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“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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“Hey, You May Be Him – – But This Cross Is Heavy! You Carry It For Awhile!” – Mark 8:27-35†


 

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s Content:

 

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

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

Today’s readings feature the famous passage from the Letter of Saint James in defense of the unity of faith and works:

Faith in itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Thus, we can accept James’ wisdom in the two verses preceding the famous quote above:

If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16).

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Joke of the Day:

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Today’s reflection: Peter declares that Jesus is the “Christ” prophesized in Jewish Scripture; and Jesus teaches that those who would follow Him must take up his or her cross.  How heavy is YOUR Cross?

(NAB Mark 8:27-35) 27 Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.  Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  28 They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”  29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.”  30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.  31 He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.  32 He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  33 At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  34 He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  35 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.

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Gospel Reflection:

 

Who IS Jesus for you?  For the 1st century Jews, Jesus was widely recognized throughout His homeland as a charismatic man and prophet of God.  He was even compared with the greatest of the prophets: Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and even John the Baptist.  Peter, however, recognizes Jesus as being the true “Messiah” (the “Anointed One”) promised in Jewish Scriptures.  No mortal human being could have ever revealed this divine fact to Peter; but, this truth, this identity of Jesus, could only be revealed to him through the actions of God the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit working in Peter, AND through him. 

In Mark’s Gospel for today,, Jesus tries to reveal Himself more to all His disciples who were struggling to accept the mysterious unity of His words and deeds – – (along with His unity of a human AND divine nature.  Peter correctly proclaims before his fellow disciples that Jesus “is the Christ“.  However, when Jesus speaks openly about His suffering and death to come, Peter then rejects the way Jesus expects to “reveal Himself” who He truly IS: the true “Messiah”(in Greek: “Christ”) prophesized in their Jewish Scriptures.  Peter is then quickly rebuked by Jesus, who uses this public rebuke of him, and by doing so, to teach the other disciples not to think as Peter.  Mark has Jesus literally declaring that Peter is:

Thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mark 8:33).

How shocked and upset do you think the disciples were when they heard these ominous words of suffering and death coming from Jesus- – and Jesus’ rebuke as recorded by Mark?!  This is what Mark has to say:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mark 8:31).

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This episode in Mark’s Gospel is the turning point in regards to Jesus’ public ministry.  Popular opinions among those 1st century Jews following Jesus as disciples regarded Jesus as a “prophet”.  In contrast, His closest disciples believed Jesus to be the true Messiah Savior.  Jesus acknowledges their correct identification, but prohibits them from making His messianic mission known to others.  Why?  Jesus does so in order to avoid confusing His true mission with false and ambiguous contemporary views known by the Pharisees and others, with their misconceived nature of what His mission should be – – according to THEIR viewpoints!!

At the time of Jesus, the image of the Messiah was laden with extremely popular expectations of a messianic military-political leader who would physically “free” the Jewish people from Roman domination occupation – – in other words, a divine socio-military leader (another King David).  

The image and expectation of Jesus as this Messiah Savior, declared by Peter as spokesman for the other disciples (cf., Mark 8:27–29), is modified significantly in Mark’s Gospel when compared to Matthew’s account.  Matthew shows Peter’s declaration actually amplified and extended: stating Jesus as both the prophesized “Messiah” AND the true “Son of the living God”:

“Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:16).  

Jesus’ response, drawn principally from material peculiar to Matthew, attributes Peter’s declaration to a divine revelation granted only to Peter (so far):

“Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17).

So, per Matthew, Peter’s “faith”, inspired by the Father. grasped the unity of the human and the divine in Jesus, the person called “Christ”.  He was the first disciple recorded as recognizing Jesus as the divine “Anointed One” (Messiah/Christ).  Peter’s faith however, per Mark, was very much “human”, as proved when told by Jesus it was necessary for Him, the “Messiah”, to suffer and die for God the Father’s work in order to bring about actual salvation and redemption to be accomplished!  

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Mark shows Jesus Christ using the term, “Son of Man” (v. 31).  Jesus does not use the term “Christ or “Messiah” for Himself in Scripture.  So, we see in today’s reading, Jesus referring to Himself instead as the “Son of Man”, a term derived from Jewish Scriptures: e.g., chapters two and three of the book of Ezekiel, and the book of Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14) to indicate His identity.  Many bible scholars today suggest that the phrase “Son of Man” is best understood to mean simply, “human being”: Jesus uses the term to apply to Himself, and to describe His understanding of His messianic (divine) identity.

Son of Man” is has a quality of mystery and ambiguity about it.  This title was difficult to understand by most people hearing it come from Peter on that day, before his peers.  “Son of Man”, of itself, means simply “a human being”; yet, there is evidence of this term being used prior to Christian times in Jewish writings (e.g., Ezekiel and David) long before Jesus’ public ministry.  I believe Jesus’ use of this title about Himself, is due to His speaking of Himself in a certain unique, mysterious, way: as a completely “divine” person being completely “human” able to live, suffer, experience rejection and betrayal, and even death (something God cannot do; or, CAN HE?)!!  “WOW!!”  My faith inspires me to say more: I believe Jesus Christ saw beyond His death and burial; His Rising from His grave; His appearing to His mother, the other Mary’s, and Peter; His ascending to heaven; and His glorious coming at the end of the age.  In the meantime … He still comes to us – – in the Holy Eucharist – – in order to strengthen us to take up our individual cross and follow Him all the days of our lives.

Now that the disciples have acknowledged Jesus as “the Christ”, Jesus confides in them the soon-to-be outcome of His earthly public ministry: Jesus knows He will be “rejected”, He “must suffer and die”, and He “will rise after three days”.  Peter emotionally rejects this foretelling prediction; so, Jesus rebukes Peter severely for his “earthly”, one-dimensional view.  

In today’s reading, Jesus is giving us NOT the image of the Messiah Savior who Peter and all Jews were expecting, but the “Christ” image He has of Himself.  Instead, Jesus is teaching the crowd about the reality of His path of true discipleship.  In order to be “Christ’s” disciple, Jesus makes it clear one must follow in the way of the cross – – in the way of HIS cross – – in the way of OUR cross.

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Jesus states in verse 34:

Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel * will save it” (Mark 8:34),

He challenges all believers (you and me) about authentic discipleship AND about a total commitment to Him – – through our acceptance of the Holy Cross of daily suffering brought about by our fidelity to normal duties and obligations – – even to the sacrifice of our life itself for our family, our country, our Lord God, and even OUR SELVES.  

Some of our suffering comes about because of a certain ambivalence – – two opposing ideas – – of life now, AND to life as we will know it when we enter into the destiny Jesus promises.  A life seen as a meager or simple “self-centered” (materialistic, narcissistic) earthly existence, and lived in denial of Christ, will always end in greater suffering and destruction.  Such a life possesses an eternal separation from the JOY our Trinitarian God: in the glory and beauty of everlasting paradise (the “New Jerusalem” above). 

However, when lived in loyalty to Christ, even despite our earthly human death, our lives will be delivered to live in a completely divine “fullness”.  Jesus explained to all who would listen what it would cost, individually and personally, to follow Him as their Messiah.  It would cost EVERYTHING, including their very lives!  (Example: 11 of 12 Apostles were martyred; and the surviving Apostle, John, was exiled to a lonely island, to live in a cave.)  How can anyone make such a costly demand?  Well, God the Father freely gave us His Son, Jesus Christ to save us from the effects of sin and death by giving His very life – – not just a physical death, but also a spiritual death – – HELL – – so we would not have to experience this sad separation:

“Hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed you from the law of sin and death.  For what the law, weakened by the flesh, was powerless to do, this God has done: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit  (Romans 8:1-4)!!

Perhaps this is why Mark finishes his reading for today with a simple, yet spiritually complex verse:

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35).

Later Mark uses similar terms again, to equate Jesus with the Gospel, the “good news” of God:

Jesus said, ‘Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.  But many that are first will be last, and [the] last will be first’”(Mark 10:29-31).

When we exchange our life for His life – – working in, with, and through us – – we receive far more than we could ever give up.  In this awesome exchange of lives, we receive pardon, peace, and the abundant eternal life of God’s kingdom now; and we also receive a sacred, divine, promise of a resurrection – – an unending life with God – – in the next age to come.

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We can easily miss the fear Jesus’ words must have evoked in His disciples when uttering His ominous warning.  Death by scourging and crucifixion was all too familiar as the preferred method of execution in Roman-occupied territories.  It was a universal, continuous, danger to the 1st century Christian community for whom Mark wrote.  The “path” Jesus was inviting His disciples to share meant, almost always assured, tremendous suffering and death for the early Christians.  This is the kind of radical commitment and sacrifice Jesus calls us to adopt “for the sake of the Gospel”, even still today.  (If you do not think so, look at what is happening in the middle-east this past week!  Please pray for our Orthodox Catholic Brothers and Sisters.) 

Peter certainly had expectations about what it meant to call Jesus the prophesied “Messiah”, the Christ.  Jesus was indeed the “Messiah”; but His life, and eventually His death, would show to all a different understanding of what it means to be the Messiah Savior.  

We, too, have expectations of our Trinitarian God, the Holy One of Israel.  Our own expectations are about what we think God ought to be doing in our present-day world.  Like Peter in today’s reading, we may risk limiting our image of God by thinking only in “human ways”.  God’s plan is always more than we can ever imagine with our finite minds and imaginations.  God’s thoughts and ways are absolutely different from our human, materialistic, earthly thoughts and ways!  Through humiliation, suffering, and death on the Holy Cross, Jesus broke the confining power of evil, sin, and spiritual/physical death.  Jesus, instead, won for us redemption, salvation, and eternal paradise in heaven.  So, when talking to Jesus in prayer, how do you answer Him when asked, “Who do you say that ‘I AM’?”  (He has asked this question to you.  You may have only heard it just now!)  I answer this question multiple time each and every day with the following:

“Jesus, I trust you, I love You.  You are my God and my ALL!!” (My personal “Jesus Prayer”)

More than any of Jesus’ other works (actions), Jesus’ passion and death is a living, active, expression of His “Words” – – in action; a living, redemptive, saving love for All His creation.  To be a Catholic Christian is to become conformed to Christ – – FULLY!!  Jesus states, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me“.  The image of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah is prophecies of “Christ”, as being the one who can say:

I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who tore out my beard; My face I did not hide from insults and spitting.  The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; Therefore I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.  He who declares my innocence is near.  Who will oppose me?  Let us appear together.  Who will dispute my right?  Let them confront me.” (Isaiah 50:6-8).

Jesus spoke openly to His disciples, and dealt openly with those who opposed Him.  As those who bear the name of Christian Catholics, our faith should remain open to Jesus’ revelation of Himself in our daily lives, that we might lose our preconceptions of ourselves and others for the works of living His “Word”, His good news, His Gospel today, everyday, NOW, forever and ever.  AMEN!!

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Reflect on what you expect God to be doing in the world – – in YOUR world.  Reflect about why you believe Peter was so upset with what Jesus was saying to Him?  Jesus was also truly upset by Peter’s reaction to the foretelling of His passion and death.  Do we sometimes forget to just let God BE GOD for us?  Do we sometimes get discouraged because God doesn’t act in the world in ways WE expect Him to act?  Pray for a continual knowledge of God, always working for the world’s redemptive salvation, through ways beyond our limited imaginations.

When we discover the treasure of God’s kingdom – – God Himself – – we gladly give up all we have in exchange for the life of joy, exaltation, and happiness only God can offer us.  He always gives without measure. There is NO sadness or loss which can ever diminish the joy God offers to each of us personally – – on a daily, moment-to-moment, basis!  The Holy Cross of Jesus Christ truly and fully leads to TWO victories: a freedom from evil, sin, and death, AND, a freedom for choosing (a) not to sin, and (b) the better “right” things to do.  Let me ask, “What is the cross Jesus Christ is commanding you to take up each day?”  When my “will” crosses with His “will”, His “will” must be achieved.  (His “will” will “will” my “will”!!)   Are you ready to lose ALL on this earth, for Jesus Christ, in order to gain ALL WITH Jesus Christ?  I know “I AM(and “me too”!)!

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Reflection Prayer:   

 

“A Prayer Of Praise To God For His Salvation”

 

“I love the LORD, who listened
to my voice in supplication,
Who turned an ear to me
on the day I called.
I was caught by the cords of death;
the snares of Sheol had seized me;
I felt agony and dread.
Then I called on the name of the LORD,
“O LORD, save my life!”
Gracious is the LORD and righteous;
yes, our God is merciful.
The LORD protects the simple;
I was helpless, but he saved me.
For my soul has been freed from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living.  Amen”

(From today’s Mass – Psalm 116:1-6,8-9)

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“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.  

Т

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”!!  

ТТТ

 

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

ТТТ

 

 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

*

 “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

ТТТ

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

ТТТ

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)

ТТТ

 

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.

Т

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.

 

“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.

 

 

 

 

 


 

“With Water, You CAN Catch On Fire!” – Matthew 3:1-12†


 

 

The Second Sunday of Advent

Twenty days till the Birth of Jesus Christ.
Let us all remember the “Reason for the Season.”
Please, Please, keep “CHRIST” in CHRIST-mas!!

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday, the “Dr. Oz Show” will be about Genetically Modified Foods (GMO’s)

 

Jeffrey Smith will be on the show to discuss the health dangers of genetically modified foods.  Also on the show will be Dr. Michael Hansen, a scientist from Consumers Union who has been an avid critic of GMOs for two decades, and Dr. Pamela Ronald, a pro-GMO scientist who has been proposing that organic foods include GMOs. This is a rare national coverage on this extremely important topic – that truly influences everyone.  GMOs will be discussed during the first 15 minute segment.

Show times for Missouri are below.  Please refer to your local directory for other areas:

Missouri: 

ST. LOUIS:  NBC 5 KSDK  11:00 AM
SPRINGFIELD: ABC 33 KSPR @ 3:00 PM
JOPLIN  FOX: 14 KFJX @ 5:00 PM
ST. JOSEPH: NBC 41 KSHB @ 3:00 PM
KC AREA: NBC 41 KSHB @ 3:00 PM; & IND 38 KMCI
COLUMBIA, MO  NBC 8 KOMU @ 1:00 PM and 12:00 PM

Thanks go to Gale Thackrey, who is the “Justice Ministry Coordinator” for the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in st. Louis Missouri. (www.fsmonline.org)

 

 

 

Today in Catholic History:

        
†   663 – Fourth Council of Toledo takes place.
†   749 – Death Saint John of Damascus, theologian
†   1301 – Pope Boniface VIII’s degree Ausculta fili (only nominee)
†   1443 – Birth of Pope Julius II (d. 1513)
†   1484 – Pope Innocent VIII issues the Summis desiderantes, a papal bull that deputizes Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger as inquisitors to root out alleged witchcraft in Germany and leads to one of the severest witch hunts in European history.
†   1492 – Christopher Columbus, a Secular Franciscan, becomes the first European to set foot on the island of Hispaniola.
†   1590 – Niccolo Sfondrati chosen Pope Gregory XIV
†   2008 – Death of Patriarch Alexy II of Russia, head of the Russian Orthodox Church (b. 1929)
†   Feast Day: Saint Abercius

(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:

 

Franciscans emphasize the dignity of the human person, especially in its social nature.

 

Although all creation is the “footprint of God,” the Franciscan tradition understands that human beings are also created in the very image and likeness of God. Humans represent in a special way God who is Trinity, and therefore we achieve our personal fulfillment in relationship to God and in community rather than in the isolation of individualism. 

“Her life was an instruction and a lesson to others: in this book of life some learned the rule of living, in this mirror of life others learned to behold the paths of life.”  Papal Decree of the Canonization of St. Clare

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

 

 

Today’s reflection is about John the Baptist, the last prophet before Jesus Christ’s appearing in Judea; and his preaching of a message for repentance.

 

1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'”  4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.  7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  8 Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.  9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  10 Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.  11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  12 His winnowing fan is in his hand.  He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (NAB Matthew 3:1-12)

 

This week’s Gospel (and next’s) bids all of us to think about John the Baptist and his relationship to Jesus.  Today, Matthew describes the work and preaching of this “forerunner” to the Messiah, called “John the Baptist.”  Unlike Luke in his Gospel, Matthew does not impart on us any details of John the Baptist’s origins, and does not declare John as a relative of Jesus.  Matthew brings forward the sequence of Jesus’ ministry found in the Gospel of Mark with the preliminary preaching, teachings, and actions of “John the Baptist”.

John’s life was fueled by an intense, burning, and all-consuming passion — to point others to Jesus Christ and to the coming of His kingdom.  John was led by the Holy Spirit into an austere life in the “wilderness” well before to his “ministry.”  The “desert of Judea” was (and still is) a barren area west of the Dead Sea extending up and into the Jordan valley.  As Jesus (John’s cousin) will be tested in the desert, John was also tested by Satan.  John matured in the “Law”, the “Word”, and the “Presence” of God in his life, and he completed the cycle of holy prophets begun by Elijah.   

John makes absolutely obvious and plainly clear that his relationship to the “Messiah yet to come” (Jesus) was one of service and submissiveness. This was made evident in his declaring that “the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry his sandals”.   

Holy Scripture tells us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15, 41).  When Mary visited Elizabeth, John leapt in her womb, filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41).  The fire of the “Holy Spirit” lived and “burned brightly, intensely, and fully” in John the Baptist, and made him the prophesized “forerunner” of the coming Messiah as described in Isaiah 40:3:

“A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”

I have a problem with the translation of the above verse, which is not uncommon in using the “NAB” Catholic Bible for me recently.  In this instance, I have chosen to go back to the origin Greek.  The Interlinear Greek Bible actually translates Isaiah 40:3 directly as:

utoV  gar  FOR THIS estin IS o HE WHO rhqeiV WAS SPOKEN upo BY hsaiou ISAIAH tou THE profhtou PROPHET legontoV SAYING fwnh THE VOICE bowntoV OF ONE CRYING en IN th THE erhmw WILDERNESS etoimasate PREPARE thn THE odon WAY kuriou OF THE LORD euqeiaV STRAIGHT poieite  taV MAKE tribouV  autou HIS PATHS taV MAKE tribouV WITH PATHS tou THE qeou OF GOD hmwn US.” 

(The bold is not Greek.  Apparently, it does not convert from word to WordPress.)

(Pretty cool and poetic though, isn’t it!!  The original Greek gives me a whole new meaning.  I love learning new “old” thinks.)

John the Baptist’s preaching is not meant to be a type of “finger-pointing” ultimatum, in an attempt to “scare” the “unholy hell” out of us.  He is simply calling for a change of heart and behavior through repentance.  John preaches of a turning from a life of rebellion to one of absolute and complete obedience to God.  He characterizes the conversion of those – – who sought him out in that enormous barren desert of Judea, – – with a “baptism” of repentance.  John’s baptism should be understood by us as a belief, hope, and anticipation of baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In today’s Gospel, John himself even alludes to the difference between his baptism and the “one yet to come” in saying:

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

His message was similar to the message of the Old Testament prophets who scolded the Jewish people for their lack of faith.  Living among a “proud” people who seemed to be unconcerned with the “things of God” (secularization), it was John’s mission to awaken them, unsettle them, and arouse in them enough willingness to recognize and receive the “Messiah” when He arrived!   

John declares that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.  For John, this word “heaven,” was a proxy for the name of “God”, a name always avoided (still even today) by devout Jews out of reverence and respect.  Interestingly, the expression “the kingdom of heaven” occurs only in the Gospel of Matthew, and points to the actual and authentic power and reign of God over His people.  

In its fullness and completeness, the “kingdom of heaven” not only includes one’s obedience to God’s word but the joy and victory of God over earthly, human, and physical evils – – particularly over death of the body and soul.  John shared the Jewish belief that the “kingdom” was to be ushered in by a judgment from God, in which sinners would be condemned and perish.  Catholics have modified this belief somewhat, wherein the “kingdom” is seen as being established in a form or type of stages, ending with the Parousia (Second Coming) of Jesus.

John the Baptist was one of, and the last of, the great holy prophets of Israel.  He preached “repentance” of sins to the people of Israel.  The description of John’s being, spirituality, and presence found in this reading is reminiscent of the description of the great prophet, Elijah.  The “hairy” garment of John was considered by the Jewish people as a sign of an ascetical (somebody who is self-denying and lives with minimal material comforts) and prophetic calling, similar to Elijah’s demeanor, physical being, and calling.  It recalls the austere garment of Elijah, as found in 2 Kings 1:8:

’Wearing a hairy garment,’ they replied, ‘with a leather girdle about his loins.’ ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite!’ he exclaimed.”

The belief, hope, and anticipation of the return of “Elijah” from heaven in order to prepare the Jewish people for the final manifestation of God’s “kingdom” was prevalent and well-known among John’s audience,the first century Jewish people.  According to Matthew, this expectation was fulfilled in John the Baptist’s ministry.  In Matthew 11:14, it is written:

And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come.” 

Also, in Matthew 17:11-13, it goes on to say:

He said in reply, ‘Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.  So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.’  Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.”

“Ritual washing” was practiced by various groups in Palestine for at least 400 years (around 150 B.C. to 250 A.D.).  John’s acts of baptism very well may have been related to the purifying washings of the ascetic Jewish community called the “Essenes” who lived in an area called “Qumran” (about a mile from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea).

The “Pharisees and Sadducees” that John the Baptist saw and talked to were Jewish temple leaders, who also had responsibilities outside the religious aspects of their jobs, giving them responsibilities very similar to our present day political leaders in their society.  The Pharisees were intensely devoted to the “Mosaic Law”, both written and oral.  Most scholars believe that another group called the “Scribes”, who were considered the experts in the Mosaic Law, also belonged predominantly to this “party” of Temple leaders.  

The Sadducees were a priestly “aristocratic” party, well entrenched in Jerusalem.  This group or party only accepted as “Scripture” the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah or Pentateuch).  The Sadducees followed the “letter of the law”, and rejected any oral traditions (the main way of teaching the Jewish and historical faith).  Most interesting for me is that they were defiantly opposed to any teachings NOT found in the Torah such as “resurrection of the dead.”  For me, no hope in a resurrection definitely would make one “Sad-You-See!”

Matthew links all three of these religious/political groups together as “enemies” of Jesus.  The threatening words of John in verses 7 through 12 are addressed to these Temple Leaders who were present, rather than to “the crowds” as is found and reported in Luke 3:7.  “The coming wrath,” that John is declaring in verse 7, is the “final judgment” that will bring about the eternal destruction for non-repentant and non-remorseful sinners. 

So, go to confession, and go often.  It’s an awesome experience!  Every time we turn to God in reconciliation, He RUNS to us, and allows us to see a small glimpse of heaven – His kingdom – thus filling us completely with hope and joy.

Fire in the Bible, is regularly connected with God, with His acts in the world, and in the lives of His people.  God manifested His actual presence with the use of fire, such as with the non-consuming “burning bush” when God spoke to Moses, as written in Exodus 3:2.  The image of fire is also used to symbolize God’s glory in Ezekiel 1:4 and 1:13, His protective presence in 2 Kings 6:17, His holiness in Deuteronomy 4:24, His righteous judgment in Zechariah 13:9, and even His wrath against sin as in Isaiah 66:15-16. 

The baptism via water from John was be followed by a washing away of the persons sins via a cleansing power of the Holy Spirit of God.  Some believers of that period saw the Holy Spirit and fire as synonymous.  Jesus was said to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.   The first Catholic communities believed the “Holy Spirit and fire” was to be understood, in actuality, in the context of what happened at Pentecost, as described in Acts 2:1-4:

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim

In John the Baptist’s preaching though, the “Spirit and fire” was in regards to their purifying and refining characteristics as found in Old Testament books of Ezekiel 36:25-27 and  Malachi 3:2-3.

“I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.  I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.”

and

“But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears?  For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye.  He will sit refining and purifying (silver), and he will purify the sons of Levi, Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.”

Our baptism in Jesus Christ, “by water and Spirit”, results in a new birth and entry into God’s kingdom as his beloved sons and daughters (see John 3:5).  Do you want to experience that feeling of being on fire for God?   Do you want to be on fire for God and for the return of the Lord Jesus when he comes in His magnificence and glory?  Hell Yes!! (Wait; actually it should be “Hell NO!! – I think.  Hey, you know what I mean.)

The judgment between the “good” and “bad” is compared to a procedure in which a farmer separates wheat and chaff.  The “winnowing fan” was a farming tool, a forklike shovel with which the threshed wheat was thrown into the air. The kernels fell to the ground; the light chaff, which was blown clear by the wind, was then gathered and burned up.  My sons do the same activity every fall with our brightly colored and browned fallen leaves, but only after I have meticulously created neat and tidy piles in preparation of picking them up.

Today’s Gospel will be followed next Sunday by Jesus’ baptism celebrated and witnessed by this Holy prophet, John; an event that is attested to in ALL of the Gospels, and acknowledged by all as the start of Jesus’ “public ministry.”  

God wants to do much more than pardoning our sins.  He wants to open up heaven and give us His unrelenting love, healing, and peace.  John’s preaching of the “coming of the Lord” is an essential theme for the Advent season.  John’s message prepared the way for Jesus in the early first century.  Today, we are also “called” to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming.  We must respond in repenting our iniquities, and in re-forming our lives into the mold of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  We are also called “to be prophets of Christ”, loudly and publically announcing the coming of the Lord.

It seems that “Messianic” prophesies are never vague in nature.  They always point to a hope that can be fulfilled in the human heart and soul.  Wars, terrorism, poverty, and useless death through the pitiful actions of abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty smothers hope.  As Catholics, our hope is for peace, healing, and generosity in ourselves, and in others.  In essence, – what we pray for, we must also work for!  For me, this is exactly how we must approach preparing for the “advent” of our personal and intimate relationship with God in His “kingdom”!

We do an enormous amount of chores in order to get ourselves ready for the “secular” Christmas.  We purchase gifts, prepare Christmas cards, decorate our homes, and so on.  John the Baptist’s call for repentance in preparation for Jesus’ Parousia, should remind us that “our repentance” is another essential way to prepare for the “Lord’s coming” and our celebration of the Actual and True Christmas experience.  

Are you eager to hear God’s word and to be changed by it through the power of the Holy Spirit?  Do you point others to Christ in the way you live, work, and speak?

Parish communities usually offer a “communal” celebration of the “Sacrament of Reconciliation” during the Advent season.  Participate in this communal celebration – – it is such a beautiful Sacrament.  If you cannot attend a communal celebration, please seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation on an individual basis.

 

 

Act of Contrition

 

“My God, 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.”

 

Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO

 

*****

 

 

 

A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Sabas (b. 439)

 

Born in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey), Sabas is one of the most highly regarded patriarchs among the monks of Palestine and is considered one of the founders of Eastern monasticism.

After an unhappy childhood in which he was abused and ran away several times, Sabas finally sought refuge in a monastery. While family members tried to persuade him to return home, the young boy felt drawn to monastic life. Although the youngest monk in the house, he excelled in virtue.

At age 18 he traveled to Jerusalem, seeking to learn more about living in solitude. Soon he asked to be accepted as a disciple of a well-known local solitary, though initially he was regarded as too young to live completely as a hermit. Initially, Sabas lived in a monastery, where he worked during the day and spent much of the night in prayer. At the age of 30 he was given permission to spend five days each week in a nearby remote cave, engaging in prayer and manual labor in the form of weaving baskets. Following the death of his mentor, St. Euthymius, Sabas moved farther into the desert near Jericho. There he lived for several years in a cave near the brook Cedron. A rope was his means of access. Wild herbs among the rocks were his food. Occasionally men brought him other food and items, while he had to go a distance for his water.

Some of these men came to him desiring to join him in his solitude. At first he refused. But not long after relenting, his followers swelled to more than 150, all of them living in individual huts grouped around a church, called a laura.

The bishop persuaded a reluctant Sabas, then in his early 50s, to prepare for the priesthood so that he could better serve his monastic community in leadership. While functioning as abbot among a large community of monks, he felt ever called to live the life of a hermit. Throughout each year —consistently in Lent—he left his monks for long periods of time, often to their distress. A group of 60 men left the monastery, settling at a nearby ruined facility. When Sabas learned of the difficulties they were facing, he generously gave them supplies and assisted in the repair of their church.

Over the years Sabas traveled throughout Palestine, preaching the true faith and successfully bringing back many to the Church. At the age of 91, in response to a plea from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sabas undertook a journey to Constantinople in conjunction with the Samaritan revolt and its violent repression. He fell ill and, soon after his return, died at the monastery at Mar Saba. Today the monastery is still inhabited by monks of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and St. Sabas is regarded as one of the most noteworthy figures of early monasticism.

Comment:

Few of us share Sabas’s yearning for a cave in the desert, but most of us sometimes resent the demands others place on our time. Sabas understands that. When at last he gained the solitude for which he yearned, a community immediately began to gather around him and he was forced into a leadership role. He stands as a model of patient generosity for anyone whose time and energy are required by others—that is, for all of us.

 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 5 & 6 of 26:

 

5.     Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity. The faith of St. Francis, who often said, “I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood,” should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.

 

 

 

 

6.     They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession. Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.

Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialog of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.