A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 18, n. 4)

Advent Week 4 - Christmas: December 22-28, 2019

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: December 15-21, 2019 please go to ARCHIVES Series 18 and click on “Advent Week 3”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: December 23-28, 2019.)

 

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December 22, 2019: FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

  “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Sign of God’s Love”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 7:10-24 // Rom 1:1-7 // Mt 1:18-24

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 1:18-24): “Jesus will be born of Mary, the betrothed of Joseph, a son of David.”

          

The liturgy of the Advent and Christmas season is marked by an exquisite “sign” of God’s love: the birth of a child, which is perhaps the most universal and enduring symbol of hope for the human race. A “sign” in the Old Testament and New Testament is usually some event assuring us of divine intervention. It is an indication of divine presence and a form of revelation. A “sign” is God’s propitious expression of benevolence and a promise of salvation for his people. It is a gift of love from our saving God to encourage us in moments of crisis. Indeed, a divine “sign” is a symbol of hope in weakness and an assurance of life and victory when assailed with threats of defeat and destruction.

  

The evangelist Matthew in today’s Gospel (Mt 1:18-24) sees the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in the birth of the Virgin Mary’s child, Jesus. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 1, comment: “The sign that God gives is the birth of a child. It is a sign, because this birth is a promise of salvation. Moreover, he will bear the significant name Emmanuel, that is, God-with-us. The salvation announced to the people goes beyond the person of Hezekiah. The child, the sign of the salvation of God, will be no ordinary person, and he will come from David’s lineage: the Messiah himself. When Jesus appeared, born of a woman – a virgin whose name was Mary – to whom the angel of God said: You shall conceive and bear a son … The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father … and his reign will be without end (Lk 1:31-33), one will easily surmise that he must be the promised Messiah. Not merely one sign among many, but THE sign of God, in a way that none can imagine: God-with-us … The sign of his presence and initiative was given to us when he chose a young woman – a virgin – to give birth to the Savior. The very fragility of this sign – the birth of a child – is the most extraordinary, the most unexpected, and at the same time the most visible of the manifestations of the strength and love of the God who is faithful to his promises.”

 

God continues to surround us with “signs” of salvation and of his care and love. The following story, narrated by Sue Monk Kidd in an old issue of Guideposts magazine, illustrates how the appearance of a child in the languishing church community of Melba became a sign of the divine will to bring life and salvation to them.

 

In 1977, the Baptist Church in Melba, a rural American town, was about to close its doors forever. Over the years, churchgoing had dropped off alarmingly. Some hurts and misunderstandings had divided and shattered the congregation. All that remained was about a dozen people on the verge of giving up. That handful of people gathered in the church one Sunday to vote whether to continue services or close down for good. Their meeting was interrupted when a child appeared – a child of only seven years – who wanted to join the Sunday school and the church service.

 

Angela, for that was her name, returned the next Sunday, and the next and the next. That child became the reason for the Melba Baptist Church to go on. They struggled to live in order to nurture a young spirit from one Sunday to the next. Angela was their glimmer of hope. She was their future. The child’s appearance saved the congregation from extinction and sure death. The Melba Baptist Church has become renovated and increased in membership. As far as they are concerned, the little girl who came alone to the church that long-ago Sunday was sent by God. 

 

 

B. First Reading (Is 7:10-14): “Behold the virgin shall conceive.”

 

It must have been some kind of midlife crisis for I had allowed the disappointments of those moments to discourage me and even erode my self-esteem. I felt so insignificant and it seemed that I had toiled in vain. I needed some kind of affirmation to confirm that my apostolic labor had meaning and value. I prayed to God to give me a “sign”. In his goodness God gifted me with a beautiful “sign”. One day in June 2001 Bishop Protacio Gungon of the Diocese of Antipolo in the Philippines informed me that I was going to receive an award. The Bishop nominated me for the papal award, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in recognition for the service I had rendered to the Church and the Pope. Indeed, the conferral of the papal award on August 15, 2001 continues to be a “sign” to encourage me in difficulties as I serve the Lord and his people through the Eucharistic-Priestly-Liturgical apostolate.

  

The Old Testament reading (Is 7:10-14) contains a prophetic “sign” directed to King Ahaz, who is anxious and trembling as “the trees of the forest tremble in the wind” (Is 7:2), for the imminent siege of Jerusalem in 735 B.C. by the kings of Syria and Israel. Confronting his lack of trust in the Lord, the prophet Isaiah declares: “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14). With the sign of the conception and birth of a child, God wants to manifest to King Ahaz - who is piously hiding his intent to seek security through political allies - that the Lord Yahweh is in perfect control of human history and destiny.

 

Indeed, God is with us and intimately involved in our affairs. The “sign” announced by the prophet Isaiah invites Ahaz to trust in God alone – in the promise of the Covenant and the divine protection. In order to be saved from his enemies, Ahaz ought not to rely on the political and military interventions of the Assyrians. The conception and birth of a child by the young wife of King Ahaz is meant to be a powerful indication of Yahweh’s abiding presence and merciful intervention on behalf of his people. The weakling ruler, however, does not perceive the birth of his son Hezekiah as a “sign” of salvation and of God’s solicitude for the house of David. Trusting more in political security, Ahaz sends gold and silver to the King of Assyria and becomes his vassal, paving the way for the eventual destruction of the southern kingdom.

 

    

C. Second Reading (Rom 1:1-7): “Jesus Christ, descended from David, is the Son of God.”

 

The Second Reading (Rom 1:1-7) helps us consider two over-riding aspects of our Savior: his humanity and his divinity. Saint Paul asserts about Jesus: as to his humanity, Jesus was born a descendant of David; as to his divine holiness, he was shown with great power to be the Son of God by being raised from death. Through the mystery of incarnation, the Son of God became one with us – sharing the hopes and fears that we have in our imperfections. Through the paschal mystery of his passion, death and resurrection, the true nature of Jesus as “Son of God” was fully manifested. Indeed, Christmas and Easter are intimately woven as warp and woof of salvation history.

  

Saint Paul, a “slave of Christ Jesus” and set apart to proclaim the Good News, writes to the Christian community in Rome wishing them the very best: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul’s salutation is a beautiful Christmas prayer that we must invoke on one another, on our loved ones, on peoples of the earth and the entire creation. In this Christmas season and every day of our life, we must proclaim zealously like Saint Paul the Good News about Jesus, Son of God of the House of David. To welcome Jesus Lord in our life is to receive the Christmas gift of grace and peace that he brings from God the Father.

 

The following story illustrates fascinatingly the indomitable spirit of Christmas and the strength that God brings into our life through loving, thoughtful neighbors (cf. Christine Trollinger, “Christmas Angels” in Amazing Grace for the Catholic Heart, ed. Jeff Cavins, et. al. West Chester: Ascension Press, 2004, p.94-96). The celebration of Christmas is important for it enables us to renew our trust in Jesus, Son of God of the House of David. The joyful event of Christ’s birth is for us a tremendous experience of the Father’s faithful love and the divine Son’s saving life. True Christmas spirit pierces through the darkness of despair.

 

Mentally going over my Christmas list in 1988, I reassured myself that I had not forgotten anyone. Still, an unshakable feeling that something was forgotten haunted me. Of course, I knew why that “missing” feeling hung on despite all the gift-wrapped packages tucked away. I just did not know what to do about it.

 

You see, our family had been struggling with the devastation of cancer many months that year. My husband’s cancer had returned with vengeance and our three children had been diagnosed with the predisposition for this same hereditary cancer, one which had claimed my husband’s mother at the age of thirty-three. The outlook was bleak to say the least. We were still trying to cope with the on-going battle as well as the loss of my sister-in-law that October; she also died at age thirty-three.

 

As Christmas approached, we tried to keep things normal for the children. Our family tradition has always been a joyous family affair. We would lavish decorations on our tree and the outside of the house and bake Christmas goodies. Then we would invite all the neighbors in for the lighting ceremony and to enjoy cookies, hot chocolate, and Christmas carols.

 

This year, there was no real celebration; we were merely going through the motions. Gene was too ill to help with the outside lights so I went to the basement alone to retrieve them. He sorted the lights from the couch where he now spent most of his time recouping from the latest surgery. Our kids were also not in the Christmas spirit as they scattered to their bedrooms, silently dealing with the pain in their own way.

 

Feeling no joy, I set up the nativity scene in the front yard. It was merely tradition, with no hope of a better tomorrow. When all the lights and decorations were finished and the tree adorned, we all came to look at it but then turned away with heavy hearts. It looked as though Christmas would not come to our house that year; maybe it would never come again. We pronounced it good enough and retired to our rooms for the night. Silence shrouded our house and sleep brought little relief or sweet dreams.

 

The following morning we awoke to an icy white-out. A blizzard had blown through our area over the night and dumped nearly three feet of snow. A heavy white blanket covered all the outside decorations, leaving our little nativity scene buried below the ice-encrusted front yard. One by one we looked out to see that the storm had wiped out what little joy I had tried to create. The desolation of Christmas was now complete. Our weak attempts had proved futile against nature, both inside and outside our home.

 

We had no more energy for pretending. The nativity would stay buried. As we all moved toward our kitchen for a quiet breakfast, strange sounds drifted in from the other side of our living room picture window. The faintest jingle of laughter pierced the air. Each of us moved back toward the window, drawn like a magnet. We looked out into the front yard and saw a wondrous sight. There on their knees in the snow were three little angels. As we watched the scene unfold, more angels came to join them. They all wore mittens and giggled while they used their hands to dig the manger out of the snow. These particular angels looked very familiar though.

 

A little five-year-old named Megan had brought a baby blanket in which to wrap the Christ child. As Megan wrapped and hugged the baby, neighbors had come and joined the children. They came to sing to the Christ Child, to share their laughter and, most of all, their joy. They brought cookies, hot chocolate, Christmas carols, and laughter. What they especially brought us was the Christmas tradition our own hearts could not muster. They awakened our hope in the Christ child and gave us strength to face the New Year.

 

This special memory of Christmas, when God’s grace outshone darkness and despair, lives on in our hearts.

 

The following months and years were often difficult, but praise God, my dear husband and all our children are still alive and healthy. The cancer has been in remission now for thirteen years – a miracle according to doctors. My husband is, as far as we know, the longest survivor of this rare inherited cancer. Now, we consider each day a gift from the Christ child.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Did you experience a crisis situation that prompted you to ask God for a “sign”? Does God send you a “sign” in response to your faith-filled yearning? What is the importance of a “sign” in our living relationship with God? Are we willing to be “signs” of God’s love and compassion in today’s world? 

  

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

God, our compassionate Father,

we thank you for the many signs of your enduring love.

Above all, we thank you for the gift of your beloved Son Jesus,

born of Mary

and fostered by Joseph of the house of David.

The Christ child was destined

to suffer and die obediently on the cross,

the font of saving life.

Teach us to perceive the intimate connection

between the Christmas mystery and Easter.

Loving God,

help us to celebrate the birth of Christ meaningfully.

Let us experience the joy and peace of this holy season.

Grant us the true Christmas spirit

and let your grace and peace be upon us all.

With the community of disciples

eager to celebrate the birth of Christ and his saving life,

we proclaim,

“Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, our saving life!”

Loving God, we give you glory, honor and praise,

now and forever.

Amen.

  

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

           

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us” (Mt 1:23).

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

To help feel more intensely the spirit of Christmas and perceive more gratefully the sign of Christ Child, make an effort to spend some quiet moments of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. Let the “sign” of the Christ Child and the Christmas spirit of love, justice, and peace be shared with the people around you, especially the poor, the sick, and the suffering.

 

 

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December 23, 2019: MONDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (4); SAINT JOHN OF KANTY, Priest

“JESUS SAVIOR: John the Baptist Is His Messenger

of Hope”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Mal 3:1-4, 23-24 // Lk 1:57-66

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Today’s Gospel (Lk 1:57-66) depicts the birth of John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah. The prophecy of Malachi (3:1-4, 23-24) sheds light on the Gospel portrait of John the Baptist.  Malachi speaks of God’s promise to send his “messenger” to prepare the way before him and to send “the prophet Elijah” to bring fathers and children together again. As we contemplate God’s marvelous works, in this Advent-Christmas season, we perceive with gratitude that John the Baptist, born of Jesus’ kinsmen Elizabeth and Zechariah, is the “messenger” sent to prepare the way of the Lord. John is likewise the promised “Elijah” totally committed to God as his prophet of judgment and repentance. John the Baptist is a very powerful Advent figure. He preaches the Good News to the people and urges them to change their hearts. Through an ascetic lifestyle and fiery words of truth, he makes a critique of an evil status quo and calls people to conversion. Above all, he uplifts the hearts of the disheartened and the disappointed by proclaiming the advent of the longed for Messiah in their midst.

 

Like John the Baptist, we too are called to proclaim the saving advent of Jesus in our life. We too are called to be prophets of hope. In today’s fragmented world, Authors Anne Hendershott and Christopher White show how to carry this out (cf. Emily Stimpson in “Book Tells Good News Story of the Church” in Our Sunday Visitor, December 1, 2013, p. 19).

 

The end is near. In the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandals and Rome’s unchanging positions on the ordination of women, priestly celibacy, and traditional marriage, that was the fate many cultural commentators predicted for the Catholic Church. But in their new book, “Renewal: How a New Generation of Priests and Bishops is Revitalizing the Catholic Church” (Encounter Books, $25.99), Anne Hendershott and Christopher White unpack the sociological evidence that proves just the opposite. Recently, Our Sunday Visitor spoke about that evidence with Hendershott, professor of sociology and director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Here’s what we learned.

 

Our Sunday Visitor: If the only knowledge someone had of the Catholic Church was what they saw reported on the evening news, what kind of Church would they see?

 

Anne Hendershott: Essentially, they would see a Church in decline. If all you’re doing is reading secular newspapers or news programs, you’ll get the idea of people deserting the Church, that priests are disgruntled, graying and unhappy and we’re not attracting new Catholics. (…)

 

Our Sunday Visitor: How does that picture contrast with the real picture?

 

Hendershott: Well, when I started to write the book, the plan was to write about the Catholic culture wars. That was the original title, “Beyond the Catholic Culture Wars”. At that point, I was buying into the secular media’s idea that the Church was in decline. I didn’t know how good the news about the Church actually was. Everything changed though, when I started writing. I knew intuitively that some dioceses were doing well and producing vocations. So, I thought I’d have a chapter that focused on that good news. The plan was to put it at the end of the book and close on a positive note.

 

But then my research assistant who was helping with the data, Christopher White, came to me and said, “This news is so good. I don’t know if you want to end the book with this.” I was blown away by what he showed me. It wasn’t just a few dioceses that were doing well. There was more good news than I could fit into just one chapter. So, I totally redid the plan for the book and made Christopher a coauthor.

 

Our Sunday Visitor: What is some of the good news you found?

 

Hendershott: Going in, I knew there would be some dioceses that had strong ordination numbers. But there were far more dioceses than I anticipated that fit into that category. Also, the picture of priests as unhappy, depressed alcoholics is just so false. There was a study done not too long ago that tells us 95 percent of priests find a great joy in their priesthood and most wouldn’t even think of leaving.

 

Our Sunday Visitor: What makes for happy priests and good priestly vocation numbers?

 

Hendershott: What we found was that the bishops are what makes the difference. Bishops who are involved with their seminarians, encouraging vocations, and living their priesthood – that matters. So does what bishops are saying and doing on specific cultural issues. Bishops who protested Notre Dame awarding an honorary degree to President Obama, those who were high profile in talking about the problem of pro-choice politicians, and those who signed the Manhattan Declaration, which defends the definition of marriage as one man and one woman – in all those cases, what you see is more vocations. The more orthodox the bishop, the more vocations he inspires. Archbishop (Elden) Curtiss said as much in the early 1990s. He wrote an article back then that said when dioceses are unambiguous about the priesthood, and there’s a minimum of dissent about the nature of it, you have more vocations. Our research found that to be true. (…)

 

Our Sunday Visitor: What other signs of renewal give the lie to the secular portrayal of the Catholic Church?

 

Hendershott: The growing involvement of faithful laity, the increase in the number of permanent deacons, and so many wonderful new organizations focused on the New Evangelization, such as FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) and Word on Fire Ministries. Then, there are the books being written by faithful Catholics and Catholic universities who are taking their Catholic identity seriously, as well as faithful women’s religious orders that are attracting vocations while dissident orders are dying out. There is so much good news.

 

Our Sunday Visitor: What else can the laity do to help encourage the renewal taking place within the Church?

 

Hendershott: Celebrate the good news. Pray for priests and honor them. Encourage your children and grandchildren to consider priestly and religious vocations. The more people realize the priesthood and consecrated life are wonderful callings, the more they will inspire their sons and daughters to consider it.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Like John the Baptist are we ready to prepare the way of the Lord and prepare the hearts of the people of today for the advent of Jesus in their life? Are we messengers of the Lord and heralds of the Good News?

  

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

Lord Jesus,

your cousin, John, is the new Elijah sent by God

to be your precursor.

He is the messenger who prepares the way for you

and the prophet who points out your Advent in our midst..

Bless us and grant us the grace to imitate the precursor John.

Help us to bring close to you the people of Advent expectation.

You are our saving Lord, now and forever.

Amen.

 

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 Lord Jesus,

you are the “Radiant Dawn”,

splendor of eternal light,

sun of justice.

Bathed in your glorious light,

we walk in the path of life.

Guided by the “hand of the Lord”,

we spread Christmas joy to all.

Help us to prepare worthily for the celebration of your birth.

Maranatha! Come, O Christ the Lord!

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

           

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“The hand of the Lord was with him.” (Lk 1:66) // “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare my way before me.” (Mal 3:1)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

By acts of self-giving and personal witnessing, let the people who are heart-broken and grieving experience the Advent of the saving Lord in their lives.

 

 

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December 24, 2019: TUESDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (4)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is Born of the House of David”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-13 // Lk 1:67-79

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (II Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16) presents King David at his best. In peace with all the nations about, he has the leisure to turn to internal matters, including the public worship of God. Appalled that he is living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent, King David plans to build a house for the Lord to dwell in. Nathan’s dream reveals God’s greater plan for David. God looks kindly on David’s thoughtfulness, but at the same time, puts his good intention in proper perspective.  It is not David who will build a house for the Lord Almighty. It is God who will build a “house” – a dynasty for his servant David. In the context of our Advent-Christmas preparation, we perceive that God’s promise - I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his Kingdom firm – is fulfilled not by King Solomon, but by Jesus Christ.

  

Today’s Gospel reading (Lk 1:67-79) contains the beautiful canticle of Zechariah, the “Benedictus”. His hymn is a “prophecy” under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and delineates the meaning of the birth of his son, John. Zechariah sees, in the event of John’s birth, God’s fulfillment of the covenant promises to David. The priest Zechariah blesses God for “he has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David”. The “mighty Savior” of David’s lineage is Jesus. In him is God’s definitive salvation for all the people. Zechariah’s John will be called “the prophet of the Most High”. As the precursor of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist “will go before the Lord to prepare his way”

 

The following personal account illustrates a way of allowing Zechariah’s prophetic words to take effect in our daily life: “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us” (cf. Ellen Siler, “Tidings of Comfort” in Country, December-January 2014, p. 53).

 

As Christmas 1983 drew near, I was a 19-year old new bride living hundreds of miles from my family and growing increasingly homesick. Buying our first meager decorations and trimming the tree Doug found us didn’t cheer me up the way I’d hoped.

 

Then one day, the mail brought a Christmas card – our very first. It was from an older couple, Mr. and Mrs. Cannon, dear friends who attended my church back home. The handwritten note inside read simply, “God bless you both on your first Christmas together. We love you. Eddie and Clarice Cannon.” Tears filled my eyes.

 

Now it’s 30 years later, and Mr. and Mrs. Cannon are in heaven. Yet every time I write my Christmas cards, I still feel the love that traveled so many miles when I was feeling homesick.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do we thank the Lord for the gift of the royal dynasty of David that brought forth Jesus Christ? Like Zechariah, do we hail the “dawn from on high” that breaks upon us – Jesus our Savior? What do we do to make the celebration of Christmas, the birth of our Savior, more meaningful and life-transforming?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

 Lord Jesus,

you are the mighty Savior,

born of the house of David.

We hail you as “Dayspring”.

We welcome you as the Sun of justice

and rejoice in the splendor of divine light.

Help us to live our life in holiness and service,

animated by the strength of the Holy Spirit.

Guide our feet into the way of peace.

Together with Zechariah,

whose son John is your precursor,

we bless the Lord, the God of Israel,

for in you we are set free.

You live and reign,

forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“The dawn from on high shall break upon us.” (Lk 1:78b) // “Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever.” (II Sm 7:16)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray that your family, relatives, and friends may have a grace-filled Christmas. By your acts of charity, let the Christmas joy flow to all, especially those who are distressed and burdened with many trials.  

 

 

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December 25, 2019: WEDNESDAY – THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (CHRISTMAS)

CHRISTMAS – MASS AT NIGHT

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Savior Born for Us

 

BIBLE READINGS

Mass at Night: Is 9:1-6 // Ti 2:11-14 // Lk 2:1-14

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

In the Christmas mystery, the Son of God became totally involved in our human lot. Jesus Savior thoroughly embraced our humanity, immersing himself in the human situation – experiencing the best of us and the worst of us. This is what God intended. He refused to be a mere spectator in human affairs. He wanted to participate, to be a part of it. This is the tremendous mystery of the Incarnation; this is the beautiful mystery of Christmas; this is the profound mystery of the Eucharist. They are all a definitive participation of Jesus Christ in our human affairs in a self-giving manner. Thus, in these moments, Jesus gives us a model of self-giving. He shows us the way to love.

 

The studies of my professor in Scripture, Fr. Herman Hendrickx, CICM, on the Infancy Narratives of Luke, can help us deepen our understanding of the Lord’s self-gift and total involvement in our human situation.

 

1)      In chapter 2 of the Infancy Narrative, the evangelist Luke states that “there was no place for them in the inn”. There was no place for them in the inn because the inn is the place for strangers … for traveling strangers who stay only for the night. But Christ is not a stranger. He comes to his own. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The inn is not a place for him to stay because he is not a stranger or distant from us. He belongs to us. His total involvement in our human destiny makes him really one with us. He could never be born in the inn, that is, outside of us. He has to be born in each one of us. He has to make his home in each of us.

 

2)      Luke also mentions that Mary laid him in a “manger”. The manger is the place where animals are nourished. The manger is the place of sustenance … of nourishment. Jesus was laid in the manger because he is the symbol and reality of God’s support and sustenance of his people. The Son of God has to be born in Bethlehem, the “city of Bread” for he is the Bread of life – the Bread to be given, broken, and shared. Jesus in the manger points to the reality of being a “self-gift” in the Eucharistic Bread, the nourishment of his people.

 

3)      Furthermore, Luke mentions that Jesus was wrapped in “swaddling clothes”, symbol of royalty. Rather than a sign of poverty and destitution, the swaddling clothes of Jesus indicate that he is a king. And in the biblical term, a king is the one who shepherds and cares for God’s people. And the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes becomes truly “king-shepherd” upon the tree of life – the Cross! It is there where he becomes truly KING-SHEPHERD in the fullest sense of the word – laying down his life for the sheep. On the Cross, Jesus King-Shepherd gathers all sheep into one flock to guide and lead them to the eternal home.

 

The Child Jesus laying in the manger, symbol of God’s sustenance and nourishment … the Lord Jesus who, on the night when he was given up, offered us the Eucharistic Bread and the Cup … the Lord Jesus, King-Shepherd, laying down his life for us on the Cross, the altar of sacrifice … HE IS STILL PRESENT IN OUR MIDST! He is the “Emmanuel”, the God-with-us Savior. Our celebration of Christmas and our participation in the Eucharist should transform us, like Jesus, into “self-gift”. Our celebration of the birth of Christ and our sharing in the Eucharistic feasting ought to make us – Christian disciples – capable of sharing the best of what we are … capable of sharing both our poverty and our riches, following the example of Jesus, the model of self-giving.

 

My former student in the seminary, G. Campese, writes: “Our expectations for something new, for a better humanity and human society, our joy and hope which come from the spirit of Christmas, will remain just a confused ideal and will return into a disillusion if we do not take seriously and clearly to ourselves the message of Christmas: in Jesus Christ the salvation from God becomes a reality; the kingdom is not yet fulfilled, but it is already here, and it needs our cooperation in service and self-giving.”

 

This remark reminds me of my favorite Christmas story that was narrated by Fr. Paul Bernier in his book, Bread Broken and Shared. How I wish that this Christmas story would be repeated and replicated over and over, certainly not just in story-telling, but in the daily miracles of life!

 

The film might have been entitled “Christmas Dinner in the Dump”. Being homemade, however, it was untitled. But it was about real people, and it was all about Christmas in the town dump. We were being told of the apostolic efforts of some Jesuits working in El Paso, Texas. It seems that across the border from El Paso lies Juarez. Juarez is much better known to Americans for its cheap goods, its gambling and the other amenities provided by Mexican border towns. Less well known is the town dump, which dozens of people call home. There they build their shanties, raise their families and compete with the rats for the food that is provided daily by the garbage pails of the nearby city.

 

One of the Jesuits working with a group of cursillistas had gotten the brilliant idea of expressing something of the joy and peace of Christ’s birthday by sharing Christmas dinner with the unfortunate people, the refuse of the society, living – existing would be a better word – across the border. It was considered to be a good idea, so two dozen or so people with their families prepared food and gifts and set off for the dump on Christmas afternoon. They were not prepared for what they saw. Instead of the dozens which they expected to find, there were hundreds. They were completely outnumbered by the wretched poor whose only hope of survival was vying with others to glean the leftovers and discarded items of the city.

 

The film captured that so graphically: a small group laden with food advancing amid the garbage and the rubble being met by an army of the hungry for whom the available food would hardly be enough for appetizers. But they continued on and bravely told the people of their love and concern, and offered apologies that they had not brought sufficient food so that they might all enjoy a good Christmas dinner together. However, they could at least share as much as would go around. So with songs, hymns, and good will the dinner was begun. They took the food, blessed it, and distributed it to the people. Did they eat! The film showed smiling faces and full plates. The film also showed, inexplicably, that horde of humanity completely satisfied – and plenty of food left over. Once again the disciples gathered what was left over after all had had their fill. Once again, the Lord wondrously fed the multitudes.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do we allow ourselves to be enthralled by the mystery of the Son “born for us” – God’s awesome self-gift to us?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(cf. Alternative Opening Prayer, Mass at Midnight)

 

Lord our God,

with the birth of your Son,

your glory breaks on the world.

Through the night hours of the darkened earth

we, your people, watch for the coming of your promised Son.

As we wait,

give us a foretaste of the joy that you will grant us

when the fullness of his glory has filled the earth,

who lives and reigns with you forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:7)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

By your charity and goodness to people who are experiencing a bleak Christmas, translate the mystery of Christmas into a lived reality and into acts of self-giving.

 

 

*** Text of Christmas – Night Mass, ends here. ***

 

 

CHRISTMAS – DAWN MASS

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Father’s Gift of Love

 

BIBLE READINGS

Mass at Dawn: Is 62:11-12 // Ti 3:4-7 // Lk 2:15-20

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

The Christmas season is a privileged opportunity to contemplate the awesome sign of God’s love for us: his own beloved Son Jesus Christ. The Son of God made flesh, born as a child, is the most powerful sign of the Father’s will to bring us salvation: UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN! UNTO US A SON IS GIVEN!

 

My former student Fr. Mike Garcia remarked: “When we give anything, we give part of ourselves. When we give ourselves, we give everything we have – past, present, and future.” Indeed, in becoming man just like any of us, Jesus became personally involved in our suffering, in our human lot and destiny. Satan cannot impeach God’s integrity. No one can doubt the quality of the Lord’s self-gift … of his unconditional love for us.

 

Because God has loved us, we too must become lovers – lovers of one another. Only if we love the visible neighbor can we love the invisible God. This gift of love is exemplified in the self-giving act of a five-year old boy on behalf of his little sister. After the blood transfusion, he asked the doctor with a trembling voice, “Say, doctor, when do I start to die?” He thought that by giving his life-blood to his kid sister, he would die.

 

The child Jesus lying in a manger, symbol of God’s nourishment for his people … the Lord Jesus who, on the night when he was given up, offered us the Eucharistic bread and the chalice of life … the Lord Jesus, gentle shepherd and king, who laid down his life for us on the cross – the altar of sacrifice … HE IS STILL PRESENT IN OUR MIDST! He is Emmanuel, God-with-us. In our Christmas celebration, he invites us to be a “gift of love” for others.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do we endeavor to delve into the Christmas mystery of God’s self-giving? Do we endeavor to be a “gift of love” for others?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord Jesus,

you are Love-incarnate,

the sacrament of the Father’s self-giving.

We celebrate your birth and your dwelling among us.

You are God’s “gift of love” to us,

the Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Help us to be a “gift of love” for others.

With the choirs of angels, we acclaim:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” (Lk 2:16)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray that in this Christmas season we may understand more deeply the depths of God’s self-giving to us. By your acts of goodness and compassion to the people around you, enable them to savor the joy of Christmas and the warmth of the “gift of love” for others.

  

*** Text of Christmas – Dawn Mass, ends here. ***

 

 

CHRISTMAS – DAY MASS

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Word Made Flesh

 

BIBLE READINGS

Mass during the Day: Is 52:7-10 // Heb 1:1-6 // Jn 1:1-18

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

The readings proclaimed at today’s Mass during the day give deeper insight into the Christmas mystery. In the Prologue (Jn 1:1-18) Saint John asserts: “And the Word became flesh.” The deepest concept of “word” is not a mere verbalization or articulation of thought. In the Jewish biblical tradition, God’s word or “dabar” is God himself communicating and giving himself in self-revelation. “Dabar” to the Israelites is something extremely personal. The communication of the “word” is actually the communication of the speaker himself. In the case of the “Word of God” what is communicated is the divine reality itself – the very person of God himself. It is God revealing himself as Creator, Liberator and Savior. The German theologian, Karl Rahner, remarks: “When we say it is Christmas we mean that in Christ God has spoken his definitive, final and beautiful word … a word that cannot be revoked. And the word means I love you.”

 

In the fullness of time, God spoke his most beautiful word in Jesus Christ. In today’s Second Reading we read (Heb 1:1-6): “In many and various ways, God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The meaning of God’s person as “LOVE” is definitely revealed when God spoke to us through his Son Jesus Christ. In the Word-made-flesh is God’s decisive Word, the Good News, the saving Word. Jesus, the Divine Word, recapitulates all previous words of salvation, bringing them to perfect fulfillment. Jesus, the Son of God, brings the good news of salvation to all and in him “all the ends of the earth will behold the saving power of God (cf. Is 52:10). Indeed, through the mystery of the incarnation, Jesus enables us to come to the heart of God. Born “in the flesh” of Mary, the Son of God is destined to die on the cross, be gloriously resurrected and to communicate to us the fullness of his life, light and love.

 

In the Christmas mystery of “the Word made flesh” is the concreteness of salvation. We too are called to be the embodiment of the incarnate Word. The following personal account gives insight into this (cf. Patty Kirk in Daily Guideposts 2014, p. 393).

 

Recently, a student in my Writing from Faith course voiced a revelation. “Until now”, she said, “I’ve always thought ‘Be concrete’ meant ‘Use more adjectives’. Now I see I need to make people see what I saw, hear what I heard, smell what I smelled. Using your senses helps people believe and care about what you’re saying.”

 

She was responding to a fellow student’s psalm about not being able to afford to go home for Christmas – to Costa Rica, where her family are missionaries. In the poem, the student-psalmist is alone in her room, staring at the computer while, just beyond the thin walls, her dorm-mates gather excitedly about their holiday plans. She recounts family traditions she’ll miss: getting ornaments out of dusty boxes, drinking hot cocoa with her siblings while Dad reads Christmas stories, sharing a festive dinner of arroz con pollo. Then like a good psalmist, she affirms her faith.

 

We all teared up. Afterward her classmates raised money for her flight and launched a ministry to do the same for every missionary kid on campus.

 

It was a big moment for me. Not only had a student’s writing spurred others to action, but they’d all finally acknowledged the persuasive power of sensory data, which I’d been trying to convince them of from day one.

 

Christmas is such a sensory celebration. Pine smells. Fruitcake and sugar cookies. Snow. The concreteness of Christmas crystallizes its gospel: that our invisible Creator sent us palpable evidence, in the form of a newborn, so that we might believe and have eternal life.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

What is our personal response to the “Word became flesh”? How does the reality of “God speaking to us” through his Son shapes our lives? Do we make an effort to let “the ends of the earth behold the salvation of our God”?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(Cf. Alternative Opening Prayer, Christmas Day Mass)

 

God of love, Father of all,

the darkness that covered the earth

has given way to the bright dawn of your Word made flesh.

Make us a people of this light.

Make us faithful to your Word,

that we may bring your life to the waiting world.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“And the Word became flesh.” (Jn 1:14)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Savor the sights, sounds, tastes, textures and forms of the Christmas celebration. Above all, by your works of charity, let the needy in today’s society experience the mercy and compassion of the Word-made-flesh. 

 

*** Text of Christmas – Day Mass, ends here. ***

 

 

*** *** ***

 

December 26, 2019: THURSDAY – SAINT STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR

  “JESUS SAVIOR: The Martyrs Give Witness to Him”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 // Mt 10:17-22

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

At the birth of Jesus, the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds keeping the night watch over their flocks and the glory of the Lord shone around them. At the martyrdom of Stephen, the first Christian martyr and one of the first deacons appointed by the apostles, he saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. On the second day of the Christmas Octave, when we rejoice at the birth of the Christ Child, we also celebrate the “dies natalis” – the birthday into eternal life of Stephen, who gave a faithful witness to Jesus as the Messiah. His declaration that Jesus is the “Messiah” provoked the murderous onslaught upon him. Stephen’s martyrdom is his road to glory.

 

According to Saint Fulgentius (+533), the martyrdom of Saint Stephen is intimately connected with the Christmas mystery. He remarks: “Yesterday, my dear brethren, we celebrated the birth in time of our timeless king, today we celebrate the victorious sufferings of a soldier … Yesterday the angels sang joyfully: Glory to God in the highest. Today, Blessed Stephen is clothed by Christ with the garment of immortality. Yesterday the narrow crib contained the Infant Christ. Today the boundless heavens receive the triumphant Stephen.”

 

Today’s secularized world that is increasingly hostile to religious realities calls for the “Saint Stephen type” of courageous witnessing. The following remarks of Andy Rooney, circulated on the Internet, give us an idea on how we can be more proactive disciples in today’s world.

 

Andy Rooney and Prayer:

 

Andy Rooney says: I don't believe in Santa Claus, but I'm not going to sue somebody for singing a Ho-Ho-Ho song in December. I don't agree with Darwin, but I didn't go out and hire a lawyer when my high school teacher taught his theory of evolution.

Life, liberty or your pursuit of happiness will not be endangered in any way because someone says a 30-second prayer before a football game. So what's the big deal? It's not like somebody is up there reading the entire Book of Acts. They're just talking to a God they believe in and asking him to grant safety to the players on the field and the fans going home from the game. But it's a Christian prayer, some will argue. Yes, and this is the United States of America and Canada, countries founded on Christian principles.

According to our very own phone book, Christian churches outnumber all others better than 200-to-1. So what would you expect – Somebody chanting Hare Krishna? If I went to a football game in Jerusalem, I would expect to hear a Jewish prayer. If I went to a soccer game in Baghdad, I would expect to hear a Muslim prayer. If I went to a ping pong match in China, I would expect to hear someone pray to Buddha. And I wouldn't be offended. It wouldn't bother me one bit. When in Rome …

 

“But what about the atheists?” is another argument. What about them? Nobody is asking them to be baptized. We're not going to pass the collection plate. Just humor us for 30 seconds. If that's asking too much, bring a Walkman or a pair of earplugs. Go to the bathroom. Visit the concession stand. Call your lawyer! Or, just exercise their right to leave this country! Unfortunately, one or two will call their lawyer. One or two will tell thousands what they can and cannot do.

I don't think a short prayer at a football game is going to shake the world's foundations. Christians are just sick and tired of turning the other cheek while our courts strip us of all our rights. Our parents and grandparents taught us to pray before eating, to pray before we go to sleep. Our Bible tells us to pray without ceasing. Now a handful of people and their lawyers are telling us to cease praying.

 

God, help us. And if that last sentence offends you, well, just sue me. The silent majority has been silent too long. It's time we tell that one or two who scream loud enough to be heard that the vast majority doesn't care what they want! It is time that the majority rules! It's time we tell them, "You don't have to pray; you don't have to say the Pledge of Allegiance; you don't have to believe in God or attend services that honor Him. That is your right, and we will honor your right. But by golly, you are no longer going to take our rights away. We are fighting back, and we WILL WIN!"

 

God bless us one and all … especially those who denounce Him. God bless America and Canada, despite all our faults, we are still the greatest nations of all. God bless our servicemen who are fighting to protect our right to pray and worship God. Let's make 2012 and 2013 the years the silent majority is heard and we put God back as the foundation of our families and institutions. And our military forces come home from all the wars. 

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Are we ready to show the mettle that Saint Stephen manifested in his Christian witnessing? Are we ready to embrace the gift and the challenge of the Christmas-paschal mystery?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

(Cf. Opening Prayer for December 26, Feast of Saint Stephen)

 

Lord,

today we celebrate the entrance of St. Stephen

into eternal glory.

He died praying for those who killed him.

Help us to imitate his goodness

and to love our enemies.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

            Amen.      

      

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Put “Christ” back into Christmas: choose Christmas cards with a religious motif; do not be shy to say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holy Day – Christ is born”, etc. Above all, bring the love of Christ to the poor and suffering.

 

*** *** ***

 

December 27, 2019: FRIDAY – SAINT JOHN, APOSTLE, EVANGELIST

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Word of Life that John

Heard and Proclaimed”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Jn 1:1-4 // Jn 20:1a, 2-8

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Saint Stephen gave witness to Jesus, the Messiah, by his martyrdom. The evangelist John, the only apostle among the twelve who was not martyred, gave witness to the Christ by his ministry of the Word. In today’s Gospel, John gives an Easter account of how he and Peter went to the tomb and found it empty. When the beloved disciple John saw the “empty tomb”, he believed. He believed that Jesus rose from the dead. John did not enter the cave of Bethlehem but an empty tomb. He did not see the swaddling clothes but the empty burial cloths. But on Easter day he came to believe in the meaning of the Crib and the Cross – in the power of Christmas and the passion of Christ.

 

Today’s First Reading is John’s beautiful testimony about the Word of Life that they have heard, that they have seen with their eyes, that they have looked upon and touched. John emphasizes the historical reality of the Word of Life, made incarnate in Jesus Christ. The Word of life became visible that we may be brought into intimate communion with God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. The very act of giving witness to the Word of life by writing is for Saint John a cause for joy.

 

The Word of Life that Saint John heard and proclaimed continues to be experienced and shared by the Christian disciples in the here and now (cf. Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000, p. 64-65).

 

It is not enough to accept and to live the Word. It must also be shared. (…) Such a sharing of the Word allows us also to glimpse what is the typical Christian announcement: to communicate a life (the Life), and, therefore, to witness to an experience. This was well understood by the Johannine community: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands … we also proclaim to you so you too may have fellowship with us” (I Jn 1:1-3).

 

Only in this way does the Reign of God advance, and true communion expands to the point of accepting all humanity in the unity of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

 

The Catholics in the prison of Phu Khanh had secretly brought in a copy of the New Testament. They divided the book into small pieces and distributed these pieces among the Catholics who began to learn the passages by heart. Since the cells had floors of sand, when they heard a guard’s footsteps, they would hide the Word of God by burying it in the floor.

 

In the darkness of the night, the prisoners would recite in turn the part of the New Testament each had already memorized. It was an impressive and moving experience to hear the Word of God proclaimed in the silence and darkness of the prison … to be in the presence of Jesus the “living Gospel” spoken by the prisoners with all the strength of soul; to hear the priestly prayer and the passion of Christ …

 

The non-Christians also listened with respect and admiration to what they called the “Sacred Word”. Many said they felt the Word of God to be “spirit and life”.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do we endeavor to share the Word of life that we have heard, seen and touched with the people in the here and now? Do we allow it to shape our life and to make our hearts rejoice?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(Cf. Opening Prayer for December 27, Feast of Saint John)

 

God our Father,

you have revealed the mysteries of your Word

through Saint John the apostle.

By prayer and reflection,

may we come to understand the wisdom he taught.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.   

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“We have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.” (I Jn 1:3) 

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Make an effort to study and reflect on the Gospel of John and the Letters of Saint John. Let the Word of life comfort, nourish, and form you that you may in turn share it with others. 

 

*** *** ***

December 28, 2019: SATURDAY – THE HOLY INNOCENTS, MARTYRS

“JESUS SAVIOR: The Holy Innocents Shared in

His Paschal Destiny”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

1 Jn 1:5-2:2 // Mt 2:13-18

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 2:13-18): “He ordered the massacre of all boys in Bethlehem.”

 

Three days after Christmas, we celebrate the martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, the infant boys ordered killed by King Herod who reigned in Palestine and Judah from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C. In the final years of his reign, he was extremely ruthless and brutal in defending his throne. The bishop, Saint Quodvultdesus, in a sermon remarked: “A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and forever in the life to come. Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.”

 

The Holy Innocents were witnesses for Christ though they were not aware of it. Their martyrdom evoked the passion and death of the Son of God, the Savior of the world. Indeed, our world, marred by sin and death, desperately needs the saving Christ. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that human life is sacred. Every human being has a right to life. Let us pray for the protection of all human life, including the unborn.

 

The following story, circulated through the Internet, challenges us to assert the right to life of millions of children who are annually killed under the cover of laws permitting abortion, an abominable crime.

 

A worried woman went to her gynecologist and said: “Doctor, I have a serious problem and desperately need your help! My baby is not even one year old and I’m pregnant again. I don’t want kids so close together.”

 

So the doctor said: “OK and what do you want me to do?” She said: “I want you to end my pregnancy, and I’m counting on your help with this.” The doctor thought for a little, and after some silence he said to the lady: “I think I have a better solution for your problem. It’s less dangerous for you, too.” She smiled, thinking that the doctor was going to accept her request. Then he continued: “You see, in order for you not to take care of two babies at the same time, let’s kill the one in your arms. This way, you could get some rest before the other one is born. If we are going to kill one of them, it doesn’t matter which one it is. There would be no risk for your body if you choose the one in your arms.”

 

The lady was horrified and said: “No, Doctor! How terrible! It’s a crime to kill a child!” “I agree”, the doctor replied. “But you seemed to be OK with it, so I thought maybe that was the best solution”. The doctor smiled, realizing that he had made his point. He convinced the mom that there is no difference in killing a child that’s already been born and one that’s still in the womb. The crime is the same!

 

 

B. First Reading (I Jn 1:5-2:2): “The Blood of his Son Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.”

 

We continue to remember with grief the massacre of the innocents in Newton, Connecticut in 2012. The pain of the tragedy is raw. The sorrow of the bereaved evokes the grief of those whose children were slain by the jealous Herod the Great. Today’s Entrance Antiphon of the Mass tries to make sense of the killing: “These innocent children were slain for Christ. They follow the spotless Lamb, and proclaim for ever: Glory to you, Lord”. The massacre of the innocent children in Bethlehem anticipates the martyrdom of the wholly “Innocent One” Jesus Christ, who was offered for our sins and for those of the whole world.

 

The reading (I Jn 1:5-2:2) declares that the blood of the divine Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. The pouring out of his innocent blood is a means of expiation and redemption. To have fellowship with God and one another, we must allow ourselves to be cleansed by the blood of the truly Innocent One. Indeed, though the blood of Christ is meant to cleanse us from sin, this is contingent on our response to the divine initiative of salvation. The loving and merciful Father calls us today to acknowledge our sin and ask forgiveness from the “Holy Innocent” par excellence, Jesus Christ.

 

The following story entitled “The Visitor”, circulated on the Internet, gives us an idea of the expiatory character of Christ’s sacrifice.

 

One day, a man went to visit a church. He arrived early, parked his car, and got out. Another car pulled up near him, and the driver told him, “I always park there. You took my place!”

 

The visitor went inside for Sunday school, found an empty seat and sat down. A young lady from the church approached him and stated, “That’s my seat! You took my place!”

 

The visitor was somewhat distressed by this rude welcome, but said nothing. After Sunday school, the visitor went into the church sanctuary and sat down. Another member walked up to him and said, “That’s where I always sit. You took my place!”

 

The visitor was even more troubled by this treatment, but still said nothing. Later, as the congregation was praying for Christ to dwell among them, the visitor stood, and his appearance began to change. Horrible scars became visible on his hands and on his sandaled feet.

 

Someone from the congregation noticed him and called out, “What happened to you?” The visitor replied, “I took your place.”

 

“Christ himself carried our sins in His body to the cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by His wounds that you have been healed.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Like Herod, are we guilty of violence and brutality against the weak and vulnerable? Are we guilty of irresponsible actions that seek to kill Life itself? How do we overcome our sinfulness and rectify our evil acts?

 

2. What do we do to make reparation and expiation for the sacrifice of the innocents? Do we allow ourselves to be washed clean by the redemptive blood of Christ?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(Cf. Opening Prayer for December 28, Feast of the Holy Innocents)

 

Father,

the Holy Innocents offered you praise

by the death they suffered for Christ.

May our lives bear witness

to the faith we profess with our lips.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

***

Lord Jesus,

you are the Son of God and the source of life.

The Holy Innocents shared in your paschal destiny

and unknowingly gave witness that you are the Christ.

Their martyrdom was a prophetic sign

of your death on the cross for the world’s saving.

Forgive us for our acts of negligence and brutality

against the weak and vulnerable.

Help us to reach out to the victims of today’s Herod.

Give us the strength to promote the dignity of the human person.

Help us to protect the right to life of every human being.

Together with the Holy Innocents who are in the glory of heaven,

we acclaim:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will!

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“She would not be consoled, since they were no more.” (Mt 2:18) // “The blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” (I Jn 1:7)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray for the weak and vulnerable, and for all the children of the world, especially the victims of violence and exploitation. By your acts of charity, alleviate the suffering of today’s “Holy Innocents” and enable them to experience the joy of Christmas. 

***

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

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