Sunday, December 27, 2015

Epiphany of the Lord - January 3, 2016

First Reading Commentary
In the first verse the word “Jerusalem” is not found in the ancient Hebrew text or Saint Jerome’s Latin Vulgate but is found in the Greek Septuagint.  A few things in this passage may refer to the earthly Jerusalem, though Isaiah prophetically speaks mainly of the heavenly Jerusalem and the Church. 
“The glory of the Lord shines upon you” refers to Christ coming to save us. 
“Thick clouds cover the peoples,” in the prophetic sense, is referring to those who walk in darkness until they embrace Jesus as Lord; in the literal sense, it is referring to the Babylonian captivity. 
“Nations shall walk by your light” is the light of truth which can be found in the Church. “And kings by your shining radiance”; this verse is a prophecy that was fulfilled by the Wise Men or Magi. 
“They all come to you” is literally a reference to freedom from Babylonian captivity and prophetically speaks of the continuous growth of the Church. 
“Ephah” was Abraham’s grandson, who dwelt near his father, “Midian,” in Arabia which was famous for camels. 
“Bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the Lord” is another prophecy about the Magi.
Second Reading Commentary
The words, “you have heard” does not imply a doubt or a rumor that needs to be confirmed or denied, but is stating a fact.  The word “stewardship” is used to signify the manner by which something is done or put into execution.  The sense here, therefore, is to show that what was put into execution is the grace of God and it is grace that made Saint Paul an apostle. 
“The mystery was made known to me by revelation”; this mystery that Saint Paul is referring to is that Christ came into the world, and by the preaching of His Gospel, all nations, both Jew and Gentile, should be united into one Church by one and the same faith.  It was “by revelation” that Saint Paul received this, which means that he didn’t receive it from a man or woman, nor did he learn it, but it came straight from Jesus Christ.  This revelation seems to have regarded principally three things:
1.    The redemption and justification of mankind by Jesus.
2.    The invocation of the Gentiles.
3.    A positive command to announce the Gospel to them.
Both Saint Jerome and Saint John Chrysostom take notice that Saint Paul does not absolutely say that the mystery was not known, but only that it was known in its fullness after it was revealed to the apostles.  For whether by this mystery we understand the Incarnation of Christ, or the uniting of the Jews and Gentiles into one Church, it’s probable that both were revealed to Abraham, David, and many prophets in the time of the Law, but now it is revealed and made known to all. 
Gospel Commentary
King Herod the Great, much to the surprise of many was an observant Jew; and this may be the reason why he was so fearful to hear about the birth of the King of the Jews. 
Saint Jerome tells us that this city is called Bethlehem of Judea, to distinguish it from another Bethlehem, which was situated in the division of the tribe of Zebulon. 
Both the Latin and Greek text signify the “Magi” as wise philosophers and astronomers.  They came from the east; some say Arabia, others from Chaldea, others from Persia.  Many interpreters speak of them as if they had been kings, princes, or lords of some small territories. 
The number of these Wise Men is uncertain.  Saint Leo the Great, in his sermons on the Epiphany, speaks of them as if they were three men, perhaps on account of their three-fold offerings (gold, frankincense and myrrh). 
There are also very different opinions as to the time that the star appeared to the Magi, whether before Christ’s birth, or about the very time He was born, which seems more probable.  The Wise Men found Jesus at Bethlehem, where His Blessed Mother was to remain forty days, till the time that her purification was expired.  And it seems most probable that the Wise Men came to Bethlehem about that time, rather than within thirteen days after Christ’s birth; for had they come so soon after Christ was born, and been directed to go, and make diligent inquiry at Bethlehem, which was about five miles from Jerusalem, it’s hard to believe that so suspicious and jealous a ruler as Herod was, would have waited almost a month for their return without searching for the newborn King.  But it is likely, being again alarmed by what happened when Jesus was presented in the temple at His Mother’s purification, he thereupon gave those cruel and barbarous orders for the massacre of those innocent infants. 
“We saw His star”; the Magi knew it to be His star, either by some prophecy among them, or by divine revelation.  It is not known for certain whether it guided them during the whole course of their journey from the east to Jerusalem.  The Magi may have preserved the remembrance of the prophecy of Balaam, which had announced the coming of the Messiah by the emblem of a star (cf. Numbers 24:17), which was to arise from Jacob.
“When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled” through fear of losing his kingdom, which he had obtained by violence.  But why was all of Jerusalem alarmed at the news of a king so long and so ardently expected?  Because the people, well acquainted with the cruelty of Herod, feared a more vexing slavery. 
“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah”; this was a clear prophecy concerning the Messiah, foretold by the prophet Micah. 
“And on entering the house”; with these words several of the Fathers in their homilies, represent the Wise Men adoring Jesus in the stable, and in the manger.  Yet others, with Saint John Chrysostom take notice, that before their arrival, Jesus may have been removed into some little house in Bethlehem. 
With “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” the ancient Fathers observe the mystical signification of these offerings: Gold was signified by their tribute they paid to Him, as their King; by incense, that He was God; and by myrrh, (with which dead bodies used to be embalmed) that now He has also become a mortal Man. 
“And did Him homage”; they adored Him, therefore, in the Eucharist also, Jesus is to be adored.  It is of no consequence under what appearance He is to give Himself to us, whether that of a perfect Man, a speechless Child as here, or under the appearance of Bread and Wine; for in whatever manner or place He appears, He is true God, and for that alone He is to be adored. 
For certain the Magi have left us an example to imitate.  We see Him not in a crib, but on the altar; not His Mother holding Him, but the priest present, and the Holy Spirit poured out abundantly upon the Sacrifice.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Stephen Saw Jesus ALIVE

Today the Church celebrates the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. Saint Augustine received relics of Saint Stephen in the year 424 for his church in Hippo. This homily by Saint Augustine is dated somewhere between 400 to 420.
* * * * * *
Yesterday we celebrated the birth of our Lord; today we are celebrating the birthday of His servant. We celebrated Christmas as the day on which the Lord was pleased to be born; the birthday we are celebrating of His servant is the one on which he was crowned. We celebrate the birth of the Lord where He received the robe of flesh; we celebrate His servant’s birthday as the day in which he threw aside the garment of his flesh. What we celebrated on the Lord’s birthday was His becoming like us; what we are celebrating on His servant’s birthday is his becoming as close as possible to Christ. Just as Christ, by being born was joined to Stephen, so Stephen by dying was joined to Christ.

The reason the Church marks the days of the birth and the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ with equal devotion, is that each of them is a salutary medicine for us, because He was born in order that we might be born again, and He died that we live forever. The martyrs, however, carrying original sin in birth, came to the fight against evil, and with death they passed over to the most incontestable of goods, putting an end to all sin. If the reward of the bliss didn't comfort them as they faced persecution, when would they ever have endured those various torments of martyrdom? If blessed Stephen, facing that shower of stones, had not thought about the rewards to come, how could he have borne that terrible hailstorm? But he was bearing in mind the instruction of the One Whose presence he could observe in heaven; and reaching out to Him with the most ardent love, he longed to leave his flesh behind as soon as possible, and fly off to Him. He was not afraid to die because he could see that Christ was alive, though he knew He had been slain for his sake; thus he was in a hurry to die for Him, in order to live with Him.

As to what the most blessed martyr saw as he engaged in that final agonizing contest, he could see Jesus standing. The reason He was standing, and not sitting, is that standing up above, and watching from above His soldier battling below, He was supplying him with invincible strength, so that he shouldn’t fall. Blessed indeed the man to whom the heavens lay open! But who opened the heavens? The One about Whom it says in the Apocalypse: “Who opens and nobody shuts; shuts, and nobody opens” (Revelation 3:7). When Adam was thrown out of Paradise, after that first and abominable sin, heaven was shut against the human race; after the Passion of Christ, the thief was the first to enter. Then later on Stephen saw heaven opened. Why should we be surprised? What he saw in faith, he indicated in faith, and took violently by storm.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Holy Family - December 27, 2015

First Reading Commentary (Sirach)
The Book of Sirach was formerly known as the Book of Ecclesiasticus; and before that in the early Greek and Syriac versions, it was known as the Wisdom-Book of Ben Sirach.  The Old Latin version came from North Africa in the third century which was left virtually untouched by Saint Jerome when he did the pious work of writing the Latin Vulgate. 
Although the Latin and the English versions of this book both came from Greek sources, there are some noteworthy translational differences.  In this Reading, for example, the verse: "Whoever honors his father atones for sins" in the Latin Vulgate translates as: "He that loves God shall obtain pardon for his sins."  It's an interesting difference when examining this prophetically because Jesus came to do the will of His heavenly Father but grew up in society as the Son of Joseph.  In the year 1979, however, the Nova Vulgata (New Vulgate) was promulgated and published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana; and this new edition of the Latin Vulgate is more in line with the biological father rendering. 
These contradictions are not anything to be concerned about when understanding that "father" in every sense of Christian usage is ordained by God, our heavenly Father.  It is God Who forgives sins and it is also God Who gave us the Commandment: "Honor your father".  It is a spiritual Father and/or priest, who, acting in Persona Christi, is able to absolve sins.  The father we honor today, Saint Joseph, was not God the Father, a Catholic priest, or Christ's biological father.  Imagine how humble this saintly man must have been to be given the heavenly assignment of living under the same roof with a sinless wife and her sinless Son. 
This Reading is perhaps a more detailed explanation of the Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother".  It offers wise instructions to children on how to esteem their parents.  It also lists the rewards for obedience to these instructions.  If you have an appreciation for sacred music this Reading is God's composition for family life.  When followed according to His plan, it produces a beautiful harmony.

First Reading Commentary (1 Samuel)
Samuel is offered to God as a perpetual nazirite.  A nazirite was a Jew bound by a vow to leave their hair uncut, abstain from wine and strong drink, and to practice extraordinary purity of life and devotion.  Sometimes the vow was for a period of time or as in the case of Samuel the vow can be perpetual.  Other examples of nazirites in the bible are Samson in the Old Testament and John the Baptist in the New Testament.  The vow is to offer oneself or to be offered by another as belonging solely to the Lord. 
We get a sense of the Sacrament of Baptism in this.  Through baptism we become children of God.  Baptism says yes to God.  Yes I want to be Your child.  Yes I entrust my life to Your care.  Yes I will live my life for Your glory.  For most of us, our parents made that decision for us; and thank God they did.  Our parents, however, could not guarantee extraordinary sanctity from us.  That decision, with the help of God’s grace, is ours alone; but we have the best example we could ever want in the God-man Jesus Christ. 
In this Reading Hannah, Samuel’s mother vows, “As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.”  In acceptance of the incredible gift of being children of God, or every time we renew our baptismal promises, Hannah’s vow also becomes our vow to the Lord.  Yes Lord, we dedicate ourselves to You!
Second Reading Commentary (Colossians)
Saint John Chrysostom takes notice that in Saint Paul's wisdom he writes that love is the bond of perfection.  Commenting on this he adds: "The apostle says not 'love is the crown', but something greater, 'the bond of perfection', the latter being more necessary than the former; for a crown is a heightening of perfection, but a bond is a holding together of the components of perfection."  And certainly all those qualities listed by Paul in the preceding verses are landmarks on the road to perfection. 
The Peace of Christ is the final Authority of our hearts.  If His Peace truly reigns in our hearts, then all that is deemed unsuitable of our calling as Christians will be quickly evicted from our hearts. 
The word of Christ is His teachings; and if those teachings richly dwell in us, then the richness or abundance of them will flow into teaching and admonishing one another as our worship and love of the Almighty will rise up in our hearts. 
Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs can be translated to mean "liturgy", in both the Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours. 
The advice to do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus could greatly help our personal examination of conscience, for to do anything in His Name requires first discernment to determine if the task or deed would be pleasing to Him. 
The remainder of this Reading is optional and therefore may or may not be proclaimed at the Mass you attend; and sometimes it can raise a few eyebrows.  But it really doesn't have the dictatorial tone that some may give it.  After reading through the duties of wives, husbands and children, sadly what has been excluded here is the end result which is: "Knowing that you shall receive of the Lord the reward of inheritance" (Colossians 3:24).  In order to understand this more fully, it's best to go to Ephesians where Saint Paul writes similar words.  He writes: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it" (Ephesians 5:25).  Men, this is a tall order.  In the Sacrament of Matrimony a husband must understand that he has been called to love, care, honor, sacrifice and, if necessary, even die for his wife.  In other words, since marriage is a sacrament a husband is called to do the things that Christ willingly did and continues to do for His Bride, the Church. 
Saint John Chrysostom appeals to husbands when he says: "You have seen the measure of obedience; hear also the measure of love.  Would you have your wife obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ?  Take then yourself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church." 
In Genesis we read: "Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).  This was reiterated by Saint Paul in Ephesians 5:31.  This verse indicates equality and should soften the imperious tone that one is tempted to see in this passage.  And certainly the Sacrament of Baptism confers equality. 
Children are to obey their parents as this is pleasing to the Lord.  And finally, Christian parents should raise their children in a Christocentric environment because our children will surely face challenges that could easily discourage them; and they will need to know and experience the Peace that only Jesus can give.  Of course, our model for married life and family life is the Holy Family, the honorees of this coming weekend's liturgy.
Second Reading Commentary (1 John)
This Reading allows us to look beyond our usual limited view of the Holy Family consisting only of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Saint John reveals to us that we are all children of God because our heavenly Father’s love has been charitably bestowed upon us, making us all one Holy Family of God.  Saint John certainly understood this as indicated by the way he addresses us as “Beloved”.  He continues by saying that we are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed. 
Perhaps our purgative existence will give us the opportunity to see how connected we really are in our humanity and how we are truly one in the Body of Christ.  Beyond that journey of the soul, whatever is the most perfect existence our imaginations can concoct, it will severely pale in comparison to the reality of eternal life in heaven.  Saint John tells us that we shall be like God for we shall see Him as He is.  This is heaven, to behold the Face of God for all eternity.  Since this reality is beyond our total comprehension, it should give us at least some appreciation of Christ’s humility and love.  He willingly came to a fallen world, a broken people, so that He could become like us.  And not only assume our existence, but willingly take upon Himself all that is damaging to us.  Reflecting upon that and really letting it sink in, demands that we abide by Saint John’s plea to love one another, keep God’s commandments and do what pleases Him.  And we’re not alone in this tall order; this Reading assures us that God remains in us.
Gospel Commentary
In the opening verse the Holy Family teaches us the importance of holding fast to the teachings and traditions of our faith. 
Setting aside the obvious anxiety that Mary and Joseph must have felt from not knowing the whereabouts of their Son, and those of us who are parents would certainly be horrified if we were in that same predicament, instead let’s approach this on a spiritual level. 
With all the turmoil and sufferings that occur in today’s world, how often the question is asked, “Where is God?”  Certainly that question was asked often after the tragedy of September 11, 2001.  It’s a question we ask ourselves when life just doesn’t seem to make sense.  Certainly the fairly recent horror which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School will plague our hearts and minds for years to come. 
As we all know, Christ dwells within us, the interior house of the Father; but at times when we are tortured by tension, worries and stress, it becomes extremely difficult to find Him within us because our troubles seem larger than life. 
In this Gospel, Jesus, even in His childhood, gives us the solution: “Why were you looking for Me?  Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?”  As Catholics, we have the faith to know that Jesus waits for us in the Tabernacles and/or the Monstrance of Catholic parishes throughout the world.  Like Mary and Joseph, we too can find Jesus at His Father’s house.  The relief that must have been felt by Mary and Joseph when they found Him can also be felt by us when we pour out our hearts to His Eucharistic Presence. 
A few other items worth mentioning: First, our faith encourages us to seek Mary’s intercession.  This Gospel implicitly teaches us about the treasures that are stored in her heart. 
Secondly, we can learn from Saint Joseph about the necessity of trusting in God.  Not in this Gospel, and for that matter, nowhere else in Scripture will you find a single word that came from the mouth of Saint Joseph.   Other Gospel stories give us an inkling of the stress that surely existed in Joseph’s life.  His silence, however, should speak volumes to us about the faith and trust he had in God. 
Finally, the last verse in this Gospel tells us that Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.  This verse in ancient history led to some heretical views as some thought this verse showed that Jesus was not God because God cannot advance in wisdom.  The true meaning, as Saint Gregory explains, is not that He was wiser at any future period of His life than He was at the moment of conception, but this is said because He chose to manifest increasing signs of wisdom as He increased in years.
This time of advancement in the life of Jesus is virtually unknown to us. Very little of the childhood, teenage, and early adult years of Jesus has been recorded.  In the spiritual life we might call this: the hidden life.  For us, the hidden life can be when we physically go into a room, shut the door, and pray.  It can also be when we are physically visible, but are having an inner conversation with our Lord, and everyone else present has no idea that you are engaged in prayer.  As with all prayer, however, adoration is a key ingredient.  We know little of the hidden life of the Holy Family but we do know this: Jesus, at every moment was in communion with the Father; and Mary and Joseph were living a life of adoration.  How could they not?  They raised and watched a Baby grow, knowing that at every stage of His life, in a great mystery, He was the Creator of all. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

4th Sunday of Advent - December 20, 2015

Click here for the Readings
First Reading Commentary
Ephrathah is a very ancient name for Bethlehem and is described as too small to be among the clans of Judah which may suggest the humble state in which the Messiah would come.  Bethlehem is the city of David and the Old Testament prophecies indicate that the Messiah would rise up from the house of David. 
In Saint Matthew's Gospel the first verse of this Reading is quoted by Herod's chief priests and scribes when Herod was trying to ascertain where the Messiah was to be born (cf. Matthew 2:1-6). 
The verse, "whose origin is from of old, from ancient times," is translated from the Hebrew.  The Latin, on the other hand, uses the words, "et egressus eius ab initio, a diebus æternitatis" (and his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity).  The Latin seems to hint that this ruler of Israel will be none other than God Himself since only He is eternal. 
"Therefore the Lord will give them up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, and the rest of his kindred shall return to the children of Israel."  This verse is prophesying that the Messiah would be born of a woman but also suggests that this ruler of Israel will not come until after Israel is freed from Babylonian captivity.  While it's true that Christ was born after Israel's freedom from captivity, historically it was a great deal of time after, as Israel's captivity ended somewhere around 538 B.C.   
The closing verses give us some of the images that we have of Christ; He is our Shepherd, He is our Lord, His greatness extends to all the earth, and He is our Peace.     
Second Reading Commentary
On the surface this Reading doesn't seem to offer much in theme for the season of Advent; but the opening verse is a reminder that Christ came into the world.  As Christians, “Christ coming into the world” is something that is so well-known by us that there's a danger of accepting it too casually or treating it as a passing comment. 
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 40:7-9 to point out that this prophecy refers to Christ and also to explain further that Christ fulfilled this prophecy.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this Reading very thoroughly: “The Son of God, Who came down from heaven, not to do His own will, but the will of Him Who sent Him, said on coming into the world, ‘Lo, I have come to do Your will, O God.’ And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.  From the first moment of His Incarnation the Son embraces the Father's plan of divine salvation in His redemptive mission: ‘My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.’  The sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the whole world expresses His loving communion with the Father. ‘The Father loves Me, because I lay down My life’, said the Lord, ‘for I do as the Father has commanded Me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.’  The desire to embrace His Father's plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus' whole life, for His redemptive Passion was the very reason for His Incarnation. And so He asked, ‘And what shall I say?  Father, save Me from this hour?  No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.’  And again, ‘Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given Me?’  From the cross, just before ‘It is finished’, He said, ‘I thirst’" (CCC 606-607). 
When reflecting and meditating upon this truth, and having the faith to embrace it, the statement of, "Christ came into the world" could never be casually accepted; instead it becomes the source of tremendous joy and gratitude.   
Gospel Commentary
Saint Luke makes great efforts in his Gospel to depict the Virgin Mary as the Ark of the New and Everlasting Covenant.  Consider what was contained in the Ark of the Old Covenant: The tablets of the Law (Exodus 40:18; Deuteronomy 10:5), a gomor of manna (Exodus 16:34), and the rod of Aaron (Numbers 17:10), which represented the rod of the high priesthood.  Contained in the womb of Mary is the Lawmaker, the True Manna -- that is -- the Bread of Life, and the High Priest Himself. 
The infant leaping in the womb of Elizabeth at the sound of Mary's greeting is strikingly similar to King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant (cf. 2 Samuel 6).  In that same chapter David says: "How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" (ibid. verse 9) while in this Gospel Elizabeth says: "How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"  The Ark of the Old Covenant abode in the house of Obededom for three months (ibid. verse 11) while Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months (cf. Luke 1:56).  When piecing together the journey of the Ark of the Old Covenant, the evidence reveals that it is the same route that Mary took. 
Elizabeth exclaims to Mary: "Blessed are you among women."  In Scripture such accolades are not reserved for Mary alone.  Two other women also received similar praise: In the Book of Judges (5:24) are the words: "Blessed among women be Jael" and in the Book of Judith (13:18), Uzziah says to Judith: "Blessed are you, O daughter, by the Lord the Most High God, above all women upon the earth."  Jael drove a tent peg through the skull of Sisera the Canaanite; and Judith brought freedom to the Jewish people by cutting off the head of Holofernes, the commander of the Assyrian army.  Thus these two women are praised for striking at the heads of their enemies.  All the way back in the Book of Genesis (3:15) God says to the serpent: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed; he will strike at your head while you strike at his heel."  The ancient Fathers have always seen this as a prophecy about the Virgin Mary and her offspring, Jesus; therefore the praise of Jael and Judith is in anticipation of the praise that Elizabeth would offer to Mary. 
Interesting note on the verse from Genesis: The Latin Vulgate translates as, "She shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel."  The Latin makes use of the word “ipsa” which is a feminine pronoun.  The explanation for the difference could very well be an ancient copyist error.  Saint Robert Bellarmine, however, has passed onto us that the original Hebrew text is ambiguous.  The Septuagint agrees with the Vulgate.  More stringent research had been conducted by Sixtus V and Clement VIII which concluded that "it" is the proper pronoun which likely points to the offspring which is how the translation evolved to the pronoun "he".  The sense is, then, that Mary would crush the head of the serpent by means of her offspring, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
Finally, in this Gospel, Elizabeth says to Mary: "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."  Saint Luke would appear to be making a comparison to Eve who instead believed the words of the serpent.  As we get ready to celebrate the coming of God as Man, the Catechism of the Catholic Church shares, concerning this Gospel, that John the Baptist inaugurates the Gospel and already from his mother's womb welcomes the coming of Christ (cf. CCC 523).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Nature of Mary's Grace

In Luke 1:28 the archangel hails her as, "full of grace". Most versions today do not use that rendering, but greatly weaken it. Yet it is the correct translation as we can see from the Magisterium (Pius XII, Fulgens Corona, AAS 45, 579, and constant use of the Church) and also from philology.
For the Greek word in the Gospel is kecharitomene. It is a perfect passive participle of the verb charitoo. A perfect passive participle is very strong. In addition, charitoo belongs to a group of verbs ending in omicron omega. They have in common that they mean to put a person or thing into the state indicated by the root. Thus leukos means white, so leukoo means to make white. Then charitoo should mean to put into charis. That word charis can mean either favor or grace. But if we translate by favor, we must keep firmly in mind that favor must not mean merely that God, as it were, sits there and smiles at someone, without giving anything. That would be Pelagian: salvation possible without grace. So for certain, God does give something, and that something is grace, a share in His own life. So charitoo means to put into grace. But then too, kecharitomene is used in place of the name "Mary". This is like our English usage in which we say, for example, someone is Mr. Tennis. That means he is the ultimate in tennis. So then kecharitomene should mean "Miss Grace", the ultimate in grace. Hence we could reason that fullness of grace implies an Immaculate Conception.

Overflowing grace: Pius IX, in the document, Ineffabilis Deus, defining the Immaculate Conception in 1854 wrote: "He [God] attended her with such great love, more than all other creatures, that in her alone He took singular pleasure. Wherefore He so wonderfully filled her, more than all angelic spirits and all the Saints, with an abundance of all heavenly gifts taken from the treasury of the divinity, that she, always free from absolutely every stain of sin, and completely beautiful and perfect, presented such a fullness of innocence and holiness that none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."

What about the words of Jesus in Luke 11:27-28 (cf. Matthew 12:46-50 and Mark 3:35)? A woman in the crowd exclaimed: "Blessed is the womb that bore you...." He replied: "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it."

The dignity of being Mother of God is a quasi infinite dignity, as we just saw from the words of Pius IX. Yet here, our Lord is teaching us that the holiness coming from hearing the word of God and keeping it is something greater still. Her holiness must indeed be great -- so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."

Even though Mary was full of grace at the start of her life, yet she could still grow, for, as it were, her capacity for grace could increase.

In general, a soul will grow in proportion to these things: (1) The greater the dignity of the person, the greater the merit. In her case, the dignity of Mother of God is the highest possible for a creature. (2) The greater the work, the greater the merit: her cooperation in the redemption was the greatest work possible to a creature. (3) The greater the love, the greater the merit. Love of God means the attachment of our will to His. Her will adhered supremely, with no obstacle at all, so that even ordinary household duties, which she saw as the will of the Father for her, were supremely valuable.

Excerpted and adapted from Theology 523: Our Lady in Doctrine and Devotion, by Father William G. Most.
Copyright (c) 1994 William G. Most.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

3rd Sunday of Advent - December 13, 2015

First Reading Commentary
The prophet Zephaniah whose name means "the watchman of the Lord" or "the hidden of the Lord" is offering something a little different from what most of his prophecies contain.  Much of what is written from Zephaniah deals with punishments for idolatry and the destruction of nations.  This Reading turns away from an atmosphere of condemnation and invites us to shout for joy, sing joyfully, be glad and exult and not be discouraged.  Today, much like the time this Reading was written, there are many things that could tempt us to be just the opposite. 
Zephaniah proclaims: "The Lord has removed the judgment against you."  In the Septuagint the word "judgment" is translated to mean "iniquities."  This prophecy also tells us that the Lord will renew us in His love.  The Latin translates to mean "the Lord will be silent in His love."  This is an interesting translation because the silence means that the Lord will no longer accuse us. 
As we journey towards Christmas this Reading tells us that the King of Israel, the Lord, will be in our midst.  Christmas is coming of which we celebrate God clothing Himself in Flesh.  Shout for joy, sing joyfully indeed!  Jesus has washed away our iniquities and turned away our enemies which are sin and death.  Trust is so important in our spiritual life.  As we continue to live in this valley of tears, if we trust in the Lord, our joy can never be taken away.
From the perspective of prayer, our Lord sings joyfully as one sings at festivals.  This brings great joy to the Church in her daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours.  Jesus prays for us and with us in the Divine Office.  Hear His Voice in those Psalms.  Let your heart sing with His Voice in choral celebrations or Gregorian chant.
Second Reading Commentary
The Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as "Gaudete" Sunday, a Latin word meaning "Rejoice."  Before the revision of the Mass the Introit was always "Gaudete in Domino semper" (Rejoice in the Lord always).  This Reading from Saint Paul was always proclaimed at the liturgy on Gaudete Sunday.  
The final verse is a most comforting way to close by assuring us that God's peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  These last two verses really make a case for the harmonious relationship between prayer and peace.  Through constant prayer we remain close to our Lord Who is our eternal Peace.  And when embraced in His Peace there is no anxiety.  Instead, rejoicing becomes a way of life.  This was the secret to Saint Paul's endurance; this was the secret known by so many of the great saints. 
In relationship with the season of Advent, there is cause for rejoicing.  Quickly approaching is the celebration of the day that eternal Joy and Peace was born of the Virgin Mary. Also approaching on the day we know not is His Second Coming in which His disciples will rejoice and His enemies out of fear will prostrate at His Feet.
Gospel Commentary
In this Gospel you could almost say that John the Baptist is a figure of the Church; or at least he is doing what the Church is charged with: Preaching, evangelizing and doing the Lord's work.  He begins by saying: "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise."  Charity is at the heart of all evangelization and more specifically this verse is directed at charitable works towards the poor.  The Church today is deeply involved with this mission with projects like food and clothing drives at local parishes, feeding the poor at soup kitchens as well as Religious Orders that are called to be on the front lines like Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. 
Saint Basil points out that charity to the poor is frequently recommended in Scripture as a powerful method of redeeming sin and reconciling us to Divine Mercy.  Along those same lines Saint John Chrysostom refers to the poor as physicians, and their hands are an ointment for our wounds. 
John the Baptist next aims his preaching at tax collectors and soldiers who had reputations of conducting themselves in ways that were less than ethical.  Evangelization and proclaiming the way of the Lord sometimes, unfortunately, means pointing out what is not proper.  Today, our culture has its own laundry list of things that are not in line with the teachings of Jesus Christ.  But even this uncomfortable duty of pointing these things out is done with charity.  It is not done in a way of judgment, but instead it is done out of Christ-like love and concern for those who are heading down an ill-advised path. 
All were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if others thought the same about us?  John is not the Christ and neither are we but we have a similar role.  We are voices.  Saint Augustine says: "John was a voice, but in the beginning was the Word.  Take away the Word and what is a voice?  When it conveys no meaning, it is just an empty sound."  John, in humility, was quick to point out that he is not the Christ but a voice in the wilderness crying out: "Prepare the way of the Lord."  And preparing the way means to make zealous and humble efforts to proclaim Jesus Christ as the conqueror of the world and the joy of our hearts and souls with the hope that others will also accept Him and invite Him to possess their hearts and souls.  And a humble effort means first to acknowledge our own failings. 
Saint Bernard actually spoke of not two, but a three-fold coming of Christ.  The first is His birth; another is the final coming at the end of time; and the remaining one is hidden.  The hidden coming is Christ dwelling within us.  It is this indwelling that we are deputed to exhibit to a world that desperately needs Him.