Reflections for the Fourth Week of Advent 2012 *
* These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2007, 2008 and 2010
Fourth Sunday of Advent
D December 23, 2012 O Emmanuel
“O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of all nations and their Savior: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”
Today’s O Antiphon presents us with the name given to Jesus by the Lord God Himself: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel.” (Isaiah 7: 14). Matthew in his Gospel quotes Isaiah: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”
Emmanuel means “God is with us.” That one word says it all. We should all make it our mantra for a day, repeating over and over: `God is with us. Maybe if I did that, it would sink in! It would be kind of difficult to have these words on my lips and at the same time continue to do things my own way and goof it all up. The various Saints, after they went through the various mickey-mouse stages of their lives, managed to keep this truth of the presence of God in their focus, their consciousness.
St. Francis of Assisi had a beautiful and simple prayer to help him with this. It is called “The Prayer before the Crucifix.” Let us pray with Francis:
Enlighten the darkness of my heart
And give me
And perfect charity,
Sense and knowledge,
That I may carry out
Your holy and true command.
This prayer once again asks Jesus, the Light of the world, to enlighten the darkness of our hearts, a theme we have talked about before; to lead us from our ignorance of his way, truth and life. It is only through this that we will be saved.
Jesus, come and make visible your creative love for all people.
Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent
D December 24, 2012 Christmas Eve
The O Antiphons have now come to an end. Now the time we have been waiting for has come. We need wait no longer. The time of expectation has become a reality. I love the way this coming of Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One, is described in the Book of Wisdom (18: 14-16): “When peaceful stillness compassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, Your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne bounded….And as he alighted, …. he still reached to heaven, while he stood upon the earth.”
Jesus, Our Redeemer, didn’t just walk or run to come to us – he bounded. Bounded is like when you go toward something with such force and enthusiasm that you almost break your neck getting there. If we could only want him as badly as he wanted to come to us! If only we could bound toward him, If only we could go to Jesus in leaps and bounds, spring to him with all the enthusiasm within us!
O Come to us, be with us now, our Lord Emmanuel!
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
December 25, 2012 CHRISTMAS DAY
“A light will shine on us this day, the Lord is born for us: He shall be called Wonderful God, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come; and his kingship will never end.” (Entrance Antiphon for the Liturgy of Christmas).
It was in the month of December in the year 1223. The final Rule, the Rule of 1223, had just been approved by Pope Honorius III, and after having toiled for many years for this moment, St. Francis of Assisi was living perhaps the happiest days of his life. The Feast of Christmas was approaching and Francis wanted to celebrate it this year in a very special way. Let us set the scene with Arnaldo Fortini’s version of The Christmas Crib of Greccio.
“A few days before Christmas, Francis sent for a noble of Greccio, a man named Giovanni for whom Francis had a very special love because of his goodness. To him Francis disclosed the plans he had made. “It would be so good, he said, so good and edifying, to call to mind the birth of the Christ Child on the night of Christmas, to have set before our eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed.” ”
Francis asked John to get an ox, a donkey, and some hay and to arrange this in a cave in the side of the hill. What Francis wanted was a living Christmas scene, a crèche, with living animals and real hay situated in a way that the people of that time might imagine that Jesus had been born. All of the Friars as well as all the people living in the area were invited to attend this marvelous celebration.
The people made candles and torches to light up the night. Francis arrived and was overjoyed at the way things had been prepared. Greccio had become that night a new Bethlehem. As all gathered around the scene, Mass was celebrated. Francis was the Deacon at the Mass and sang the Gospel in his beautiful, rich voice and preached the homily. He referred to Jesus as the Babe of Bethlehem. All sang the praises of the Holy Infant and to the Father who had sent him to us. They returned home full of joy that night.
Such is the story of first living crèche or nativity scene brought to be by Francis of Assisi. Some may notice along the way, however, that there is something missing. And of course what is missing is the Baby Jesus. There was no baby placed in the manger scene. Or was there?
Many believe that Francis wanted the people to realize that Jesus becomes Incarnate for us every time we attend the Liturgy of the Mass. Some reports say that the people that night imagined for themselves a babe in the crib. And really there was! Jesus comes into the crib of our hearts every time we attend Mass. The Word becomes flesh millions of times every day all over the world in the hearts of millions of people. This is what Christmas is really all about. Let us welcome Him into our hearts this night.
May God bless you all and may your Christmas Day be truly a Merry one!
Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
We get all hyped up getting ready for the feast of Christmas and then the very next day the bottom kind of falls out of things with the celebration of the feast of St. Stephen Martyr, the first martyr in the Church. Why is this feast placed in this position? Maybe it is because this feast of Stephen tells us what Christmas is really all about. Christmas, I think we all realize, is not all trees with lights and tinsel and presents. That part of Christmas is nice, but there is more, much more, than that.
Christmas, as Francis of Assisi noted so well, is about our imitating the poverty of our Redeemer. Ordinarily we think of the word poverty as meaning having no money, no nothing. That is not really what poverty is. Poverty is really giving ourselves to others and not letting anything else get in the way of that. It is like the fellow in the Gospel that had observed all the commandments and Jesus told him if he wanted to really follow him he should take all his material goods, sell them, and give the money to the poor and come follow him. Poverty, then, is service given to others more than anything else.
The life of Jesus is one of poverty. He had the essentials for life: food, clothing and a place to stay, even if he didn’t own it. Jesus literally gave himself to all of us. “Greater love than this no one has than to lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus gave himself to us through his death on the cross for our sins. Stephen was a servant of the people and died for it. The message is there for us on the day after Christmas to begin to serve our families, friends and the others we meet according to the values of Christ.
Jesus was a Servant. So must we be to others.
Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. John the Evangelist. John, as we know from the Gospels, was a son of Zebedee and the brother of James the Greater and was called personally by Christ to be one of the Apostles. He went on to become the “beloved disciple” and the only one of the disciples to stay with Jesus all the way to Calvary and his death on the cross. As he stood by the cross of Jesus, Jesus made him the guardian of his own mother. Later he is reported to have gone to Jerusalem and Ephesus where he founded many churches.
John is the author of the fourth Gospel and three Epistles and is also thought to be the author of the Book of Revelation. He lived to a very old age, surviving all the other Apostles, and died at Ephesus around the year 100. He is also referred to as the Apostle of Charity. It is fitting that his feast day is close to Christmas, close to the birth of the One he loved so very much and wrote about in such a special way.
Feast of the Holy Innocents
Friday, December 28, 2012
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Innocents. This feast recalls King Herod ordering the execution of all the young male children in Bethlehem so as to avoid the possible loss of his throne to the newborn King of the Jews whose birth had been made known to him by the Magi. These young children are referred to as the first Christian martyrs. We have no idea how many of them there were. Some say there were thousands, but that is undoubtedly a gross exaggeration. Bethlehem is only a small village, not a metropolis. Perhaps a dozen or so would be more realistic. The incident is mentioned only in the Gospel of St. Matthew. There is no verification of it in any of the historical records of the times. Sources do, however, testify to the cruelty of Herod, so such an act does not seem to be beyond him.
Matthew takes a quotation from the Prophet Jeremiah, 31: 15, to fit his purposes here. Rachel is weeping over the Israelites who were led off into exile. Ramah is a small town a few miles north of Jerusalem and was on the route of the exile. Matthew uses it to show the sorrow over the slaughtered children.
Holy Innocents, pray for us.
Saturday of the Octave of Christmas
December 29, 2012 Luke 2: 22-35
In today’s Gospel selection, the Child Jesus is taken by Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as the law demanded. In the temple they met Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man, awaiting the consolation of Israel. “And the Holy Spirit was upon him.”
Simeon blessed Mary and Joseph and prophesied to Mary about the destiny of her Child and the sorrows she would experience on his behalf. Those who are blessed by the Lord are sometimes destined to suffer. This is kind of strange when you think about it and many wonder why this is the case. I guess the answer is that we don’t really know the real answer. Job asked God why he had to suffer so much when he was really a good and holy man. God didn’t give an answer to Job, which leads us to believe that here on this earth we do not always have all the answers to the problems that besiege us even though we are trying to be good people. As we said a while back in one of these homilies, God dances to a different drummer than we do.
All of us try in our own way to do the will of God and yet we suffer. So did Jesus himself, if that is any consolation. There is still much mystery that we do not always understand. God is sometimes the God of paradox. And that’s the way it is.