Dec 24 Monday: Lk 1: 67-79: 67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying, 68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, 74 to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
The context: Today’s Gospel gives the prophetic hymn which Zechariah, filled with Holy Spirit, sang on the eighth day after his son John’s birth when all had assembled for the Naming and Circumcision ceremony. Although the Jews generally believed that Elijah the prophet would return to earth to prepare the way for the Messiah, Zechariah prophetically sang here that it was his son, John, who was going to prepare the way for the Messiah, Jesus.
Zechariah’s prophecy contains four steps of the Christian way we are supposed to take. 1) Preparation: Our life must be a preparation, leading us to our eternal salvation, enabling us to walk through/with/in Christ, the only sure Way.
2) Correct knowledge of the only true God: Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior who taught us that God His Father is a loving and forgiving Father Who saved us through His son Jesus.
3) Forgiveness of sins: This is the restoring of our broken relationship with God, accomplished through the suffering, death and Resurrection of Jesus.
4) Walking in the way of peace: Peace is not the absence of trouble. It is the fullness of everything needed for man’s highest good. Jesus instituted in his Church all the means necessary for us to attain our highest good. He gave us the Holy Spirit, the Holy Bible, the Sacraments and the centralized teaching authority of his Church, with Mary and the saints as role models and praying companions for our journey. (Fr. Tony) L/18
Dec 25 Tuesday: Christmas: Synopsis of a Thematic Homily (Lk 2: 1-14)
Christmas: (Lk 2:1-14): Why do we celebrate Christmas with great rejoicing?
1: First, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sending us a Savior: God undertook the Incarnation of Jesus as God-Man to save us from the bondage of sin. The Hindus believe in ten incarnations of God. The purpose of these incarnations is stated in their Holy Scripture, Bagavath Geetha or Song of God. “God incarnates to restore righteousness in the world whenever there is a large-scale erosion of moral values.” But the Christian Scriptures teach only one Incarnation, and its purpose is given in John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him may not die, but have eternal life.” We celebrate the Incarnation of God as a baby today as Good News because we have a Divine Savior. As our Savior, Jesus liberated us from slavery to sin by his suffering, death and Resurrection, and he atoned for our sins. So every Christmas reminds us that we need a Savior to heal our hearts and lives every day in the New Year and as long as we live.
# 2: Second, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sharing His love with us: Jesus, as our Savior, brought the “Good News” that our God is a loving, forgiving, merciful and rewarding God and not a judgmental, cruel and punishing God. Jesus demonstrated by his life and teaching how God our Heavenly Father loves us, forgives us, provides for us and rewards us. All his miracles were signs of this Divine Love. Jesus’ final demonstration of God’s love for us was his death on the cross to atone for our sins and to make us children of God. Each Christmas reminds us that sharing love with others is our Christian duty, and every time we do that, Jesus is reborn in our lives. Let us face this question, “What does it profit me if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world and He is not born in my heart?” (Alexander Pope). Hence, let us allow Jesus to be reborn in our hearts and lives, not only during Christmas, but every day, so that he may radiate the light of his presence from within us as sharing and selfless love, expressed in compassionate words and deeds, unconditional forgiveness, the spirit of humble service and overflowing generosity.
3: Third, Christmas is the Feast of the Emmanuel (God living with us and within us): Christmas is the feast of the Emmanuel because God in the New Testament is a God who continues to live with us in all the events of our lives as the “Emmanuel” announced by the angel to Mary. As Emmanuel, Jesus lives in the Sacraments (especially in the Holy Eucharist), in the Bible, in the praying community and in each believer as the Holy Spirit transforms us into “Temples of the Holy Spirit.” Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary duty of conveying Jesus to those around us by loving them as Jesus did, through sacrificial, humble and committed service. Sharing with others Jesus, the Emmanuel living within us, is the best Christmas gift we can give, or receive, today. (Fr. Tony) L/18
Dec 26 Wednesday Martyrdom of St. Stephen, First Martyr): Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59, Mt 10:17-22: 17 Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Life and death of St. Stephen: Today’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles, describes the death of Stephen, the first martyr in the history of the Church. Stephen was a zealous Greek convert from Judaism to Christianity chosen by the community and accepted by the Apostles to serve as one of the seven earliest deacons in the Church. He was to help meet the material needs of Greek Christian widows in Jerusalem who had complained that they were being slighted in favor of Hebrew Christian widows in the matter of Church assistance. Stephen was chosen for this ministry of helping the poor because he had good character and was filled with the Holy Spirit. But he was arrested by the Sanhedrin because he was converting numerous Jews to Christianity and the Jewish leaders could not win against him with arguments. The jealous Jews arranged false witnesses against Stephen. These men accused him of blaspheming against Yahweh and Moses. In his final defense speech before his judges in the Sanhedrin, Stephen bravely and eloquently defended his belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah, accused the Jews of unbelief, and explained that the sacrifices and sacrificial Laws given by Moses were temporary. When Stephen suddenly announced that he could see Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father, the infuriated Jews mobbed him, dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death. Obeying Jesus, Stephen prayed loudly for his executioners during the stoning and bore heroic witness to Jesus by his death.
Life message: St. Stephen teaches us how to bear witness to Christ bravely in our lives, when our Faith and its practice are questioned or challenged. (Fr. Tony) L/18
Dec 27 Thursday St. John, Apostle and Evangelist: Jn 20:2-8: 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.
St. John, Apostle and Evangelist: John was the son of Zebedee the fisherman and Salome, a close relative of Mary. John and his brother, James the Greater, were fishermen, partners of Peter and Andrew; they were disciples of John the Baptist before they were called by Jesus as his Apostles. John’s name is mentioned always after his brother’s name in Matthew, Mark and the Acts of the Apostles. John was the Apostle beloved by Jesus and one of the three constituting Jesus’ inner circle of friends who witnessed Jesus’ raising of the daughter of Jairus from the dead, His Transfiguration on the mountain and His agony in the garden of Gethsemane. After fleeing with the others from Gethsemane, John returned. He remained faithful to Jesus at the palace of the High Priest during Jesus’ trial by the Sanhedrin, and he had the courage to be at the foot of the cross, supporting and consoling Mary. He was entrusted by Jesus with the care of His mother, and, after the Resurrection, John was the one who first recognized the risen Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Missionary activities: With Peter, John played a prominent role in founding and guiding the Church. John was with Peter when the latter healed the lame man (Acts 3:1), was in prison with him (Acts 4:3), and was with him when Peter visited the new Christians in Samaria (Acts 8:14). John left for Asia Minor and Ephesus when King Herod Agrippa I started persecuting Christians. He returned to Jerusalem in AD 51 to attend the Jerusalem Council. According to tradition, when the attempt of Emperor Domitian to murder John by putting him in boiling oil failed, John was exiled to Patmos Island. As an Evangelist, John wrote five books of the New Testament: The Gospel according to John, three epistles and the Book of Revelation. He preached always about God’s love in his old age. Returning to Ephesus, John lived there, dying when he was one hundred years old. John reminds us of the greatest commandment of love given by Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Fr. Tony) L/18
Dec 28 Friday Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs: Mt 2:13-18: 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.”
This Mass commemorates the deaths of all of those innocents killed by the order of Herod the Great in his fruitless pursuit of the “newborn king of the Jews,” as well as the deaths of the untold numbers of innocent babies slaughtered today by abortion.
The context: Herod the Great had been made the king of Judea by the Roman Empire although he was not even a Jew. His father was an Idumean and his mother was an Arab. This cruel king was kept in power mainly by the Roman army. He brutally executed all suspected rivals to his throne including his wife, brother and two brothers-in-law. No wonder he was terrified at the news that a rival king, a descendant of King David, had been born somewhere in Bethlehem, for this child could someday claim to be the legitimate king of Israel and Judea! Herod’s anger intensified when he realized that the Magi had not returned to his royal palace to report the whereabouts of the Child Jesus. Matthew says that the slaughter of the Innocents was in fulfillment of a prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and weeping bitterly; it is Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Ramah was a hill near Bethlehem and the burial place of Rachel, the wife of the patriarch Jacob. The Jews believed that she wept bitterly from her tomb when the Jews were taken as slaves by the Assyrians and later when Herod massacred the babies.
Life message: 1) As in other advanced countries, the cruel massacre of the innocents continues in North America by state-permitted abortion. While Herod killed at the most a hundred children, nearly four thousand unborn babies are slaughtered in the United States every day. They are killed because, like the infants of Bethlehem, they are inconvenient. Children are sacrificed also for the most powerful king of the twenty-first century, Science. Babies are killed in their embryo stage to harvest their “stem cells” for medical experiments intended to heal the illnesses of their parents and grandparents. Along with prayer, let us do everything in our power to stop this brutal murder of the helpless babies. (Fr. Tony) L/18
Dec 29 Saturday (St. Thomas Becket, Bishop & Martyr): Lk 2:22-35:
The context: Today’s Gospel presents the head of the Holy Family, Joseph, faithfully obeying God’s law given through Moses concerning the purification of the mother and the redeeming of the child by presenting Mary and the Baby Jesus in the Temple. The events recounted are those we traditionally celebrate on February 2nd with the Feast of Presentation of Jesus. We celebrate them today in order to group all the events of Christ’s infancy within the Octave of Christmas. Today (and on February 2nd), we celebrate a combined feast, commemorating the Jewish practice of the purification of the mother after childbirth and the presentation of the child in the Temple. It is known as the Hypanthe feast or Feast of the Purification of Mary (by the offering two pigeons in the Temple), the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord (by prayers and a sacrifice offered in the Temple to redeem or buy the firstborn male child back from the Lord), and the Feast of Encounter (because the New Testament, represented by the Baby Jesus, encountered the Old Testament, represented by Simeon and Anna). On February 2nd we celebrate these events as a formal ending of the Christmas season. On that day we also celebrate the Feast of Candlemas (because candles are blessed then for liturgical and personal use).
Purification and redemption ceremonies: The Mosaic Law taught that, since every Jewish male child belonged to Yahweh, the parents had to “buy back” the child (“redeem” him), by offering lambs or turtledoves as a sacrifice in the Temple. In addition (Numbers 18:15), every mother had to be purified after childbirth by prayers and an offering made to God in the Temple. Joseph kept these laws as an act of obedience to God.
The encounter with Simeon and Anna: By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the old, pious and Spirit-filled Simeon and Anna had been waiting in the Temple for the revelation of God’s salvation. Simeon recognized Jesus as the Lord’s Anointed One, and in his prayer of blessing, he prophesied that Jesus was meant to be the glory of Israel and a light of revelation to the Gentiles. While he blessed Mary, he warned that her child would be “a sign of contradiction” and that she would be “pierced with a sword.” Simeon was prophesying both the universal salvation that would be proclaimed by Jesus and the necessity of suffering in the mission of the Messiah.
Life message: 1) Every Holy Mass in which we participate is our presentation. Although we were officially presented to God on the day of our Baptism, we present ourselves and our dear ones on the altar before God our Father through our Savior Jesus Christ at every Holy Mass. Hence, we need to live our daily lives with the awareness both that we are dedicated people consecrated to God and that we are obliged to lead holy lives. (Fr. Tony) L/18