Thursday, January 1, 2015

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

(Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

Scientists have reported significant medical benefits from infant circumcision.  The procedure is said to reduce the risk of a large range of pathologies from the HIV virus to cervical cancer in sexual partners.  These findings corroborate what was at the root of the practice in ancient Israel: the awareness that the male foreskin is a locus of impurity.  The gospel today shows Jesus undergoing circumcision, but its concern transcends preventing disease.

Mary and Joseph have Jesus circumcised because they are pious Jews intent on obeying the prescriptions of Jewish law.  The gospel of Luke portrays Mary as particularly intent on fulfilling the word of God.  The angel Gabriel told her that the name of the child was to be named “Jesus” – a mandate that is duly carried out here.  Mary also keeps all the happenings of Jesus birth in her heart because she knows that they are ordered by God’s command.

In Mary we have both a grand intercessor and a model.  We should feel free to bring our needs to this woman who sits so close to God.  We should also strive to imitate Mary throughout 2015.  In these turbulent times we could benefit from both her contemplative spirit and her obedience to God’s commands.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Seventh Day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

(I John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18)

In the first reading, the author, who is known as John the Elder, writes of antichrists.  He finds them repugnant for having left his community.  Later on in the document he refers to those who do not acknowledge that Christ has come in the flesh as having the “spirit of the antichrist” (4:2).  The meaning of the passage is not completely clear, but given the times, one can offer an explanation.  It probably refers to those who deny that Jesus had a corporeal body -- a familiar concept of the Gnostic heretics prominent in the first centuries after Christ.  Dismissing Christ’s body enabled the Gnostics to downplay the need to guard against excesses of their own bodies.

If there are antichrists in the world today corresponding to those castigated in the first reading, they would include those eat foolishly and avoid exercise.  Often these people are plagued by emotional problems so that they deny the value and lack the will to care for their bodies.  They need the encouragement of others and a heightened sense that God cares about their health.

Taking our bodies seriously because Christ had a body is a worthy thought on the eve of a new year.  We do not want to party so much tonight that our bodies will ache tomorrow.  Also, we want to firmly resolve to diet and exercise regularly in 2015 so that our bodies may serve the glory of God.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40)

Reading the First Letter of John during Christmas season corrects tendencies to exaggerate the goodness of life on earth.  Food abounds and drink flows during the holidays.  It is also a time for recreation -- movies and, for the more vigorous, maybe skiing or bowling.  Would some not say that the world and all within it are good indeed?

But, of course, the world poses as many challenges to a really good life as benefits.  In today’s first reading the author, sometimes called “John, the presbyter” or “John, the elder,” warns his readers of its pitfalls.  His “children” are the members of the church community.  The “fathers” are veteran Christians who have long accepted the faith.  They know well the love of God experienced in Jesus Christ.  The “young men” are newcomers to Christianity.  They have overcome the allurements of sin which keep others from committing themselves to Christ.  Old and young alike have to stand on guard against these temptations which are named: lust, envy, and pride.

As we come to the end of the year, we might ask ourselves how we have fared against the three great nemeses.  Do we seek God’s assistance when lustful desires enter our thoughts?  Do we thank God for what we have, or do we constantly look to our neighbors for what we lack?  Do we remind ourselves daily that we live to serve God, not to be served by others?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Fifth Day of the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35)

Biblical experts say that in the eyes of Luke, the evangelist, the story of salvation is written in three volumes.  The first volume is the entire Old Testament.  The second is the gospel of Jesus which Luke wrote.  And the third volume is the Acts of the Apostles which Luke also composed.  In the gospel passage that we just heard we meet three characters who connect the three parts of the story.  Although Simeon is not mentioned in the Old Testament, he is like many pious men who lived before Christ.  He has patiently waited for God to save his people.  Mary has a central role in the birth of Jesus and will be seen also in the Acts of the Apostles.  The one actor who is met here as well as throughout the three volumes is the Holy Spirit.  His presence assures that God is in control of the action.

When Simeon sees Jesus, he calls him “the light to the nations.”  He recognizes that Jesus will do more than offer salvation to the people of Israel; he will reconcile all nations of the earth under God.  In this way he fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah, “One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”  Simeon says some enigmatic words to Mary: “…and you yourself a sword will...” We are used to thinking of this prophecy as referring to Mary’s witnessing the death of her son on the cross.  However, the experts say they more likely refer to Mary being tested like everyone else as for or against the light of the world.  Of course, she proves herself with the light as she is the first to listen to the word of God and to put it into practice.

We finish the story of salvation by imitating Mary.  We want to faithfully keep God’s laws but not in the sense that we fear doing something wrong.  Rather we will keep the new law of love which Jesus has given.  We will amplify his light in the world by refusing to treat anyone with indifference, much less hatred.  We will make his light shine by having patience and compassion for all.

Friday, Decembrer 26, 2014

Feast of Saint Stephen, proto-martyr

(Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22)

In the nativity narratives of both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels hints appear of the crucifixion.  In Luke at the presentation in the Temple, the visionary Simeon reveals the fate of Jesus to Mary.  When he says that her son will be “a sign that will be contradicted,” he is referring to the coalition of Jews and Romans who will crucify Jesus.  In Matthew the reference to the cross is more obvious. From the time of Jesus’ birth the Jewish authority connives to kill him.  For the same reason the evangelists hint of his death in the story of his birth, the Church juxtaposes the memorial of the first martyr, St. Stephen, with the celebration of Christmas.

Stephen is a Greek-speaking Jew elected with six others to administer the food needs of the Greek-speaking widows of the primitive Christian community in Jerusalem.  Evidently the service they rendered was more than supplying groceries as he and at least one other prove themselves as exceptional preachers.  In the full account of his execution Stephen gives a history of Israel showing how it leads to Jesus whom the Jews have recently crucified.

The inclusion of Jesus’ death in the celebration of his birth should temper our festivity.  At the very least, we should be careful not to eat or drink too much.  More to the heart of the matter, knowing that Jesus was born to bring us the love of God whatever the cost, our jubilation should include concern for those who suffer.  They are bearers living in our midst of the same Jesus in whose coming we rejoice.