Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Word Became Flesh, And Made His Dwelling Among Us. And We Have Seen His Glory!

Reading 1              1 John 2:18-21
Children, it is the last hour;
and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming,
so now many antichrists have appeared.
Thus we know this is the last hour.
They went out from us, but they were not really of our number;
if they had been, they would have remained with us.
Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.
But you have the anointing that comes from the Holy One,
and you all have knowledge.
I write to you not because you do not know the truth
but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.
Today we look at the Fourth Condition for "walking in the light", which calls for us to be on guard against "Antichrists."

"This is the last hour", the writer tells his readers.  It is the final hour in the sense of that period between the death and resurrection of Jesus and his Second Coming in glory and judgment.  The early Christians believed that the Second Coming would happen even in their lifetime.  They believed that they were living in the "final hour", and one of the sings would be the appearance of anti-Christs and false teachers.  However, by the time this letter was written, toward the end of the 1st century AD, that expectation was being modified.

Nevertheless, it is a warning that we need to take seriously.  Our planet as we know it may continue for thousands of years (although we are doing our best to prevent that from happening!) but what is much more relevant is that the "final hour" of each one of us is not far away.  Some of us will go on to a ripe old age, and slip away when we have reached the fullness of time; but many others, perhaps the majority, will be cut short by sickness, disease, or some other unforeseen happening.  The warning today is timely.

Before that final day, the letter warns that the "Antichrist" is coming.  This is a term found only in the First and Second Letters of John.  However, both Matthew (24;24) and Mark (13:22) speak of "false Messiahs".  Mark quotes Jesus as saying, "Then, if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Messiah!' or 'Look, there he is!' -- do not beleive him.  For false Messiahs and false prophets will appear" (Mark 13:21-22).  In the Second Letter to the Thessalonians (2 Thess 2:3) there is mention of the "Wicked One".  The gospels of Mark and Matthew and the Boof of Revelation speak of several persons, rather than just one.

1 John seems to make a distinction between an "anti-Christ" who comes from outside the community (personified in the Roman emeperors who persecuted the Church) and those false teachers who come from inside.  The Church has always been and always will be attacked from both without and within.

"Antichrists" in the plural are linked to all those who are spreading false teaching about Christ and the Gospel within the community.  And their presence is, says the letter, an indication that the "final hour" is already on the way.  However, many of these have since left the community, an indication that they never really belonged.  Those who have been truly anointed by the Spirit are those who stay.  "They have received knowledge".  In other words, they are genuinely in touch with Jesus and with God.  The "knowing" is based on personal experience, not simply on a set of ideas.

As Christians today, we are constantly bombarded from within and without by people who, wittingly or unwittingly, are trying to undermine the vison of the Kingdom which Jesus passed on to us.  We should not be surprised by this.  And we have to admit that some of the  accusations thrown against us are true.  Many, however, are trying to undermine our central mission.  What is important is how we respond.  The only way we can respond is through word and and action, and to always speak the truth in love.

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Responsorial          Psalm 96
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name;
announce his salvation, day after day.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before the LORD.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
The LORD comes,
he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

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Gospel                 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.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.

And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son,
full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.

There are three occasions when we read the Prologue of John’s gospel during the Christmas season. The first is at the Daytime Mass on Christmas Day, the second on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas and today, New Year’s Eve.

This magnificent passage provides a powerful opening to this gospel. It lays out the main themes of John’s gospel - Life, Light, Truth, the World, Testimony and the Pre-existence of Jesus Christ. He is the Incarnate Logos or Word, who reveals God the Father to us. It was originally probably an early Christian hymn and parallels closely two other great hymns quoted in the Pauline letters - one in the Letter to the Colossians and the other in the Letter to the Philippians. All speak of Jesus’ special relationship to God as his Father.

Its opening words are the same as the very first words in the Old Testament, “In the beginning…” But, whereas Genesis is really speaking of the beginning of our created universe, John goes back much further to the infinite beginnings of God himself. And in those beginnings we find the Word already existing. The Word was in a close relationship with God and the Word was of the very same nature as God.

The term ‘Word’ has a number of interrelated meanings. For us a word can indicate a person (man, woman…) or a thing (house, table…). But here Word indicates an active and creative word (somewhat akin to the power a great work of art can express). The Word as distinct from the Father is also seen as the instrument through which God creates (”All things came to be through him and without him nothing came to be”). And Word also points to God as the ultimate source of all meaning and reality. Jesus then is the Word of God, God’s self-communication - through him the world came into being and through him we are led to God as the source of all meaning for our lives. That meaning is totally beyond the power of our human minds but Jesus opens the door a little for us to see more than we could manage on our own.

The two great gifts that come to us through the Word are Life and Light. Later Jesus will say, “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” and “I AM the Bread of Life” and he will also say, “I AM the Light of the world.”
The Light that is Christ shines in the darkness of our world. It is a light that cannot be overcome because it represents the ultimate values of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, Justice and Love, Compassion and Fellowship, Freedom and Peace.

The coming of the Light was prepared for by John the Baptist. He had been sent by God, just as Jesus himself is sent by his Father. John himself was not the Light but gave witness to the Light. In addition to John, there are many testimonies to Jesus: the Samaritan woman, the Scriptures, Jesus’ works, the crowds, the Spirit and his own disciples. And, finally, we might add - each one of us.

Jesus was fully inserted in the world, the world which owes its very existence to him and yet it did not know him. ‘Know’ in the sense of not recognising him or acknowledging him to be what he really is. The Gospel also records, surely with sadness, that the Word came to “what was his own”, namely, Israel but his own people did not accept him. That, of course, is a generalised statement because there were many, including all the first followers of Jesus, who were Israelites. But the leadership by and large (again with exceptions like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea) did not accept him and even was instrumental in his death.

Those, however, who did accept the Word were given the power to become children of God. As such they are brothers and sisters of Jesus the Word. And this does not happen simply by natural birth or because they were born into a particular community but by the choice of God. A Jew was someone born of Jewish parents and circumcised and who chose to observe the Law.

Then comes the dramatic statement: “the Word became flesh”. The Word took on our human nature in all its fullness. He did not have, as some people believed, just the external appearance of a human but was through and through a man “like us in all things”. And he lived right among us. The Greek term literally means he “pitched his tent or tabernacle”. In the Old Testament God was believed to be present to his people in the Tent of Meeting. The Word in his humanity is the new presence of God among us. And we might add here that in our times the Christian community, as the Body of the Risen Christ, is now the tabernacle of Jesus’ presence in the world.

And then ” we saw his glory”, namely, the glory of God’s visible manifestation of his power, which formerly filled the tabernacle and the Temple, is now found in the Incarnate Word, Jesus, God’s only Son. It is a presence “full of grace and truth”. ‘Grace’ is the love of God as experienced in our lives and ‘Truth’ is that wholeness and integrity which reflects the deepest values we associate with God.

And now, “from his fullness we have all received”. That is the fullness of Grace and Truth, of which we are given a share, a share which we hope will grow with time. It is “grace in place of grace”. The grace of the Old Covenant is now replaced with the richer grace of the New. Or it is “grace upon grace” as the grace of the Old Covenant is enriched by the grace of the New.

Obviously, the text is very rich and dense and needs a lot of reflection, more than can be shared in a brief homily. And, as I have said, the same message is really given by Luke in his more down-to-earth story of the conception and the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. In truth, the two passages complement and enrich each other.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Child Grew, Filled With Wisdom. And The Favor Of God Was Upon Him.

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

Reading 1               1 John 2:12-17
I am writing to you, children,
because your sins have been forgiven for his name's sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have conquered the Evil One.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong, and the word of God remains in you,
and you have conquered the Evil One.
Do not love the world, or the things of the world.
If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world,
sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life,
is not from the Father, but is from the world.
Yet the world and its enticement are passing away,
But whoever does the will of the God remains forever.


In today's First Reading, John speaks of the third condition necessary for a disciple of Jesus to "walk in the light": detachment from the world. He reminds his readers that their sins have been forgiven in the name of Jesus.  He addresses himself to each of the generations within the family: fathers, young men, and children.  In various ways, he repeats the same basic message: they have come to know Jesus, "who is from the beginning", and since the word of God dwells in them, they have overcome "the Evil One".

It is clear in the writing of John that "the Evil One" is not to be identified with the material world, as in the Gnostic way of thinking. Rather, this is the Source of Darkness that leads people away from the Light of Life.  At the same time, John tells us: "Do not love the world or the things of the world." In John's writings, the word "world" has two distinct meanings.  On the one hand, it can refer simply to the material environment in which we live, which includes not only everything on our planet, but in the entire universe.  In other words, it refers to the Creation, of which the writer of Genesis says, "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good!" (Genesis 1:21). We are called by the Gospel to be a part of this world, and to become fully involved in it.  "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). We are in fact an integral product of the created universe.  Our bodies are formed from the Earth's physical and chemical elements; and at the end of life, our bodies will decompose into the elements from which they were formed:  "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

On the other hand, "the world" can refer, in John's vocabulary, to certain ways of thinking among people, notions that are far removed from God's thinking, as found in Revelation, and especially in the testimony of Jesus, the Word of God. In the Johannine context, reference to people as "worldly" is negative.  "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."  By embracing those things that are in conflict with God's vision, we turn our backs on Him, and on His love for us.  This is the "world" from which we must become detached.

Such "worldly" inclinations are expressed in John's epistle by "sensual lust, enticement of the eyes, pretentious life."  "Sensual lust" includes not only carnal knowledge, but every form of uncontrolled physical gratification.  "Enticement of the eyes" includes all forms of greed and envy of what others have. "Pretentious life" ("pride of riches", in another translation) points to all forms of arrogance and ostentation in one's lifestyle, attitudes by which people place themselves at the center of attention, with little concern for the needs of others.

All three of these tendencies refer to uncontrolled sensuality by which both onself and others are reduced to mere objects of pleasure, or to uncontrolled greed to possess everything one lays one's eye on ("materialistic consumerism" in other words), or to the uninhibited desire for wealth and the power of others that goes with it -- and, not rarely, to all three at the same time.  All of these attitudes are in total contradiction to the vision of the Kingdom, in which the ultimate passion is to find happiness in the well-being of others, to live one's life with only what is necessary, and to participate fully in the creation of a world of sharing, a world in which everyone contributes according to their abilities, and everyone receives according to their needs.  This principle is clearly expressed in the Gospel by Jesus:  "Give, and it will be given to you:  good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be pour out into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38).

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Responsorial           Psalm 96
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Give to the Lord, you families of nations,
give to the Lord glory and praise,
give to the Lord the glory due his name.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Bring gifts, and enter his courts;
worship the Lord in holy attire.

Tremble before him, all the earth.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Say among the nations: the Lord is king.
He has made the world firm, not to be moved;
he governs the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!

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Gospel               Luke 2:36-40   
There was a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the Temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
Coming forth at that very time,
she gave thanks to God, and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee,
to their own town of Nazareth.
The childn grew and become strong,
filled with wisdom,
and the favor of God was upon him.


Today's Gospel is a continuation of yesterday's reading about the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.  It is the story of the second person who made her presence known on that day.  Her name is Anna, and she is described as a prophetess, someone who is a spokesperson for the Lord.   Most of the prophets in the Scriptures are men; there are very few women.  This one was elderly. She had lived seven years with her husband, who left her no issue, and then as a widow until she reached the age of eighty-four.  Widows, particularly those with no children, were at the bottom rung of the social latter in Israel:  they could not produce offsrping; they had little chance of marrying again; in many respects, they were social outcasts.

Yet, Anna was a deeply spiritual person, who spent all of her waking hours in the Temple; she fasted both day and night.  She arrives on the scene just as Mary, Joseph and the baby enter the Temple. The true identity of the infant, since upon seeing him she begins to praise God, and to speak about the Child to everyone, in particular those who looked forward to the redemption of Jerusalem -- and of Israel.

This brief episode includes several lessons for us:
*     Social status is of no positive consequence where our relationship with God is concerned.
*     If we would become closer to God, prayer must be a signficant part of our day.
*     The Lord can come into our life at any moment and in any environment: church, work, golf links.
*     Once we really come to know Jesus, we cannot keep it to ourselves, but must share the experience with everyone around us, especially those who seek greater meaning in their lives.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Light Of Revelation To The Gentiles, And The Glory Of Your People Israel!

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

The Presentation of the Infant Jesus in the Temple

Reading 1 1 John 2:3-11
The way we may be sure that we know Jesus
is to keep his commandments.
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you
but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.
The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
And yet I do write a new commandment to you,
which holds true in him and among you,
for the darkness is passing away,
and the true light is already shining.
Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light,
and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.
Whoever hates his brother is in darkness;
he walks in darkness
and does not know where he is going
because the darkness has blinded his eyes.


In today’s First Reading, we look more closely at one of the principles John mentioned yesterday: If we would “walk in the light” we must keep the commandments, especially that of love. We come to know God when we keep his commandments. “Whoever says ‘I know him’, but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” These words are clearly directed against the Gnostics, who claimed that all that mattered was to be united with the spiritual, since the material world was insignificant and worthless. Anything done on the material level did not matter, including actions and attitudes which we would consider immoral, indecent, hurtful and violent toward others. In their way of thinking, the commandments, insofar as they involved the material world, including our own bodies and those of others, had no validity whatsoever.

In every age of the Church, there is a tendency toward a form of Gnosticism, which considers that “knowing God” is something merely intellectual that can be acquired by memorizing the answers in the catechism. This gives rise to an obsession with doctrinal orthodoxy on which some people seem to base their adherence to the Church. Yet the two great commandments do not speak of knowledge, but of love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and might. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To “know” God is to enter a real relationship, which is based on experience, and calls us to love and intimacy, the free and mutual gift of the whole self by lover to beloved. 

John tells us that anyone who follows the guidance of God is “in God”. Here, we have a very clear example to follow: “Whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked” – that is, to act as he acted. It is clear that “he” refers to Jesus, the human presence of God on earth, who is the example we are to follow. He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.

The letter then goes on to say that what has just been written represents both an “old” commandment and a “new” one. This section begins with the greeting: “Beloved”. The word is translated in various ways, e.g. “my dear friends” in the New Jerusalem Bible. The Greek is agapetoi which derives from the word agape. There are three words in Greek that can be translated as “love”: eros – conjugal love; philia – friendship; agape – selfless love, which asks no response from the beloved.

The “old commandment” is expressed in the instruction to love God with all our heart and mind and might, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, a precept that is founded in the Old Testament, and remains valid in every age. It embraces the principles of the Ten Commandments of the Law of Moses.

Yet, John’s letter also brings a new commandment. It is the “new commandment” that Jesus gave his disciples at the Last Supper: “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). In the Old Testament, the commandment to love the neighbor was one of many, and there was some doubt as to who the neighbor might be (cf. Luke 10:29). Jesus goes much further, asking his disciples not merely to love their neighbor as themselves, but to love one another as Jesus loves them. To make it perfectly clear, he later told them that the greatest love someone could express for another was to give one's life for them – just as he did. This love was to be extended unconditionally to every other person without exception. This is the way God acts— his love is extended to everyone, just as the sun shines and the rain falls on all alike.

Thus, “whoever says he is the light, yet hates his brother, is still in darkness.” The Gnostics, through their “special” knowledge, believed that they were in the light, but by acting harmfully against their brothers and sisters, they clearly remain in darkness.

On the other hand, “whoever loves his brother remains in light … but whoever hates his brother is in darkness”. This is all we need to know if we would live in the light – to extend an unconditional hand of love to every other person. So simple, yet so difficult! Those who refuse to live in this way “walk in darkness, not knowing where they are going.” Without agape, self-giving love, they are blind.

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Responsorial Psalm 96
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!
The LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty go before him;
praise and grandeur are in his sanctuary.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice!


Gospel Luke 2:22-33
When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce)
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”


The Holy Family was a Jewish family and both Jesus and his parents are shown as faithfully carrying out the requirements of the Law. In today’s Gospel there is a double ceremony described: one is the purification of the mother and second is the offering of the first-born child to the Lord. In the past, we used to refer to the feast, then celebrated on February 2, as the Purification of Mary, but now we prefer to speak of the Presentation of Jesus.

Clearly, the notion of the need for a mother to be purified after giving birth is not something we feel comfortable with now. For the Jews the spilling of blood was a source of uncleanness and so, after giving birth, there had to be, after a designated number of days, a ceremony of purification. Sometimes the husband too went through a similar ceremony. Given the special circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus, the idea of purification seems even less desirable although Luke does not seem to have any problem with it.

According to the Mosaic law (Leviticus 12:2-8), a woman who gave birth to a boy was not allowed to touch anything sacred for 40 days (in the case of a baby girl, the period was even longer) nor could she enter the Temple precincts because of her ritual “impurity”. At the end of this period, as mentioned by Luke, she was required to offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering and a turtle dove or a young pigeon as expiation for sin. Those who could not afford the lamb could offer two birds instead.

The parents also presented their first-born son as an offering to the Lord, again in accordance with Jewish law (Exodus 13:2,12) but this did not have to be done in the Temple. Presenting the child in the Temple seems to re-echo the scene in the First Book of Samuel where Hannah offers her son Samuel for services in the sanctuary. There is no mention in Luke’s account of the five shekels that was supposed to be paid to a member of the priestly family to ‘buy back’ the child.

The account now goes on to mention two elderly people - Simeon and Anna. (Anna will not appear until tomorrow.) They represent all those devout Jews who were looking forward to the expected coming of the Messiah and the restoration of God’s rule, God’s kingship, in Israel.

Simeon had received a promise that he would not die until he had laid eyes on the Messiah. Under the promptings of the Spirit he enters the Temple just as Mary and Joseph come there with their child. He recognizes who the Child is and then says a prayer of thanksgiving and surrender to God. We call this prayer the Nunc dimittis (‘Now you may dismiss …’), a hymn which is now used during the Night Prayer of the Church. In harmony with Luke’s vision of Jesus, Simeon describes Jesus as a Light for the Gentiles and the Glory of the people of Israel. And so, the Feast of the Presentation is a festival of light which we sometimes call "Candlemas". It is a time when candles are blessed and lit to reflect Christ as our Light.

Meanwhile Mary and Joseph are astounded at what is being said about their child. Even they have not yet come to a full realization of just who he is.

But all is not sweetness and light. Simeon goes on to say some hard-sounding words. The Child, he says, “is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel and a sign that is contradicted”. To say that Jesus brings about the fall of people is a difficult idea to come to terms with. It seems to fly in the face of the loving, forgiving and compassionate Jesus of the Gospel. And yet the paradox is that many, for reasons of their own, can totally reject the way of life that Jesus proposes. In doing so they also turn away from the direction where their fulfillment as persons lies. Jesus’ life is a sign, a sign which points us in the direction of God but there are many who contradict that sign and go in other directions.

But Simeon has more to say. To Jesus’ Mother he says: “You yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Mary will not know the full meaning of these words for many years to come, although a small foretaste will come when Jesus is lost as a boy in Jerusalem. Mary may be full of grace but, no more than her Son will she spared from sharing some of the pain which he will endure. It is all part of that unconditional Yes! which Mary made to the angel in Nazareth. It is included, too, in the offering of her Son that she has just made to God his Father.

There is a scene in the gospel of Luke where a woman, having been impressed by the teaching of Jesus, cries out: “Blessed is the womb that carried you and blessed is the breast on which you suckled!” A great tribute to Mary for having produced such a magnificent Son. But Jesus replies: “Blessed, rather, are those who hear the word of God and keep it.” Mary’s true greatness is not in the privileges bestowed on her by God but in her unconditional acceptance of everything God asked of her.

For each one of us it is the same. Today, let us say a big Yes! to God no matter what he sends our way.
Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Voice Was Heard In Ramah, Rachel Weeping For Her Children.

Monday, December 28, 2009
Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Reading 1 1 John 1:5 -- 2:2
This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ
and proclaim to you:
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.
If we say, "We have fellowship with him,"
while we continue to walk in darkness,
we lie, and do not act in truth.
But if we walk in the light as he is in the light,
then we have fellowship with one another,
and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
If we say, "We are without sin", we deceive ourselves,
and the truth is not in us.
If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just,
and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all wrongdoing.
If we say, "We have not sinned", we make him a liar,
and his word is not in us.
My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin.
But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father,
Jesus Christ, the rightous one.
He is expiation for our sins, and not only for our sins,
but for those of the whole world.

Today's First Reading seems less directed at innocent infants and toddlers whom we are remembering today than at ourselves, who are far from innocent. It begins with a message from Jesus Christ himself, which He proclaims to us: "God is light; in him there is no darkness at all." Would that we could say as much about ourselves! Perhaps we can identify more with the next statement: "If we say 'We have fellowship with him', while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie, and do not act in truth." If I am asked, I will acknowledge that I am a Christian -- but what sort of Christian am I?

John goes on to make an interesting observation: "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the Blood of His Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin." We might have expected him to say that if we walk in the light, we will have fellowship with Jesus -- but no, we have fellowship with one another. That is,of course, the central theme of John's First Letter. There can be no union with Christ if we do not have union with one another. Indeed, it is through union with our brothers and sisters that our union with Christ is formed; there is no other way.

John then goes on to encourage us to be honest about our failings. If we claim to be free from sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and there is no truth in us. Acknowledging our shortcomings is part of the truth. If we admit our sins, Jesus, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every stain of sin. On the other hand, if we say, "We have never sinned!" we make Christ a liar and his word finds no place within us.

Not to worry, though! If any of us does sin, we have, in the presence of the Father, a righteous and just intercessor on our behalf, Jesus Christ himself. He is an offering not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world. All we need do is surrender ourselves completely to his compassionate mercy and, with his help, live in fellowship with our brothers and sisters. The infants and toddlers we remember today did not have the opportunity to live long enough to enjoy fellowship and love in this world. Let us not squander the precious opportunities we are given all the days of our lives to live in the light of God's merciful love, and to share that love with one another.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Responsorial Psalm 124
Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler's snare.
Had not the LORD been with us --
When men rose up against us,
Then would they have swallowed us alive,
When their fury was inflamed against us.
Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler's snare.
Then would the waters have overwhelmed us;
The torrent would have swept over us;
Over us then would have swept the raging waters.
Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler's snare.
Broken was the snare,
And we were freed.
Our help is in the name of the LORD,
Who made heaven and earth.
Our soul has been rescued like a bird from the fowler's snare.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Gospel Matthew 2:13-18
When the Magi 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."
Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night,
and departed for Egypt.
He stayed there until the death of Herod,
that what the Lord had said through the prophet
might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I have called my son.
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the Magi,
he became furious.
He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem
and its vicinity two years old and under,
in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the Magi.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.
+++ +++ +++ +++
The Gospel Reading for today begins with Joseph being warned by an angel in a dream: "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt." They are to stay there until they receive further instructions. In fact, they remained until after the death of Herod, when it was safe for them to return to their home in Nazareth. Meanwhile, Herod realized that the Magi were not going to come back to him, as he had requested. He now felt the threat to his throne even more, and so he ordered the wholesale massacre of every male child two years of age or less in the village of Bethlehem and the surrounding countryside. He was not taking any changes. His behavior was totally in character, as we know from historical accounts.

Herod had ordered the execution of his wife Mariamne and two of his sons because he considered them a threat to his throne. The historian Josephus records several other examples of Herod's readiness to protect his power against threats real or imagined. According to Josephus, "he never stopped avenging and punishing daily those who had chosen to be of the party of his enemies." Another writer, spekaing of the massacre of the infants, said that it was "quite in keeping with the character of Herod, who did not hesitate to put to death anyone who might be a threat to his power." For such a tyrant, the massacre of a score of villagers' children meant nothing. For us, on the other hand, the event is significant: because these children died in place of Jesus they are considered martyrs, three decades before Stephen the deacon, whose feast we celebrated two days ago. Of course, Jesus Christ himself would one day die for them, and for all of us.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

He Went With Them To Nazareth, And Was Obedient To Them.

Reading 1 Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
God sets a father in honor over his children;a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. Whoever honors his father atones for sins,and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and, when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;revile him not all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins—a house raised in justice to you.


Today’s First Reading is taken from the book of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, which is found in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, but not in the Hebrew; both Hebrew and Greek books are considered by the Church to be the revealed word of God.
Sirach has many good things to say about living according to the Torah – the Law of God, based on a fundamental principle: Relating with another person, or with anything in the world, is relating to God, who created the world, and the people who live in it.

Today, we hear him advise his children on the obligations of parents toward their offspring, and at the same time, of the obligations of grown children toward their aging parents: The verbs “honor”, “revere”, “obey” are words of action. These actions are ways in which God blesses those who perform them, reminding parents that their children are sources of happiness in this world, and of eternal bliss in the next. In the Old Testament, the vocation of married couples as the parents of the next generation is central to the covenant between God and his people. But in this day and age, as well, the family must remain in a reverent relationship with God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, and with each other in order to experience the blessings in their fullness.

In this reading, there is no mention of daughters, and little about mothers. It is difficult for people today to hear that the father’s seed is the source of life, and the mother’s womb is the fertile ground in which it is planted. Our knowledge the process of human reproduction is greater than theirs, but our spirituality is the same, since God’s truth is one, only its expression is different from age to age: All human life is sacred, from the moment of conception to the moment of death, because it has its living source in the True Life of the Trinity, which knows neither beginning nor end. Human life is a sharing in God’s life, and we must care for it all.

+++ +++ +++

Responsorial Psalm 84
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
My soul yearns and pines for the courts of the LORD.
My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
Happy they who dwell in your house!
Continually they praise you.
Happy the men whose strength you are!
Their hearts are set upon the pilgrimage.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.
O LORD of hosts, hear our prayer;
hearken, O God of Jacob!
O God, behold our shield,
and look upon the face of your anointed.
Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

+++ +++ +++

Second Reading 2 Corinthians 2:12-17
Brothers and sisters:
Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.


How can the members of God’s family fulfill the responsibilities of Christian love, within their own families, and within the greater community of God’s people, unless we learn to think of others first, and do our best to meet their needs before our own need? How can we obtain the graces necessary to fulfill our responsibilities as members of our own family and of God’s family, except by prayer? How can this be done unless God, our Heavenly Father, has the first place as the leader and guide of our family – and of our own life? When the members of a family give first place to God, and pray for the graces we need, children learn to honor their father and mother; husbands and wives learn to love one another as Christ loves his church; and the Holy Spirit brings his gifts of joy and peace to everyone.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Gospel Luke 2:41-52

Each year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.


The religious traditions in Jesus’ day were ways of relating to the supremacy and holiness of God. Passover was the ultimate celebration, recalling the time when God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, and brought them into the Land of Promise. Every year, at this sacred time, families would gather in Jerusalem to celebrate this festival as a reminder of their sacred history.

In today’s gospel, just two days after we celebrated his birth, Jesus, now twelve years old, accompanies Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem. He is fulfilling Jewish tradition by honoring his father and mother, and by reverencing their religious customs and the tradition of going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover at the Temple of the Lord.

But now, a break in the tradition takes place. Jesus, for the first time in his life, does not conform to the religious custom. While his parents set out on the caravan back to Galilee, he remains in the Temple, and even more unusual, begins to question the leaders whose religious teachings and legal precepts are central to the Jewish tradition. Eventually, his parents find him, question his behavior, and after hearing his rather mysterious reply, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” he returns with them to Nazareth and for the next eighteen years, observes the religious tradition of reverence and respect for parental authority.

Some might wonder whether Mary and Joseph felt not only worried when they realized he was not in the caravan, but ashamed at his misbehavior and lack of respect for them, and for the tradition. Was the reason he went back to Nazareth and was obedient because he got a “good talking-to” when they got home?

I have news for anyone who thinks that way: Holiness does not do shame. Shame is what the First Family felt when they had to put on clothes because they became aware of their nakedness. Shame is what all of us do to hide our true selves, lest our true condition be seen. Adam and Even did not need to worry about their neighbor’s opinion of them – they had no neighbors; but since then, we humans tend to worry more about how we appear in the eyes of our neighbors than how we stand in the sight of God.

Jesus remained in the temple as the first step toward the fulfillment of his mission: reversing the human experience from shame to holiness. He would live his entire life, including his seemingly shameful death, in order to redeem us and to transform us from being God’s Shameful Family to God’s Holy Family. Throughout his life on earth, Jesus would challenge everyone he met about their personal hang-ups or their group cover-ups, and invite them to know and to accept their true selves, as his younger brothers and sisters, the children of God His Father and ours.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Into Your Hands, O Lord, I Commend My Spirit!

December 26, 2009
Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr

Reading 1              Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59
Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.
When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, 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.”
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”


Responsorial          Psalm 31
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Be my rock of refuge,
a stronghold to give me safety.
You are my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake you will lead and guide me.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your kindness.
Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.


Gospel                  Matthew 10:17-22
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name, but
whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

+++ +++ +++ +++

It is fitting that the first feast celebrated after Christmas should be that of the first person who is recorded as giving his life in the service of his Lord and Master Jesus Christ. We read in the Acts of the Apostles (6:1-10) that Stephen was one of those chosen to attend to the material needs of the Hellenists in the early apostolic community. The Hellenists (the word comes from Hellas, the name of Greece in Greek), refers to Jewish Christians whose native language was Greek and who spoke little or no Aramaic.

However, Stephen was clearly called to a higher ministry beyond the corporal works of mercy. He soon began running into opposition especially from converts to Judaism from other parts of the Roman Empire. These, known as “Freedmen” might have been descendants of Jews carried off to Rome by Pompey in 63 B.C., who were sold into slavery but later released. Or they may have been former slaves who came from Asia Minor or North Africa. When it comes to race or religion, exiles tend to be somewhat more zealous than those who live in the homeland; hence, Hellenist Jews who became Christians were targets of their anger

What truly roused their wrath was that they could never get the better of Stephen in arguments. Like Jesus, he was filled with wisdom, and was guided by the Holy Spirit in all that he said. Eventually, opposition increased to such a level that Stephen was arrested and brought to Jerusalem for trial. While it is not recorded in today’s reading, in the course of his defense, he presented to his judges a lesson in salvation history, clearly demonstrated how Jesus was the expected culmination of everything that had occurred in the course of God’s intervention among his people over the centuries.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen experiences a vision of the glory of God, with Jesus standing at His right hand – the vision of all that he had been saying. “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” The words echo those of Jesus himself during his trial before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin: “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Almighty” (Matthew 26:64). This was more than the listeners could bear. They stopped their ears as what they considered utter blasphemy. Stephen was seized, dragged out of the city and stoned to death. As he died, again in imitation of his Master, he prayed for forgiveness on his executioners.

The similarities between the trial and death of Stephen and that of Jesus are striking and are clearly deliberate. Stephen is the perfect fulfillment of the challenge that Jesus put to his disciples in the Gospel. He is the perfect disciple.

Finally, the witnesses – who also according to the Jewish Law were his executioners – had left their clothes at the feet of a Pharisee called Saul. Was he actually the instigator of all that was happening? Soon he would show himself a zealous persecutor of these ‘Christians’, these heretical Jews who had to be crushed. But his time would come and there would a miraculous turnaround. Far from being a fanatical Jew, he would become the Apostle of the Gentiles, bringing the Word of Christ not only to his own people but even more to the whole world.  (We know him better by his Latin nickname "Paulus"). 


Today’s passage from Matthew is taken from the discourse which Jesus spoke to his disciples, sending them out on their mission to do the same work that he was doing and instructing them on how to go about it. In today’s section he foretells what they can look forward to. They can expect to be “handed over” (a key word in the gospels) to governors and kings, which will give them an opportunity to bear witness before unbelievers. At the same time, they need not be anxious about what to say and how to say it. The words they need will be given when the time comes. This has been consistently confirmed by people arrested for their beliefs in every generation, even in recent times. They find in themselves a strength and confidence they never knew they had.

Again, Jesus sadly predicts that following him will result in families being broken up – father against child, children against parents. Alas, this prediction, too, has been fulfilled all too often both in the past and in recent times.

“You will be hated by all because of my name,” says Jesus. A strange fate indeed for those whose lives are built on truth, love and peace. Yet a fate only too sadly confirmed right down the centuries to this very day. Jesus had said that all those who wished to follow him would have to take up their cross and go after him. The servant is no greater than his master. "Whoever loves his own life will lose it; whoever hates his own life in this world will keep it for life eternal. Whoever wants to serve me must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where I am" (John 12:25-26). Stephen clearly is a perfect model of such a Christian disciple.

Some of us may find it strange to be talking about such painful things during the Christmas season. If we think like that then it may indicate that we do not fully understand the nature and purpose of Jesus’ birth. We tend to insulate the whole Christmas scene with romanticism and even a great deal of sentimentality but there was nothing sentimental about the Child being born in those rough surroundings, far from home, already ignored by the religious leadership of the day and whose only visitors were a group of poor and marginalized men and some mysterious visitors from out of the "pagan" darkness.

Ahead of this Child was a life of total service ending in the sacrifice of his life in shame and humiliation as the necessary step to our total liberation and sharing in his life. Christmas is the beginning of all this and Stephen is its eloquent symbol.

Adapted from Living Space.

Friday, December 25, 2009

All The Ends Of The Earth Have Seen The Saving Power Of God.

The Nativity of the Lord -- Christmas

Mass during the Day

Reading 1           Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,
announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, and saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”
Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy,
for they see directly, before their eyes,
the LORD restoring Zion.
Break out together in song,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the LORD comforts his people,
he redeems Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will behold
the salvation of our God.


Responsorial          Psalm 98

All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
his right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.


Reading II              Hebrews 1:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins,
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say:
You are my son; this day I have begotten you?
Or again:
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?
And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says:
Let all the angels of God worship him.


Gospel                   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.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.

+++ +++ +++ +++

The Gospel Reading for the Mass of the Day on December 25 is taken from the opening of the Gospel according to Saint John. There is no mention of Bethlehem, of Mary, of shepherds, or of the stable and the manger. So, why do we read this Gospel on Christmas Day?

The traditional “Christmas story” was told last night at Midnight Mass. Today, we’re going behind the scenes, looking at the deeper meaning of that story. Who is that newborn baby? Why do we make such a fuss about his birth? He is the Word of God. From before the beginning of time, he was with God and he WAS God. Think about what that means as you gaze at the stable and the crib.

Just as you and I reveal ourselves through what we say and how we say it (and sometimes even more by what we do not say) God expresses his very self through the Word. But God’s Word does not just communicate; God’s Word is active – the theologians say God’s word is a verb, not a noun – that makes, produces, creates.

Look at the “word” of Shakespeare in Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet; or the “word” of Beethoven in the Fifth Symphony; or the word of Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel – all of these do far more than express ideas, they have a powerful influence in changing us. Consider now the opening verses of the Book of Genesis. God spoke these words, “Let there be light!” and there was light; “Let the earth bring forth living creatures”, and all sorts of animals – wild beasts, reptiles and cattle appeared; “Let us make man in our own image and likeness”, and male and female they were created, in the image of God. So, it is through God’s Word that all things came to be; and to the Word of God we owe our very existence.

At this time our homes and our city streets are filled with lights. It is no coincidence that Christmas is celebrated in the depth of winter, just after the solstice, as the days begin to get longer, and new life is preparing to burst forth. Today’s Gospel says that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. It is in this hope that we long to see the darkness of our world put to flight by the light of Christ.

But wait, there is another side of the story: “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to his own people, but his own did not accept him.” John writes, “The Word was made flesh, and made his dwelling among us; He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.” In John’s vocabulary, the word “world has two meanings – first, the usual sense, our planet and all that is in it. But it also refers to that part of our world that is caught up in all that is caught up in all that is evil, degrading and dehumanizing, just as “flesh” refers to all that is weak and sinful in human nature.

The Word of God entered both of these worlds. He did not live on the edge, but in the very center of human activity. This caused problems for some religious people who found it scandalous that Jesus consorted with sinners, and even worse, at with them. Those events occur three decades later, but they are foreshadowed in the Bethlehem story.

As today’s Second Reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, reminds us, God spoke in the past through prophets and other spokespersons. But now, “he has spoken to us through the Son”, because the Son is the Word of God, through whom he created the universe. He is “the radiant light of God’s glory”, and “the perfect image of his nature”.

In seeing all that Jesus says and does, we are put in touch with the very nature of God. A good exercise would be to locate the birth of Jesus in a similar situation in our city today: He was born in the utter simplicity of a stable, rejected by every place of lodging in the village, without any of the amenities of life we take for granted, visited by shepherds who were despised outcasts (the “gypsies” or illegal immigrants of their day). It is important to be aware that this scene is not set just for pious contemplation; it holds a message. God has become a human being like you and me; he has come to live and work among us. He has entered our world to bless it, and to free all those who have been enslaved by oppression, by hunger, by homelessness; who have been enslaved by addictive habits and substances; who have been crippled by fear, anger, resentment, hatred, loneliness…

Let us pray that we might come near this Holy Child to be free from our particular enslavement – for each of us is a slave to something! But, more than that, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are called to work together with him to assist others in breaking the chains of their enslavement, so that, in the words of Isaiah today (First Reading), “all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Behold, The Virgin Shall Conceive And Bear A Son; He Shall Be Called Emmanuel!

December 24, 2009
The Nativity of the Lord
The Vigil Mass

Reading 1             Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.
Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
a royal diadem held by your God.
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,”
or your land “Desolate,”
but you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.


God has made many promises about the wonderful future for Jerusalem and its inhabitants. But their captivity in Babylon has gone on for half a century and more, but the wonderful future has yet to be fulfilled. Still, the prophet continues to encourage the people, and at the same time, to urge the Lord to fulfill his promise.

The day will come when the nations of the world will see the vindication of Jerusalem, and their kings will observe her glory. She will be called by a new name, which the Lord has chosen for her. In the Hebrew Scriptures, a “name” refers to a person’s character. The new names given to the city “Hephzibah” (My delight is in you), and to the nation “Beulah” (Espoused) reveal that the Lord has formed a new and intimate relationship with his people. The relationship of the Lord with the nation of Israel will be that of a bride with her bridegroom. And God will rejoice in her!

+++ +++

Responsorial      Psalm 89

R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
Blessed the people who know the joyful shout;
in the light of your countenance, O LORD, they walk.
At your name they rejoice all the day,
and through your justice they are exalted.
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
He shall say of me, “You are my father,
my God, the rock, my savior.”
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

+++ +++

Reading II          Acts 13:16-17, 22-25

When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia and entered the synagogue,
he stood up, motioned with his hand, and said,
“Fellow Israelites and you others who are God-fearing, listen.
The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors
and exalted the people during their sojourn in the land of Egypt.
With uplifted arm he led them out of it.
Then he removed Saul and raised up David as king;
of him he testified,
‘I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.'
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’”


At the time that these events were recorded by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, those who wanted to speak in a public assembly waved their hand first. The same custom is followed today.

Paul greeted both the Jews and the “God-fearing” Gentiles who were assembled in the synagogue of Antioch. He reminded them that God had chosen them and protected them. He led them out of Egypt. He gave them Judges to guide them. He spoke to them through the prophet Samuel to warn them that it would not be good for them to have a king (1 Samuel 8). And when they insisted, he allowed them to have their own way, and chose Saul for them.

But Saul did not obey God, and God rejected him (1 Samuel 15), and chose David instead. David became Israel’s most renowned king. Although David had done some sinful things, he was truly repentant, and the Lord forgave him, and God himself attested, “I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.”

It is from the descendants of David, Paul reminds the people of Antioch, that God will bring a redeemer to Israel. John would prepare the people for the coming of the savior by preaching repentance and by baptizing those who repented as a sign of the forgiveness of their sins.

+++ +++

Gospel               Matthew 1: 18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.


Joseph and Mary were betrothed. The word is often considered a synonym of “engaged”, but in Israel at the time of these events, the betrothal was considered the first stage of a marriage ritual that would be completed when the couple stood before the congregation at the synagogue in Nazareth, and received the blessing of the Lord through the words and gestures of the rabbi. The betrothal was considered to form the marriage bond, and the only way to break the bond was by a formal divorce.

When Joseph learned that Mary was “with child”, his first thought was that she had not been faithful to him. There were four ways of dealing with the situation, according to the law: The man could acknowledge paternity of the child, and the rite of marriage would be performed as previously scheduled. He could accuse her of infidelity, and the life of the woman would be ended by stoning at the town gates. He could divorce her quietly, without accepting paternity or accusing her of infidelity. He could accept her into his home as his wife, without acknowledging paternity of the child.

Joseph was a just man, and a kind man. He could not acknowledge paternity, since he was not the child’s father. He was unwilling to accuse her of infidelity, because of the kindness of his heart. He was about to choose the third option, divorcing her quietly, when Gabriel, the messenger Angel, appeared to him in a dream and told him “the rest of the story”: The conception took place by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary will bear a son, who will be named “Jesus” (the Greek and Latin forms of Joshua, an Old Testament name that means “The Lord Saves”) . All this happened to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet Isaiah (7:14). Isaiah’s words came true the first time, when the boy who became King Hezekiah was born to a young woman who was not alive yet at the time the prophecy was made. But it was fulfilled in an even more wonderful way by the birth of Jesus. The entire gospel describes how Jesus is “God with us”. All that he said and did showed both the power of God and the love of God for his people. Joseph believed the Lord’s messenger, and acted according to the instructions in the message.

I Will Raise Your Heir After You. I Will Be His Father, And He Will Be My Son.

December 24, 2009
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Reading 1 : 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16

When King David was settled in his palace,
and the LORD had given him rest from his enemies on every side,
he said to Nathan the prophet,
“Here I am living in a house of cedar,
while the ark of God dwells in a tent!”
Nathan answered the king,
“Go, do whatever you have in mind,
for the LORD is with you.”
But that night the LORD spoke to Nathan and said:
“Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD:
Should you build me a house to dwell in?
“‘It was I who took you from the pasture
and from the care of the flock
to be commander of my people Israel.
I have been with you wherever you went,
and I have destroyed all your enemies before you.
And I will make you famous like the great ones of the earth.
I will fix a place for my people Israel;
I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place
without further disturbance.
Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old,
since the time I first appointed judges over my people Israel.
I will give you rest from all your enemies.
The LORD also reveals to you
that he will establish a house for you.
And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,
I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,
and I will make his Kingdom firm.
I will be a father to him,
and he shall be a son to me.
Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever before me;
your throne shall stand firm forever.’”


Responsorial     Psalm 89

R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
The favors of the LORD I will sing forever;
through all generations my mouth shall proclaim your faithfulness.
For you have said, “My kindness is established forever”;
in heaven you have confirmed your faithfulness.
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.”
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
“He shall say of me, ‘You are my father,
my God, the rock, my savior.’
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.”
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.


Gospel              Luke 1:67-79
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
for he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his prophets he promised of old
that he would save us from our enemies,
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to set us free from the hand of our enemies,
free to worship him without fear,
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

+++ +++ +++ +++

The reading from the Second Book of Samuel speaks of David’s concern to built a fitting dwelling place of the Lord. David has just settled into his new palace, and it is embarrassing to him that, while he lives in such comfort, the Lord, whose presence is represented by the Ark of the Covenant, is still housed in a tent, as was the case during the long years of wandering in the desert, from the time the Law was given on Mount Sinai until the Chosen People settled in the land on the west bank of the Jordan, and even until the present situation, when David rules in Jerusalem as King.

When David mentions this to Nathan, the prophet seems to agree, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the Lord is with you.” But Nathan seems to have made this statement on his own initiative, since that very night, the prophet received a very different message from the Lord: “Go, tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: “Should you build me a house to dwell in?” The Lord goes on to say [not a part of today’s reading] that he has been dwelling in a tent since his people left Egypt, while the trekked across the desert, and since they settled in the Land of Promise. What is more, the Lord never once complained about the arrangement; never once was he heard to say: “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

The Lord goes on to say: “It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel.” God has been with David and his people, protecting them from their enemies, and he will be made famous among the great ones of the earth. This is a new development in the relationship between the people and the God of Israel. From now on, Israel will no longer be a nomadic people of twelve tribes, but a nation settled in a land with border, governed by a central and stable authority: David and his successor kings.

Eventually, the Lord will give his people a house where he will dwell. It will not be built by David, but by Solomon his son. It will be one of the wonders of the ancient world. It will be destroyed by the Babylonians and rebuilt by Cyrus, King of Persia; it will be refurbished even more magnificently by Herod the Great; in fact, the renovation project was not yet finished during the lifetime of Jesus.

Today’s reading ends with the words: “Your house and your Kingdom shall endure before me,; your throne shall stand firm forever.” The key to understanding this passage is to be aware of the meanings given to the word “house”. It refers to the palace that David has built for himself and to the temple the Solomon will build. But, at the same time, it refers to the dynasty that David will inaugurate. David will not be the one to build a temple for the Lord, but he will lay the foundations for the House of David, the dynasty of kings who will succeed him, some of them good men, and others utter scoundrels. Nor, in fact, did the Davidic dynasty last forever. It fell in the year 587 BC, long after these words were written.

Yet, in the New Testament the line of David is seen reaching a new height of meaning, as the angel Gabriel is sent to a young virgin in Nazareth with this message: "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:30-33). Today’s Gospel reading is the hymn of praise such by Zachary, the husband of Mary’s kinswoman Elizabeth, after the birth and circumcision of his son John, later to be known as the Baptizer. There, we read: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior,
born of the house of his servant David.”

The implication of this passage for us in today’s Mass is that Mary, mother of Jesus, is the new Temple where God dwells. We call her the Ark of the Covenant, a fitting dwelling place, a place of perfection with not the slightest trace of sin or evil. Later on, Paul will remind Christians that each of them is by baptism a temple of God. In the New Covenant there is no longer a temple building, but “you are God’s temple”, a temple of which every one of us is a building block.

And so, we are reminded that what pleases God most is not the beautiful churches which we built as a gathering place for God’s people to worship together, but the spiritual temple he seeks to build in the heart and mind and soul of each one of His children. Once again, we ask the Prince of Peace to come and take up his abode in each of us, so that we might radiate that peace to all we meet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lo, I Am Sending My Messenger To Prepare The Way Before Me.

December 23, 2009
Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Reading 1              Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24

Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
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.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.
Lo, I will send you
Elijah, the prophet,
Before the day of the LORD comes,
the great and terrible day,
To turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike
the land with doom.

Responsorial          Psalm 25

R. Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice,
he teaches the humble his way.
R. Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.
All the paths of the LORD are kindness and constancy
toward those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
The friendship of the LORD is with those who fear him,
and his covenant, for their instruction.
R. Lift up your heads and see; your redemption is near at hand.

Gospel                 Luke 1:57-66

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

+++ +++ +++ +++

The Hebrew word for “messenger” is mal’aki, and it is given as a proper name to Malachi, the author of today’s reading, which begins, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me”. But the messenger of whom Malachi speaks is not himself, but is traditionally believed to be Elijah, who would return to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. However, the evangelist Matthew will apply this text (Matthew 11:10) to John the Baptist, whose birth is described in today’s Gospel. It is John who will bring the Old Testament to a close. He is the messenger who announces the coming of the Lord, who will bring about the fulfillment of God’s work in history. It is he who will “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…”

Today’s Gospel speaks to us of the birth of John the Baptist. It is a day of great joy for Elizabeth, his mother, whose shame, like that of Hannah, the mother of Samuel, has been wiped away. Now she stands tall in the presence of her family members and neighbors, who had heard that the Lord had shown great mercy toward her, and gathered to rejoice with her.

In accordance with the law of Moses, on the eighth day after his birth, the boy was to be circumcised and a name given to him. The neighbors and relatives presumed that he would be given the name of his father, Zechariah, according to well-established custom. But his mother said, “No, he will be called John.” The crowd protested, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they consulted Zechariah, who, since his dialogue with the angel announcing John’s birth and mission had been struck dumb. He was given a tablet on which on which he wrote, “John is his name.” With that, his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak and to praise the Lord. The incident became the talk of the town, and the matter was a subject of discussion throughout the hill towns of Judea. “What will this child become, for surely the hand of the Lord is with him?”

You and I can ask the same question about ourselves, “What then, am I called to be?” No matter what I am, there is still life ahead, be it long or short. What contribution can I make to other people’s lives? God has a calling for me, based on the gifts he has given me. How can I make the best use of them?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

He Has Scattered The Proud In Their Conceit, and Has Lifted Up The Lowly.

December 22, 2009
Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Reading 1 1 Samuel 1:24-28
In those days,
Hannah brought Samuel with her,
along with a three-year-old bull,
an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine,
and presented him at the temple of the LORD in Shiloh.
After the boy’s father had sacrificed the young bull,
Hannah, his mother, approached Eli and said:
“Pardon, my lord!
As you live, my lord,
I am the woman who stood near you here,
praying to the LORD.
I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request.
Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD;
as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD.”
She left Samuel there.


Responsorial Psalm -- 1 Samuel 2
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.
“My heart exults in the LORD,
my horn is exalted in my God.
I have swallowed up my enemies;
I rejoice in my victory.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.“
The bows of the mighty are broken,
while the tottering gird on strength.
The well-fed hire themselves out for bread,
while the hungry batten on spoil.
The barren wife bears seven sons,
while the mother of many languishes.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.“
The LORD puts to death and gives life;
he casts down to the nether world;
he raises up again.
The LORD makes poor and makes rich,
he humbles, he also exalts.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.“
He raises the needy from the dust;
from the dung heap he lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.”
R. My heart exults in the Lord, my Savior.


Gospel Luke 1:46-56
Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months,
and then returned to her home.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Today's First Reading comes from the First Book of Samuel. In our Bible, there are two books, but in the original Hebrew, there was only one. The principal characters are Samuel, the temple priest and prophet, Saul, the first King of Israel and his successor David.

It all starts with an ordinary couple living in a hill town. They have no children, they were getting old, and the wife was losing hope that she would ever bear a child. But she was not resigned to what she considered a fruitless life. She prayed to the LORD, who not only listens to the pleas of the afflicted, but his answer always exceeds what they ask for. Not only does he give Hannah a son, he gives his people a prophet.

Hannah has been gifted with a son, but from the outset she knows that he does not totally belong to her. Even before his birth, she dedicates him to become a minister in the the sanctuary where the Ark was kept before the first Temple was built. And today, now that he is old enough to be taught his mission, she presents him to the priest Eli, with the closing words of today's Reading: "I prayed for this child, and the LORD granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the LORD."

Following immediately on this reading is the Responsorial Psalm. It is not one of the Davidic psalms, but represents the hymn of praise and thanksgiving Hannah makes for the birth of her son. It is an ancient poem, which may originally have had nothing to do with the birth of Samuel, but it fits perfectly into the context, and bears many similarities to the Magnificat, the hymn of Mary on the occasion of her Visitation to Elizabeth, which is today's gospel.

The Magnificat is not exactly what one might expect to hear from the lips of a simple peasant girl from Nazareth -- even if she is from a priestly family. It is Mary's response to the greeting of her cousin Elizabeth, who protested that "the mother of the Lord" should come to visit her, when it ought to have been the other way round. It is a joyful song, as Mary recognizes that God has blessed a simple girl living in a country town -- in the eyes of the world a person of no consequence. But in God's eyes, everyone is of equal consequence, and he tends to choose the meek and humble -- like Hannah and Mary -- to confound the wise and the powerful. "From this day all generations will call me blessed; the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name."

The blessing God granted to Hannah and to Mary are unique, since their respective roles in the history of salvation are unique. But there are, in every generation, women and men who receive from the Lord great graces to accomplish great deeds -- and all of them share one characteristic:

He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has sacttered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

We, too, can rejoice with Mary in the long list of good things we have been gifted with by our loving Lord. These gifts are not merely for our enjoyment. Our task is, in accordance to these gifts, to make sure that the love of God is experienced by the poor, the weak, the outcast, and the sinful in our midst. The fulfillment of what Mary sings about can only take place when all of us work together with the Lord to bring it about. Together with Mary, let us say a resounding "Yes!" to God's plan for his children.