The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Dec. 27
Sirach 3: 2-7, 12-14
The Book of Sirach is a collection of maxims and commentaries based on the Law. The author, “Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach” (Ben Sira is the common form of his name),,, was a wise observer of life and writes on a variety of topics. Today’s first reading for the Liturgy is a reflection on the Fourth Commandment of God: Honor thy father and thy mother. To honor one’s parents, according to Ben Sira, is to honor the Lord God himself. He wrote around the year 180 BCE, rather close to the coming of Christ as the Messiah.
I meet many people who are caring for their parents. I meet them in the confessional and also in the nursing homes with which I am associated. They are doing their best but sometimes they worry and blame themselves for not doing a “good enough” job. From time to time they grow angry and frustrated and then feel guilty and ashamed of these feelings. I’ve been in the same boat myself any number of times in the past.
Honoring our parents and caring for them in their old age is something that most of us experience in one way or another. I don’t think my Dad was ever in a hospital as a patient until he had a hernia repaired when he was 75 years old. And the last time, up until the time of her death, that I would guess my Mom was in the hospital, except for a broken hip, was when she gave birth to my brother in 1933. They were healthy people, far more healthy than I turned out to be.
When my Dad was 78 or 79, he fell prey to Altzheimer’s disease and went through all the stages. This was very frustrating for me at times, particularly when he would hide his wallet, forget where he hid it, and then blame Mom and myself for having stolen his wallet. There were times when I felt like strangling him and then I would feel guilty about feeling this way about a sick person. There were some problems that had to be handled, such as moving him where he could be cared for. He died when he was 86 from pneumonia.
Mom broke her hip when she was in her 80’s. Surgery managed to repair this until shortly before her death when she had a heart attack and stroke at the same time and died nine days later at the age of 87. I looked after my developmentally handicapped brother from 1990 to 2005 when he died at age 71.
I never really regarded any of this caring for my family members as a burden. I loved them all very much and considered any care I gave my Mom and Dad as a privilege and being able to return something to them for all they did for me throughout my life. And my dear brother gave more to me than I ever did for him, He was the greatest gift that God ever gave to me.
Today I see other children serving and helping their parents and doing it with great love and devotion. I am privileged to say Sunday Mass every Sunday morning in a Health Care Center and Nursing Home. How wonderful it is to see families gather together with their family member in the care center and pray with them and worship their God together. They are indeed honoring their father and/or mother and I am sure God is blessing them all with joy and happiness for doing so. This is God’s plan being carried out in a very loving and responsible way.
The Feast of the Holy Innocents, Dec. 28
Mt. 2: 13-18
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.
The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas, Dec. 29
Luke 2: 22-35
In the Gospel chosen to be read today and tomorrow, we run into two rather mysterious people, Simeon and Anna, both of whom seemed to be hanging out in the Temple waiting for the presentation of the child Jesus. Nothing is known about either of them outside of what we are told by St. Luke. They both represent the faithful Jewish people who wait and do not lose hope in the coming redemption by the Messiah who is to come.
Simeon’s Canticle, better known as the “Nunc dimittis” (now you may dismiss) is still recited daily by the Church in the night prayer (Compline) of the Liturgy of the Hours. Simeon’s words to Mary are prophetic of her future suffering at the passion and death of her Divine Son and of her role as the model disciple of Jesus. To love Jesus is to suffer with him.
Anna is sometimes called the first evangelist as she “spoke about the Child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” Perhaps Simeon and Anna remind us of our discipleship, our faith, trust, and hope in the Babe of Bethlehem whose birth we have just celebrated.
The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas, Dec. 30
I John 2: 12-17
Since we covered the material of today’s Gospel in the homily for yesterday, today we switch to the first reading in the Liturgy from the First Letter of St. John. The three letters of John were written after the Gospel of St. John, most probably between 100 and 115AD. These letters were written by an anonymous Presbyter or elder in the Church. The author tells us that we are God’s children now and if we wish to remain the children of God we are to shun the world and the things of this world. I believe we need to be reminded of this often.
We are surrounded by the things of the world and depend on some of these things for life. We can be overwhelmed by them if we are not careful and this is what we have to watch out for. To use something out of necessity is one thing; it is quite another thing to be obsessed by these worldly goods.
Lord, help us all to remain your children, for that is where we find our true happiness and peace.
The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas, Dec. 31
John 1: 1-18
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”
So begins the Prologue of the Gospel of St John. In the beginning ……. Because of his great forgiveness, God is sometimes referred to as the “God of new beginnings.” We are with God but then offend him and are distanced from him. God forgives us and we start all over again. We have a new beginning.
Where would we be without our many new beginnings? I have no idea how many new beginnings I have had, but I do know the Word, Jesus Christ, is always there for me whenever I need him. There apparently is no limit on the new beginnings we might have. How graced we are! How magnificent is our God!
O God of second chances, O God of new beginnings, Thank You!!
The Octave of Christmas:
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2010, Luke 2: 16-21
“The Shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.”
Shepherds are sometimes called by some the social outcasts of society, but if this was true it was not because they were shepherds but because they were poor. Shepherds were among the poorest people in the society. They were made up mostly of women and children and they literally owned nothing. They worked strictly for hire by others who owned the land and the sheep. And yet it was these shepherds, the poorest of the poor, who were the first to hear the good news. Why should this be so?
What is it about the poor that endears them to God? Why did Francis of Assisi wish his followers to be known as the “Friars Minor,” the lesser Friars, followers of Lady Poverty? Why is this still true of the followers of St. Francis today? We Friars in the year 2010 own nothing just as the Friars in 1209. Things have changed since the time of Francis, that is for sure. But even though I have a 2004 Ford Taurus to drive, it doesn’t belong to me, it isn’t mine. I take care of it, see that the oil, etc., is checked and changed and I drive it to get to my work and the modern day activities of a Friar, but I do not own it. And up until just recently, when we moved to a new locale, the car we were using would stay behind for the Friar appointed to succeed the one moving.
Did Francis of Assisi hate money and property and other temporal goods? Does God? Hardly. Francis had nothing against houses, friaries, churches, clothes, food, means of transportation. The Friars had to have the necessities of life or they would die. But with Francis there was such a thing as enough, and the Friars did not need superfluities. Greed and the storing up of material things for a “rainy day” had no place in Francis’ plan. This sort of thing interfered with the imitation of Jesus who had no where to lay his head. The rich man has to take time to guard his riches so no one will steal them; one without all these things has more time for God and Gospel living.
Today, the first day of a new year, is another opportunity for a “new beginning” that we spoke of the other day. Could this new beginning in 2010 be an opportunity for us to limit our possessions to the necessary and to do away with the superfluous in our lives so we can pay more attention to loving God with all our strength, mind, heart and soul – and our neighbor as ourselves? Are possessions getting in the way, blocking, my important relationships with God and neighbor?
If I answer “yes” to these questions, perhaps I am meant to limit these attention demanding goodies to the necessities of life in order to be and do what God would have me be and do. Could this possibly be the case? Could God be calling me to this new way of living?
Saturday before Epiphany, Jan. 2
John 1: 19-28
“I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
In today’s Gospel for Jan. 2, John tells us he baptizes with water. He has told us the one who is coming after him will baptize with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism and the baptism of Jesus are two completely different things. John baptizes with water to show that those he is baptizing have repented as he indeed asked them to do. “Repent,” was his cry. Jesus baptized with the Holy Spirit. John’s baptism was a sign of repentance, Jesus’ baptism was a sacrament of rebirth. John’s baptism signified the rejection, a U turn, of a life of sin. Jesus’ baptism signified the reception of a new life of grace, the over-abundant life of Jesus.
All of us have received this gift of new life. We have risen in many ways from hatred, mistrust, selfishness, resentments, anger, lust, envy and violence to lives graced with caring, love, compassion, forgiveness, service to others, gentleness, kindness, chastity and self-acceptance. What a difference between the two! Our new life brings us the rewards of happiness, joy and peace. In the words of the old hymn: What a friend we have in Jesus!