Tonight on Perspectives we take a look to the celebrations of the solemnity of Epiphany at the Vatican and we show you how Iraqi refugees celebrate Christmas
Baptism of our Lord, Year C – Sunday, January 10, 2016
The theme of Christ’s epiphany — of Jesus inaugurating his divine mission on earth — reaches its fulfillment in the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. The feast seemingly brings an end to the Christmas season, but Christmas really ends with the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2.
In today’s Gospel story (Luke 3:15-16, 21-22), Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee after the baptism preached by John. In describing the expectation of the people (3:15), Luke is characterizing the time of John’s preaching in the same way as he had earlier described the situation of other devout Israelites in the infancy narrative (2:25-26, 37-38). John the Baptist tells of one far greater than he, one with a more powerful baptism.
In contrast to John’s baptism with water, Jesus is said to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16). From the point of view of the early Christian community, the Spirit and fire must have been understood in the light of the fire symbolism of the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). As part of John’s preaching, the Spirit and fire should be related to their purifying and refining characteristics (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Malachi 3:2-3).
When Jesus is baptized, the voice from heaven booms out and names him: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” This affirmation is the defining moment for the prophet from Nazareth. It is God’s declaration of love to God’s new Israel; it is God’s naming to supreme accountability; it is God’s surprise for the world of the proud and powerful.
Through his baptism by John in the muddy waters of the Jordan, Jesus opens the possibility to us of accepting our human condition and of connecting with God the way we were intended to. Jesus accepts the human condition, and this includes suffering and death. He stretched his arms out in the Jordan River and on the cross. In the Jordan, Jesus received his commission. On the cross he completed it. Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan identifies him deeply with the people he has come to redeem.
We, too, are called to a prophetic career.
When we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. Our baptism is a public, prophetic and royal anointing. We receive the life of the Church and are called to sustain that faith life. Faith is about concern for others. Faith is a public — not private — responsibility.
Baptism is a call to a prophetic career. How we live that out may vary from person to person. The ways may not be as dramatic as the adventures of an Isaiah or a John the Baptist, yet they are in that same great prophetic tradition. To be prophetic is to become involved and to get our hands and feet dirty.
Through our own baptism, we can become a light to others, just as Jesus is a light to us, and to the world. Our own baptism fills us with a certain boldness, confidence and enthusiasm, reminding us that the Gospel must be proclaimed with gratitude for its proven beauty.
When we slowly discover the demands of that faith, and where the way of repentance leads, when we can tell good from evil; when we search for what God wants to do in our lives and ask him to help us accomplish it; when we learn as much as we can about God and his world; when we come near to God, then — at that moment — the person for whom the heavens opened is revealed also to us.
Baptism in today’s Church
In many parts of the world today, baptizing children has already become the exception. The number of unbaptized infants, children, young people, and adults is on the rise. The decline in the practice of baptism is the result of an erosion of family ties and a departure from the Church. During numerous priests’ retreats, gatherings of priests and pastors, I have often heard it discussed that when the priest does not see visible signs of the practice of faith, then the Church would have the right to refuse the sacraments to people, especially baptism. It is a very complex question.
Could we not, however also listen anew to the Gospel missionary injunction to “baptize, preach and teach” not by waiting for the people to come to us but by going out to meet the people where they are in today’s messy world? What is demanded of us is a new missionary fervor and zeal that do not require extraordinary events. It is in ordinary, daily life that mission work is done. Baptism is absolutely fundamental to this fervor and zeal.
The sacraments are for the life of men and women as they are, not as we would like them to be! I can hear Saint Pope John Paul II crying out to us: “Duc in altum!” It is not in the shallow, familiar waters that you will find those who most need you!
The dilemma of withholding baptism and other sacraments from those believed to be unfit because they are not practicing has always been present in the Church. It is a dilemma that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger experienced personally as a young man, and finally resolved later in life. Listen to what Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, said in replying to a related question from a priest of Bressanone in northern Italy, in a public question-and-answer session with the clergy of the diocese on Aug. 6, 2008. The priest, Father Paolo Rizzi, a pastor and professor of theology, asked Benedict XVI a question about baptism, confirmation, and first communion:
“Holy Father, 35 years ago I thought that we were beginning to be a little flock, a minority community, more or less everywhere in Europe; that we should therefore administer the sacraments only to those who are truly committed to Christian life. Then, partly because of the style of John Paul II’s Pontificate, I thought things through again. If it is possible to make predictions for the future, what do you think? What pastoral approaches can you suggest to us?”
Benedict XVI responded with these words, so fitting for us on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord this year:
“I must say that I took a similar route to yours. When I was younger I was rather severe. I said: the sacraments are sacraments of faith, and where faith does not exist, where the practice of faith does not exist, the Sacrament cannot be conferred either. And then I always used to talk to my parish priests when I was Archbishop of Munich: here too there were two factions, one severe and one broad-minded. Then I too, with time, came to realize that we must follow, rather, the example of the Lord, who was very open even with people on the margins of Israel of that time. He was a Lord of mercy, too open — according to many official authorities — with sinners, welcoming them or letting them invite him to their dinners, drawing them to him in his communion. […]
“I would say, therefore, that in the context of the catechesis of children, that work with parents is very important. And this is precisely one of the opportunities to meet with parents, making the life of faith also present to the adults, because, it seems to me, they themselves can relearn the faith from the children and understand that this great solemnity is only meaningful, true and authentic if it is celebrated in the context of a journey with Jesus, in the context of a life of faith. Thus, one should endeavor to convince parents, through their children, of the need for a preparatory journey that is expressed in participation in the mysteries and that begins to make these mysteries loved. […]
“I would say that this is definitely an inadequate answer, but the pedagogy of faith is always a journey and we must accept today’s situations. Yet, we must also open them more to each person, so that the result is not only an external memory of things that endures but that their hearts that have truly been touched. The moment when we are convinced the heart is touched — it has felt a little of Jesus’ love, it has felt a little the desire to move along these lines and in this direction, that is the moment when, it seems to me, we can say that we have made a true catechesis. The proper meaning of catechesis, in fact, must be this: to bring the flame of Jesus’ love, even if it is a small one, to the hearts of children, and through the children to their parents, thus reopening the places of faith of our time.”
May today’s feast of the Lord’s Baptism be an invitation to each of you to remember with gratitude and renew your own baptismal promises. Relive the moment of the water that rushed over you. Pray that the grace of your own baptism will help you to be light to others and to the world, and give you the strength and courage to make a difference in the world and in the Church.
[The readings for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord are: Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7, or Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Acts 10:34-38, or Timothy 2:11-14; 3:4-7; and Luke 3:15-16, 21-22]
Solemnity of the Epiphany – Sunday, January 3rd, 2016
The term epiphany means “to show,” “to make known” or “to reveal.”
The solemnity of the Epiphany had its origin in the Eastern Church. In Jerusalem, close to Bethlehem, the feast had a special reference to the Nativity.
Today in Eastern Orthodox churches, the emphasis for this feast is on the shining forth and revelation of Jesus Christ as the Messiah and second person of the Holy Trinity at the time of his baptism.
Usually called the feast of the Theophany, it is one of the great feasts of the liturgical year. “Theophany” comes from the Greek for “God shining forth.”
The West took up the Oriental January feast, retaining all its chief characteristics, though attaching overwhelming importance, as time went on, to the visit of the Magi who bring gifts to visit the Christ child, and thus “reveal” Jesus to the world as Lord and King.
The feast is observed as a time of focusing on the mission of the Church in reaching others by “showing” Jesus as the Savior of all people. The future rejection of Jesus by Israel and his acceptance by the Gentiles are retrojected into this scene of the Matthew’s narrative.
King Herod reigned from 37 to 4 B.C. The “magi” were a designation of the Persian priestly caste and the word became used of those who were regarded as having more than human knowledge. Matthew’s Magi are astrologers. As for the star in Matthew’s story, it was a common ancient belief that a new star appeared at the time of a ruler’s birth.
Matthew also draws upon the Old Testament story of Balaam, who had prophesied that “a star shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17), though there the star means not an astral phenomenon but the king himself.
The act of worship by the Magi, which corresponded to Simeon’s blessing that the child Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32), was one of the first indications that Jesus came for all people, of all nations, of all races, and that the work of God in the world would not be limited to only a few.
At home in their distant, foreign lands, the Magi had all the comfort of princely living, but something was missing — they were restless and unsatisfied. They were willing to risk everything to find the reality their vision promised.
Unlike the poor shepherds, the Magi had to travel a long road; they had to face adversity to reach their goal. The shepherds also knew adversity, and it had prepared them to accept the angels’ message.
But once they overcame their fright, they simply “crossed over to Bethlehem” to meet the Christ child. It was anything but a romantic, sentimental pilgrimage that we often see in our manger scenes!
The Magi from the East, foreigners in every sense of the word, were guided not only by their own wisdom and knowledge of the stars, but were aided by the Hebrew Scriptures that now form the Old Testament.
The meaning of this is important — Christ calls all peoples of all nations, Gentiles as well as Jews, to follow him. We could say that Jerusalem and the Old Testament serve as a new starting point for these Gentile pilgrims on their road to faith in Jesus.
The people of the big city, indeed even Herod himself, were instrumental in leading the magi back to Christ!
A tragic adult story
Matthew’s Gospel shows us that right at the beginning of the story of Jesus, the one who is to rule Israel is greeted with the cheers of some and the fearful fury of others. Matthew introduced “all the chief priests and scribes of the people” as advisers of the sinister Herod.
It might appear that they do no more than answer a theological question. Matthew certainly implies something else. In the first place, they, too, had been troubled by the Magis’ word of birth of the Messiah. Knowing that he was paranoid on the subject of any threat to his throne, the Magi should have realized that he would not look kindly upon an infant “king of the Jews.”
By disclosing to Herod the birthplace of the Messiah, the advisers became, effectively, collaborators in his evil intent. In fact it is they, not Herod, who will later bring about the death of the “king of the Jews.” It is the “chief priests and elders of the people” who will plot to arrest and kill Jesus [Matthew 26:3-5, 47; 27:1-2, 12, 20]; “the scribes” are mentioned in 26:57 and 27:41. He was a threat to Herod and to them: to the throne of one, to the religious empire of the others.
The negative reaction of Herod and his advisers, the chief priests and scribes, turns the infancy narrative into a veritable gospel. If we read the story carefully, we realize that far from being a children’s tale, it is a tragic adult story.
Already at Christmas, we see a hint of the inevitable sacrificial death of this “newborn king” — the schism between a worldly ideology and a godly one. The battle lines are drawn and the forces are being marshaled.
Matthew’s Gospel shows us that right at the beginning of the story of Jesus, the one who is to rule Israel is greeted with the cheers of some and the fearful fury of others. To those who are alert to the signs of the times and the places, the coming of Jesus is an invitation to risk and to embark on a journey of faith and a journey of life.
Finding Christ today
A child is born at the same time as a death-dealing power rules. King Herod tries to co-opt the wise men to betray their journey, to end their commitment to future possibility and new life. At the centre of the whole story of striking contrasts lies a baby who is joy. Herod is afraid of this “great joy for all the people.”
Our societies and cultures are becoming increasingly afraid of human life — the greatest joy for all peoples! We must recommit ourselves to life — preserving it, upholding it, blessing it and giving thanks to God for this greatest of gifts.
Some of us are destined to find the Christ child only after a long, tedious journey like that of the Magi. Our worldly wisdom and worldly ways, our ecclesiastical façades need to disappear; we must make sacrifices to find our deepest meaning and peace that is Christ. Most wise people need to make quite a trek if they are to find any lasting meaning.
Simple folk can usually find the Lord by crossing a field like shepherds; they bring their poverty, humility and simple openness. But knowledge, wisdom, power, prestige, and the lack of humility often lead to despair. People who believe they have the immediate, final truth and clarity about anything often are led into bleak, dead-end streets or they remain lost in the desert of solitude, self-sufficiency, selfishness and despair.
In the end, the magi went their own way, and because they refused to be seduced by cynicism, because they allowed themselves to be surprised by this great joy, the star to which they had committed themselves appeared again. This is not only the description of the times into which Jesus was born, but also our times. When we have found our lasting joy in the midst of the encircling gloom, cynicism, despair, indifference and meaninglessness, the only thing to do is to kneel and adore.
If we are truly wise, let us do what the wise astrologers did. When we hear the voice of the old king of death and fear and cynicism, let us have the courage to go our own way — rejoicing. The star and the journey will send us onwards, by newer paths, to come into the presence of the Child of Light and the Prince of Peace, who is the fulfillment of humanity’s deepest hopes and desires for light, justice, love and peace.
The journey continues
The words of the great French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos (1888-1948) speak beautifully of the meaning of this great feast in our day:
“From the beginning, My Church has been what it is today, and will be until the end of time, a scandal to the strong, a disappointment to the weak, the ordeal and the consolation of those interior souls who seek in it nothing but Myself.
“Yes […] whoever looks for Me there will find Me there; but he will have to look, and I am better hidden than people think, or than certain of My priests would have you believe. I am still more difficult to discover than I was in the little stable at Bethlehem for those who will not approach Me humbly, in the footsteps of the shepherds and the Magi.
“It is true that palaces have been built in My honor, with galleries and peristyles without number, magnificently illuminated day and night, populated with guards and sentries. But if you want to find Me there, the clever thing is to do as they did on the old road in Judea, buried under the snow, and ask for the only thing you need – a star and a pure heart.”
[The readings for the feast of the Epiphany are: Is 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; and Matthew 2:1-12]
Christmas Message of Bishop Donald Bolen of Saskatoon
Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, SK, Canada presents his 2015 Christmas message. Music by Zjelko Bilandzic of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Saskatoon.
On Thursday, December 24, 2015, Pope Francis celebrated the Christmas Eve Mass from St. Peter’s Basilica. Read the full text of his homily below:
Tonight “a great light” shines forth (Is 9:1); the light of Jesus’ birth shines all about us. How true and timely are the words of the prophet Isaiah which we have just heard: “You have brought abundant joy and great rejoicing” (9:2)! Our heart was already joyful in awaiting this moment; now that joy abounds and overflows, for the promise has been at last fulfilled. Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God. There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the skeptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.
Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes. The Saviour of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. The Virgin offers us her Son as the beginning of a new life. The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end. Now must we put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us the path to Bethlehem. We must not be laggards; we are not permitted to stand idle. We must set out to see our Saviour lying in a manger. This is the reason for our joy and gladness: this Child has been “born to us”; he was “given to us”, as Isaiah proclaims (cf. 9:5). The people who for for two thousand years has traversed all the pathways of the world in order to allow every man and woman to share in this joy is now given the mission of making known “the Prince of peace” and becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations.
So when we hear tell of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic liberation and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, “to reject godless ways” and the richness of the world, in order to live “temperately, justly and devoutly” (Tit 2:12).
In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.
Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: “Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation” (Ps 85:8).
Watch Pope Francis celebrate Christmas Eve Mass below:
Advent is only four weeks long, but from mid november onwards we are bombarded with Christmas music, Christmas decorations, and Christmas Parties. Despite the commercial packaging those songs, symbols and festivities come in, they are actually rooted in our Christian traditions. Tune in Christmas day for Signs of the Season as we explore the Christian roots behind these signs and symbols and how they have become part of the tradition at the heart of the church. Plus we walk through the liturgical traditions of the Christmas season.
Watch Signs of the Seasons Friday, December 25, 2015 at 9 pm ET.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, wrote a special Christmas piece for CNN. Read an excerpt below:
The drama of Jesus’ birth in Palestine, taking place under occupation in an outpost of the Roman Empire over 2000 years ago, reminds us that the elite and powerful, those who benefited most from keeping the status quo, were the least open to the coming of the Kingdom, to new insights, to solutions to the injustices and the heartbreaks of this world.
Continue reading the full piece on CNN here.
Each Christmas season, as carols fill the December air, we remember ourselves.
We’re awakened by this remembering as we treasure Christmas memories. A nostalgic escape, this process of remembering is a profoundly human act. In the Bethlehem story, we see ourselves. If in the birth of Jesus, God’s only son (a mystery known as Incarnation), we discover beauty, simplicity, poverty and vulnerability. Then we can find that same God in the simplicity and poverty and vulnerability of our lives, our relationships and our society.
There is a profoundly simple message in the Christmas story for all women and men of good will.
The Word of God took flesh in the womb of a young girl of Nazareth, who trusted a strange angelic visitor. She was in an irregular situation: Her husband, not the father of the child she was carrying, could have disowned her. But an angel appeared to him in a dream, and Joseph cherished Mary and the child to be born.
The child was greeted at his birth not by the powerful and mighty, nor by leaders of the religious establishment of the day. Rather it was the poor – shepherds and strangers, probably Zorastrian astrologers from the East – who came to pay homage to this helpless baby in a manger.
No one described the whole scene better than Pope Francis this past September at a Vigil Ceremony for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. He told the crowd of over one million people gathered on Benjamin Franklin Parkway: “And where did God send his Son? To a palace, to a city, to an office building? He sent him to a family. God came into the world in a family. And he could do this because that family was a family with a heart open to love, a family whose doors were open.”
This little family was humble, poor, faithful and knew the life of refugees, having to flee to Egypt (or most likely Gaza) to avoid the terror of a despotic ruler.
The feast of Christmas reminds humanity of one profound message: that God has mixed with the human family and loved them all – the women and the men, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, those who love and those who hate.
And only God knows who is close and who is far from him. Who are we to judge?
At Christmas we are taught where to find God: in the midst of humanity, in the thick and thin of the human race, in the smiles and tears of every newborn baby, in the wrinkled faces of the elderly. We find Him in the suffering of the dying, in the hospitality to strangers and the poor among us, in the cherished gift of friendship, and in the welcome of refugees. And we can find Him in the bold, courageous leadership of a young Prime Minister who goes against the tide of other political leaders not far from our borders, who have put up barriers and shields to keep strangers out because of fear.
Anyone who really understands that God became human at one shining moment in human history over 2,000 years ago in an outpost of the Roman Empire will never be able to speak and act in an inhumane way.
That is what the real spirit of Christmas is all about.
The Globe and Mail
Thursday, Dec. 24, 2015
Father Thomas Rosica is the CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and assistant to the Holy See Press Office.
*This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail.
A renowned Scripture scholar explains why most people don’t know the Biblical Jesus and how transformative knowing Him can be.
How are you going to spend the next five minutes of your time? You could browse social media or check your email, but how about meeting a fascinating person and learning something relevant that will broaden your perspective? Sit down with host Sebastian Gomes and his various guests, and go straight to the heart of the matter. It will be five minutes well spent…
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 23, the antiphon is based on Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23 and 1 Timothy 4:9.
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, expectratio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domines, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come, save us, O Lord our God.
From Evening prayer
king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people:
and set us free, Lord our God.
From O Come, O Come Emmannuel:
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel means “God-with-us.” In the Old Testament, God dwelt with his people in the temple at Jerusalem. At the temple sanctuary He received their worship and conferred His mercy and blessings.
Christ is “God-with-us” in a far more intimate way. He is one of us since his birth on te first Christmas. He dwells with us in His Mystical Body, the Church. He embraces us in the holy Eucharist. We pray Him to come with His all-powerful grace this Christmas to save us, our neighbours and everyone.
(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.)