, – – but for ALL people everywhere.  

In addition to the gifts of “gold, frankincense, and myrrh”, they made a gift of their individual, unique, and personal “lives” with each step of their journey in search for the “Messiah King”.  Matthew’s account of this event eloquently reveals the sincerity and depth of the three “Magi’s” search and quest:

They were overjoyed at seeing the star” (Matthew2:10).

They “fulfilled” their individual and collective desires to meet this singular “King of Kings”.

 

And, after giving homage and gifts to the newborn infant “king”, Jesus Christ, they heeded the Lord’s message to them, in a dream, warning them not to return to Herod and “they departed for their country by another way“:

Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12).

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Faith is an entirely free gift that God the Father makes and imparts to us.  It is through the help of the Holy Spirit, – – who moves the individuals heart and opens the individuals soul and mind – – that we are able to understand, to accept, and to believe the real divine “truth” which the Godhead reveals to us personally, and uniquely.  With “trust”, “love”, and “faith”, OUR human will and intellect cooperate with God the Father’s imparted grace to each of us:

Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace(Thomas Aquinas).

To know and to encounter Jesus Christ is to know and encounter God (in the three Persons: the Godhead) personally and uniquely!!  In the encounter of the Magi “Wise Men” “Kings” – – with and towards Jesus Christ – – we see the divine plan of God the Father giving His only-begotten Son as the Messiah King and Savior, – – not just for the Jewish people – – but for ALL the nations and ALL peoples.  Jesus Christ came so both Jew and Gentile might find true and ever-lasting peace with God the Father AND each other.  

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In conclusion, the tradition of giving gifts at Christmas time is believed by some to have been established in the gift giving of the “Magi”.  For this reason, in many cultures, even still today, gifts are exchanged on the “Feast of the Epiphany” instead of on Christmas Day.  This makes me think, we should offer gifts to the newborn Jesus today – – and EVERY DAY – – in the form of our personal and public “SELVES”!!  Our three “special” gift offerings should be praise, adoration, and thanksgiving for all He has done, all He is doing, and all He will do in our lives!

The way we devote our time; the way we interact with family and friends, neighbors and strangers, and other creatures and creations; and the way we regulate our material goods, can be signs of Christ’s “kingship” in our lives.  Interiorly (and exteriorly), how can we offer our very “selves” more fully to God the Father’s love and personal plan He has for each of us, personally and collectively?  

My question to each of you: Do you truly bring Jesus Christ to others in your personal path of life?  Do you actively “LOOK” for Jesus Christ in others you encounter along your path of life, especially the ones you would prefer not to look upon?  God loves it so dearly when we speak “Words” of love, and perform acts of blessing, hope, and encouragement as the norm instead of the exception.  He rejoices when our “Words” and actions help to create a positive environment wherein tiny “mustard seeds” of faith can grow to beautiful blooming bushes and trees of immense size.  (So, become the “spice” of life; enhance the flavor of God’s working in, with, and through you to OTHERS!)

Take some time to reflect on the tradition of “gift giving”.  What was the best gift you have ever received, and what made it special for you?  Was it the actual gift itself that making it special, was it the thought that went into it, or even the person who gave it to you making it special?  (There are no “right or wrong” answers”, so don’t stress.)  Do you bring the “light of Jesus Christ to those you meet – – through the witness of your personal and public life, and through the witness of your personal and public testimony of, and to, Jesus Christ?

Please pray that you will also acknowledge Jesus Christ as your personal “Savior” in all that you do, say, and “impart” to others throughout your personal and public path in life.  Let us ALL pray today that Jew and Gentile alike will find the “true” divine King and Savior, Jesus Christ, on each of their personal journeys path of life.  Let us ALL become “Magi” in search of the true “Way, Truth, and Life”!!  

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Reflection Prayer:

 

Epiphany Morning Prayer

 

“Father,
you revealed your Son to the nations
by the guidance of a star.
Lead us to your glory in heaven
by the light of faith.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen”

The Liturgy of the Hours

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 Catholic Apologetics:

 

My reason and purpose for this section on my blog is to provide “scriptural confirmation” for our beliefs and doctrines, not to cause dissention or opposition with my fellow believers in Jesus Christ, yet not in union with the Roman Catholic Church.  Whether God speaks to us through the “Bible”, or through “Tradition”, it is the Holy Spirit that inspires the “Word” from which all authentic tradition flows.

Tradition can be separated into two aspects: oral and behavioral.  Oral tradition includes written forms.  After all, it ALL started with oral tradition.  Behavioral tradition includes Baptism, Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, Lying on of hands or healing, Intercessory prayer, and Ordination.  

All Scriptural verses are taken from both the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible and the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

 

Faith and Works

 

“So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. (James. 2:17). RSV

So faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.(James. 2:17). KJV

*

 “Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? (James. 2:20). RSV

But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James. 2:20). KJV

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 “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James. 2:24). RSV

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James. 2:24). KJV

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A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Maximilian Kolbe

OFM Conventional (8 January 1894 – 14 August 1941)
Feastday: August 14

 

Maximilian was born in 1894 in Poland and became a Franciscan.  He contracted tuberculosis and, though he recovered, he remained frail all his life. Before his ordination as a priest, Maximilian founded the Immaculata Movement devoted to Our Lady.  After receiving a doctorate in theology, he spread the Movement through a magazine entitled “The Knight of the Immaculata” and helped form a community of 800 men, the largest in the world.

Maximilian went to Japan where he built a comparable monastery and then on to India where he furthered the Movement.  In 1936 he returned home because of ill health.  After the Nazi invasion in 1939, he was imprisoned and released for a time.  But in 1941 he was arrested again and sent to the concentration camp at Auschwitz.

On July 31, 1941, in reprisal for one prisoner’s escape, ten men were chosen to die. Father Kolbe offered himself in place of a young husband and father.  And he was the last to die, enduring two weeks of starvation, thirst, and neglect.  He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982. His feast day is August 14th.

from Wikipedia:

Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe was canonized on 10 October 1982 by Pope John Paul II, and declared a martyr of charity.  He is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement.  Pope John Paul II declared him “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”.

In Italian he is known as “San Massimiliano Maria Kolbe”; his given name in Polish is “Maksymilian”, in French, “Maximilien”.

Due to his efforts to promote Consecration and entrustment to Mary, he is known as the Apostle of Consecration to Mary.

From “Catholic Online” Website
http://www.catholic.org/saints

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Franciscan Formation Reflection:

Our Mother Mary

Reflect on the following Franciscan prayer”

Antiphon to Mary

“Holy Virgin Mary, among women there is no one like you born into the world: you are the daughter and the servant of the most high and supreme King and Father of heaven: you are the mother of our most holy Lord Jesus Christ, you are the spouse of the Holy Spirit.  Pray for us with Saint Michael and the Archangel and all the powers of the heavens and all the saints to your most holy beloved Son, the Lord and Master. Amen”

 

What points of honor does Saint Francis call our attention to in his esteem of Mary? … And, in this antiphon?

Do you know how often this Antiphon to Mary was indicated to be used by the friars?

What does our SFO Rule, article 9 tell us?

The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call.  She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family.  The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.” (Article 9, SFO Rule)

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Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule
Article #’s 8 & 9 of 26:

08.  As Jesus was the true worshipper of the Father, so let prayer and contemplation be the soul of all they are and do.

Let them participate in the sacramental life of the Church, above all the Eucharist. Let them join in liturgical prayer in one of the forms proposed by the Church, reliving the mysteries of the life of Christ.

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09. The Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, was open to His every word and call. She was embraced by Francis with indescribable love and declared the protectress and advocate of his family. The Secular Franciscans should express their ardent love for her by imitating her complete self-giving and by praying earnestly and confidently.

 

“Lazarus Came Out Of the Tomb and Saw His Shadow. We Now Have Two More Weeks Of Lent!” – John 11:1-45†


 

Fifth Sunday of Lent

 

Today’s Content:

  

  • Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • Today in Catholic History
  • Joke of the Day
  • Today’s Gospel Reading
  • Reflection on Today’s Gospel
  • New Translation of the Mass
  • A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day 
  • Franciscan Formation Reflection
  • Reflection on part of  the SFO Rule

 

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

Yippee, the Government did not screech to a halt in such a way as to throw the earth off its rotational axis, as many feared.  Yet sadly, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) caved in on his promise to defund Planned Parenthood.  Anti-abortion lawmakers did succeed however in blocking taxpayer-funded abortions in the District of Columbia (only 50 States to go).  

President Obama succeeded in forcing Boehner, and other Republicans in Congress, to cave in on dozens of items including Planned Parenthood, while protecting favored programs like education, clean energy and medical research.  Representative Boehner, I consider defunding Planned Parenthood as a favored endeavor, and of the utmost urgency!

Yes, the mutually agreed upon bill will remove close to $40 billion from the day-to-day budgets of certain domestic agencies over six months, – – the biggest rollback of such government programs in history.  And yes, it will put the Cabinet operating budgets on a track closer to levels before President Obama took office in 2009.  Yet we (the USA) are throwing God’s miracle in trashcans 3700 times daily, 1.37 million yearly (42 million worldwide)!  Again, how SAD!!

 

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Today in Catholic History:

    
†   847 – St Leo IV begins his reign as Catholic Pope
†   1512 – Pope Julius II opens 5th Council of Lateranen
†   1585 – Death of Gregory XIII,  [Ugo Buoncampagni], (b. 1502), Italian Pope (1572-85)
†   1704 – Death of William Egon of Fürstenberg, Bishop of Strassburg (b. 1629)
†   1821 – Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople is hanged by the Turks from the main gate of the Patriarchate and his body is thrown into the Bosphorus.
†   1921 – Birth of Peter Herbert Penwarden, priest
†   Feasts/Memorials: Saint Fulbert of Chartres; James, Azadanus and Abdicius; Saint Paternus

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

 

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Joke of the Day:

 

Ben: Dad, why doesn’t the bible say anything about the other three persons that Jesus raised from the dead at the same time as Lazarus?

Dad: Where did you learn that there were three other persons? Lazarus was the only one in that bible story.

Ben: Well Dad, in the bible it says that there were at least four people.

Dad: Where does it say that in the bible?

Ben: Right here Dad (showing him his bible), it says “Lazarus came forth”!

 

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Today’s reflection is about the raising of Lazarus from the dead.

 

 (NAB John 11:1-45) 1 Now a man was ill, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  2 Mary was the one who had anointed the Lord with perfumed oil and dried his feet with her hair; it was her brother Lazarus who was ill.  3 So the sisters sent word to him, saying, “Master, the one you love is ill.”  4 When Jesus heard this he said, “This illness is not to end in death, but is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.  6 So when he heard that he was ill, he remained for two days in the place where he was.  7 Then after this he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”  8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?”  9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in a day?  If one walks during the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  10 But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”  11 He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.”  12 So the disciples said to him, “Master, if he is asleep, he will be saved.”  13 But Jesus was talking about his death, while they thought that he meant ordinary sleep.  14 So then Jesus said to them clearly, “Lazarus has died.  15 And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”  16 So Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.”  17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, only about two miles away.  19 And many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.  20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him; but Mary sat at home.  21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  22 (But) even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”  23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.”  24 Martha said to him, “I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”  25 Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”  28 When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary secretly, saying, “The teacher is here and is asking for you.”  29 As soon as she heard this, she rose quickly and went to him.  30 For Jesus had not yet come into the village, but was still where Martha had met him.  31 So when the Jews who were with her in the house comforting her saw Mary get up quickly and go out, they followed her, presuming that she was going to the tomb to weep there.  32 When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  33 When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, 34 and said, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”  35 And Jesus wept.  36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”  37 But some of them said, “Could not the one who opened the eyes of the blind man have done something so that this man would not have died?”  38 So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it.  39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the dead man’s sister, said to him, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”  40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”  41 So they took away the stone.  And Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you for hearing me.  42 I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.”  43 And when he had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  44 The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth.  So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”  45 Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him.

 

Today’s the second longest continuous Gospel narrative in John’s Gospel read at Mass throughout the Liturgical year.  The only Gospel reading longer is the passion narrative.  This reading invites us to reflect upon what it means to call Jesus the “Resurrection and the life”.  The raising of Lazarus from the dead is also the climax of Jesus’ signs (miracles) before His own death and resurrection.  This Gospel reading directly leads up to the decision by the Sanhedrin to eliminate (kill) Jesus out of fear and jealousy and precipitated the literal fulfillment of Hebrew prophesies found in Isaiah and elsewhere.

A theme of “life” predominates throughout this reading.  Lazarus (His name means “God is my help”) is a symbol of the real “life” that Jesus – – through His death and resurrection – – will give to all who believe in Him.  Just think of the irony in the Lazarus story: Jesus’ gift of life to His friend (and to all of us) will ultimately and directly lead to His own death on the Holy Tree of redemption.

Through Lazarus’ sickness and subsequent death, God brought glory in, and to, Jesus, His only begotten Son.  Jesus, who raised His friend from the dead, did so in an anticipation of His own death and resurrection.  We should remember these two events (Lazarus’s and Jesus’ resurrections) this week in our participation at the Eucharist, which was given to us as a foretaste of Jesus’ “transfiguration” of OUR bodies, at the Parousia, His appearing and full presence – – His second coming. 

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The background of today’s story, – – the raising of Lazarus, – – is the Jewish leaders’ growing animosity toward Jesus.  He had been in Jerusalem, taking part in the “feast of the Dedication”, which we now call, “Hanukkah”, the “feast of Lights”.  The Jewish people had been pushing him to declare plainly whether or not He was the true “Messiah” prophesized.  Jesus tells them to look to His works (and not faith alone), which will testify to His coming from God (for our sake).  Many do not believe Jesus, and a number of them try to stone Him for the [false] sin/crime of “blasphemy”, claiming equality with God the Father.

While Jesus is evading those choosing to do Him harm, word is sent to Him that His friend is ill; yet He delays His journey, purposefully, for two days.  The delay heightens the drama when He eventually arrives in Bethany.  The delay also shows Jesus’ obedience to God, who is to be glorified through Jesus’ delay and Lazarus’s eventual resurrection.  

 

The story of the raising of Lazarus is not found verbatim in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  However, Luke does record another example of Jesus Christ demonstrating His compassion and His divine authority over life and death, as found in Luke 7:11-17: 

“Soon afterward he journeyed to a city called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd accompanied him.  As he drew near to the gate of the city, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  A large crowd from the city was with her.  When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’  He stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this the bearers halted, and he said, ‘Young man, I tell you, arise!’  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.  Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst,’ and ‘God has visited his people.’  This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.” (Luke 7:11-17).  

There is another parallel between the Lazarus story and Luke’s parable of the rich man and a “poor man” also named Lazarus:

There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day.  And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.  Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.  When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.  The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’  Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.  Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’  He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’  But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’  He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’  Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.‘” (Luke 16:19-31).

In both stories, a man named Lazarus dies.  However, in Luke, there is a request that Lazarus return from the dead in order to convince his contemporaries of the need for faith and repentance, while in John, Lazarus does return inspiring a belief in the resurrection, and in Jesus Christ as the “Messiah”, in some among them.

 

Bethany was “about two miles” from Jerusalem as stated in verse 18 of today’s reading.  In the original Greek, it was actually about fifteen “stades“.  A stade was a measurement of 607 feet, so with using simple math, this would equate to 9105 feet, or just a tad bit over 1.7 miles.  (Yes, I do love math, and yes I can be a little type “A” when it comes to the subject of math.)

Jesus loved Lazarus and his two sisters as dear friends, and He often stayed in their home at Bethany.  So, why did Jesus delay in coming to Lazarus’ side when He knew that His friend was gravely ill?

In verse 4, upon hearing of Lazarus’s malady, Jesus says his illness “is not to end in death”.  Do you think this statement was misunderstood by Jesus’ disciples as referring to a “physical”, human death of the body?  In reality, Jesus meant a “NOT – – ending in death”, referring to another kind of death: spiritual death.     

Jesus’ two day delay must have confused and mystified His followers.  However, they seem to be more startled and upset when Jesus finally announced that He was going to Bethany, a town very close in proximity to Jerusalem.  They saw this action as a “suicide” mission of sorts.  Jesus’ followers (and most certainly Jesus) knew the religious authorities (the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes) were set on eliminating the threat to them from Jesus.  

For Jesus to come to a place as dangerous for Him as Jerusalem was, at this Passover time was, an act of courage and an act of total trust and love in His heavenly Father.  Jesus’ explanation given to His disciples was simple and challenging at the same time:

“Are there not twelve hours in the day?” (John 11:9)

To paraphrase (a potentially dangerous thing to do with Holy Scripture), Jesus said: “There are enough hours in the day to do what one must do.”  A day, in a chronological form, can never be shortened, lengthened, hurried, or slowed, for it is a fixed period of measurement.  We each have our “day”, or “time”, whether it be short or long (even if it is only “15 minutes of fame”), if we look at a “day” as in the sequential form. 

While time is limited chronologically, there is always enough time for us to accomplish what God intends for us to finish.  Remember, God knows all, and gives each of us an allotted measure of human – – mortal – – life to do what is our part of God’s plan.  So, the choice for us is either to waste it through personal self-gratification, or use it to the greatest ability for God’s glory in all we do and say. 

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Lazarus was “sick”.  Sickness can befall us for a variety of reasons.   Jesus attributed Lazarus’ sickness to the glory of God.  The glory which Jesus had in mind, however, was connected with the Holy Cross – – The Holy Tree of Redemption.   He saw the Holy Cross as His supreme glory – – and the path to glory in the kingdom of God.  For Jesus there was no other path to glory except through the cross; this was God the Father’s plan for salvation, for Jesus Himself, for the whole family of Abraham, and for all people of all nations.. 

Jesus knew that if He went to help Lazarus He would expose himself to grave danger from those in Jerusalem who were plotting His destruction.  Jesus was willing to pay that price to help His friend; to give His life for another.  Jesus would explicitly declare this truth in what would be written a few chapters later in John’s Gospel:

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

Are you ready to give help – – to give your own life – – for your friend?  That may seem like a relatively easy thing to do (emphasis is on the word “may”!).  Now, let me throw out the proverbial “ringer”: as a Catholic, as a Christian, are you ready to give help? – – to give your own life? – – for one’s enemy?!! 

Jesus did not segregate the two groups; and neither should we!

 

Jesus did not let circumstances or pressure dictate what He would do.  Nor did He permit others to determine His actions or plan for salvation.  He took actions on His own initiative and on His own schedule.  How often do we try to get God to do things in our way and on our self-determined period of time?  One of my favorite old-time sayings which I just made up is:

“We are on God’s time, and His pocket watch sticks occasionally!” (DEH, 2011) 

 

Let’s go back to the reference about 12 hours in a day.  Both the Romans and the Jews divided the day into twelve equal hours from sunrise to sunset.  We would think of this division as starting around 6 AM and ending at 6 PM – – in accord with God’s natural sequence of light and dark.  The day’s work and travel ceased when the daylight was gone – – when darkness fell over the earth.  Jesus made a spiritual analogy using this concept of light and dark in our relationship with God. 

Jesus is the “Light of the World”!  He is the Son Shine that makes the Sunshine.  Remember the words, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3).  For those who do not believe in Him, “the light is not in him”!  In the pre-modern scientific world of Jesus’ time, people apparently did not understand clearly the concept of light entering through the eye.  They seem to have thought of light as being in the eye, as illustrated in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels:

If your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness.  And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” (Matthew 6:23).

And,

The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness.” (Luke 11:34);

While the light of Christ is with us, and actually within us and surrounding us, then, as Paul says, we must live and walk in the truth and grace of His life, which is His light within us.  Sometimes the light within us is darkness when we are not following Jesus Christ as we should, and we then experience the need to be reconciled with God the Father.  There’s a perfect time to be reconciled with God – – NOW!!   

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When Jesus announced that when He was going to the region of Jerusalem after hearing of Lazarus’ death, Thomas showed remarkable courage, as shown in His words recorded by John:

Thomas, called Didymus, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go to die with him.” (John 11:16)

This courage, however, was not tempered with faith, trust, and hope in God’s promise to bring a victory out of defeat – – a resurrection out of death.  The proof for this statement is that even though Thomas was a witness to Lazarus’ resurrection, he later abandoned his master, teacher, and dear friend when Jesus was arrested.  He doubted his master’s resurrection until Jesus appeared to him and showed him, directly, the wounds in His hands, feet, and side.  (Hence, how the origin of the description “Doubting Thomas” came about.).  

It is through faith, courage, trust, and love that we get the strength we need to persist through any worldly trial and/or suffering which confronts us in this human and mortal exile.  If we embrace our personal crosses with faith, courage, trust, and love in God, we too will have the assurance that we will see victory and glory made possible through Jesus Christ, our personal and familial Savior.

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When Martha and Mary met Jesus with weeping, they declared to Him that if He had been there, their brother Lazarus would not have died.  They also expressed confidence and faith that God would do whatever Jesus would ask NOW.  They TRUSTED God!  They still TRUSTED Jesus Christ!  They clearly affirmed their belief in Jesus Christ and in the resurrection of the dead “in the last days”.

Martha says that she believes Jesus to be “the Messiah”, “the Son of God”, and “the One”.   All of these titles from verse 27 are a summary of the titles given to Jesus found in all the Gospels.  As in any good book (get the pun), there is always a summary of facts just prior to the climax of the story.  The use of these titles summarizes Jesus’ role as the “one” prophesized by Moses, coming to save the “chosen” people of God.

 

Interestingly for me, the shocking phrase, “became perturbed”, in the original Greek, literally means “He snorted in spirit“.  Jesus’ “snort” is defined by Encarta Dictionary as a harsh sound produced by forcing air through the nostrils in order to express feelings, especially feelings of contempt or impatience.  Jesus’ contemporaries were upset with His delay and His slow arrival in Bethany.  But, Jesus too, was upset.  He was obviously impatient at the presence of the evil of physical death present at this scene, and at the “professional” mourners who came from Jerusalem to cry attentively at Lazarus’ tomb.  You know the old adage, “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature”, and I think it is even more ill-advised to get Jesus “perturbed” at you!  A perturbed Jesus may even trump a perturbed wife; something I personally know well (without even trying most times)!

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Throughout all four Gospels, Jesus regularly refers to God as His “Father”, a translation of the Aramaic word, “abba”.  Jesus regularly addresses God with a concept of filial intimacy as a son’s relationship with, and feelings toward, His parent.  The word “abba” seems not to have been regularly used in earlier or contemporaneous Jewish sources to address God.  Other occurrences of this Aramaic word are only found in the New Testament, in the books of Romans and Galatians:

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Romans 8:15);

And,

As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:6)

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Jesus asks to be brought to Lazarus’s tomb where He prays and calls Lazarus out from the tomb.  At this sign, – – this miracle – – many come to believe in Jesus, but others take word of the miracle to the Jewish authorities, who begin their plans for Jesus’ death.

Our Lord “cried out in a loud voice” and Lazarus came out of the tomb.  In the drama of this event, I think back to an earlier verse in John’s Gospel:

The hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.” (John 5:28)

Lazarus was still wrapped in his burial strips, and his face was still covered.  This man could not remove his bindings, nor could he remove what blinded him.  He needed the assistance of another, Jesus Christ, to remove his darkness and oppressive wrappings.  SO DO WE!!

In a short time, Jesus Himself will be wrapped in bindings and a cloth will be placed over His face.  However, in three days, those bindings will be found in His rock-hewed tomb untied.  Their magnificent Lord and Savior vanished from the tomb.  The cloth that was draped over His face (I believe it was the tallit, a Jewish religious prayer shawl/robe) was found folded and placed carefully (and reverently) on the shelf which Jesus laid upon, while dead.

 

What a stark difference between the resurrections of Lazarus and Jesus Christ.  Lazarus was resurrected to fulfill Jesus’ ministry, God’s plan of salvation for him.  Jesus was resurrected to fulfill completely God’s plan of salvation and redemption for all of us.  

Remember, Lazarus needed help to remove his oppressive and sight-blinding bindings.  Jesus is the “authority” who instructed others to remove such bindings from Lazarus.  He will do the same for us as we allow Him more fully into our lives.   Jesus Christ is the “light of the world” who will open our eyes to the beauty of God’s creation, here on earth, and in heaven.  (Never to be blinded again.)

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Lazarus may be the luckiest and most blessed person that I can think of right now.  He had a personal, direct, and physical relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ on a daily basis.  Yet, why can’t we as well?  He lives in us in the form of the Holy Spirit, and we can personally, directly, and physically receive Him in the Eucharist at Mass and at Eucharistic Adoration on a daily basis.

Lazarus also gets to experience the gift and beauty of resurrection to bodily form twice.  He experienced a bodily resurrection, as reported in this story; and will again experience a bodily resurrection, at the Parousia.  Twice, he will experience a unique, personal, and extreme love which is emitting from his Creator and Redeemer – – Jesus Christ!  We will be privileged to experience this grace once, yet he gets a double dose!  You know what?  Once will be good enough for me!  And, in a sense, I can’t wait!  (I hope my ticket is stamped “non-smoking”, – – and is up-front, first class.  I’ve had enough of coach.)

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Set against the background of Jesus’ looming death, many elements of the raising of Lazarus prefigure the “good news” of Jesus’ own Resurrection.  Soon to face the tension and clash with Jewish authorities, Jesus acts in complete obedience to God the Father.  In raising Lazarus, Jesus shows His power over death so that when Jesus dies, those who believe in Him might remember, and take hope in His promises.  Just as Jesus calls for the stone to be rolled away from Lazarus’s tomb, so too will the disciples find the stone rolled away from Jesus’ tomb.

Today, reflect on Baptism as a dying and rising with Jesus.  In Baptism we die to sin’s power over us, rising as children of God.  In Baptism, Jesus joins us to Himself.  As He conquered death once and for all so that we – – who believe in him – – may have eternal life, we are freed from fear of death.  With Martha and Mary, we are called to profess our belief that Jesus is indeed the Resurrection for each of us personally.  Our future will be enjoying completely the unending life in His light.

 

In Summary, Jesus’ promise of eternal life is a fundamental element of our Catholic faith.  Today’s Gospel reading encourages us to recognize, accept, and respond to Jesus’ triumph, power, and victory over death as demonstrated in the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  During this Lenten Season, we need to anticipate and to praise in Jesus conquering death – – once and for all – – by His own dying (never to be repeated), and by His Rising (in a miracle), which each of us will experience on that glorious day, the Parousia.  

We sometimes use examples from nature to help describe this miracle, this gift, this mystery of our faith.  Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus Himself talked about the seed that dies when planted in the ground in order to produce new life:

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24).

Using this image of the “grain of wheat dying to produce much fruit”, we find hope and confidence in “Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life”.

Remember Jesus’ promise from today’s Gospel: “I am the resurrection and the life.”  What does Jesus mean by this promise in your life?  Are you confident in this promise from Jesus Christ?  Pray that you will be, and will remain confident in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Remember what Pope St. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:3-4: It is by believing “the precious and very great promises” that we “participate in the divine nature” of God.  (We call this Sanctifying Grace.)

The Christian creed, which is the profession of our faith, is a profession, a belief, in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and in the saving power of the Holy Trinity as demonstrated in the Resurrection of Jesus the Son.  That’s why we also proclaim a belief in a resurrection of the dead on the last day, and in an everlasting life.  This IS OUR faith and hope:  This is a biblically based statement of faith declared through today’s Gospel:

“If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11).

God gives us the power of His Holy Spirit that we may be made alive in the light of Jesus Christ.  Through the Holy Spirit, we can even experience the power of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in our personal lives – – NOW – – even today!  The Holy Spirit is ever ready to change, to convert, and to transform us into people of faith, hope, and love; into faith filled sons and daughters.  Amen, and Amen.

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The Creed

(From the “New” Missal starting with Advent, 2011)

 

 

I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial
with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate
of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under
Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord,
the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son
is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

I believe in one, holy, catholic and
apostolic Church.

I confess one baptism for the
forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the
resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.
Amen.”

Material from “Changing How We Pray”, by Rev. Lawrence E. Mick

 

 

Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley

 

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New Translation of the Mass

 

In November of 2011, with the start of the new Liturgical year and Advent, there will be a few noticeable changes in the Mass.  It will still be the same ritual for celebrating the Eucharist.  The Mass will still have the same parts, the same patterns, and the same flow as it has had for the past several decades.  It is only the translation of the Latin that is changing.

The new translation seeks to correspond much more closely to the exact words and sentence structure of the Latin text.  At times, this results in a good and faithful rendering of the original meaning.  At other times it produces a rather awkward text in English which is difficult to proclaim and difficult to understand.  Most of those problems affect the texts which priests will proclaim rather than the texts that belong to the congregation as a whole.  It is to the congregation’s texts that I will address with each blog, in a repetitive basis until the start of Advent.

In the words of Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium, #11, the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of Christian life. Anything we can do to understand our liturgy more deeply will draw us closer to God.

Currently, the priest says, “The Lord be with you” five times: at the Entrance Rite, before the Gospel, when the Eucharistic Prayer starts, at “the sign of peace”, and finally at the dismissal. The new response from the congregation will be:

“And with your spirit

instead of “And also with you”.

This is a more direct translation of the Latin and matches what many other language groups have been using for years.  It will obviously take some adjustment, since we have been used to saying, “And also with you,” for so long.

Material from “Changing How We Pray”, by Rev. Lawrence E. Mick

 

 

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A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Magdalen of Canossa (1774-1835)

 

Wealth and privilege did nothing to prevent today’s saint from following her calling to serve Christ in the poor.  Nor did the protests of her relatives, concerned that such work was beneath her.

Born in northern Italy in 1774, Magdalen knew her mind—and spoke it.  At age 15 she announced she wished to become a nun.  After trying out her vocation with the cloistered Carmelites, she realized her desire was to serve the needy without restriction.  For years she worked among the poor and sick in hospitals and in their homes and among delinquent and abandoned girls.

In her mid-twenties Magdalen began offering lodging to poor girls in her own home.  In time she opened a school, which offered practical training and religious instruction.  As other women joined her in the work, the new Congregation of the Daughters of Charity emerged.  Over time, houses were opened throughout Italy.

Members of the new religious congregation focused on the educational and spiritual needs of women.  Magdalen also founded a smaller congregation for priests and brothers.  Both groups continue to this day.

She died in 1835. Pope John Paul II canonized her in 1988.

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)

 

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Franciscan Formation Reflection:

 

Sickness/Death

 

What impression is created by St. Francis calling death his “sister”?  How did St. Francis face death?  What was his mindset?

How does St. Francis’ attitude toward sickness and death compare to your own, and/or the Catholic Church’s?

Why do we act sometimes as if it’s not right that we should be getting sick?

What virtues does Francis ask us to practice when we are sick?

Why do Christians sometimes have the idea that sickness is a punishment for having done things wrong?  Some seem to say: “If I do not picture myself as a big sinner, why should I be suffering this way”? (Reflect on Jesus’ powerful message to the apostles in John’s Gospel, chap.9:3.)

 

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Secular Franciscan Order (SFO)
Rule #’s 10 & 11 of 26:


 

10.  United themselves to the redemptive obedience of Jesus, who placed His will into the Father’s hands, let them faithfully fulfill the duties proper to their various circumstances of life. Let them also follow the poor and crucified Christ, witness to Him even in difficulties and persecutions.

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11. Trusting the Father, Christ chose for Himself and His mother a poor and humble life, even though He valued created things attentively and lovingly. Let the Secular Franciscans seek a proper spirit of detachment from temporal goods by simplifying their own material needs. Let them be mindful that according to the gospel they are stewards of the goods received for the benefit of God’s children.

Thus, in the spirit of the Beatitudes, and as pilgrims and strangers on their way to the home of the Father, they should strive to purify their hearts from every tendency and yearning for possession and power.

“Are We There Yet? We Left the Receipts for the Gifts At Home; Hope He Likes ‘Em!” – Matthew 2:1-12 †


 

Holy Father’s Prayer Intentions for
JANUARY 2011

 

General Intention:

That the riches of creation be preserved, valued, and made available to all, as precious gifts from God to mankind.

 

Missionary Intention:

That Christians may achieve full unity, bearing witness of the universal fatherhood of God to the entire human race.

 

 

 

 

 

Epiphany Proclamation 2011

(to be read after the Gospel at Mass today)

 

“Dear brothers and sisters, the glory of the Lord has shone upon us, and shall ever be manifest among us, until the day of his return.

Through the rhythms of times and seasons let us celebrate the mysteries of salvation.

Let us recall the year’s culmination, the Easter Triduum of the Lord: his last supper, his crucifixion, his burial, and his rising celebrated between the evening of the twenty-first day of April and the evening of the twenty-third day of April,
Easter Sunday being on the twenty-fourth day of April.

Each Easter — as on each Sunday — the Holy Church makes present the great and saving deed by which Christ has forever conquered sin and death.  From Easter are reckoned all the days we keep holy.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, will occur on the ninth day of March.

The Ascension of the Lord will be commemorated on the second day of June.

Pentecost, joyful conclusion of the season of Easter, will be celebrated on the twelfth day of June.

And, this year the First Sunday of Advent will be on the twenty-seventh day of November.

Likewise the pilgrim Church proclaims the passover of Christ in the feasts of the holy Mother of God, in the feasts of the Apostles and Saints, and in the commemoration of the faithful departed.

To Jesus Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come, Lord of time and history,
be endless praise, forever and ever.  Amen.”

 

 

 

“Home Blessing”

 

There is a custom that has developed over time for commemorating the Magi’s visit to Jesus’ birth “home”.  It is to bless one’s home during the week of the Epiphany.

The blessing includes marking the first initials of the three magi (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar) at the top frame of the home door (possibly with holy water), along with the year, plus crosses between the numbers and letters.  This year’s marking would look like this:

20 + C + M + B + 11

Here is an example of a prayer that can be used during the blessing, if you wish:

“Be my shelter, Lord, when I am at home, my companion when I am away, and my welcome guest when I return.  And at last receive me into the dwelling place you have prepared for me in your Father’s house, where you live forever and ever.  Amen”

From the “Little Blue Book”
Diocese of Saginaw, MI

 

 

Today in Catholic History:


    
†   533 –
Mercurius becomes Pope John II, the first pope to adopt a new name upon elevation to the papacy.
†   1585 – Spain & Catholic France sign Saint League of Joinville
†   1873 – Birth of Thérèse de Lisieux, French Roman-Catholic nun and saint (d. †1897)

(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:

 

(Starting with this first reflection of 2011, I will be posting a thirteen (13) part reflection on a letter from the SFO International Council website.  It is titled An exhortation of the Church to the Secular Franciscan Order by Benedetto Lino, OFS.  It can be read in full at http://www.ciofs.org/Y2009/a9ENrodelet.html.) 

 

Part 01 of 13 Parts

“The letter of the 6th of May [2010] from His Eminence Card. Franc Rodé, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, addressed to the Minister General, Encarnacion del Pozo and to the entire Secular Franciscan Order, is a document of great importance and merits, therefore, the particular attention of each and every member of the SFO.”

“It should be remembered that the SFO is directly dependant on the Holy See, and the Pope in particular, through the CICLSAL.  In Cardinal Rodé’s letter, therefore, it is this same Hierarchical Church which speaks to the Order and does so in consistent continuity with the Magisterium of the Popes for the SFO.”

(Continued on next published blog)

From “An exhortation of the Church
to the Secular Franciscan Order”
A commentary on Cardinal Franc Rodé’s letter
By:
Benedetto Lino OFS
SFO International Council Website
http://www.ciofs.org/Y2009/a9ENrodelet.html

  

 

 

Today’s reflection is about the Magi (the Three Kings) seeking out Jesus, and paying homage to Him.

 

1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?  We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”  3 When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  4 Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  5 They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: 6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”  7 Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.  8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child.  When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”  9 After their audience with the king they set out.  And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.  10 They were overjoyed at seeing the star, 11 and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother.  They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.   (NAB Matthew 2:1-12)

 

 

The “Feast of the Epiphany” ends the Christmas Season officially.  Though it is true that the magi were led to the “Messiah” by a special “star”, G. K. Chesterton once wrote:

Mary [Jesus’ mother] leads us to Christ, but Christ leads us back to His mother, for without Mary’s maternity, Jesus would become a mere abstraction to us.  The Lord wills to “let His face shine upon” us through the face of the Mother of God.  We “serve a Mother who seems to grow more beautiful as new generations rise up and call her blessed.”

In Matthew’s Gospel, the visit of the Magi occurs immediately prior to the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.  As is not totally unusual or unique, Matthew’s Gospel tells a different version (actually, just a different viewpoint or emphasis) of Jesus’ life than what is written in Luke’s Gospel.  Of the part of the infancy narrative covering the actual birth of Jesus, Matthew barely tells us little more than, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod” (Matthew 2:1).  Other examples of the difference in coverage of the infancy events between these two Gospels are found in (1) the census only being addressed only in Luke’s Gospel, and (2) the visit of the Magi only being confirmed in Matthew’s Gospel.

The future rejection of Jesus by His own people, “Israel”; and Jesus’ acceptance by the Gentiles (the perceived “heathens” by Jewish faithful) are projected backwards (retrojected) into the scene of today’s reading.

King Herod (the Great) reigned from about 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.  Per Wikipedia, he made have been an “Edomite”, who is an Arab from the region between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.  He was described by the 1st century A.D. Roman-Jewish historian Josephus Flavius as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis.”  He was also known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and elsewhere, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as Herod’s Temple).

Magi” was a designation originally used for the Persian priestly social order at one time.  However, over a period of time the word became used generally for anyone regarded as having “more than human knowledge”.  We get our word “magic” from this root word.  Matthew’s “Magi” from the “east” (possibly the area of Babylon in present day Iraq) were probably astrologers as they obviously saw things in the heavenly skies that others seemingly and quite easily overlooked.

We know little about the Magi. We know they come from the East and journey to Bethlehem, following a “heavenly” astrological sign of some type of importance to them.  We base there being “three” Magi solely on the naming of their three gifts, but the actual number of magi that paid “homage” is truly unknown.  My question: Was it Matthew’s intention to use these men of strange lands to represent the Gentiles’ search for a savior?  In essence, the Magi represent the rest of the world, as a whole.  In such, they are representative of OUR search for Jesus in our own lives.

There is a couple of Old Testament verses may be used to infer the “Magi” as being “kings”.

 “May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of Arabia and Seba offer giftsLong may he live, receiving gold from Arabia, prayed for without cease, blessed day by day.”  (Psalm 72:10, 15)

 “Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.”  (Isaiah 60:6)

These Magi from far away foreign lands, – – yet still possessing advanced knowledge of Jewish faith, practices, traditions, and writings, – – saw His star”.  It was a common belief among nearly all in the ancient Middle East that a “new star” would appear at the time of any ruler’s birth: secular or religious.  For this reason, I believe Matthew drew upon his knowledge of the Old Testament story in which Balaam had prophesied:

A star shall advance from Jacob, & a staff shall rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17)

However, the “starin this case means the king himself [Jesus Christ], and not an astronomical happening in the Middle East.

Herod had a “say what” moment upon listening to the Magi.  He was confused and concerned about his lack of knowledge and getting no preemptive warning about this NEW king in his territory.  He was also concerned about his future welfare and prestige.  So, he calls all his chief advisors, priests, and “scientists” to his immediate presence.  (Biblical pagers and cell phones were going off throughout his kingdom!)

Herod’s consultations with the chief priests and scribes have a very strong similarity to a Jewish non-biblical legend (per NAB footnote).  This story is about a child (later learned to be Moses), in which the “sacred scribes” warns the Pharaoh about the imminent birth of “one” who will deliver Israel from Egypt, and the king makes plans to destroy him.  (Moses and Jesus seem to have identical infancy stories.  I believe this is one reason why Jesus is oft called the “New Moses.”)

Verse 11 from today’s reading offers a huge amount to ponder in itself:

“And on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.  Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

These Magi, – – these three kings, – – willingly left everything they knew: their home, their homeland, and their friends and family, in their intense hunger for knowing this “heavenly” announced God.  They “followed a star” in pursuit of their quest of knowing true divinity — Jesus Christ.  (They had the ultimate “Map of the Stars” and did not have to buy it in Hollywood!)

We have come to consider the gifts they brought as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ role in salvation history. We believe the meaning of the gifts to be “Christological” in nature.  Gold represents Jesus’ kingship.  Frankincense is a symbol of His divinity (priests burned frankincense in the Temple).  And myrrh was used to prepare the dead for burial (offered in anticipation of Jesus’ death).

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are understood as symbols of Jesus Christ’s royalty, divinity, and eventual suffering and death.  They are made special to Him (and to us) because in giving them, the Magi (those unknown men from foreign lands and cultures) acknowledged who Jesus was to be: our Savior!  

The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is believed by some to have been established in the gift giving of the Magi.  For this reason, in many cultures still today, gifts are exchanged on the Feast of the Epiphany instead of on Christmas Day.  We can still offer gifts to the newborn Jesus today – – and EVERY DAY in the future!  Our three special gift offerings should be praise, adoration, and thanks-giving!

To know and encounter Jesus Christ is to know God personally.  In the Magi encountering Jesus, we see God’s plan for salvation.  This plan was (and is) to give his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, as King and Savior for all mankind.  God gave to us this truly and fully – – both human and divine – – person (in the singular), for not just solely the Jewish faithful, but for all people everywhere.    Do you bring Jesus Christ to others in your path?  Do you actively LOOK for Jesus Christ in others along your path, especially the ones you would prefer not to look upon?  God loves it so dearly when we speak words, and performs acts of blessing, hope, and encouragement.  He rejoices when our words and actions help to create a positive environment wherein tiny “mustard seeds” of faith can grow to beautiful blooming bushes of immense size.

Take some time to reflect on the tradition of gift giving.  What was the best gift you have ever received, and what made it special for you?  Was it the actual gift itself that made it special, or was it the thought that went into it or even the person who gave it to you that made it special?  (There are no “right or wrong” answers”)

Please pray that you will also acknowledge Jesus Christ as your “Savior” in all that you do, say, and “give off” to others.  

We Three Kings

 

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain
Following yonder star

Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to rein

Frankincense to offer have I
Incense owns a Deity nigh
Pray’r and praising, all men raising
Worship Him, God most high

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Earth to heav’n replies

[Refrain for after each verse]
O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light

 

 

Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO

 

*****

 

A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen (329-379)

 

Basil was on his way to becoming a famous teacher when he decided to begin a religious life of gospel poverty. After studying various modes of religious life, he founded what was probably the first monastery in Asia Minor. He is to monks of the East what St. Benedict is to the West, and his principles influence Eastern monasticism today.

He was ordained a priest, assisted the archbishop of Caesarea (now southeastern Turkey), and ultimately became archbishop himself, in spite of opposition from some of his suffragan bishops, probably because they foresaw coming reforms.

One of the most damaging heresies in the history of the Church, Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ, was at its height. Emperor Valens persecuted orthodox believers, and put great pressure on Basil to remain silent and admit the heretics to communion. Basil remained firm, and Valens backed down. But trouble remained. When the great St. Athanasius (May 2) died, the mantle of defender of the faith against Arianism fell upon Basil. He strove mightily to unite and rally his fellow Catholics who were crushed by tyranny and torn by internal dissension. He was misunderstood, misrepresented, accused of heresy and ambition. Even appeals to the pope brought no response. “For my sins I seem to be unsuccessful in everything.”

He was tireless in pastoral care. He preached twice a day to huge crowds, built a hospital that was called a wonder of the world (as a youth he had organized famine relief and worked in a soup kitchen himself) and fought the prostitution business.

Basil was best known as an orator. His writings, though not recognized greatly in his lifetime, rightly place him among the great teachers of the Church. Seventy-two years after his death, the Council of Chalcedon described him as “the great Basil, minister of grace who has expounded the truth to the whole earth.”

Comment:

As the French say, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Basil faced the same problems as modern Christians. Sainthood meant trying to preserve the spirit of Christ in such perplexing and painful problems as reform, organization, fighting for the poor, maintaining balance and peace in misunderstanding.

Quote:

St. Basil said: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

 

Gregory Nazianzen (329-390). After his baptism at 30, Gregory gladly accepted his friend Basil’s invitation to join him in a newly founded monastery. The solitude was broken when Gregory’s father, a bishop, needed help in his diocese and estate. It seems that Gregory was ordained a priest practically by force, and only reluctantly accepted the responsibility. He skillfully avoided a schism that threatened when his own father made compromises with Arianism. At 41, Gregory was chosen as bishop of a diocese near Caesarea and at once came into conflict with Valens, the emperor, who supported the Arians. An unfortunate by-product of the battle was the cooling of the friendship of two saints. Basil, his archbishop, sent him to a miserable and unhealthy town on the border of unjustly created divisions in his diocese. Basil reproached Gregory for not going to his see.

When protection for Arianism ended with the death of Valens, Gregory was called to rebuild the faith in the great see of Constantinople, which had been under Arian teachers for three decades. Retiring and sensitive, he dreaded being drawn into the whirlpool of corruption and violence. He first stayed at a friend’s home, which became the only orthodox church in the city. In such surroundings, he began giving the great sermons on the Trinity for which he is famous. In time, Gregory did rebuild the faith in the city, but at the cost of great suffering, slander, insults and even personal violence. An interloper even tried to take over his archdiocese.

His last days were spent in solitude and austerity. He wrote religious poetry, some of it autobiographical, of great depth and beauty. He was acclaimed simply as “the Theologian.”

COMMENT: It may be small comfort, but turmoil in the Church today is a mild storm compared to the devastation caused by the Arian heresy, a trauma the Church has never forgotten. Christ did not promise the kind of peace we would love to have—no problems, no opposition, no pain. In one way or another, holiness is always the way of the cross.

QUOTE: “God accepts our desires as though they were a great value. He longs ardently for us to desire and love him. He accepts our petitions for benefits as though we were doing him a favor. His joy in giving is greater than ours in receiving. So let us not be apathetic in our asking, nor set too narrow bounds to our requests; nor ask for frivolous things unworthy of God’s greatness.”

Patron Saint of: Russia

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 2 & 3 of 26: 

2.     The Secular Franciscan Order holds a special place in this family circle. It is an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world and open to every group of the faithful.  In these fraternities the brothers and sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity in their own secular state. By their profession they pledge themselves to live the gospel in the manner of Saint Francis by means of this rule approved by the Church.

 

 

 

 

3.     The present rule, succeeding “Memoriale Propositi” (1221) and the rules approved by the Supreme Pontiffs Nicholas IV and Leo XIII, adapts the Secular Franciscan Order to the needs and expectations of the Holy Church in the conditions of changing times. Its interpretation belongs to the Holy See and its application will be made by the General Constitutions and particular statutes.

 

♫“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.