Immaculate Conception

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Genesis 3:9-15,20  —  Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12  —  Luke 1:26-38
December 8, 2010

               Freedom is something that it’s hard to have too much of.  Who doesn’t want to be free?  Who doesn’t want to be as free as possible?
               In the midst of Advent, preparing for Jesus to come into our lives, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Mother, Mary.  From the first moment of her life, when she was conceived in the womb of Saint Anne, Mary was without sin.  God granted Mary a special dispensation from the penalty of Original Sin.  God gave this unique gift to Mary because she had a unique vocation.  In other words, Mary was going to need all the help that she could get, with what God was about to lay before her.
               This is true in general for us, also.  God gives us special graces with an eye towards our vocation.  God gives us gifts for a reason:  that is, to help us be who He calls us to be.
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               Everyone has his or her own vocation.  Most Christians, of course, are called to the vocation of Holy Matrimony.  But there are no two married couples on the face of the earth, or throughout human history, who are exactly the same.  Every couple faces unique challenges.  Every husband, and every wife, faces certain challenges that are absolutely unique to her or him.  And God, being eternal, can foresee those challenges from outside time:  He knows them at the moment that life begins for that male who will someday become a husband, and for that female who will someday become a wife.  Seeing those challenges from the beginning, God grants us graces from the beginning of our human life, to equip us for the challenges that lay ahead.
But sin raises its head in our life by tempting us to turn away from God, and believing that we can handle our lives by ourself, by believing that the goal of our life is to do what makes us happy, and by believing that freedom is something that grows in proportion to our independence from others.
            What is freedom?  Where do we see freedom in the life of Our Blessed Mother?  How can our Blessed Mother help us, her children, to free up our lives in order to follow Jesus more closely?
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              Let me use an illustration of what freedom really is, and isn’t.  Some of our PSR students will recognize the example:  it has to do with driving.
               Many people might define freedom as being able to do whatever you want:  in other words, not being held back, bound up, or tied down by others.  This is what makes driving great for teenagers:  they can get far away from their parents and other adults who are always setting down rules.  And the farther away they get from those people, the more free they are.  This is external freedom.
               Think about driving.  Turning old enough to drive is one of the great milestones in a young person’s life.  But the freedom to drive is not absolute.  There are all sorts of rules that are bound up with driving.  Obviously, a person has to pass a test before the government will give you the “license” (that is, the freedom) to drive.  But the government won’t grant you that driver’s license, that freedom, unless you demonstrate that you know the rules of the road.
               Not that the government is just going to leave things to chance.  That’s what the police are for:  to make sure that the government’s rules get enforced.  Of course, you could always buy a radar detector, to outwit the police, and get away with going as fast as you want, so that you could be truly…. free:  to be free from the police, free from government rules, and free from anyone telling you where to go and how to spend your time.  But this is only external freedom:  freedom from others:  freedom from others imposing their morality and opinions on you, so that you can do what you want to do.  This external freedom, for all the time that we spend pursuing it in so many different ways, does not have the power to bring lasting joy into our lives.
               Real freedom is interior freedom:  freedom from ourselves.  That might sound strange.  The reason we have to find freedom from ourselves is that each of us—as a child of Adam and Eve—is a fallen creature.  It’s almost as if we are two persons:  our fallen self, with all the traits and characteristics of our original human father, Adam; and our redeemed self, with the traits and characteristics of God our Father, who redeemed us in Christ.
               We were redeemed by Christ at the moment that we are baptized into Christ’s Body, the Church.  But receiving the gift of redemption doesn’t change where we came from:  you are always a child of Adam and Eve.  And you will always feel the pull of your fallen nature.  And the focus on the self, the pride, the desire to do whatever you want, just as long as you are happy, always remains inside of us.  We carry that with us inside of us, no matter how far from home we travel.
               Real freedom is not about escaping the control of others.  Real freedom is about mastering our fallen self, and handing our self over to God each and every day, for His purposes.  Our Blessed Mother Mary received a gift from God—the grace of her Immaculate Conception—so that she could give the gift of Jesus to mankind.  Mary did not seek after being free from the control of others.  Mary’s freedom lay in handing over her life completely to God, in being that gentle woman whose Son would give up His life on the Cross for our salvation.

Epiphany - Homily

Epiphany of Our Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6  ¾  Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6  ¾  Matthew 2:1-12
January 2, 2011

As we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany—as we look at the manger scene—we see three wise men arriving:  men who were willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to find a newborn King.  This is a sign of their wisdom:  their willingness to sacrifice.

Their sacrifice reflects not only their own wisdom.  Their sacrifice also reflects the One they were seeking.  Or in other words, they were willing to sacrifice so greatly, because they believed in the greatness of the One for whom they were searching .

Each of the wise men was willing to leave his kingdom, where he was king—where everyone bowed down before him—in order to find a king even greater than himself.  Each of the wise men was willing to give up his riches in order to find an even greater treasure.

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I have never met anyone who doesn’t want to be rich.  Also, I’ve met many people who believe they’re rich, but who actually have become satisfied with riches that—in the end—are not going to do them any real good.  This usually happens because people don’t recognize that inside the human soul, each of us has—if you’ll consider this metaphor—two different wells to draw spiritual water from:  two different wells to drink from as we try to find happiness, meaning, and peace in this world.

Anyone who is made content—who is “filled up”—by things that you can see, and hold, and drive, and watch, is filling up the most shallow part of themselves:  that first well, the shallow well.  Now every human being has this shallow well within them.  It’s not that there are shallow people over here, and deep people over there.  Every single human being—including the man named Jesus who was born 2000 years ago—has one of these shallow wells inside of them, in addition to the well that is so deep that it has no bottom.

The purpose of the shallow well is to let us enjoy things of this world.  This is a legitimate part of being human:  it was a part of the life of Jesus.  The things of this world become our hobbies, the things that help us enjoy whatever leisure we have in life.  This is a good thing.  There is a real, true and good purpose for this shallow well.  After all, God’s the one who put it inside us.  But when a person tries to live their entire life out of that shallow well, they get into trouble.  They go thirsty.

Sometimes, even in their thirst, they don’t even notice that second well, that deeper well.  But that deeper well is the well that gives meaning to life, and that helps us understand that our lives are not about ourselves, and that our lives are not about this world.

If you peer into the deep well, the first thing you notice is its depth, and that can be frightening.  Most of us, after all, have a healthy fear of heights.  No one wants to fall.  But falling into this well—which spiritually we have to do in order to draw from it—is a form of humility.

This humility is what we see in the three wise kings, who were willing to leave the splendor and riches of their kingdoms, and enter a grotto where animals lived, in order to prostrate themselves before a child born of a peasant girl.  Picture what this really means:  these three wise kings fall to the ground in adoration before the newborn Jesus… in a stable, where the hay of the animals was probably mixed with the waste of animals.  Would you be humble enough to kneel in that hay?  The man who is wise knows enough to do so.  And these three wise kings—in doing just this—show us what it means to sacrifice.  These three wise kings show us what it means to give up what we think is important in our little kingdoms… in order to live from that deeper well.

Epiphany - Pope Benedict XVI

Epiphany of Our Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6  ―  Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6  ―  Matthew 2:1-12
January 2, 2011

St Peter’s Basilica
Sunday, 6 January 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, we are celebrating Christ, Light of the world, and his manifestation to the peoples. On Christmas Day the message of the liturgy rings out in these words: Hodie descendit lux magna super terram - Today, a great light descends upon earth” (Roman Missal). In Bethlehem this “great light” appeared to a handful of people, a tiny “remnant of Israel”: the Virgin Mary, her husband Joseph and a few shepherds. It was a humble light, as is the style of the true God; a little flame kindled in the night: a fragile newborn infant wailing in the silence of the world... but this hidden, unknown birth was accompanied by the hymns of praise of the heavenly hosts singing of glory and peace (see Luke 2: 13-14).

So it was that although the appearance of this light on earth was modest, it was powerfully projected in the heavens: the birth of the King of the Jews had been announced by the rising of a star, visible from afar. This was attested to by some “wise men” who had come to Jerusalem from the East shortly after Jesus’ birth, in the time of King Herod (see Matthew 2: 1-2). Once again heaven and earth, the cosmos and history, call to each other and respond. The ancient prophecies find confirmation in the language of the stars. “A star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24: 17), announced Balaam, the pagan seer, when he was summoned to curse the People of Israel, whom he instead blessed because, as God had revealed to him, “they are blessed” (Numbers 22: 12). In his Commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, Cromatius of Aquileia establishes a connection between Balaam and the Magi: “He prophesied that Christ would come; they saw him with the eyes of faith”. And he adds an important observation: “The star was seen by everyone but not everyone understood its meaning. Likewise, our Lord and Saviour was born for everyone, but not everyone has welcomed him” (4: 1-2). Here, the meaning of the symbol of light applied to Christ’s birth appears: it expresses God’s special blessing on Abraham’s descendents, destined to be extended to all the peoples of the earth.

The Gospel event which we commemorate on the Epiphany - the Magi’s visit to the Child Jesus in Bethlehem - thus refers us back to the origins of the history of God’s People, that is, to Abraham’s call. We are in chapter 12 of the Book of Genesis. The first 11 chapters are like great frescos that answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions: what is the origin of the universe and of the human race? Where does evil come from? Why are there different languages and civilizations? 

Among the narratives with which the Bible begins, there appears a first “covenant” which God made with Noah after the flood. It was a universal covenant concerning the whole of humanity: the new pact with Noah’s family is at the same time a pact with “all flesh”. Then, before Abraham’s call, there is another great fresco which is very important for understanding the meaning of Epiphany: that of the Tower of Babel. The sacred text says that in the beginning,
“the whole earth had one language and few words” (Genesis 11: 1). Then men said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11: 4). The consequence of this sin of pride, similar to that of Adam and Eve, was the confusion of languages and the dispersion of humanity over all the earth (see Genesis 11: 7-8). This means “Babel” and was a sort of curse, similar to being banished from the earthly paradise.

At this point, with Abraham’s call, the story of the blessing begins: it is the beginning of God’s great plan to make humanity one family through the covenant with a new people, chosen by him to be a blessing among all the peoples (see Genesis 12: 1-3). This divine plan is still being implemented; it culminated in the mystery of Christ. It was then that the “last times” began, in the sense that the plan was fully revealed and brought about in Christ but needs to be accepted by human history, which always remains a history of fidelity on God’s part, but unfortunately also of infidelity on the part of us human beings. The Church herself, the depository of the blessing, is holy and made up of sinners, marked by tension between the “already” and the “not yet”. In the fullness of time Jesus Christ came to bring the covenant to completion: he himself, true God and true man, is the Sacrament of God’s fidelity to his plan of salvation for all humanity, for all of us.

The arrival in Bethlehem of the Magi from the East to adore the newborn Messiah is a sign of the manifestation of the universal King to the peoples and to all who seek the truth. It is the beginning of a movement opposed to that of Babel: from confusion to comprehension, from dispersion to reconciliation. Thus, we discern a link between Epiphany and Pentecost: if the Nativity of Christ, who is the Head, is also the Nativity of the Church, his Body, we can see the Magi as the peoples who join the remnant of Israel, foretelling the great sign of the “polyglot Church” that the Holy Spirit carried out 50 days after Easter. The faithful and tenacious love of God which is never lacking in his covenant from generation to generation is the “mystery” of which St Paul speaks in his Letters and in the passage from the Letter to the Ephesians which has just been proclaimed: the Apostle says that this mystery “was made known to me by revelation” (Ephesians 3: 3).

This “mystery” of God’s fidelity constitutes the hope of history. It is of course opposed by the impulses of division and tyranny that wound humanity due to sin and conflicts of selfishness. The Church in history is at the service of this “mystery” of blessing for all humanity. The Church fully carries out her mission in this mystery of God’s fidelity only when she reflects the light of Christ the Lord within herself and so helps the peoples of the world on their way to peace and authentic progress. Indeed, God’s Word revealed through the Prophet Isaiah still continues to apply: “darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you” (Isaiah 60: 2). What the prophet proclaimed in Jerusalem was to be fulfilled in Christ’s Church: “nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60: 3).

With Jesus Christ, Abraham’s blessing was extended to all peoples, to the universal Church as the new Israel which welcomes within her the whole of humanity. Yet, what the prophet said is also true today in many senses: “thick darkness [covers] the peoples” and our history. Indeed, it cannot be said that “globalization” is synonymous with “world order” - it is quite the opposite. Conflicts for economic supremacy and hoarding resources of energy, water and raw materials hinder the work of all who are striving at every level to build a just and supportive world. There is a need for greater hope, which will make it possible to prefer the common good of all to the luxury of the few and the poverty of the many. “This great hope can only be God... not any god, but the God who has a human face” (Spe Salvi, n. 31): the God who showed himself in the Child of Bethlehem and the Crucified and Risen One. If there is great hope, it is possible to persevere in sobriety. If true hope is lacking, happiness is sought in drunkenness, in the superfluous, in excesses, and we ruin ourselves and the world. It is then that moderation is not only an ascetic rule but also a path of salvation for humanity. It is already obvious that only by adopting a sober lifestyle, accompanied by a serious effort for a fair distribution of riches, will it be possible to establish an order of just and sustainable development. For this reason we need people who nourish great hope and thus have great courage: the courage of the Magi, who made a long journey following a star and were able to kneel before a Child and offer him their precious gifts. We all need this courage, anchored to firm hope. May Mary obtain it for us, accompanying us on our earthly pilgrimage with her maternal protection. Amen!

Epiphany - Office of Readings

Epiphany of Our Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6  ―  Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6  ―  Matthew 2:1-12
January 2, 2011

Office of Readings
A sermon by Pope St Leo the Great
The Lord has made his salvation known to the whole world

The loving providence of God determined that in the last days he would aid the world, set on its course to destruction. He decreed that all nations should be saved in Christ.

A promise had been made to the holy patriarch Abraham in regard to these nations. He was to have a countless progeny, born not from his body but from the seed of faith. His descendants are therefore compared with the array of the stars. The father of all nations was to hope not in an earthly progeny but in a progeny from above.

Let the full number of the nations now take their place in the family of the patriarchs. Let the children of the promise now receive the blessing in the seed of Abraham, the blessing renounced by the children of his flesh. In the persons of the Magi let all people adore the Creator of the universe; let God be known, not in Judaea only, but in the whole world, so that his name may be great in all Israel.

Dear friends, now that we have received instruction in this revelation of God’s grace, let us celebrate with spiritual joy the day of our first harvesting, of the first calling of the Gentiles. Let us give thanks to the merciful God, who has made us worthy, in the words of the Apostle, to share the position of the saints in light, who has rescued us from the power of darkness, and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. As Isaiah prophesied: the people of the Gentiles, who sat in darkness, have seen a great light, and for those who dwelt in the region of the shadow of death a light has dawned. He spoke of them to the Lord: The Gentiles, who do not know you, will invoke you, and the peoples, who knew you not, will take refuge in you.

This is the day that Abraham saw, and rejoiced to see, when he knew that the sons born of his faith would be blessed in his seed, that is, in Christ. Believing that he would be the father of the nations, he looked into the future, giving glory to God, in full awareness that God is able to do what he has promised.

This is the day that David prophesied in the psalms, when he said: All the nations that you have brought into being will come and fall down in adoration in your presence, Lord, and glorify your name. Again, the Lord has made known his salvation; in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.

This came to be fulfilled, as we know, from the time when the star beckoned the three wise men out of their distant country and led them to recognise and adore the King of heaven and earth. The obedience of the star calls us to imitate its humble service: to be servants, as best we can, of the grace that invites all men to find Christ.

Dear friends, you must have the same zeal to be of help to one another; then, in the kingdom of God, to which faith and good works are the way, you will shine as children of the light: through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with God the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.

Mary, the Mother of God - Homily

Mary, the Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27    Galatians 4:4-7    Luke 2:16-21
January 1, 2011

In the year of Our Lord 431, the bishops of the Church gave glory to God, by giving honor to Mary, pronouncing her to be “the Mother of God”.  In that year, the third world-wide—or ecumenical—council of the Church took place in the city of Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.  According to tradition, Ephesus is the town where Mary lived the last years of her life under the care of Saint John the Apostle, so it’s not surprising that the Council held at Ephesus in 431 was the setting for pronouncing this title for Mary that we celebrate at the beginning of a new year, in the midst of the Christmas season.

The bishops who gathered in the city of Ephesus were there to contend with the heresy being taught by the archbishop of the great imperial city of Constantinople.  He was falsely teaching his people that the child who was born to Mary in Bethlehem was actually two separate persons:  the human Jesus… and the divine Christ.  Mary, then, would certainly be the mother of the human Jesus, but could not be called the mother of anyone who is divine.

This way of thinking, though, was condemned by the Council of Ephesus.  The teaching of the Church, they proclaimed, is that there is only one person in Jesus Christ, and that if Mary is the mother of the human Jesus—Jesus Christ who is God—then she can be honored as the Mother of God.

Still, even if we know all this—if we know in our heads that we can call Mary the Mother of God—why should we?  Why is this feast so important that we normally celebrate it as a holy day of obligation?

Keep in mind that whenever Holy Mother Church obliges us to do something, she’s acting like any good mother (like Mary).  What she does is for our sake, not hers.  And certainly, in celebrating this feast in honor of Mary, we receive much more than Mary does from our devotion to her as the “Mother of God”.  At the heart of this great mystery that we celebrate, we see that this belief that Mary is the “Mother of God” says something about her, about Jesus, and about us.

What does the title “Mother of God” say about Jesus?  The mystery that the Council of Ephesus reflected on—in awe—is not that Mary is the MOTHER of God, but rather, that this baby, whom we see lying in the manger IS God.  The hymn we sing asks “What child is this?” and our answer is that “this, this is Christ the King!”  This helpless infant… is the same God who creates the stars of the heavens.  This helpless infant… is the same God who destroys our sins on the Cross.  In Jesus, God and man are united.  The infinite and the finite wed each other.  And because of this wedding, our lives on this earth, naturally destined to last maybe seventy or eighty years, can be lived forever in heaven.

If Mary is the Mother of God, then we are called to be brothers and sisters of God.  The only reason that Jesus was born into this world was so that we could be borne into Heaven.  In dying, Jesus opened the gates of heaven to us, to make a home for us there, so that we could live as one family.

In your imagination, picture today’s gospel passage.  You see the infant Jesus in the manger, with his mother on the ground next to him, and Saint Joseph keeping watch over them. The Holy Family had already made the perilous journey to Bethlehem, and when they had got there, they had found themselves rejected by everyone whom they asked for shelter.  And then later on, there were angels, and shepherds, and kings from the east praising the newborn child.  What a strange turn of events:  from rejection to adoration!  It’s no wonder that as Mary rested in the hay she pondered these things in her heart:  complete rejection, and utter acceptance, all because of the same person.

Mary was only about fourteen years old when these things happened.  If Mary had not been full of grace she might easily have become cynical as she reflected on all these things.  Mary was beginning to see how the world treats people.  You remain the same person throughout your life, but because of circumstances, others react very differently toward you.

As Mary pondered these events in her heart, she realized that this was going to be the pattern throughout her son’s life:  acceptance or rejection, based merely upon the attitudes of others, and the circumstances of life.  She could see, even at such a young age, that if others were given the chance to witness miracles—angels singing in the sky, water turning to wine, or a blind man regaining his sight—they would very likely praise her son.  But if following Jesus meant watching him being turned out of the synagogue in Galilee where he had grown up, or being mocked by the scribes and Pharisees for trying to teach them something new about God, or being whipped and crowned with thorns after being condemned to a traitor’s death—what would people say about her son then?

Many of us are going to make resolutions for the new year.  How successful will we be?  For most of us, the new year won’t be much different than the last.  Because, after all, we remain the same person that we’ve always been.  If we truly want to change, it will take the grace of God.  The grace of God is what made Mary the “Mother of God”, the Mother of Jesus, and our Mother.  Ask her intercession before her divine Son each day this year.

Mary, the Mother of God - Gospel Reading

Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2011

Reflection on the Gospel Reading
Luke 2:16-21

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. 
When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. 
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. 
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. 
Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. 
When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus,
                the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

On the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the Church proclaims the gospel passage from Luke 2 in which the newborn Son of God is named Jesus.  This naming took place during the Jewish ritual of circumcision on the eighth day.  This solemnity, of course, is celebrated on the eighth day of Christmas:  January 1st.  In fact, the first eight days of the Christmas Season are collectively called the “Octave of Christmas”. 

In the liturgical calendar of the Second Vatican Council, the Church celebrates only two octaves during the year:  the Christmas Octave, and the Easter Octave.  On each of these eight days, the Church celebrates with heightened solemnity these two central mysteries of the Faith:  respectively, the Incarnation and the Resurrection.  That only these two octaves are now celebrated during the year focuses our attention on their relationship to each other.

To help us focus, we should recall that Saint Augustine of Hippo, the greatest Doctor of the Church during her first millennium, referred to the Day of Jesus’ Resurrection as the “Eighth Day”.  Augustine used this phrase to highlight the belief that in Jesus’ Resurrection, a new order of creation had begun.  This new order, rooted in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, redeems and transforms the fallen world that had been originally created during six “days of creation”.  In this sense, the “Eighth Day” represents the entire Christian era, leading right into the future Second Coming of Christ.

Where does the Octave of Christmas fit into all this?  The name of our newborn Savior tells all.  The name Jesus means “God saves”.  The Most Holy Name of Jesus, which the Church celebrates as a distinct feast of Christmas on January 3rd, reveals the vocation that God the Father gave His Son.  This name reveals the purpose of the Incarnation:  so that Jesus could offer His Flesh and Blood on the Cross for the forgiveness of sins.

Mary, the Mother of God - 2nd Reading

Mary, the Mother of God
January 1, 2011

Reflection on the Second Reading
Galatians 4:4-7

Brothers and sisters: When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”  So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.

Each of the Church’s feasts in honor of Mary is a celebration of the Lord Jesus.  We cannot picture the Virgin Mother in our minds, without also seeing Jesus.  Especially during the Christmas Season, we see her holding the sleeping infant in her lap, or gazing in adoration upon Him in the crèche. 

Unfortunately, some Christians are so fearful of what they call “Mary-worship” or “Mariolatry” that they even downplay Mary’s role during Christmas.  Some Christians have even forbidden the celebration of Christmas itself because they see it as a distraction from what they consider the “true Gospel message”.  Other Christians, while giving Mary her due at Christmastime, allow her to fade from their minds once the season of Christmas is over.

However, the relationship between Mary and Jesus exists not only during the Christmas Season.  The Scriptures themselves, as well as Christian Tradition, clearly attest to Mary’s relationship with Jesus throughout His public ministry, Passion, death, and Resurrection.  Then there is Mary’s maternal presence at Pentecost, where the Mystical Body of Christ—that is, the Church—comes into the world through the Power of the Holy Spirit. 

We might say that Mary’s presence at that first Christian Pentecost is the culmination of her “Fiat” at the Annunciation.  Her acceptance of the Word of God at the Annunciation, and the consequent conception of Jesus in her womb, foreshadow the epiphany of the Church at that first Christian Pentecost.

Within the Church, Mary plays a vital, continuous role.  She is not only part of “history”.  She is part of every Christian’s life today, whether he or she recognizes that role or not.  We hear this in the Second Reading on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  The Son of God became man, so that men might become adopted sons of the Father.  This sonship comes into being through the Church’s Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist.  This sonship comes into being, and is sustained throughout our earthly life, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of Jesus, and so the Mother of God; the Mother of the Body of Christ, and so the Mother of the Church, and so the Mother of each us who is a Christian.

Mary, the Mother of God - 1st Reading

Mary, the Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27    Galatians 4:4-7    Luke 2:16-21
January 1, 2011

Reflection on the First Reading
Numbers 6:22-27

The LORD said to Moses: “Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites.  Say to them: The LORD bless you and keep you!  The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!  The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!  So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

What is the context of this passage from NumbersNumbers is the fourth of the books of the Pentateuch.  Our modern name for the book comes from the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Greek name for this book is αριτμοί (aritmoí), which is related to our English word “arithmetic”.  This name derives from the command that the Lord enjoins on Moses in the opening verses:  “Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel…” [Numbers 1:2].

The Book of Numbers, as all of the Pentateuch, is ecclesiological in nature.  That is to say, its focus is the People of God:  the assembly of people whom the Lord has “called forth”.  God never calls individuals in isolation:  He always calls individuals to serve Him from within and among His sacred People.  This is as true in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament.

Within the first chapter of Numbers, the Lord explains to Moses the purpose for this census:  “every male, head by head; from twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go forth to war, you and Aaron shall number them, company by company” [Numbers 1:2-3]
The Lord is forming an army among His People!  In listening to the Pentateuch, it’s clear how often the People of God had to enter into physical combat against other peoples in order to take possession of the Promised Land.

It’s ironic, then, that the First reading, with its benediction for peace, corresponds to the secondary name that the Church has given to New Year’s Day.  While the Church’s primary focus on this day is Mary, the Mother of God, in 1967 Pope Paul VI established this date as a celebration of a “World Day of Peace”.  Each year the Pope issues a formal declaration on the topic of peace, based both on the Church’s timeless teachings, and on current settings in the world that are without peace.

We should keep in mind, however, that the Church on earth is called “the Church militant” for good reason.  The physical combat of the Old Testament foreshadows the spiritual combat the People of God today—that is, the Body of Christ—must engage in to follow Jesus, who proclaimed “I did not come to bring peace, but the sword” [Matthew 10:34].  True peace on earth will arise when every Christian follows Jesus to the Cross, and in so doing, inspires others to live for no other Lord than the Christ.

Mary, the Mother of God - St. Thomas Aquinas

Mary, the Mother of God
Numbers 6:22-27    Galatians 4:4-7    Luke 2:16-21
January 1, 2011

Saint Thomas Aquinas’
commentary on Galatians 4:4-5
(excerpted and edited)

4 But, when the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son,
made of a woman, made under the law,

5 That he might redeem them who were under the law,
that we might receive the adoption of sons.

It should be noted that above…there were four items pointed out in order, as has been said. But now, in applying them to Christ, he begins with the last, namely, the fixing of a time. The reason for this is that the time in which Christ was humiliated and in which the faithful were exalted turns out to be the same.  Hence he says: But, when the fulness of time was come, i.e., after the time fixed by God the Father for sending His Son had been accomplished. This is how it is taken in Luke (2:6): “Her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered.” This time is called “full” because of the fulness of the graces that are given in it, according to Psalm 64:10: “The river of God is filled with water; thou hast prepared their food: for so is its preparation.” Also because of the fulfillment of the figures of the Old Law:  “I am not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). And because of the fulfillment of the promises: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many, in one week” (Daniel 9:27). However, the fact that he likewise says, But, when the fulness of time was come, in other places of Scripture where the time respecting Christ is said to be accomplished, should not be explained in terms of a necessity imposed by fate, but in terms of a divine ordinance, concerning which Psalm (118:91) states: “By thy ordinance the day goeth on; for all things serve thee.”

Two reasons are given why that time was pre-ordained for the coming of Christ.  One is taken from His greatness: for since He that was to come was great, it was fitting that men be made ready for His coming by many indications and many preparations. “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all in these days hath spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1: 1).  The other is taken from the role of the one coming: for since a physician was to come, it was fitting that before his coming, men should be keenly aware of their infirmity, both as to their lack of knowledge during the Law of nature and as to their lack of virtue during the written Law. Therefore it was fitting that both, namely, the Law of nature and the written Law, precede the coming of Christ.

Secondly, [regarding] His dignity as heir… he says, God sent his Son, namely, His own natural Son; and if a son, then an heir also. He says, his Son, i.e., His own, natural, only begotten but not adopted, Son: “God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son” (John 3:16). He sent Him, I say, without His being separated from Him, for He was sent by assuming human nature, and yet He was in the bosom of the Father: “The only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father” eternally (John 1:18); “And no man hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven,” Who, although He descended by assuming flesh is, nevertheless, in heaven (John 3:13). Again, He sent Him, not to be where before He Was not; because, although He came unto His own by His presence in the flesh, yet by the presence of His Godhead, He was in the world, as is said in John (1:14). Furthermore, He did not send Him as a minister, because His mission was the assuming of flesh, not the putting off of majesty. God, therefore, sent His Son, I say, to heal the errantry of the concupiscible part and to illumine the ignorance of the rational part: “He sent his word and healed them: and delivered them from their destructions” (Psalm 106:20). He sent Him also to deliver them from the power of the devil against the infirmity of the irascible part: “He shall send them a Savior and defender to deliver them” (Isaiah 19:20). Also as a deliverer from the chains of eternal death: “I will deliver them out of the hand of death. I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy death” (Hosea 13:14). Also to save them from their sins: “For God sent not his Son into the world to judge the world but that the world may be saved by him” (John 3:17).

Thirdly, [regarding] smallness… he says, made of a woman: “For a child is born to us” (Isaiah 9:6); “He emptied himself taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). He made Himself small not by putting off greatness, but by taking on smallness.

In interpreting the passage, made of woman, two errors must be avoided; [first], that of Photinus, who said that Christ was solely man and received the beginning of His existence from the Virgin; in other words, that Christ was made of a woman as though deriving his beginning entirely from her. But this is false, because it contradicts what is said in Romans 1:3: “Who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh”; he does not say “according to His person,” which exists from eternity, namely, the hypostasis of the Son of God. Hence, just as when a shield newly comes to be white, it is not proper to say that the very substance of the shield newly came to be, but that the whiteness newly accrued to it; so from the fact that the Son of God newly assumed flesh, it is not proper to say that the person of Christ newly came to be, but that a human nature newly accrued to that person, as when certain things affect a body without that body itself being changed. For certain items affect a thing and change it, such as forms and absolute qualities; but certain other items affect it without changing it. Of this sort is the assuming of flesh precisely as bespeaking a relationship. Hence the person of the Word is in no way changed by it. That is why in divine matters we employ in a temporal sense terms that signify a relationship; thus, we say in Psalm 89:1: “Lord, thou hast been our refuge”; or we say that God became man. But we do not thus use forms and absolute qualities, so as to say: God was made good or wise and so on.  Secondly, one must avoid the error of Ebion, who said that Christ was born of the seed of Joseph, and who was led to this by the saying, born of a woman. For according to him the word “woman” always implies defloration. But this is erroneous, for in Sacred Scripture “woman” also denotes the natural sex, according to Genesis 3:12: “Adam said: The woman who thou gavest me to be my companion gave me of the tree.” Here he calls her a woman while she was still a virgin.

Furthermore, by saying made of a woman two errors are destroyed, namely, that of Nestorious saying that Christ did not take His body of the Virgin but of the heavens and that He passed through the Blessed Virgin as through a corridor or channel. But this is false, for if it were true, He would not, as the Apostle says, have been made of a woman. By the preposition “of” [ex] the material cause is denoted. Likewise, the error of Nestorious saying that the Blessed Virgin is not the mother of the Son of God but of the son of a man. But this is shown to be false by the words of the Apostle here, that God sent his Son made of a woman. Now one who is made of a woman is her son. Therefore, if the Son of God was made of a woman, namely, of the Blessed Virgin, it is obvious that the Blessed Virgin is the Mother of the Son of God.

Moreover, although he might have said “born of a woman,” he distinctly says made, and not “born.”[1] Indeed, for something to be born it must not only be produced of a principle conjoined to it but be made from a principle separate from it. Thus a wooden chest is made by an artisan, but fruit is born from a tree. Now the principle of human generation is twofold, namely, material—and as to this, Christ proceeded from a conjoined principle, because He took the matter of His body from the Virgin; and it is according to this that He is said to be born of her: “Of whom [Mary] was born Jesus Who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16).  The other is the active principle, which in the case of Christ, so far as He had a principle, i.e., as to the forming of the body, was not conjoined but separate, because the power of the Holy Spirit formed it. And with respect to this He is not said to have been born of a woman, but made, as it were, from an extrinsic principle. From this it is obvious that the saying, of a woman, does not denote a defloration; otherwise he would have said “born” and not “made.”

Fourthly, he [speaks regarding] subjection when he says, made under the law. But here a difficulty comes to mind from what is said below, namely: If you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law (5:18). Hence if Christ is not only spiritual but the giver of the Spirit, it seems unbecoming to say that He was made under the Law. I answer that “to be under the Law” can be taken in two ways: in one way so that “under” denotes the mere observance of the Law, and in this sense Christ was made under the Law, because He was circumcised and presented in the temple: “I am not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). In another way so that “under” denotes oppression. And in this way one is said to be under the Law if he is oppressed by fear of the Law. But neither Christ nor spiritual men are said to be under the Law in this way.

Then when he says, that he might redeem them who were under the law, he sets down… the reason why He willed they be subject during that time was that they might become heirs great and free. And he mentions both of these things. First, the fruit of freedom as against subjection; hence he says, that he might redeem them who were under the law, i.e., under the curse and burden of the Law; Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us (3:13). Secondly, the fruit of being made great, inasmuch as we are adopted as sons of God by receiving the Spirit of God and being conformed to Him: “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). This adoption belongs in a special way to Christ, because we cannot become adopted sons unless we are conformed to the natural son: “For whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). With this in mind, he says, that we might receive the adoption of sons, i.e., that through the natural Son of God we might be made adopted sons according to grace through Christ.

[1] The NAB translation of the end of Galatians 4:4 reads:  born of a woman, born under the lawYet the Nova Vulgata reads here:  “factum ex muliere, factum sub lege”factum would literally be translated as “made”, since the typcial Latin for “born” would here be “natum”

The Greek for this passage is γενόμενον κ γυναικός, γενόμενον π νόμον”, from the Greek verb γίνομαι.  Compare this to the first phrase of Matthew 2:1 (“When Jesus was born), where the Greek is “Το δ ησο γεννηθέντος:  the verb here is from the Greek γεννάω.

Therefore:  not surprisingly, the Vulgate and Saint Thomas seem to be more faithful to the Scriptural texts than the editors of the NAB...

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)