Reflections for the Octave of Christmas 2011**
** These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
They refer to the daily readings for the Octave of Christmas 2011.
Sunday, December 25
Christmas Day, Luke 2: 1-14
Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
“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 the 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!
Monday after Christmas 2011
December 26, Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr
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.
Tuesday after Christmas 2011
December 27, John 20: 1-8
Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
The Feast of St. John the Apostle or Evangelist is celebrated within the octave of Christmas on December 27. St. John was the son of Zebedee and the brother of James, also an Apostle. Jesus called both of them at the beginning of his ministry to follow him while they were working together with their father. They dropped everything and followed Jesus.
St. John is called the “beloved disciple” in the Scriptures and is often pictured lying with his head on the breast of Jesus. He is the only Apostle who did not run away during the Lord’s Passion and was at the foot of the cross with Mary as Jesus suffered and died. Later he helped spread the Gospel in Jerusalem and Ephesus. He was a rather prolific writer, being the author of the 4th Gospel, three Epistles, and the Book of Revelation. The Emperor Dometian tried to kill him but failed and John then spent a year of exile on the island of Patmos. He died from old age in Ephesus around the year 100.
St. John, pray for us.
Wednesday After Christmas 2011
December 28, Mt. 2: 13-18
Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
The Church has celebrated this feast of the Holy Innocents since the 6th century. The Holy Innocents are those children killed by Herod to take away the threat of Christ taking over his rule. They have always been regarded by the Church as martyrs. We do not know how many children were killed in this massacre.
This feast should remind us of the terrible abuses going on yet today against innocent children. We are all aware of the many abortions that occur every year. Children are used to promote pornography, turned to lives of prostitution for the gain of others, put to work in all kinds of abusive occupations, gravely punished even to the point of death just for being children. Child abuse is a huge problem in society and certainly one of the sins that cries to heaven for vengeance.
What can we do about this? Unfortunately, not as much as we would like to be able to do. One thing we can do is to stop condoning it or enabling it in any way. If we become aware of or see any child abuse going on around us, don’t look the other way! Report it to the proper authorities so help can be obtained for these innocent children. Let’s do all we possibly can to help eradicate this problem from our society.
Thursday in the Octave of Christmas
December 29, Luke 2: 22-35
Today’s Gospel tells of the circumcision, naming, and presentation of the child Jesus in the temple. Jewish law stated that the firstborn in a family had to be taken to the temple and consecrated (set aside) to the Lord. This was done by paying 5 shekels to a priest or sacrificing turtledoves if the child was female. This Gospel shows Mary and Joseph to be law-abiding Jews.
Upon arriving at the temple, the Holy Family meets Simeon and Anna, both of whom are faithful Jews waiting for the coming redemption. We know nothing more about Simeon or Anna. In the Gospel for today, Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her heart because of the sufferings to be endured by her child and at the same time he is telling all of us that following the teachings and values of this child will not be an easy task. The message here seems to be: To love Jesus is to suffer with him. I think all of us come to believe this as we go through the years of our lives trying to faithfully follow the ways of the Lord Jesus. And we must always remember that we cannot do it alone.
Lord, please help us to embrace your way, truth and life always even when the rough stretches of road open before us.
Friday in the Octave of Christmas
Dec. 30, Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
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.
Saturday in the Octave of Christmas 2011
December 31, John 1: 1-18
Today is New Year’s Eve. We come to the end of another year. Isn’t it kind of peculiar that our Gospel for this day that marks the end of the year is from the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel and begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” So what is it? Beginning or end? Perhaps there isn’t really that much difference since every end gives way to a new beginning, and I think this is the inference of our Gospel for today.
2011 is over. Everything we did or said during that year is now part of the past. I cannot undo one thing I did or change one thing I said during that time. It is past and it is gone. How does this make us feel? Does it bring feelings of guilt, regret, shame, joy, happiness? What?
What are our hopes for the new beginning that follows the end? Am I, like the Word, going to begin being with God? “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it.”
Let us try and do away with any darkness we find in our lives as we begin this New Year. Let us begin in the Light, let us begin positively and put aside darkness and negativity. Let us live as children of the Light letting the Light illumine our lives and spread to the lives of others.
Lord, help us begin this New Year with you as our friend.
HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL!!!!