The first reading refers to those among us who can say we know the Lord and who may claim they know Him yet still walk in darkness. To truly know the Lord is not easy. “The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. “ 1 John 2:3 It could be said that we all have days when we know the Lord better than others; keeping His commandments can be challenging. Nevertheless, the reading presents hope, which is crucial.
“I do write a new commandment to you, for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is always shining. “ 1 John 2:8
This hope is observed and celebrated during the octave of Christmas. Jesus Christ is the true light sent to earth to overcome the darkness. The gospel today echoes this sentiment through Simeon’s prophecy. “My own eyes have seem 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. “ Luke 2:30
The world today is deep in darkness; many are blinded and cannot even see they are falling away from the Lord, but there remains great hope that outshines even this darkness—Jesus Christ.
While many people stop celebrating Christmas after December 25, our Catholic faith encourages us to observe this hope for eight days. In fact, we should celebrate Christmas all year long. If we truly know the Lord, His light will shine through us every day of the year.
Merry Christmas!!! The Savior is born! Emmanuel – God with us!
My friends, what a precious gift for us to reflect on this Christmas Day – our God has become incarnate, taken on our humble humanity, to be with us now and for eternity. The Light of the World is come:
Your birth, O Christ our God has shed upon the world the light of knowledge; for through it, those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship you, the Sun of Justice, and to know you, the Dawn from on High Glory to you, O Lord!
These words from the Christmas Liturgy of the Byzantine Catholic Church are steeped in the imagery of light. Today, we truly enter a season of light as we celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ. I can’t think of anything the United States and the whole world needs more at the end of an extremely trying and difficult year than the gift of Light. In words attributed to St. Francis, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” Light illumines the darkness.
Light gives us hope, and the Light which is Christ provides us the most reliable hope of all – a hope we can place all of our trust and confidence in. He has promised us peace. He has promised us joy evermore. He has promised us mercy, forgiveness, comfort, and love that lasts forever.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This pandemic year has left many without hope. Just about everyone has been personally affected by hardship in the form of illness, job loss, fear of illness, anxiety about work, and the lack of being able to spend time freely with family, friends, and others face to face. There has been an air of fear, anxiety, and sadness. Today, we are reminded why the darkness has no power. There is One who has enabled our suffering to have redemptive meaning and even gives the grace of joy in the midst of suffering. One who remains with us in the depths of our grief and sadness and blesses us with comfort. The One has come who is the Light that the darkness cannot and will not overcome. Today, we see Jesus Christ as a newborn and celebrate His birth into the world He created. Through Advent we’ve been reflecting on our dear Mother Mary and St. Joseph whose faith carried them through trial on the road to His birth. We ask for their prayers for our own faith and we ask their Savior Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, for a deeper faith and love for Him.
Amongst the celebration, excitement, and joy of today, may we find a quiet moment to come before our King as a baby. To revel in His humility and His love for us. He loves you more than you can comprehend. Challenge yourself to feel the depth of His love for you. See how He gazes upon you. See how He has provided for you and walked alongside you this past year. Thank Him for the moments He has carried you when you realized you couldn’t do it alone. Revel in this love.
May we ask the Lord for the gift and grace of joy today. Joy to share with everyone we meet or smile at (even if they can only see our eyes and we are 10 feet away). The joy of the Lord is palpable and His Love is for all. May we share it in any way we can with a world in need. This year, in a special way, people need to hear the good news and we need to go tell it on the mountains! Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is born! May we carry the Light of this season with us through this octave of Christmas and continue to spread it in the weeks, months, and years to come. Let us praise the Lord with everything we are! For He is good, He loves us all, and He is the Light for the whole world! Hallelujah! In the year 390, St. Gregory of Nazianz began his sermon on the Nativity with the joyous words below – in 2020, may we join in his words just as joyfully:
“Christ is born, glorify him! Christ came from heaven, welcome Him! Christ is on earth, exult! Sing to the Lord all the earth, Joyfully praise Him all you nations, For He has become glorious!”
St. Gregory of Nazianz
God bless you, my brothers and sisters, and have a Merry Christmas!!
“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.” –Mt 1:18-25
I had many plans this year. I think we all did. Plans to travel, to be better physically, mentally, to be a better daughter, a loving friend…plans to be more present, be a better volunteer, to serve better, to pray more, to truly live out my faith, to move up, whatever up is, to really stick to the plans this year…what plans?
Joseph had plans, to be a good husband, to have a companion, enjoy her company, learn how to be a husband, a provider, do well in the business, be looked upon with high praise, to be a father to many children, as many as the lord provides…and here he is….scared and confused and wondering….what plans?! The woman chosen to be my wife is pregnant… I have to divorce her, but I don’t want to bring her shame, I don’t want shame upon me…I must do it quietly…no one can know, no one will understand…my plans….dust. Moreover, God sent his angel, his messenger, “Do not be afraid…”
How can he not be afraid, how can we? With all we have experienced, seen, heard, and been confronted with this year. How can we not be afraid? Through a global pandemic, through a changing of economic circumstances, through an increase awareness of death, because of Covid-19, because of racial violence, we are experiencing an increase in awareness of racial trauma, isolation, emotional trauma, mental illness, loss, pain, loneliness, hunger, anxiety, fake news, fear mongering…how can we not be afraid?
Little did Joseph know that he would have to leave what he had built, what he thought was good enough, to become a refugee, flee to Egypt with a very pregnant Mary, entrusted with the son of God, and provide food and shelter in an unknown place, and be a protagonist in the plan of salvation. Rewind and read that again….what plan? God’s plan. Queue the Drake song…sorry had to! God challenged us this year in the same way he challenges us every day to live out the truth of the gospel. Never was there a year it was so hard.
I did not find refuge in what I knew…I found refuge in the angels that God sent me. God destroyed what I thought were safe places and comfort zones to bring out real peace and progress.
That peace came in an invitation from a friend I was not so close with, to pray the novena to Saint Katherine Drexel; peace came in the invitation to grow deeply in Catholic Social Teaching, it came in an invitation to intercede for our world in a praise and worship zoom call on a day my heartbroken and I most needed it, the world needed it, it came in the call to serve my family as we continue to struggle to support one of our own through a battle with depression.
Peace came in an invitation to intercede for others, to grow closer to a friend also experiencing isolation and loneliness; it came in the call of supporting my father through his Covid-19 illness. Peace came in supporting a friend through a battle with a tumor, through a friend’s continued struggle to find meaningful employment, through a book club with four amazing Catholic women. Peace came in opportunities to grow deeper into relationship and to take deep fresh air outside. Peace came….(FILL THIS IN FOR YOURSELF RIGHT HERE)! Whatever God has taken away, he has given and will continue to give greater than what WE can imagine.
WHAT PLANS? The obsessive planner in me is freaked out. The Christian in me, is Lord, your plan not mine.
God has greater plans for us then we can dare to dream or imagine. He did not lead us to this point to abandon us. our God is here where you are he is present, EMMANUEL!
In the comfort that you receive and the comfort you must give, in the joy of a smile, that you receive and that you must give. In the help, you receive and you must give, in the faith you must witness and you must show, in the love that you receive and you must show. God is present in the prayers you receive and the prayers you must lift up. Someone entrusts you to the Lord, and you entrust them to God.
It’s ok to be afraid. God will remind you, “Do not be afraid.” Hear his angels, there is a good solid plan that you cannot even imagine. Do not despair, do not lose hope! EMMANUEL!!!! That’s a plan we were not expecting, or could imagine! If you are lonely reach out, if you are struggling call a friend, if you are overwhelmed by attention call that friend who could use more people in their life, if you are bored by your comfort, call that friend who struggles! God has angels and saints all around, he will put us, them, you, to good use. Pray with me, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”- Prayer of Saint Francis
Señor, gracias por el aire que respiro, por este día, por esta Noche Buena, y cada hora que nos regalas. For your angels Lord. Continue to strengthen our hearts, to do your will, serve in your plan and teach us to love and be loved. Thank you for the awesome gift of your incarnation that we eagerly await this night. Te rogamos Señor, por nuestro Señor Jesucristo, tu hijo, que vive y reina contigo en la unidad del Espíritu Santo, y es Dios por los siglos de los siglos. Amen!
Both the first reading and the Gospel are stories of thanksgiving. Hannah’s story is a wonderful example of how one should return everything one receives as a gift from God right back to Him. Hannah desired a son so desperately that she humbled herself to the Lord. She kept pleading for a son, so much that the prophet Eli actually mistook her ardor for drunkenness. God saw Hannah’s heart and granted her humble and sincere request to bring forth Samuel.
Everyone has deep desires like Hannah had. God knows these desires of our hearts and wants to fulfill them. He might not fulfill them in the way we think they should be or in a way we even want them fulfilled. Regardless of how God chooses to answer our prayers, it is important that we thank Him. It is easy to forget that everything we have done and every breath we take are gifts from God.
Mary provides the perfect example of how we should give thanks to the Lord every day. We don’t know what deep desires she held in her heart, but it can be assumed she did not want to conceive a child before marriage. The judgment and ridicule she endured must have been difficult to bear. She never lost faith in her Lord, however; instead, she praised Him for His wonders and miracles.
God’s plan for our lives rarely resembles the ones we have for ourselves. We struggle to release our hopes and dreams to the Lord, but thanks to Hannah and especially Mary, we have a guarantee that by humbling ourselves to His will, He will in turn make miracles of our lives. As we prepare for Christmas, we give thanks for the gift of our Savior and the Lord’s Son, but we should also give thanks for our own lives. Each one of us is destined to play a crucial role in the Lord’s plan. Hannah showed her thanksgiving by giving her son back to the Lord. Mary showed hers by agreeing to bring forth a child while still unwed, subjecting herself to the scorn of the people in her village. What can we give back to the Lord in thanksgiving this Christmas?
At that time, John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” When the men came to the Lord, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” At that time Jesus cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits; he also granted sight to many who were blind. And Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Amongst the Jewish people during the time of Jesus, there was much confusion about the identity of John the Baptist and the identity of the Messiah. Even after witnessing Jesus’s miracles, many still doubted Him. But John the Baptist, who was fully rooted in the Scriptural context of the Messiah, would have been highly attuned to all the signs of the Messiah’s arrival. When Jesus came to him and asked to be baptized, John recognized Him immediately as the One whom the Scriptures foretold, the One who anointed him in his mother’s womb, the One whose sandals he was not worthy to untie.
In today’s Gospel reading, we see John the Baptist send messengers to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah they have been awaiting. At this point in the Gospel, John had already met and baptized Jesus. Why, then, is John questioning Jesus’s identity?
We don’t know fully what was going on in John’s heart and mind when he sent those messengers, but we do know that by that point he was in prison. Alone, facing the end of his public ministry, he heard news of the miracles Jesus had been performing. Perhaps he found himself wondering if he had correctly understood God’s call, since languishing in prison was not how he had expected things to go. Maybe there was more that God needed him to do. Or perhaps these reports of Jesus were surprising even to him, and he wondered if there was something he was missing, something he didn’t quite understand. He desired to be faithful until the end to the mission God had given him, and so he sought confirmation that he was following the right path.
John knew that God had called him to be a herald of the Messiah and to prepare the way of the Lord, but today’s Gospel reading reveals that while he knew his purpose within God’s plan, he didn’t know the details of how God would unveil that plan in its entirety. This underscores for us what complete trust John had in God. He couldn’t see the big picture, but he remained ever faithful to his own role, trusting that God would handle the rest. Today’s reading gives us a perfect example of faith seeking understanding. When John struggled to fully understand what he had heard, when he found himself wrestling with questions, he went straight to the Source, to Jesus Himself.
As modern Christians, we profess a much greater understanding of who Christ is. But to those who awaited the Messiah, Jesus was surprising. He fulfilled the messianic prophecies, but He did not fit all the people’s expectations. The prophecies of Isaiah foretell a Savior who would bring liberation, healing, and joy, but Isaiah never quite understood that this Messiah would be God Himself, the Word become Flesh, humbled to become for us a little child, sharing in our humanity.
God comes to us in a quiet moment, when we least expect it. He defies all our expectations and surprises us with joy. During this season of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, let us also prepare for Christ’s coming in our own lives by looking to the example of John the Baptist. If we stay in relationship with Jesus, bringing to Him all that is in our hearts, then we will recognize Him when He comes. And if we are rooted in faith and trust in God, then we just might be able to let God surprise us with something far beyond our expectations.
— Image: Giovanni di Paolo, Saint John the Baptist in Prison Visited by Two Disciples / PD-US
If we stood in front of Jesus today and He asked the question, “who has done the Father’s will?”, what would our response be?
Today’s Gospel highlights a conversation Jesus holds with the priests and the elders who were the leaders and intellectuals of His time. These men had established themselves as worthy of respect, but Jesus speaks boldly against them, saying that tax collectors and prostitutes will gain entry to the kingdom of Heaven before they do.
If this conversation took place in our time, who would Jesus be talking to and who would the “tax collectors and prostitutes” able to enter Heaven be? This past year, our world has been turned upside down; many people have lost their way and questioned their faith. Yet, in our darkest hour, the light shines brightest. The Father still asks us to “go out and work,” but we grow weary and lack hope. We want to refuse the Father’s request at first, but we can always return to Him, assured He will welcome us back.
This is a key message for the season of Advent, which falls in the “darkest” time of the calendar year, when days grow shorter as we approach the winter solstice. In this period of waiting, we have the opportunity to renew our strength in the Lord. He will give us the strength to go out and work. Amidst all the chaos of the events of this turbulent year, His servants will shine. In the small acts of kindness we perform each day, we are doing the Father’s will.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I must admit that for most of my life, I did not understand the meaning of the this solemnity. I thought it observed the miracle of Mary, a virgin, conceiving the Lord, Jesus Christ. Imagine my surprise when I learned that this feast day actually marked Mary’s own “immaculate” conception. From the very moment Mary was brought into existence, she was destined to be the Mother of God. Since she would need to carry the divine body of Jesus within her womb, she would have to be pure and without blemish.
I often find it difficult to imagine what it would have been like to know Mary as she was growing up. She was without sin, and other than Jesus Himself, the only human being who lived her entire life sinless. Being a sinful person myself, It is almost unfathomable to envision someone who did not sin, especially taking into account all the adversity she encountered throughout her life.
The gospel grants us a small glimpse of Mary’s demeanor when she gives the Lord her “yes.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38
Perhaps the best way to conceptualize Mary’s character is to consider her ability to submit herself completely to the will of God. Amidst all the fear and alarm she must have felt, she never turned away from the Lord. This turning away from God is what causes us to sin. When I reject His desire for my life, it is because I think I know better than He does and try to take control of it. Mary gave her life to God without question; as Christians, this should be our ultimate goal–to give ourselves to our Lord and Savior. What a blessing to have Mary as the perfect example of what it means to be a servant of God.
One day as Jesus was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there, and the power of the Lord was with him for healing. And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence. But not finding a way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on the stretcher through the tiles into the middle in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “As for you, your sins are forgiven.”
Then the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply, “What are you thinking in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he said to the one who was paralyzed, “I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” He stood up immediately before them, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.”
Friends, in today’s Gospel we are given the story of the healing of the paralytic. In my previous reflection on the healing of the blind man (based on Luke 18:35–43), I pointed to the blind man having faith in Christ despite being literally blind. He could not see Christ raising Lazarus, could not see Christ turning water into wine, couldn’t even see Christ multiplying loaves of bread. However, despite this, in his heart of hearts, he believed in Christ and the miracles He could accomplish. He had faith, despite being literally blind. How many of us could say the same and remain firm in the faith despite being able to literally see what Christ has done in our lives? Do we have the faith of the blind man? The majority of us are not blind, yet we often struggle in our faith. The blind man gambled [correctly] the Lord would see him and heal him only if he asked, and He did. In contrast, the men around him rebuked him and “asked him to be silent.” The Lord healed him anyway, stunning those who rebuked this man’s faith.
I say this here because there are similar elements in the narrative of today’s Gospel. Once again, faith inevitably triumphs. This time it involves a paralytic and the Pharisees.
Consider several things. The Pharisees saw Christ cure the sick. However, despite all this, it could be said they were literally blind. They could see with their own eyes that Christ and God the Father were “one.” They refused to entertain the idea the messiah was in front of them and walking the earth “to fulfill the law.” Can you imagine what it would be like to walk among Jesus? Think at this point how it would be if you were a parent. You remind your child to not touch the stove when the gas is on. Why? Because it’s hot and your child will burn their hand. DUH. However, they don’t listen. I can’t fathom how God the Father must have thought at seeing the Pharisees being so obstinate. “THE EVIDENCE IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU!” anyone would exclaim. For those who are parents, how many times have you had to scold your child time after time, often for the same thing? Do we not go to confession often for the exact same sin, time and time again, seeking absolution? Does the priest yell at you? No. Mind you, I do not have the patience of a priest. (I’m trying, God!)
However, this doesn’t happen. Instead, example after example does nothing to sway the hearts and minds of the Pharisees. Miracle after miracle changes nothing. Historically, disease, for the Pharisees at least, was a sign of sin. So what does Jesus do? He does something so decisive that there can longer be any unbelief. However, the Pharisees are too wrapped up in their own plans and their own honor to ascertain God’s mercy when Christ heals the paralytic. The Pharisees simply say, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?” They don’t marvel at the Lord’s grandeur, they simply question. Instead of marveling at what had just taken place, the Pharisees still doubt. Let’s say I ask Christ tomorrow to win the lottery. However, instead of winning one million dollars, I only win ten thousand dollars. How obstinate and ungrateful would I be if I instead said, “meh.” It’d be something else, right? How often do we want God to give us a sign so we can follow His plan? And how often are we not open to what He tells us, simply and directly because we’re too focused on achieving our own plans? Similar to my last reflection, there is also a similar element of “rebuke” that also takes place here.
Remember when I referred to my last reflection in regards to the blind man’s faith? We should all be similarly impressed with the faith of the paralytic. Think about it—neither the blind man nor the paralytic needed any signs. They simply believed and knew Christ would help them. The paralytic’s faith in Him was so strong, it overcame literal adversity. If he couldn’t walk, he’d ask others to carry him to Christ. I’m reminded of that brilliant moment of friendship near the end of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Frodo Baggins, physically and mentally exhausted carrying the One Ring, tells his friend Samwise Gamgee he cannot walk any longer. He’s exhausted, he’s battered, he looks absolutely defeated. If Frodo does not throw the One Ring into Mount Doom, evil will triumph. Now imagine the paralytic: “And some men brought on a stretcher a man.” He could not physically walk to Christ. Here, Samwise Gamgee takes the initiative, “Come on, Mr. Frodo. I can’t carry it for you…but I can carry you!” (Cue the manly tears.) (Yes, I know I am quoting the film and not the book.)
The paralytic’s faith moved him so much it didn’t matter. If he couldn’t walk, he would make sure he saw Christ. It didn’t matter to his friends if the paralytic couldn’t walk, either—they brought him in through the roof just to make sure Christ saw him. Theirs was a living faith. It was so strong, it moved him and them into action. Their living faith was far stronger than the durability of a Thomistic argument. What have you done to seek Christ face to face today? What do we do when we don’t measure up to the faith of the paralytic? What have we done in order to make sure we receive His grace?
In the midst of all this, remember that we too are the Body of Christ. The paralytic struggled physically to see Christ, so his friends helped him. Oftentimes, in moments when we can obsess over clericalism or scruples over which form of the Mass is better, remember that our mission—as established in the great commission Christ professed—is to bring others to Heaven. There are many Catholics at this time who may, because of the pandemic or economic reasons, feel unable to move, frozen. Do we help bring those individuals to Christ as the paralytic’s friends did?
Now mind you, there is a little more to this. Everyone glorified God after the miracle was done. Christ only sought God’s glory when He healed the paralytic. I only say this because how often do we seek gratitude in doing an act of charity or a favor for a friend? Instead of desiring the “thank you,” do we instead remember we are here on this Earth to glorify God? Oftentimes, we should also remember to purify our own intentions and make sure the reasons we do certain things are for the right reasons.
Now that we are in the season of Advent, let us not forget the reason for the season. We are awaiting the celebration of the birth of Christ. Oftentimes, Advent is called a season of waiting. But are you going to Him, instead of waiting for signs as the Pharisees did?
Today we enter the season of Advent, the time we as Christians are called to wait. Considering the circumstances surrounding our world this past year, it seems that everyone is waiting for something–the COVID vaccine, who our next president will be, or just for the end of 2020. We are waiting and hoping that this period of trial will come to an end.
The gift of hope is deeply rooted in this act of waiting. Advent is a gift because we actively participate in the waiting God asks of us. This waiting is hard when we have no idea how long we will have to be patient, and patience is not the easiest quality to maintain. Nevertheless, the Lord has proven to us that He will always deliver great miracles at the end of the wait. So we can have hope although we have no idea what might await us. We can trust that the result of what we hope for will be greater than what we could possibly imagine.
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.For I say to you,many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,but did not see it,and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.” Luke 10:24
This past year has been difficult, and in many ways unbearable, but we are now at the beginning of a brand new liturgical year. We are fortunate to start this year fresh with new, and as Jesus describes them, childlike eyes. We are still waiting for Jesus, but He is coming for the salvation of His Father’s children, for you and me.
“On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” Is 11:10
This Advent season will be unlike any other, but if we look at it with childlike eyes, we will appreciate the season in new ways. God will bless our lives during this time of waiting; we simply need to be open in order to see these blessings.