January 1: Mary, Mother of God - 2: Tony and Jude

From Frs. Tony Kadavil and Jude Botelho:

Synopsis of Mary Mother of God Sunday (Jan 1) & New Year's message

Introduction: Since we celebrate the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God on New Year’s Day, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year?  I pray that the Lord Jesus and His mother Mary may enrich your lives during the New Year with an abundance of God’s blessings.  Today’s Feast of Mary, the Mother of God is a very appropriate way to begin a new year, reminding us to rely on the powerful intercession of our Heavenly Mother. The Church observes this day also as the World Day of Peace and invites us to pray specially for lasting peace in the world throughout the New Year.

 Scripture lessons:Today’s first reading gives us the beautiful Divine blessing from the book of Numbers for our New Year. In the second reading, Paul reminds the Galatians and us that God’s Son has become one of us through Mary and that it was through Him that we have become the children of God.  Today’s Gospel describes how the shepherds spread to all their neighbors the Good News surrounding the birth of Jesus which the angel had revealed to them. The Gospel also tells us how Mary treasured "all these things" in her heart, and it reports that on the day of His Circumcision, the Child was given the name Jesus that had been chosen by God Himself.

Traditional belief and Church doctrine: We honor Mary primarily because God honored her by choosing her to become the mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He took on human flesh and became man, as stated in the Bible. The angel said to Mary: “You are going to be the mother of a Son, and you will call Him Jesus, and He will be called the Son of the Most High."  After the angel had appeared to her and told her that she was to be the mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth. At Mary's greeting, Elizabeth said, "Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me?” [Lk 1:43]. Hence, the Council of Ephesus affirmed in AD 431 that Mary was truly the Mother of God (Theotokos), and in AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the Divine Motherhood of Mary as a dogma, an official doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.

Life messages: 1) Let us strive to be pure and holy like our Heavenly Mother. All mothers want their children to inherit or acquire their good qualities. Hence, let us honor Mary, our Heavenly Mother, by practicing her virtues of Faith, obedience, purity and humble service. 2) Let us make the New Year meaningful by having every day a) some noble thing to dream, b) something good to do, and c) someone to love, the first person being Jesus.  3) Let us sanctify every day of the New Year: a) by offering all the activities of the day for God’s glory every morning, thus transforming them into prayers; b) by asking for the anointing and strengthening of the Holy Spirit to do good to others and to avoid evil; c) by remaining faithful to our family prayer and Bible reading at night; d) by asking God’s pardon and forgiveness for our  sins committed  during the day; and e) by seeking God’s special protection during our sleep. Before we sleep, let us say, “Good night, Lord. Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."

FEAST OF THE B.V. MARY, MOTHER OF GOD, JANUARY 1, 2017

Nm 6:22-27, Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21

Anecdote: # 1: # Deciding to jump: A boy asked his father, "Dad, if three frogs were sitting on a limb that hangs over a pool, and one frog decided to jump off into the pool, how many frogs would be left on the limb?"

The dad replied, "Two."

"No," the son replied. “Here is the question again: There are three frogs and one decided to jump, how many are left?"

The dad said, "Oh, I get the point! If one decided to jump, the others would too. So there are none left."

The boy said, "No dad, the answer is three. The frog only DECIDED to jump."  

Does that sound like our last year’s resolutions? Great inspiration and great resolutions, but oftentimes we only decide, and months later we are still on the same limb of doing nothing.

# 2:  Smiling child and his mother: There is a beautiful little story about a long, tedious train journey, made one Christmas day by some elderly residents of a nursing home who were on their way to a vacation spot.  At one station, a young mother with a small child entered the train. The child smiled at all the grim faces around him and began moving from one lap to another talking, shouting with joy and chatting with everyone.   Instantly, the grim and silent atmosphere in the train was changed to one of joy and happiness. Today we remember with joy and gratitude how Mary and her Divine Son Jesus transformed a hopeless, joyless and sinful world into a place of joy and happiness.

# 3: Is it possible to have a birth without a mother? Monsignor Arthur Tonne tells the story of a Catholic pastor in a small Alabama city of mostly Southern Baptist Christians who decided to put up a Christmas crib in the town square. The priest with some of his prominent parishioners approached some rich people and businesses for donation. When they went to see the rich editor of the local newspaper the priest explained the project: “Many people, especially the children will be inspired to see Jesus, Mary and Joseph and animals right here in the center of the town.”The editor agreed to help on condition that Mary must be left out. Otherwise, it would be promoting your Catholic denomination. The priest said: “Tell you what. Tell me how you can show a birth without a mother, and I will agree to leave Mary out.”The editor had no answer and the Mother was with her Child in the town square.

4) “There’s a real big difference between her son and me”: A shoeshine boy was plying his trade in New York’s Grand Central Station. A silver medal danced at his neck as he slapped his shine cloth, again and again, across a man’s shoes. “Sonny,” said the man curiously, “what’s the hardware around your neck?” It’s a medal of the mother of Jesus,” the boy replied. “Why her medal?” said the man. “She’s no different from your mother.” “Could be,” said the boy, “but there’s a real big difference between her son and me.” The boy’s devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus, invites me to ask: What role does Mary play in my life? How might she play an even bigger role? (Mark Link in Vision 2000).

5) Chivalrous sensibility: In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that no subject in our Faith needs to be approached more delicately than this, and one of the reasons he cited was that Catholics have a natural affection for Mary, and when Mary is attacked, Lewis says that Catholics respond with that “chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honor of his mother or his beloved is at stake.” Lewis says that Catholics feel this way about Mary “very naturally,” but there is one person who feels that way about Mary even more naturally than we do: her literal Son according to the flesh — Jesus Christ. (http://jimmyakin.com/the-key-to-understanding-mary) As the obedient, infinitely Holy, Son of God, the Lord Jesus was a very firm believer in the commandment to honor one’s father and mother. Now, what most people don’t know about that commandment is that in Hebrew it literally reads, “Glorify your father and mother.” This means that, since Christ took God’s commandments very seriously, he would glorify his mother Mary, and for us to talk about his mother in a cavalier, irreverent manner is to impugn the glory which Christ himself has given her. As a result, if we were to talk about Mary in an impious manner then we would be offending not only Mary but also Christ by denying his mother the glory that he himself gave her. (Jimmy Akins of Catholic Answers).

Introduction: Since we celebrate the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, on New Year’s Day, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year? I pray that the Lord Jesus and His Mother Mary may enrich your lives during the New Year with an abundance of God’s blessings.  Today’s Feast of Mary, the Mother of God is a very appropriate way to begin a new year. This celebration reminds us that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is also our Heavenly Mother. Hence, our ideal motto for the New Year 2017 should be “Through Mary to Jesus!" This is an occasion to renew our devotion to Mary, who is also Mother of the Church because she is our spiritual mother — and we are the Church. In 1970, Pope Paul VI instituted the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. In his encyclical on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Marialis Cultus, he wrote, "This celebration, assigned to Jan. 1 in conformity with the ancient liturgy of the city of Rome, is meant to commemorate the part played by Mary in this mystery of salvation. It is meant also to exalt the singular dignity which this mystery brings to the holy Mother …through whom we were found worthy …to receive the Author of life.”The solemnity shows the relationship of Jesus to Mary. It’s a perfect example of how we should venerate Mary under all of her titles and is a good foundation for our understanding of Mary’s place in Christology. The Church puts the feast of this solemnity on the first day of the New Year to emphasize the importance of Mary’s role in the life of Christ and of the Church. We commemorate the various saints on different days of the year, but Mary is the most prominent of them all. She has a special role and mission given to her by God. As Mother of our Redeemer and of the redeemed, she reigns as Queen at the side of Christ the King. She is a powerful intercessor for all of our needs here on earth. In celebrating her special feast day, we acknowledge this great gift for the Church and world; we call on her to be actively involved in our daily life; we imitate her virtuous life as a great inspiration; and we cooperate with all the graces we get through her. The Church observes this day also as the World Day of Peace and invites us to pray specially for peace in the world. Inspired by Pope St. John XXIII’s 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, Pope Paul VI instituted this feast in 1967.

In the  first reading, taken from the book of Numbers, God gives Moses and Aaron the formula they should use while conferring the Divine blessing upon the Israelites: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” In the second reading, Paul reminds the Galatians that God’s Son has become one of us through Mary and that it was  through Him that they have become the children of God. Today’s Gospel describes how the shepherds spread to all their neighbors the Good News surrounding the birth of Jesus, which the angel had revealed to them. Further, Luke tells us how Mary treasured, "all these things" in her heart. The Gospel also recounts that on the day of His Circumcision, the Child was given the name Jesus that was chosen by God Himself.

Traditional belief: This is a very ancient feast, which used to be celebrated on October 11th. Today’s feast answers the question, “Why do Catholics honor Mary?”Non-Christians sometimes believe that we Catholics worship Mary as a goddess who gave birth to our God.  Non-Catholic Christians argue that there is no Biblical basis for honoring Mary and that Catholics worship her and make her equal to God. They fail to understand why we honor Mary and name Churches and institutions after her.  They do not understand what we mean by calling her the Mother of God. The truth is that we Catholics do not worship Mary as we worship, adore, God.  We honor her, respect her, love her and seek her intercession, praying, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners."  We do not, ever, equate her with God nor replace God with her. Rather, we honor her, primarily because God honored her by choosing her to become the Mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He took on our flesh and became Man.

Biblical basis: We learn the great truth that Mary is the Mother of God from St. Luke’s Gospel, in the message given by the angel to Mary: “You are going to be the mother of a Son and you will call Him Jesus, and He will be called the Son of the Most High." Once she said yes, the Holy Spirit created in her womb the human nature that God the Son would assume. Since motherhood is of the person and not of the nature alone, and since Mary is the mother of Jesus, true God and true Man, then she is rightly called the Mother of God. After the angel had appeared to her and told her that she would be the mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Elizabeth. At Mary's greeting Elizabeth said, "Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me?” [Lk 1:43]. The Holy Scriptures teach us that Jesus was both God and man.  John writes: "The Word became flesh and lived among us" [Jn 1:14]. St. Paul refers to this event when he writes to the Galatians, “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman,”and as, "eternally begotten of the Father."  So Bible teaches that Mary was the mother of the God-Man Jesus, not in the sense that she gave birth to Jesus as God, but in the sense that the Baby she bore had the nature of God and the nature of Man.

The doctrine of the Church: Based on these references in the New Testament and on the traditional belief of the early Church, the Council of Ephesus affirmed in AD 431 that Mary was truly the Mother of God (Theotokos), because "according to the flesh" she gave birth to Jesus, Who was truly God as well as truly man from the first moment of His conception by Mary. The Council defined Mary as the Mother of God both to honor her and to safeguard the dogma that Jesus Christ is not just truly God but also truly man.The Nestorians – followers of Nestorius, the 5th-century archbishop of Constantinople – taught that Christ was two in one: the man Jesus and the Divine Son of God. This view was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431 AD), which insisted that Jesus is one Person with two natures, Divine and human. The most emphatic way they could say this was to affirm that Mary was not just the mother of the man Jesus, but that she was the mother of God. This was to say that Christ was one person, not two. The word used was Theotokos (Greek for “God-bearer”). The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), continued the use of this term, and it has become orthodox Christian teaching. Note that it is more a statement about Christ than about Mary – or rather, equally so. Icons of the Theotokos are common now in the West.Twenty years later, in AD 451, the Council of Chalcedon affirmed the Divine Motherhood of Mary as a Dogma, an official doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. Since Jesus is God, and Mary is his mother, she is the Mother of God, the Mother of the Messiah and the Mother of Christ, our Divine Savior.  We also learn from the Holy Scriptures and Sacred Tradition that God filled the mother of His only Son with all celestial graces, freed her at the moment of her conception from original sin through the future (prevenient) merits of the death of Jesus, allowed her to play an active role in the redemptive work of Jesus, and finally took her to Heaven, body and soul, after her death. As He was dying on the cross, Jesus gave us the precious gift of His own mother to be our Heavenly Mother.

The historical Mary, the mother of Jesus.(Based on a piece that appeared in America, Dec. 2005): Mary’s real name was Miriam. She spoke Aramaic with a Galilean accent. Like the other women of her time, she was probably an illiterate, hard-working and healthy village girl, who labored in the field and in the kitchen. She knew her Hebrew prayers and understood some words and expressions in Greek and Latin, as these were used in Galilee by the Roman soldiers and the Greek merchants and pilgrims.  She might have been fair-skinned, dark haired and dark eyed. At the time of the Annunciation, she was probably thirteen or fourteen. Joseph might have been a young man or a widower with children. In villages like Nazareth, four or five related families lived in adjacent houses around an inner courtyard. Mary gave birth to Jesus, probably in 4 BC, and she was younger than fifty and a widow when her son Jesus was crucified. After remaining in Nazareth for a few years, sharing the bitter experiences of the early Christian community, she might have moved to Ephesus along with John and died there. Jesus’brothers and sisters mentioned in the Gospel were either children of Mary’s sisters or the children of Joseph’s brothers or even children of Joseph by an earlier marriage. Mary can easily identify herself with the poor and the oppressed and their hardships and aspirations, as she was part of that peasant community which was forced to pay taxes to the Romans, to Herod the King and to the Temple (tithes).

Exegetical notes on today’s readings

First reading, Numbers 6:22-27: The Book of Numbers tells parts of the story of the Hebrews' journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, events that happened in the 13th century BC.  In the early 6th century BC, the Chaldaeans invaded and defeated the Israelites in the Southern Kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital, and many were taken as captives to Babylon.  Their seventy years there are known as the Exile.  When they finally got to return to their homeland, their priests wanted to help restore the nation.  One of their methods was to revive a sense of the people's more glorious early history, so they retold a number of ancient stories from the time of Moses, producing what we now know as the Book of Numbers.

Perhaps this reading is in the Lectionary for today because the feast coincides with the civil New Year in many countries, and the blessing formula is a nice way to begin a new year.  One of the liturgical acts of the priests in the Temple of Jerusalem was to bless the people after the daily sacrifices and on other solemn occasions. The blessing was a reward for the people’s keeping of the Covenant, and a guarantee that the blessing promised to all nations through Abraham would be fulfilled one day.  The words of this blessing given by God to Moses (the blessing of Aaron), are recorded in the verses of the book of Numbers which we read today at Mass. This blessing was entrusted by God, through Moses, to Aaron and his sons, that is, to the priests of the people of Israel. In ancient times, blessings and curses were thought to have almost a physical effect: they caused what they said.  (The blessing of Jacob by Isaac is an example of this.)   For us, the blessing is a prayer; we pray that the Lord will bless us, keep us, and make His face shine on us throughout the year. A key phrase in the formula: "The Lord let His face shine upon you," underlines a change in mankind's understanding of God.Many ancient peoples believed that it was possible to see the face of God, but dangerous, often fatal, to do so.  Ancient Israel shared this conviction for a long time (see Ex 33:11, Dt 34:10, and Gn 32:31).  But here the Lord God's words encourage the people to expect to see the face of God shining (smiling, perhaps?) on them.  At least, that's the gift the priests ask that those whom they bless may receive.  This is a God still awesome to those who obey and worship Him, but less dreadful than previously believed.  That's God's mercy in action. “These words of blessing will accompany our journey through the year opening up before us. They are words of strength, courage and hope. The message of hope contained in this blessing was fully realized in a woman, Mary, who was destined to become the Mother of God, and it was fulfilled in her before all creatures.” (Pope Francis-2015).

Second Reading, Galatians 4:4-17:  Some among the Christians in Galatia were teaching that Christians still had to keep the Jewish law, even to the point of being circumcised, in order to be saved. Saint Paul argued forcefully that there should be no such requirement, because the coming of Christ had fulfilled the Old Law and annulled it.  Christians are freed from the slavery of the Old Law for they have been made children of God.  Salvation, Paul teaches, comes as an undeserved gift of God, which we accept by Faith in Christ.  This passage is in the Lectionary today because it contains a rare Pauline reference to Jesus' birth of a woman.  Paul does not mention Mary because here he is not concerned with the details, which are known to his converts.  Since he had mentioned the Divinity of Christ earlier in his Epistle, what Paul is stressing here is the reality of the human nature of Christ, the Self-humiliation of the Son of God Who deigned to be born of a mother like any human child. Paul also speaks of our adoption as children of God.  We must be free from the entanglements of this world.  Our relationship with God is so close that we can call him "Abba", an intimate term for "Father" (perhaps better translated as "Daddy.")

The Gospel message:  Today’s Gospel tells us that the first people who came to adore the Baby Jesus were the shepherds.  They were taking care of their flocks of sheep when an angel appeared to them and communicated to them the Good News concerning the birth of the Son of God.  The angel told them that they should not be afraid.  And that is precisely the message that the solemnity we celebrate today brings us.  Through this Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the Church tells us that we should not be afraid, that we should prepare ourselves for the beginning of the New Year by asking Our Lord and our Most Beloved Mother, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, to come to our aid.  We should ask her, not just today (although today is an especially important occasion for doing so),  but always, to help us to live like people who have been renewed and are ready, with her aid, to identify ourselves more closely with the teachings of the Church and with the Commandments, so that we may follow Christ more closely. Today’s Gospel also mentions that Jesus was given the name Yeshua – “The Lord saves.”  The rite of Circumcision unites Mary’s Child with the chosen people and makes him an heir to the promises God made to Abraham -- promises to be fulfilled in the Child himself.

Life messages:1) Let us strive to be pure and holy like our Heavenly Mother. All mothers want their children to inherit or acquire their good qualities. Our Heavenly Mother is no exception. With Joseph, she succeeded in training the Child Jesus, so that He grew in holiness and in “favor before God and man.”Hence, our best way of celebrating this feast and honoring our Heavenly Mother would be to promise her that we will practice her virtues of Faith, obedience, purity and humble service. In this way, we will be trying to become the saintly sons and daughters of our Heavenly Mother, the Holy Mother of God.

2) We need our Heavenly Mother’s prayers to have a better physical life and spiritual life in the New Year: Let us ask for our Heavenly Mother’s help so that we may glorify God with a healthier physical and spiritual life and a better appreciation of life in a culture of death. We need a Super-Mother like Jesus’mother Mary to stop millions of pregnant women from killing their babies by abortion, and to encourage nations to enact and implement laws to stop homicides, suicides, “mercy”-killing and mass-murders by terrorist and fanatic groups.

3) We need to honor Mary as the mother of Jesus: “We honor Mary by actively participating in today’s Mass and in all the Marian feasts of the Church throughout the year. In these Masses and at other times, we give Mary hyperdulia, that is, highest honor, because of the gifts of grace God granted her and because of the way she responded to these gifts. We also honor her in all the forms of Marian prayer we say: The Rosary, the Angelus, the Regina Caeli, the Hail Holy Queen, the Memorare, and so on. These are prayers we should pray so often we have them memorized. We can honor Mary by cultivating an interior life like hers. Mary meditated on, that is, thought about and prayed over, the events of her life in relation to God’s plan of salvation. We are participants in God’s plan of salvation, too. We are God’s instruments and fellow workers in God’s kingdom. Everything that happens to us has a good meaning, and it is up to us to try to discover and appreciate it. Her words at the wedding feast of Cana reveal her basic orientation, which we can apply to ourselves: ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ We can honor Mary by praying for her intercession.” (DHO).

4) Three ways to make the New Year meaningful (William Barclay): a) something to dream, b) something to do, and c) someone to love. “I have a dream’”said Martin Luther King. We should all have a noble plan of action (dream a noble dream), for every day in the New Year.  We need to remember the proverb: “Cherish your yesterdays, dream your tomorrows, but live your today." It has been truly said that an idle mind is the devil's workshop. We must not be barren fig trees, nor barren branches in God’s vineyard. We must be always engaged, doing good for others and loving the men and women we encounter in daily life, for they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. This becomes easier when we make God the center of our life and realize His presence in all the people around us.  Let us light a candle instead of blaming the darkness around us. Just as the moon borrows the sun’s light to illuminate the earth, we must radiate the Light of God shining within us. Let’s pray the prayer of Dag Hammarskjold: “Lord, for all that has been, Thanks! For all that will be, Yes!”

4) A resolution for the New Year: We might resolve to start every morning with a short prayer: “Good morning, Lord. Thank You for extending my life for one more day. Please grant me a special anointing of Your Holy Spirit so that I may do Your holy will today and avoid everything evil.”We are advised to transform our daily work into prayer by offering it to God early in the morning. Besides the family prayer and Bible reading, we might also resolve to say a short prayer, every evening, the last thing we do before we go to sleep: “Thank You Lord for helping me to do Your will today. Forgive me, Lord, for saying ‘no’to Your grace several times today. I am really sorry for all my sins of the day. Please pardon me.”And, as we close our eyes, we might say: “Good night, Lord. Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."

Have a Happy New Year, overflowing with a "Yes" to God our Father, to the Lord Jesus our Brother and to the Holy Spirit our Advocate and our Guide in every good deed His grace suggests! O, our God and our Hope, glory to You!

***
Fr. Jude Botelho: 

In the first reading there is the triple blessing imparted to the people by the temple priest. Yahweh’s name three times invoked marked the plenitude, perfection and the solemnity of the formula. Three was a sacred number among the Jews just as it was among the pagans. The petitions reach a climax in the prayer for peace; peace included everything they could desire. To let his face shine on one meant that God was well disposed to one. To uncover his face to one meant expressing his benevolence in an even stronger way. The Israelites were asked to call down God’s blessings on one another; others could invoke God’s blessings on us. We need others to be blessed by God.

Count your blessings

I was walking along a back street in New York City when I noticed what I thought was a beggar sitting along the footpath. I was about to shake my head and pass by when I realized that he was not drunk, but blind. Wondering why he should be competing with the Bowery bums for alms, I said, “Don’t you think you would be doing something better in some place like Park Avenue?” I shall always remember his reply, “Yes, I guess I could take in more money up there, but I’d rather stay here. When poor people see someone worse off than themselves, it makes them feel better. So I know I’m not just taking people’s money, I’m giving them something in return.”

W. M. Chambless in ‘1000 Stories you can use’

In today’s gospel we see the reaction of the shepherds to the good news, we see the response of Mary and we read of the circumcision of Jesus when he was given the name Jesus. We believe it was easy for the shepherds to believe for they were present there when these events took place. But did it make things easy? In fact, seeing might have made believing more difficult! What they saw was a frail, little child in need of being fed and clothed, dependant on others. Could this be the Son of God? There seems to be nothing extraordinary about him. He was in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, both signs of poverty and want. Yet they believed that this was the Son of God. They not only believed but acted on the message they had heard. They journeyed and found the child, and worshipped him. They told Mary what they had heard and went back full of joy thanking God for the privilege of seeing the incarnate Son of God. Faith is one of the great blessings that believers receive from God. Without faith we look at life missing what God is doing for us in the world around us. Faith makes us see things differently. It is faith that fills us with joy as we can see God acting in all things. We see this in the reaction of Mary, she pondered all that she saw and heard and experienced in her heart. She could see the hand of God working through all the happenings there. She had no complaints, and she praised and worshipped this infant Son of God. The last part of the Gospel tells us that on the eight day, Jesus was circumcised and given the name Jesus. Jesus is as close as the mention of his name. Calling his name is a great blessing!

A pretty crib or…

Once there was a parish which had a beautiful crib. The parishioners, who for the most part were white and well-off, were very proud of it. Mary was depicted as a handsome young maiden, and Joseph a strong man with a serene expression. The infant had the face of an angel. The shepherds were dressed as gentlemen. The background consisted of low hills with a gorgeous castle perched on the summit of one of them. The star-strewn sky completed the idyllic picture. Then a new parish priest was appointed to the parish. One of the first things he did was to change the crib. Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus were now coloured, as were the shepherds. The backdrop consisted of a shanty town with rows of impoverished shacks. The scene spoke of poverty and deprivement. The devout parishioners took an instant dislike to it. They insisted that their traditional crib be put back. -When we look at the crib, everything seems so pretty, so peaceful so orderly; not a cry is heard from the child, not a sound from the donkey or the oxen, not a smell of any kind. The subdued lights add a surreal quality to the whole scene. With our inward ear we hear the singing of the angels, and with our inward eye we see the star which led the Magi to Bethlehem. We have a tendency to pretty up the Christmas story. But in doing so, we distance it from ourselves. We empty it of much of the meaning it carries for us.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

The blessing of presence

St. Anthony’s is a home to a small number of endangered boys. The boys had to be removed from their own homes, or have run away from their homes, because of difficult situations. Not surprisingly, they are not the easiest of kids to deal with. The home is staffed by qualified social workers, who in the circumstances do a very good job. They work shifts and do not live in the home. Brother Aidan also works for those boys. But unlike the paid staff, he lives on the premises. It is his home too. He tries to be a father figure and an elder brother to the youth. It is not the easiest or quietest place to live. But Aidan likes it. And the fact that he lives on the premises makes a big difference to the kids. Aidan tells how one day he met one of the kids on the street. The kid greets him warmly and in the course of a chat said, “You’re different Brother Aidan. The staff go home every evening, but you live with us.” Brother Aidan knows all the youth by name. He eats and drinks with them, listens to their stories, lets them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that he truly loves them. Presence is very important. Our presence with others is the deepest expression of our love for them; it is the best gift we can give others. –Mary was present to her son in life and as he died on the cross. She is present to us as well, our greatest blessing.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies’

A great blessing –the Search for God

Years ago Fulton Oursler was the editor of a highly successful national magazine. The story behind his rise to success is fascinating. But even more fascinating is the story of his search for God. As a reporter for the ‘Baltimore American’, Oursler had covered Methodist meetings, Baptist Conventions, and outdoor revivals. He had even waited for ghosts in darkroom séances. “Out of all of this” he says, “I emerged at the age of 30 a self-styled agnostic.” But instead of finding peace, his unbelief left him totally empty inside. Eventually the emptiness and the unhappiness turned into a gnawing depression. Then one day, serious trouble threatened his family. He needed help. But the kind of help he needed was not the kind of help his friends could give. There was no one to whom he could turn, not even God, for he did not believe in God. One windy day in New York he was walking down Fifth Avenue. He came to the Cathedral. He stopped, looked at it and thought. He was desperate. Minutes later he found himself walking up the steps, going inside and sitting down. After a few minutes of collecting his thoughts, he bowed his head and asked for the gift of faith. He sat there a while, then got up, and walked over to the Chapel of Our Lady in the Cathedral. He went inside, knelt down, and prayed the following prayer: “In ten minutes or less I may change my mind. I may scoff at all this and love error again. Pay no attention to me then. For this little time, I am in my right mind and heart. This is my best –take it and forget the rest, and, if you are really there, help me.” At that moment, he said, there began a remarkable transformation in his life. The transformation ended in his becoming a deeply committed Christian. Fulton Oursler’s search for God ended in the House of God. And his spiritual birth into a new life began in a chapel dedicated to Mary the Mother of God.
Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’

All is well! All things shall be well!

They say Robert Louis Stevenson told this story first. It seems a storm caught a sea faring vessel off a rocky coast. The winds and the waves threatened to drive the boat to its destruction. In the midst of the terror, one daring passenger, contrary to orders, made his way across the ship. Grouping along the passageway, he found the pilot house. Then he beheld an intriguing sight. The ship’s pilot was lashed to his post. Secure against the raging elements, he held the wheel fast, turning the wheel inch by inch once more out to sea. The pilot saw the watcher and smiled. The daring passenger found his way below deck where the other passengers were huddled. Encouragingly, he said, “I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled. All is well.”

Frank Michalic in ‘Stories You can Use’