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Child of Light, Prince of Peace

 

Baby_Jesus

Christmas Reflection on the readings for Midnight Mass
Video of America Magazine and American Bible Society
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

Each year on Christmas Eve, the Church presents us with beautiful Scriptural readings for the traditional Christmas Midnight Liturgy. The familiar text of Isaiah 9:1-7, Psalm 96, the selection from Paul’s letter to Titus (2:11-14) and the selection from the Lukan infancy narrative (2:1-14) are filled with rich and powerful images which often do not have justice done to them because of so many other things happening around the celebration of the Savior’s birth! A closer look at the messages of the prophet Isaiah and the evangelist Luke can help us to discover words of hope and consolation offered to a world which lies in waiting for the birth of the Prince of Peace.

Immediately preceding chapter 9, Isaiah’s testimony has built up a frightening picture of the darkness and distress about to descend upon both Judah and the northern kingdom. What is this terrible fate and darkness of the people and why? After King Ahaz and his people have clearly rejected the Word of God (cf. Is 7:10-12; 8:6a) the Lord declares that he will hide his face from the house of Jacob (8:17) as an indication of his dismay and anger. In a time of anguish and panic due to the wrath of God, people have taken recourse only too easily to mediums and wizards (8:19). But Isaiah observes that it is ridiculous to consult the dead on behalf of the living. In chapter 8:16-22 we read of of the terrible fate that could overtake the people: “there is no dawn for this people”(8:20). Instead there is hunger, thirst and misery showing itself in physical as well as spiritual deprivation. People’s hearts are darkened and their spirits are greatly disturbed. They get enraged and curse their sinful king and the God whom they have forsaken.

Chapter 9 stands in total contrast to chapter 8. The opening line of 9:1 forms a transition from the darkness of 8:22. Isaiah now proclaims a message of hope and consolation as darkness and gloom give way to light and joy. The great light comes decisively into this profound darkness. It is a light which tears people away from their confusion and emptiness, from the violence and tyranny of the oppressor.

The symbols of the Assyrian oppression: the yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, shall be broken (9:4). The garments of war shall feed the flames (9:5). The destruction of war-like equipment heralds an age of peace…symbolically described in 2:4 “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

The description of the royal birth in 9:6 is similar to those found in coronation rescripts of the Egyptian Pharaohs. The royal child will possess the wisdom of Solomon, the valor and piety of David, the great virtue of Moses and the patriarchs (11:2). Presumably the child spoken of would be King Hezekiah. This beloved verse clearly describes the new roles for the coming King. Contemporary kings of Judah had been disastrously advised and were powerless in warfare.

By the title “Wonderful Counsellor” the new King will have no need for advisers such as those who led Ahaz astray. Former kings of Judah had been anything but fathers to their people, and they had achieved neither peace nor prosperity. “Everlasting Father” describes the quality of his rule. Isaiah portrays a king who will not be a failure in any one of these respects.

This king’s authority shall grow continually and bring about endless “Shalom”, thus fulfilling the promises to David: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever”(II Samuel 7:16).

The birth of this child has consequences both social and political as well. The kingdom of the future will be characterized above all by justice and righteousness– in glaring contrast to Isaiah’s contemporary Judah (cf. 5:7) and indeed to every human kingdom in some degree. The virtues of judgement, justice, and righteousness (9:7) which sustain the Davidic throne are beautifully summed up in the word “Shalom” whose Hebrew root means wholeness, harmony and completion. As a result of this new king’s reign, people will live in harmony with God, each other and nature.

It is no wonder, then, that Christians and the Church have appropriated Isaiah’s exultation of this brilliant light and royal birth for our own celebration of the birth of Jesus. Christian tradition and the Christmas liturgy have applied the royal titles of Isaiah 9:6 to the Child of Bethlehem–presenting him as “Emmanuel”, the One who is our true light and our lasting peace.

We know the Lukan Infancy narrative (Luke 2) so well that we often forget what lies at the heart of its message. It is filled with a very deceptive simplicity. Much more than a charming tale, appealing to the heart and the imagination of the believer, Luke’s story is one of God writing straight with our human, crooked lines. It is a story of poverty and simplicity, excitement and surprises, sadness and joy; a story of military occupation and oppression, a light in the darkness. Beyond the charm of the story, Luke’s message is clear: no event in our shadow-filled history of the world is alien to the coming of the Savior.

No power, however violent and oppressive, escapes the reach of God’s purposes. The Lukan Gospel story of the birth of Jesus calls for the whole world, and not only for Israel, to welcome the birth of the Son of David. We are invited to follow shepherds and kings, saints and sinners, and that long cortège of witnesses of all generations as they seek the light in the darkness and share their message of good news with a world steeped in darkness.

And yet there is a tremendous and rather terrifying paradox at the heart of the gospel story: this great heir to the Davidic line comes to inherit his ancestor’s throne in the form of a tiny, powerless baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger (2:12). There is also the joyful and saving paradox of the power of God manifested in this child…those who accept this paradox are invited to make it, in the light of the cross and the resurrection, the standard of their deepest attitudes.

Luke’s birth of the Child at Bethlehem shows us that the Lord God has indeed been faithful to these words. Our existence is an endless Advent, and these two readings for the Christmas midnight liturgy invite us once again to commit our energies to all that the Child of Bethlehem stands for and is.

He is “Wonderful Counsellor”, deeply concerned with the ultimate good and wholeness of others. His gentle advice to us never leads us into destruction but only into the fullness of life.

He is “Mighty God”, directing our human history, but also living it with us. He is more powerful than any military force or revolution, and yet his force and might are revealed in hearts and eyes meeting.

He is “Everlasting Father”, teaching us what it means to be constantly present to others, giving life, blessing life and celebrating life. He is unable to abandon us, as so many human beings are capable of doing.

He is”Prince of Peace”, the bringer of reconciliation, wholeness, harmony and completion to the human family. He knows how to nourish hope among his people. Because of him, we can live in harmony with God, each other and nature.

Is there room for such a child in our hearts at Christmas? If we allow him to truly dwell within us, then we shall know once again that in the midst of our own deep darkness and fear, from a crib in Occupied Bethlehem and a cross in Jerusalem, God’s vulnerable heart can bring light, healing and salvation to our own.

(CNS photo/Tony Gentile, Reuters)

The “O” Antiphons: O Dawn…

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From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 21, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 9:1; 58:8; 60:18-20, Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79, John 8:12 and Revelation 22:16

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Dawn in the East, splendor of the everlasting Light and Sun of Justice: Come and give light to those sitting in darkness, in the shadow of death.

From Evening prayer
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
Come,
shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

From O Come, O Come Emmanuel:
Verse 6:
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

Dawn in the East
We pray our Lord to give us light of His revelation and life to all mankind, to lead everyone on earth out of spiritual darkness into the glory of a life unending.

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(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

To welcome and to share the abundance of God

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By Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, Apostolic Nuncio to Canada

We are just at the threshold of Christmas, a great event which – if we welcome it – is capable of changing our lives. A story by Tolstoy which I learned and owe to Pope Benedict XVI helps me to share the light and life that springs from Christmas:

Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer, tells in a short story of a harsh sovereign who asked his priests and sages to show him God so that he might see him. The wise men were unable to satisfy his desire.

Then, a shepherd, who was just coming in from the fields, volunteered to take on the task of the priests and sages. From him the king learned that his eyes were not good enough to see God. Then, however, he wanted to know at least what God does. “To be able to answer your question,” the shepherd said to the king, “we must exchange our clothes.”

NativitySomewhat hesitant but impelled by curiosity about the information he was expecting, the king consented; he gave the shepherd his royal robes and had himself dressed in the simple clothes of the poor man. Then came the answer: “This is what God does.” Indeed, the Son of God, true God from true God, shed his divine splendor: “he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form he humbled himself…even unto death on a cross” (cf. Phil. 2:5ff).

At Christmas, as the Fathers say, God worked the sacrum commercium, the sacred exchange: he took on what was ours, so that we might receive what was his and become similar to God. Hence the exclamation that resonates from the first years of the Christian era: “Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning” (From a Homily on Christmas by Pope St. Leo the Great).

What is this dignity? It is to have received the vesture of God. The vesture of God is love. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In becoming man – in the mystery of Christmas – God has clothed everyone with his own vesture. He has placed within us his love. Yes, in you, in me, in every one of us there is not only our own love, that human capacity to love, that sometimes, or often, turns itself into egoism and hatred. Precisely by assuming our human nature and becoming one of us – this is Christmas – God has sown abundantly in every one of us his love, that love of God which is able to win all battles, overcome all difficulties, enabling us to live in peace with God, with ourselves and with each other. How can I not be able to forgive if the love of God is in me, that love which has the strength of the mercy of God?

Abundance. It is true, many are poor, and many have to contend with a shoestring budget to reach the end of the month. Economic abundance is not for everyone. But there is an abundance that all of us have, an abundance that does not cost a cent, it is the most valuable and is available to all. It is the abundance of love. That love which God gives to us and that we can share with one another.

O Lord: in this Christmas Season help us to be aware of the abundance that you have placed into our hands! It is the abundance of love, the capacity of giving ourselves, and bringing cordiality, joy and happiness to our brothers and sisters. Each of us is a rich person, carrying within ourselves the abundance of love that can be distributed to others. The world is poor and suffering because this abundance is kept in the safe, rather than given and shared. “Giving of ourselves” is the way to be at Christmas. Lord, help us to wear that vesture you give to us, and to share your love.

Then every day will be Christmas, a beautiful Christmas.

Deacon-structing Vocations: Ordained life Part 3

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I could not speak about the Ordained life without speaking about the two questions that most people have about the priesthood: The ordination of women and celibacy.

Some people will ask why women are not qualified to be priests. The reality is that it’s not about qualifications. No one is really qualified to be a priest-and no one really has a right to be a priest either. This issue is not one about rights, or equality. Nowadays people think equality means same-ness, but saying that men and women are equal, doesn’t mean that they are the same.

One reason why we don’t have women priests is that there is no history in the Jewish tradition of having women priests. For the Jews, there was something very male about the priesthood.

Another reason commonly given is that Jesus only selected men as his apostles. A common response to that is that times have changed.

But Jesus didn’t really follow the norms of his time. He broke every rule. Men at the time could not even speak to (let alone touch) a woman who was not part of his family; Jesus did. In fact, he had many women as his disciples. Don’t you think that had it been appropriate to select women as apostles, he would have? Consider this: The number one disciple, Mary, his mother, would have been the best apostle. She would’ve been the best priest! She would’ve been able to say, ‘this is my body’ and really mean it. But Jesus didn’t choose her to be one of the twelve.

Something else to consider comes from John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. In my series on the Sacraments I mentioned that every Sacrament is a marriage – a marriage between Heaven and Earth. The Eucharist is like a marriage. This means that Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is the bride; there is something very male about the priesthood (We may have to deacon-struct this some more at another time.)

All these reasons that I’ve given will probably not fully satisfy anyone, but they are something to think about. The truth is not that the Church doesn’t want to ordain women; the Church doesn’t have the authority to change the designs that Christ instituted. The Church doesn’t have the authority to ordain women anymore than the Church has the authority to change the definition of marriage.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Church, Pope Paul VI, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church:

“She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the sacred scriptures of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men; and the constant practice of the church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his church.”

(Paul VI, Response to the Letter of His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. F.D. Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, concerning the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood (November 30, 1975)

In 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote an Apostolic Letter on reserving priestly ordination to men alone:

“At the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone.

The same applies to the ordination of permanent deacons.

As opposed to Ordination, priestly celibacy was not instituted by Christ and is not a Church doctrine. Nonetheless it is an important part of our tradition. It is a discipline that many priests were living in the early Church because they saw how it helped their priesthood.

In the early centuries there were married priests. Some of the apostles were married. We know Peter was married at some point because Jesus healed his mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14).

The immediate successors to the apostles were also allowed to marry. Paul writes to Titus that a bishop should be “the husband of one wife” (Titus 1:5-7) and priests in the old testament were also married, but forbidden from having sexual relations for one day before offering sacrifice (which is really interesting because in the Catholic Church, the priest offers sacrifice every day).

Today, the celibate priesthood is a discipline. It’s also practical. But it is not doctrine. It is possible for this discipline to be lifted. There is a tradition of ordaining married men to the priesthood in the Eastern Rites (Catholic) Churches and, as we’ve already seen, married men, can be ordained as permanent deacons. If you are married you can be ordained. But if you are first ordained, you cannot marry (so if the wife of a priest dies, he cannot re-marry). There are also many Roman Catholic priests who are married – this can happen when a married priest in a Christian denomination (like Anglicanism) converts to Catholicism, both their ordination and marriage are considered valid.

Let me add that for those who think that lifting the requirement to celibacy would end the problem of pedophilia in the priesthood and would solve the vocations crisis; it’s been proven that, first there is no vocations crisis (just take a look at seminaries in Africa) and it’s also been proven that there is no connection between sexual perversion and the choice to abstain. There are hundreds of articles written on these two topics.

I heard someone once say that he didn’t like to think of celibacy as just a discipline, but rather as a gift. I think celibacy is as a call to love in an extraordinary way. This, I think I also got from the Theology of the Body: Just as sex is a means to love or a part of love, so is celibacy. (Also, in the same way that sex can be mis-used by being taken out of the context of love, so can celibacy.) A celibate priest is fulfilling his nature to love. Thomas Merton said that if a man is afraid of love, he should not be a priest. A priest is a servant, so he has to be able to love. He has to be in love with Christ and the Church!

Let me end by saying that we forget that priests are human just like us. No priest is perfect or an angel sent from heaven. I know I’ve been critical of priests but there’s so many great priests, bishops and deacons – men who are truly the face of Christ on earth.

We have to pray for priests, for their strength and pray for vocations. We may not understand all there is to understand, but that’s what faith is, no?

(CNS photo/Nigel Roddis, Reuters)

The Salt + Light Radio Hour Christmas Special – “Made-For-TV”

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Since 2009, Salt + Light has been on the radio airwaves with our weekly program, The Salt + Light Radio Hour. Every week, our host, Deacon Pedro brings you the best of S+L: inspiring messages, insightful interviews, interesting commentary and  news updates and events from around the Catholic world; plus every week we feature a Catholic singer/songwriter, as well as an author or look at a particular in-depth topic.

Every week we also feature a different segment with our contributors: Andrew Santos has a saint of the week; Gillian Kantor has parenting tips; our Hollywood Undercover Missionary, Mark Matthews tells us what’s good in Hollywood; Danny Torchia gives us public relations and marketing tips and Sr. Marie Paul Curley offers film reviews.  The SLHour airs on various radio networks across the United States and is also available for streaming online or download off our website. You can listen to all SLHour programs by going to our archive.

Every year we produce a special Christmas edition of the SLHour with all our contributors. This year we produced our Christmas special for TV with our contributors giving their segments a little Christmas twist: Andrew has a Christmas saint; Gillian learns a Christmas lesson from her kids; Danny looks back at the work done this year; Hollywood teaches Mark something about Christmas and Sr. Marie Paul finds the Windows to the Soul to five films about saying yes; plus we listen to music from Fr. Rob Galea, Seraphim and Marie Miller.

You can listen to or download the SLHour Christmas Special or you can watch it on Salt + Light TV:
Saturday, December 20th at 10pm ET / 7pm PT
Sunday, December 21st at 2pm ET / 11am PT
Tuesday, December 23rd at 9:30am / 6:30am PT
For more broadcast times see our schedule.

Or, if you prefer, you can watch this Christmas special right here!

Email us your comments

Next week, December 27, 2014 on the SLHour, we close the year by taking a look at all the new albums released by Catholic artists in 2014 and featured on the SLHour – tune in for some of the best songs of 2014, featuring , Sarah Kroger, Joe Zambon, Amanda Vernon, Curtis Stephan, Joe Melendrez, Tori Harris, Fr. Rob Galea, Luke Spehar, Rebecca Roubion and the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles.

Listen to this program by going to our S+L Radio webpage.

The “O” Antiphons: O Key of David…

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From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 20, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 22:22, Jeremiah 13:13; 51:19, Matthew 4:16; 16:19 and Luke 1:79

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel! You open and no one closes, You close and no one opens: Come and lead out of prison the captive who sits in darkness and the shadow of death.

From Evening prayer
O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel,
controlling at your will the gate of heaven:
Come,
break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 5:
O Come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh.

Key of David
Jesus, our Lord possesses the royal power of His ancestor David in a far fuller and higher way. What he commands is done. By His death on the Cross, He broke open the gates of death and led the souls of the just into everlasting life. He broke the power of the devil who had helped all people captive in sin and the fear of death. We pray Him to come and free us from slavery to sin and to the fear that sin brings with it.

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(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)

Christmas eve mass from St. Peter’s Basilica

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On Christmas Eve Pope Francis leads the church in celebrating the birth of Christ with Mass at The Vatican. S+L brings you full coverage with English commentary.

Wednesday, Dec 24 3:30 pm ET / 12:30pm PT

Hanukkah and Advent: Christians & Jews share a common hope for lasting justice & peace in the world

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This evening at sundown, Jews begin their eight-day celebration of Hanukkah at sundown. In a few days, many Christians celebrate their Christmas. During the eight-day period of Hanukkah, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights and continue to long for the Messiah’s coming.

For many Christians and Jews celebrating these two seasons and feasts in the northern hemisphere, we do so during the season of winter. Both faith communities draw on the symbols of candles and lights that shatter the winter darkness.

Both holiday seasons invite Christians and Jews to ask the deeper questions: How do we continue to long for the salvation that the Messiah will bring? What can we do to spread God’s light around us and dispel the darkness of fear, sin and despair? The Messianic kingdom for all of us still lies ahead.

While I was a student at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University years ago, I heard a story about a certain Rabbi Menahem. When the old sage lived in Israel, a wild man climbed a high mountain, unnoticed, and from the top of the mountain began to blow a trumpet over the city below.

There was a great deal of excitement among the people and a rumour quickly spread: The trumpet is announcing our liberation!

When the rumour came to the ears of Rabbi Menahem, he looked at the world outside his window and said gruffly, ‘What I see is no renewal.’

At the first Christmas, there was just as little to see through the window of the world. Outside the later Gospels, only a couple of secular Roman historians of the time mention in passing the name of Jesus.

Even today, the questions arise: If Jesus is the Messiah ‘the bringer of peace’ and if he really was born in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago, why is there still so much sin and suffering and turmoil in the world? Why so much terror, hatred violence and war, much of it in the name of God?

Why is there no renewal? Was the Messiah’s project a failure?

The kingdom that Jesus preached was the daring vision of Israel’s God of compassion, mercy, justice and righteousness, a kingdom that involved reforming lives, adhering to the law of love, alleviating the pain and suffering of others, building community, worshiping God in Spirit and truth. There is still much work to be done to realize God’s daring vision, made known to us through his only son.

Where do we begin? We start by working together as Christians and Jews to protect the most important human values, which are threatened by a world in continual transformation. Christians and Jews have a special affinity for life and must do everything in our power to uphold the dignity of human life, from conception to natural death. We must promote the dignity of the human person.

At the core of Christian and Jewish life is the sacredness and centrality of the family. Christians and Jews must be known for our efforts in the areas of social justice, peace, and freedom for all human beings.

As Christians and Jews, we continue to pray together to God. The Jewish ‘Kaddish’ and the Christian ‘Our Father’ express a common hope: ‘Thy kingdom come!’

We must utter this prayer more loudly and clearly in these days of darkness for so many in the world, especially for the people of Syria, the Holy Lands of the Middle East that are still struggling for God‚s justice and peace, and for all those suffering in war, poverty, famine, injustice.

Miracle of Hannukkah engraving

Our common longing for the fruits of the Messianic kingdom invites us, Christians and Jews, to a knowledge of our communion and friendship with one another and a recognition of the terrible brokenness of the world.

As St. John Paul II taught us so powerfully through his friendship with the Jewish people, nothing and no one can ever wrench us away any longer from that deep communion and friendship.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI allowed that friendship to deepen and mature in a remarkable way with his meetings with Jewish leaders during his pontificate, and his historic visits to Synagogues in Rome, Germany and New York City.

Pope Francis has written beautifully about our relationship with the Jewish people in his monumental Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium:’

“As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God. With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.”

“Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus‚ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.”

The ‘tikkun haolam,’ the healing of the world, its repair, restoration and redemption, including the redemption of Israel, depends upon us, together.

To our many Jewish friends who view our network and know us through our many media platforms, Hag Sameach! Happy and blessed feast of lights! Let us go forward in peace! We have much good work to do together to heal a broken world and wounded humanity.

Video: Hanukkah 2012; Argentine Catholics & Jews celebrate Hanukkah & Christmas together
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s last Hannukkah in Buenos Aires

Joseph: The Faithful and Wise Servant, a reflection by Fr. Thomas Rosica

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St. Joseph is not the biological father of Jesus, whose Father is God alone, and yet he lives his fatherhood fully and completely.  He is often overshadowed by the glory of Christ and the purity of Mary. But he, too, waited for God to speak to him and then responded with obedience. Luke and Matthew both mark Joseph’s descent from David, the greatest king of Israel (Matthew 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38). Scripture has left us with the most important knowledge about him: he was “a righteous man” a “just man” (Matthew 1:18).

Joseph was a compassionate, caring man. When he discovered Mary was pregnant after they had been engaged, he knew the child was not his but was as yet unaware that she was carrying the Son of God. He planned to divorce Mary quietly according to the law but he was concerned for her suffering and safety. Joseph was also a man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome.  When the angel came again to tell him that his family was in danger, he immediately left everything he owned, all of his family and friends, and fled to a strange country with his young wife and the baby. He waited in Egypt until the angel told him it was safe to go back (Matthew 2:13-23).

We are told that Joseph was a carpenter, (more likely a builder), a man who worked to provide for his family. Joseph wasn’t a wealthy man, for when he took Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised and Mary to be purified he offered the sacrifice of two turtledoves or a pair of pigeons, allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb.

Joseph revealed in his humanity the unique role of fathers to proclaim God’s truth by word and deed. His paradoxical situation of “foster father to Jesus” draws attention to the truth about fatherhood, which is much more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children.  Joseph was keenly aware, as every father should be, that he served as the representative of God the Father.

The Gospel, as we know, has not kept any word from Joseph, who carries out his activity in silence. It is the style that characterizes his whole existence, both before finding himself before the mystery of God’s action in his spouse, as well as  when — conscious of this mystery — he is with Mary in the Nativity. On that holy night, in Bethlehem, with Mary and the Child, is Joseph, to whom the Heavenly Father entrusted the daily care of his Son on earth, a care carried out with humility and in silence.

Joseph protected and provided for Jesus and Mary. He named Jesus, taught him how to pray, how to work, how to be a man. While no words or texts are attributed to him, we can be sure that Joseph pronounced two of the most important words that could ever be spoken when he named his son “Jesus” and called him “Emmanuel.” When the child stayed behind in the Temple we are told Joseph (along with Mary) searched frantically with great anxiety for three days for him (Luke 2:48).

As Pope Benedict has taught us:

What is important is not to be a useless servant, but rather a “faithful and wise servant”. The pairing of the two adjectives is not by chance. It suggests that understanding without fidelity, and fidelity without wisdom, are insufficient. One quality alone, without the other, would not enable us to assume fully the responsibility which God entrusts to us.

What great words for St. Joseph, because in Joseph, faith is not separated from action. His faith had a decisive effect on his actions. Paradoxically, it was by acting, by carrying out his responsibilities, that he stepped aside and left God free to act, placing no obstacles in his way. Joseph is a “just man” (Mt 1:19) because his existence is “adjusted” to the word of God.

Joseph, the “foster-father” of the Lord reveals that fatherhood is more than a mere fact of biological generation. A man is a father most when he invests himself in the spiritual and moral formation of his children.  Real fathers and real men are those who communicate paternal strength and compassion.  They are men of reason in the midst of conflicting passions; men of conviction who always remain open to genuine dialogue about differences; men who ask nothing of others that they wouldn’t risk or suffer themselves.  Joseph is a chaste, faithful, hardworking, simple and just man.  He reminds us that a family, a home, a community, and a parish are not built on power and possessions but goodness; not on riches and wealth, but on faith, fidelity, purity and mutual love.

How could I speak of St. Joseph here in the Crèche Museum of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal without saying something about the dreamer and architect of this magnificent place, Brother André Bessette, the Canadian Church’s newest Saint.

Brother_Andre2Brother André wanted Saint Joseph honoured on this mountain. In 1890, he took a young student with him on one of his regular Thursday meditation walks. Taking the student up to the mountainside across the street from the College Notre Dame, he told him, “I have hidden a medal of Saint Joseph here. We will pray that he will arrange the purchase of this land for us.” For six years he persevered in prayer for that intention, and in 1896, his prayers were rewarded. The Holy Cross Congregation purchased the land and Brother André put a statue of Saint Joseph in a little cave on his chosen site. Placing a bowl in front of the statue, he planned on collecting alms from Saint Joseph’s petitioners, alms which would be used to build a chapel.

What started out as a fifteen-by eighteen foot chapel in 1904 became a minor basilica in 1955, and was completed — interior and all — in 1966. In his lifetime, the shrine became big enough to warrant having a full-time guardian, a job to which Brother André was appointed in 1909.

The piety that St. André had toward the Patron of the Universal Church was simple and childlike too:

When you invoke Saint Joseph, you don’t have to speak much. You know your Father in heaven knows what you need; well, so does His friend Saint Joseph. … Tell him, ‘If you were in my place, Saint Joseph, what would you do? Well, pray for this in my behalf.’

To the people who came to him with their troubles — and thousands did — the friend of Saint Joseph recommended the use of sacramentals, like Saint Joseph’s oil or a Saint Joseph medal. Most of all, he recommended persevering and confident prayer, usually prescribing a novena to his powerful benefactor.  Because he learned how to pray with fervour, persistence and joy as a child and young religious, Brother André was able to urge people to pray with confidence and perseverance, while remaining open to God’s will.

He admonished people to begin their path to healing through commitments to faith and humility, through confession and a return to the Sacraments. He encouraged the sick to seek a doctor’s care. He saw value in suffering that is joined to the sufferings of Christ. He allowed himself to be fully present to the sadness of others but always retained a joyful nature and good humour. At times, he wept along with his visitors as they recounted their sorrows. As he became known as a miracle worker, Brother André insisted, “I am nothing … only a tool in the hands of Providence, a lowly instrument at the service of St. Joseph.”

God our Father,
You gave Brother André of Montreal,
your humble servant, a great devotion to St. Joseph
and a special commitment to the sick and the needy.
May the example of his life and ministry inspire us to ever-greater works of charity, in generous service to our brothers and sisters in need.
Give us the strength to surrender ourselves to Your will,
and to be instruments of your loving mercy.
Help us to follow Brother André’s example of prayer and love,
so that we too may come into your glory.
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO Salt and Light Catholic Television Network

(CNS photo/archives of St. Joseph’s Oratory)

The “O” Antiphons: O Stock of Jesse…

o_stock_of_jesus

From December 17-23, I’d like to share with you these antiphons, that you will pray with them and they will help you continue to prepare for the Advent of our Lord. May they become part of your Advent tradition as they are becoming part of mine.

For December 19, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 11:1, 10, Isaiah 52:15 and Romans 15:12.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O stock of Jesse, set up as the rallying sign for the nations! In Your presence rulers are silent and the peoples make supplication: Come deliver us; do not delay.

From Evening prayer
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come,
let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
Verse 4:
O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

Stock of Jesse
In His human nature, Christ is the descendant of Jesse, Father of David, the great king of God’s people.

Our Lord is the King of kings. His power extends to all peoples and to their rulers. In the desperate perils of our age, we pray Him to come quickly and deliver us, to establish in all hearts His kingdom of truth and of life, of justice, love and peace.

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(Reflection taken from Bible and Liturgy, a Sunday parish bulletin published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn. Edited by Rev. William Heidt, OSB. Published with the approval of Bishop Peter W. Bartholome of St. Cloud. Printed in 1959 by the North Central Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota (c) 1959 by the Order of St. Benedict, Inc.)