Advent 4th Week-Christmas week: Dec 23-31: Daily Reflections

Dec 23 Monday: (St. John of Canty, Priest) Luke 1:57-66: 57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to be delivered, and she gave birth to a son. 58 And her neighbors and kinsfolk heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59 And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; and they would have named him Zechariah after his father, 60 but his mother said, “Not so; he shall be called John.” 61 And they said to her, “None of your kindred is called by this name.” 62 And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he would have him called. 63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote,
“His name is John.” And they all marveled. 64 And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. 65 And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea; 66 and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. USCCB video:

The context: Today’s Gospel describes the birth and naming of St. John the Baptist, the last Old Testament prophet.  He was given the mission of heralding the promised Messiah and of preparing the Chosen People to welcome that Messiah by preaching to them repentance and the renewal of life.  John was born to the priest, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth in their old age.  Today’s Gospel passage describes John’s birth, Circumcision and Naming ceremony.

A miraculous birth and an event of double joy: His elderly parents rejoiced in John’s birth, as he was a gift from God in their old age.  Since the child was a boy, all their neighbors rejoiced with them, and the village musicians celebrated the birth by playing their joyful music.  The Naming followed the baby’s Circumcision, and Elizabeth insisted that the child should be named John (which means “the Lord is gracious”).  The mute Zechariah approved that name by writing, “His name is John.” At that action of obedient surrender to the Lord God, his speech was restored, and he loudly proclaimed the praises of God for blessing him with a son and Israel with her Deliverer, whose herald his son would be.

Life messages:  1) We need to pray for our parents and be thankful to them for the gift of life, the training and discipline they have given us and the love and affection they have lavished on us.  Let us ask God’s pardon if we are, or were, ungrateful to them, do/did not take proper care of them in their illness or old age or ever inflicted pain on them.  2) We need to remember and pray for our godparents who sponsored us in Baptism, which made us children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus, heirs of Heaven and members of the Church.  3) We should have the courage of our Christian convictions as John the Baptist did, and we should become heralds of Christ as John was, by our transparent Christian lives. Fr. Tony ( 2019

Dec 24 Tuesday: 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.”  USCCB video:

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 ( 2019

Dec 24 Evening Tuesday: Christmas Vigil: Is 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt 1:1-25 [1:18-25]: Introduction: The Scripture lessons for today focus on the first Christmas, or the birth of Jesus, which we celebrate today in all its solemnity. We are celebrating the fulfillment of the prophecies about our merciful God who sent His own Son to save a sinful world.

Scripture lessons: In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies how the God of Israel will honor the desolate and forsaken Jerusalem and land of Israel by espousing her as a man marries a virgin and makes her a mother. Yahweh does this by sending His long-awaited Messiah into Israel to possess it and rule over it. The Messiah will vindicate Israel and save her. Through His prophet Isaiah, the Lord God wished to inspire the hopeless Israelites, returned from the Babylonian exile, to plant crops and make their desolate land fertile and prosperous so that she might be able to hold up her head again among the other nations.  In the second reading, St. Paul recounts the history of God’s mercy to Israel, His chosen people. God showed His mercy to His chosen people of Israel by fulfilling the prophecy about His long-awaited Messiah. He sent His Son as the Savior and the descendant of David. The Gospel reviews the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17), tracing his descent from Abraham through David as foretold by the prophet, then describies his birth at Bethlehem (1:18-25), as our Savior through the working of the Holy Spirit.   The Gospel also shows how God resolved the doubts of Joseph by sending His angel, first to reassure Joseph, then to instruct him to name the child Jesus. The name Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Yehosua, which means ”Yahweh is salvation.” Just as the first Joshua (successor of Moses), saved the Israelites from their enemies, the second Joshua (Jesus) would save them from their sins.

Life messages: 1) We need to allow the Savior to be reborn in our lives.   Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, but is not born in my heart?”   Let us allow Him to be reborn in our lives during Christmas 2019 and every day of the New Year 2020. Let us show the good will and generosity of sharing with others Jesus, our Savior reborn in our hearts, by love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and humble service.

2) We need to look for Jesus in unlikely places and persons.   The message of Christmas is that we can truly find Jesus if we look in the right places –-   in the streets, in slums, in asylums, in orphanages, in nursing homes –- starting in our own homes, workplaces and town. God challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame their fear in order to seek out Jesus, or like the Wise Men who traveled a long distance to find Him. Then we will have the true experience of Christmas – the joy of the Savior. Fr. Tony ( 2019

Dec 25 Wednesday: Christmas – Thematic homily on why we rejoice at Christmas:
USCCB video:

1: First, Christmas is the Feast of God’s sending us a Savior: God undertook the Incarnation of Jesus as True God and true 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.” (“Dharma samstaphanarthe sambhavami yuge yuge.”). 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 and atoned for our sins by his suffering, death and Resurrection. So, every Christmas reminds us that we need a Savior every day, to free us from our evil addictions and unjust, impure and uncharitable tendencies. Christmas 2019 also challenges us to accept Jesus in the manger as our saving God and personal Savior and to surrender our lives to him, allowing him to rule our hearts and lives every day in the New Year.

# 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. He 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 privilege and 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 residing in us makes us His “Temples.” Christmas reminds us that we are bearers of God with the missionary privilege and 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 ( 2019

Dec 26 Thursday: (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. USCCB video:

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, inspired by the Holy Spirit as Jesus had promised all His disciples they would be when called to bear witness to Him, bravely and eloquently defended his belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah. He 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 ( 2019

Dec 27 Friday: 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. USCCB video:

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 and remained faithful to Jesus at the palace of the High Priest on the day Jesus was arrested. Further, John 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, a charge he would fulfill until her death, and, after the Resurrection, John was the one who recognized the risen Jesus first 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 ( 2019

Dec 28 Saturday: 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.” USCCB video:

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: We need to raise our voice against 21st century massacre of the Innocents: 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 ( 2019

Dec 30-Jan 4: Dec 30 Monday (St. Egwin) : Luke 2: 36-40, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, 37 and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. USCCB video:

The context: Today’s Gospel presents Anna the prophetess who greeted the Baby Jesus as the Redeemer when Joseph presented Mary and the Infant in the Temple for the purification of the mother and for the “redemption” of the Baby Jesus.

Anna and her testimony: Anna was an eighty-four-year-old widow who spent her days in the Temple in fasting and prayer, waiting for the promised Messiah. She was rewarded with the joy of seeing her Redeemer as a Baby. In her excitement she praised God and introduced the Infant to others around her as the expected Messiah.

The Child Jesus’ growth in wisdom and the favor of God: Commenting on the last sentence of today’s Gospel St. Bede says: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, as a Child clothed in the fragility of human nature, had to grow and become stronger. But, as the eternal Word of God, he had no need to become stronger or to grow. Hence, he is rightly described as full of wisdom and grace.”

Life message:  The Holy Spirit uses ordinary men and women with simple Faith as His instruments to bear witness to Christ, his ideals and teachings. Let us cooperate with the Spirit in everything. ( 2019

Dec 31 Tuesday (St. Sylvester I, Pope) : Jn 1:19-28: 19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 They said to him then, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing. USCCB video:

The context: The news reached the central Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem that one John, the son of a Jewish priest, was preaching repentance and renewal of life to the Jews and inviting them to receive the baptism of repentance meant only for Gentiles. Hence, the Sanhedrin sent a delegation of experts to Bethany on the eastern bank of river Jordan (different from the Bethany near Jerusalem, where Lazarus lived), to discover whether John was claiming to be the expected Messiah or his forerunner Elijah, the prophet, and to ask why he encouraged the Chosen People to receive the baptism of repentance.

John’s witnessing mission: John frankly declared in all humility that he was not Elijah nor the expected Messiah nor even one of the Old Testament prophets reincarnated. Later, Jesus referred to him as “a lamp“He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light (John 5:35). In the spiritual life, the ideal is to become invisible, and our role as Christians is to become salt, yeast, grain, and light.  But John claimed that he was the forerunner of the real Messiah and that his mission was to prepare the lives of the Jews to receive the expected Messiah and to bear witness to him when he should appear in public. John also explained to them that he was baptizing the Jews with water because they must be made holy through repenting of their sins and renewing their lives if they were to receive the most Holy Messiah in their midst.

Life messages:   1) As Catholic Christians, we believe in the coming of Jesus our Lord and Savior on our altars during each Eucharistic celebration. Hence, we, too, need to repent of our sins and ask God’s pardon and forgiveness on a daily basis if we wish to receive Jesus into our hearts and lives sacramentally.

2) We, too, need to renew our lives with the help of our Lord Jesus living within us, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, so that He may radiate His love, forgiveness and mercy to all around us. ( 2019