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!!
Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.
I used to dread the part of the Mass where, all of a sudden, I had to interact with other humans to give the sign of peace. Here it comes: smile, shake hands, be friendly and non-threatening, be prepared for some people to pull away and just give you the nod or the two fingers. Oh, I did my best to avoid sitting next to people that I didn’t know—couples, families, anyone who seemed friendly, a talker…because let’s face it, my illogical, irrational, selfish fear tells me things that are simply not true.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives several instructions to the disciples he is sending ahead of himself. One such instruction is to give a blessing, a greeting, a love to any home they may enter. If accepted, the recipient is given peace and receives the blessing of the disciples; if they reject it, no big deal (really, Jesus?)—that peace, that blessing, returns to those same disciples who shared it.
We as disciples are charged with the same task. No matter where we are—at work, at home, at church, with whomever, Christians, non-Christians, people we like, people we don’t like—our love for God compels us to wish others peace and share the good news! This requires joy, trust, and humility. Joy, because we have received the peace of the Lord, trust, because we must trust in the grace of the Lord, and humility, because it is not, as I believed, a thing to own, but a gift to receive and to share.
Going back to Mass after quarantine has been a real blessing. I notice now that I receive such immense joy as I receive the peace of the Lord. His peace is strengthened in me not only when I am blessed but also too, now I realize, when I bless others with it. We give each other the sign of peace because as a sheepfold we feed one another, as God wants us to.
In situations where someone may reject your greeting, your invitation, your attention, your affection, your friendship—or reject you—our God reminds us that his peace comes back right at us. This rejection does not defeat the giver. Let us be courageous, knowing perfectly well that, received or rejected, we have the peace of the Lord always with us.
May the peace of the Lord be always with you. Looking forward to the time once more when I can give you the sign of peace.
O Lord, great peace have they who love your law (Ps 119:165a)
As Jesus was teaching in the temple area he said, “How do the scribes claim that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, said: The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I place your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him ‘lord’; so how is he his son?” The great crowd heard this with delight. (MK 12:35-37)
King David had his monarchy, his jewels, his gold, his army. King David would reside as judge over civil disobedience, civil disputes, civil disorder. He would be the one to give the command when Israel’s soldiers went into battle. He held power. But King David knew that there was someone even more powerful than himself! He knew that there was someone who has complete authority over the laws of man’s heart. That person is God. We know this to be true because even the king of Israel himself calls him “lord.” By calling him “lord,” David is acknowledging that God is more powerful. No law that King David would write in decree would ever be above God’s law. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
This is important to remember. Power and platforms that yield authority can become idols. And by following these idols we walk away from God and the law of God that is self-sacrificial love, agape.
We are meant to live in community. Our goal is to be in heaven where we will be in perfect communion with the Trinity and all the angels and saints. While we are on earth, we should be living our lives striving for heaven, as best we can in communion with all our brothers and sisters. Not just a certain group or a particular “kind of person” but everyone. The book of Revelation tells us that in heaven there is a great multitude from every race, nation, people, and tongue (Rev 7:9). God did not create man to be alone. And one of the hardest truths is that we cannot attain salvation alone, for we are indeed meant to be keepers of our brothers and sisters.
The Catholic Church’s social teachings are the best biblical “cheat-sheets” on how to live in society and in communion with God at the same time. It shows us how to be model citizens, how to be brothers and sisters in Christ, and how to be disciples of Jesus—we need to be all of these things at the same time. There are seven themes to Catholic Social Teaching, and you cannot explicitly talk about just one without touching upon the next theme because they are all rooted in the love of God. But for right now, let’s talk about solidarity.
We are one family, one human race, one body in Christ. It does not matter what ethnicity you are or what your cultural background is; it doesn’t even matter what religion you practice (I know, this one shocked me the most!). We are all loved by God: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). To genuinely believe that we are all one in Christ is to acknowledge that, no matter our differences, something inside each of us is exactly the same. This is the dignity of being human: that each one of us is formed by God and created in the same image and likeness of God.
We believe that every human life is precious from conception to natural death. Racism is an evil that disrespects the sanctity of life. It is a sin that puts brother against brother, sister against sister. It is a sin that breaks our communion with God and neighbor because we falsely perceive that someone, by the way they look, is inferior and non-deserving of a dignified life. The basics of a dignified life are universal because they were first given by God: the right to have food, to have shelter, to be clothed, to maintain your health, to be able to participate in just labor. I ask that you reflect on Adam and Eve when they left the garden. God did not forget about them. Even after the pain of their sin God properly clothed them, allowed continued dominion over animals, gave them a job on tilling the soil, provided food. These were not privileges that they had earned; rather, they were human rights that God granted to them simply because they existed. Sadly, in today’s society essential rights are not always given to everyone by their governments, making it difficult for everyone to be perceived as equal. Unlike in today’s Gospel —where King David, the civic law maker of Israel, acknowledged that God’s law was above his own laws as king—most governing authorities today do not seek God’s law above their own. However, as Christians, it is our duty to place God’s law first and foremost in our lives. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
Perhaps you do not cross the street when you see a black person walking on the same sidewalk as you. Perhaps you had never looked at a black person and automatically assumed that they were trouble. Perhaps you did not automatically think “uneducated” when hearing a black person speak or you did not assume “they do not belong” when seeing a black person in a nice suburban neighborhood. But what did you do about the person who did make these judgements? Did you correct them? Did you instruct them on the principles of the Gospel? Living the faith is actively loving your neighbor as God loves them, which means standing up for the sanctity of every individual human life. The Bible, Tradition, and Catholic Social Teaching all instruct us to take care of one another—why are we failing at this? Are we afraid to speak up, afraid to do something, afraid to demand change of the injustice and oppression of our brothers and sisters? We are indifferent toward racism in our society because it might not necessarily affect us. We may think racism is wrong, but we do not live out the Gospel to stop racism from happening. Joining a peaceful protest might not be for you, that is fine. But the Holy Spirit that is in all of us has given you particular gifts—use them. Write a reflection to bring awareness, coordinate a judgment-free zone where members of your community can voice their concerns, donate to organizations that help the oppressed or the wrongly convicted, read books, support black-owned business, join intercessory prayer teams, ask your priests to give more homilies that are specific on the sin of racism, volunteer in places that value the dignity of the black man who is poor and the black woman who is sick. I am being specific on how to use your gifts for the good that enhances the black community. Please, do not misinterpret this and think that no other ethnic group is important or needs help—this is not the case. We all need the mercy of God. But we cannot shout over each other about who is the most oppressed.
A mother with five children loves them all, feeds them all, clothes them all, takes care of them all. But when one of her children falls in the playground and breaks their leg, when the child is in pain and crying and full of blood—the mother rushes to that one child and gives them special attention, takes them to the emergency room to fix their wound, soothes their pain, reassures them that they will be okay. She is gentle with them and reminds them that they are loved. Does this extra attentive care take away from her love for the other four children? No.
Do not be afraid of the words “social justice.” The word “justice” is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible over and over. Our God is just and merciful. He will bring justice to those who are righteous. To seek justice is to render to someone his or her due as it was first given to them directly by God. We need to talk openly and honestly about racism without making it political. Racism is not a political issue. Racism is a universal sin that is rooted in hate and contradicts the teachings of the Gospel and Jesus Christ. This problem is not political. I refer once again to today’s Gospel where the King of Israel acknowledged that God’s laws are greater than his laws. O Lord, great peace have they who love your law.
The Devil is very intelligent; he is manipulative and conniving. He takes things that are good and twists and corrupts them into evil. He enjoys doing this because then it disrupts the person from continuing to do God’s will. Out of every strong movement in which the public wants pure change that will ultimately bring humanity closer together the Devil gets involved and makes havoc of it. He has us focus on the violence. He has us angry at the riots. He has us condemning the looting. He has us extremely ticked off that social distancing is all of a sudden out the door. And we should not dismiss any of those concerns. Most people would agree that violence and destruction are not the proper way for change. However, the Devil is very intelligent, because now he has us upset at our brothers and sisters; he has us ignoring the root of the sin, which is racism; he has us turned against one another; and he is winning at breaking apart our family and taking souls away from God. The Devil will always try to infiltrate a place in which there is potential for great good and conversion of hearts. Let us not allow the complexities of these events to distract from our responsibility to condemn the sin of racism at their core. Pray that we will be able to identify the enemy.
George Floyd, a black American man, was made in the image and likeness of God. His life was precious and belonged to God alone. It was wrongfully taken away. So many lives, in our country and around the world, have been wrongly taken away. The tragedy needs to end. Faith assures me that the deaths of so many black men and women is not in vain and will give way to black saints.
“Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.” -2 Corinthians 6:2
Now is a veryacceptable time.
Last week at a youth ministry conference I was at, one of the speakers posed the question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It has stuck with me ever since and made me ponder in prayer how much I let fear hold me back.
Fear runs deeper than just being scared. Fear is the voice from the enemy that tries to ruin what God wants us to do before we even take a first step. Fear comes from the accuser that tells us we’re not enough, that we aren’t cut out for it. Fear brings anxiety in trying to have all the answers and figure things out when God just wants us to be present with Him.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid? Now is a very acceptable time.
What are you holding back from God? What is blocking your heart from His?
Behold. He is with you. He wants to give you whatever it takes for what He is calling you to. He won’t lead you astray.
Behold. Each moment God gives us is a gift, a grace that we can use to radically love or to doubt Him or ourselves and put things off for another day.
What are we putting off? Is it more time in prayer? Is it a job change you know you need? Is it a mission trip you feel God calling you to? Is there someone in your life you need to forgive?
Now is that very acceptable time to take that next step towards God, wherever He is leading you on His path of peace. Be not afraid.
These words that Jesus spoke to His disciples in today’s Gospel echo in my heart.
I heard similar words at a pivotal moment in my faith several years ago. I had just gone to Confession for the first time in over a year, and I poured out all the sin and mess that I had been hiding and carrying, shrouded in shame. The Sacrament itself was very healing, and then when I went back to my pew and knelt down before the Blessed Sacrament to say my penance, I heard Jesus say: “Now will you trust in My love for you?”
It was such a simple yet profound question. From His Eucharistic Heart to my heart, that question changed things for me. Jesus spoke it with such gentleness and tender compassion. He wasn’t angry; He wasn’t accusing me of anything. He was inviting me into a deeper love.
This is what Jesus does for all of us when He asks that question, “Do you believe now?” He is constantly inviting us to a deeper love. He desires to fill us to overflowing. He desires for us to believe in Him and follow, because He is the only path of peace. He calls us out of our hiding places, out of ourselves, to a greater holiness.
When we respond to this invitation of repentance and letting Jesus mold our hearts to be more and more like His, He does not leave us orphaned. Tribulations will come; persecution will come. But Jesus is our Prince of Peace, and He has conquered the world.
“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” -John 16:33
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Dear fellow pilgrims,
The Gospel passage for today reminds me of the sign of peace during Mass, and especially certain Masses where sharing that peace was really difficult with specific people around me at the time, but healing and (what is emphasized in this passage) necessary for approaching the Lord’s table. This passage is especially vivid in application for a Catholic because of the prayers of Mass, bringing our life offerings to His table as a community is important, but being united in doing so is even more important and takes precedence over giving the actual gifts.
And our Catholic Church is strikingly divided on many issues that have caused anger between people who hold opposing views on important issues. Here are just a couple: There are some who believe Pope Francis is the fantastic, merciful pope of the people, but there are others who believe he should retake his theology classes and clarify some issues where he muddied the waters (e.g. suggesting there may be a way for divorced Catholics to receive communion). Fr. James Martin is heralded by some as building the necessary bridge between the LGBTQ community and the Church, while others view some of his statements as dangerous and vague in their theological implications. Heck, after writing all those sides out, they don’t seem entirely mutually exclusive, but it wouldn’t make headlines if we Catholics had reasonable and balanced discussions about important topics. Our world draws out polarized views because we love drama, clickbait, and the warm fuzzy feeling of having a “tribe” that can complain about other tribes. Oh, and the evil one is the Divider, and he knows how to distract us from living in harmony and peace with each other (which he does not want! Bad for business).
Unfortunately, the Church has not avoided the political tensions that are engulfing this nation. And I’m no better! My heart has succumbed to anger against others. I need to learn to pray for our president not by obligation and muttering discontents under my breath, but out of Christian love and trust the God is truly greater than any form of government and can work to change hearts and minds.
But please, do not read this as a political statement. I bring this up because, in searching my own heart for objects of anger, that’s where I landed. I bring this up because even when we are on good terms with people we know and converse with, we may be harboring a reservoir of anger towards certain groups or individuals who we have never met, but are angry at them because of the views that divide “them” from “us.” We might not be able to reconcile with them personally, but it is necessary to reconcile our individual anger with the Lord if we are to truly give our gifts to Him and receive His gifts fully within us. We must not fall into a habit of feeling like we are owed the sacraments, or that they are given without any conditions…we must pave the way in our hearts actively to receive Him.
Of course, there is righteous anger. But we must remind ourselves that because Jesus’ sacrifice covers every person’s sins, people are not our enemies, the evil one is. Still, I would argue, that all too often it is easiest to believe that we are in the moral high ground and give ourselves permission to harbor anger towards others on the basis of believing we are simply expressing a “righteous anger” when we are really expressing a lack of compassion and empathy, and sometimes, an abundance of immaturity in just dealing with other people who are different from you. This is a complex topic that merits further discussion elsewhere, but I want to leave you with the simple and yet painfully difficult charge our Lord gives us to “love our neighbor.” Because truly, when we love our neighbor as they should be loved, we love Jesus as He should be.