The way to joy in life is to seek, surrender, and embrace God’s will. All other paths eventually prove empty and lead to desolation.
Most Years we celebrate Christmas until the Sunday Celebration of The Baptism of Jesus. This year however, since Christmas itself fell on a Sunday we closed our liturgical focus on Christmas with the Solemnity of the Epiphany which we celebrated yesterday. Here is a link for my homily for Epiphany.
But, today is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord and I would like to offer these words, which resonate well with my message, for your reflection. They are from an ancient Sermon by Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, bishop.
Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received—though not in its fullness—a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.(Oratio 39 in Sancta Lumina, 16, 20: PG 358-359)
If you are a Christian, Christmas is kind of a big deal. It is big day but it is too big a deal to be contained to a single day. We embrace it for an entire season of time to allow it to permeate our lives and become an essential and foundational part of who we are.
The first eight days, the Octave of Christmas will culminate with the Solemnity of Mary, The Holy Mother of God, but today within the two bookends of the octave we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. This is a day of special interest to me as, after the Ascension of Our Lord, Stephen was chosen one of the seven first deacons. The ministry of the seven was very fruitful; but Stephen especially, “full of grace and fortitude, did great wonders and signs among the people.” So inevitably he was brought before the Sanhedrim, charged, like Jesus, with blasphemy against Moses and against God. He boldly upbraided the chief priests with their hard-hearted resistance to the Holy Ghost and with the murder of the “Just One.” They were stung with anger, and gnashed their teeth against him. But when, “filled with the Holy Spirit and looking up to heaven, he cried out, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God,’ they rushed upon him, and dragging him forth without the city, they stoned him to death.”
The Gospel for today however addresses all of us and tells us, you and I and every other Christian, to expect persecution.
But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. MATTHEW 10:17-22
Why do we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephen? Why do we embrace a Gospel tells us to expect persecution? We can find our answer primarily in the love and sacrifice of Jesus himself, but also in many other ways. We understand intuitively that out of love, we would die in place of someone dear to us if it was our call to make. Furthermore, we know that our faith teaches us that physical death is the portal to eternal life. But, we can also look to The Sacred Scriptures where martyrs like Stephen are witnesses who have given their lives for the faith, participating in the bloody death of Jesus himself. They are part of the great chorus that gives praise to Christ in heaven. The Lamb has become their shepherd leading them to springs of life giving water. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 21:4
This ultimate hope is one held out for us in God’s definitive future. But a terrible price was paid, and a terrible war was waged. Their robes of the persecuted martyrs are washed clean, but in the blood of the Lamb. And the war continues to be waged, for the presence of martyrdom up and down the ages, continues to the present day. In fact, the twentieth was the Christian century with the most martyrs ever, in fact more than all the other centuries combined. The most persecuted religion on planet earth today is Christianity.
So Christmas and Christianity continues not because of family gatherings with their decorations, gifts and food, but because we are adopted into the family of God, given the great gift of the Incarnation, and the meal of thanksgiving, Eucharist, which is the center of our faith sending us forth to embrace the world becoming light to dispel the darkness.
St Stephen, pray for us.
Is it more reasonable for an intelligent individual to believe that there is no God, or that God exists? Put another way, which belief system requires more faith? This video provides something to chew on.
Today is “Black Friday” a day dedicated to making us feel we have to buy more stuff. Yesterday was “Thanksgiving” a day dedicated to being thankful for the blessings of what we already have. Do you see our national schizophrenic disconnect here? Make every day Thanksgiving. Develop an attitude of gratitude, and never let it go.
In many ways I have had a rough couple of months. Thankfully however, I have been able to stay in good spirits as I deal with personal issues and circumstances not to my liking. Yesterday nature seemed to echo that theme as the overcast sky muted, but did not hide, the beauty of the fall foliage from my eyes. For some reason I have been so much more aware of the annual slow motion changes, noticing differences even in the course of individual days. Then as I turned down the side street toward home, God gifted me with a life lesson.
There was a little boy, perhaps three years old, who was looking at a small pile of fallen leaves he had pulled together. It couldn’t have been more than a foot or so wide, and up to his ankles deep. Then he ran the few steps to get to it, enthusiastically jumped as high as his little legs could take him, and landed in the middle of the meager pile laughing for joy.
What do you think about when you think of the Autumn leaves after they inevitably end up on the ground? Do you envision all of the extra yard work of raking them up? Do you think about raking them into a big pile for your grandchildren to jump in? Do you think about jumping joyfully in them yourself? These questions swirled in my mind like an overture of gently falling red and yellow ideas ready for gathering, just before I broke out in a huge grin as I caught the spirt of infectious joy from that little boy. Here was the real lesson to me.
As I progressed through life, I have developed a bit of an immunity to simple joys. They are often muted and even hidden by circumstances and expectations. Even if I held onto the joy of jumping in a pile of leaves, I would certainly envision a large deep pile, a pile worthy of calling a mountain of leaves, anything less would diminish my joy. That is what I have learned from the world. Yesterday God reminded me that I once was filled with wonder and joy in the experience of small and simple things. That my expectations and desire to always have ” better and more” are barriers to accepting the gifts that He wants to give me each day. Then I remembered the infectious joy that I have seen in the faces not only of a little boy, but on the face of a poor man in Uganda, a loved one in hospice care, a prisoner in jail, and sometimes, when I open my heart, the face in the mirror.
I don’t know about you but, I have a lot of stuff going in with work, my family, my health. The truth be told, I don’t have enough time to pray for everything I need to pray for, and that is just my stuff. Fortunately I was reminded, when I went to Confession recently, of the importance of reflecting upon sacred scripture every day. It was in that reflection upon First Timothy 2:1-3 that I was reminded that my stuff is not where my prayer should begin.
“First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”
So, first I should pray for everyone. That’s a bit of a change to praying for myself first and others later. The significance of the thought that I need to be praying for those in authority has not escaped me either. But what is going on when we pray for everyone, if every Christian was praying for everyone? St Ambrose had something to say about that in his treatise on Cain and Abel, “if you pray only for yourself, you will be praying, as we said, for yourself alone. But if you pray for all, all will pray for you, for you are included in all.” This is a simple truth, if I pray for everyone, I am praying for myself. But, I am not praying in a self centered way.
I don’t mean that I should stop praying for my specific needs, just that I should start with a foundation that puts things in the right perspective. Recognizing in humility that I am talking to God, giving praise and thanksgiving, considering the needs of others before my own. If I do it the other way, I can often get so wrapped up in my own concerns, I may not have much left to give to God or others in my prayer or my mind. This tends to make my heart and my world both smaller and harder. It occurs to me that this is not the reason that I pray, even if I do only pray for myself.
May God bless us all, constantly drawing us deeper into his mercy and love.
If you have time here is the context of the St Ambrose quote above, from today’s Office of Readings:
SECOND READING, From a treatise on Cain and Abel by Saint Ambrose, bishop (Lib. 1, 9, 34, 38-39: CSEL 32, 369, 371-372)
Offer God a sacrifice of praise and fulfill your vows to the Most High. If you praise God you offer your vow and fulfill the promise you have made. So the Samaritan leper, healed by the Lord’s word of command, gained greater credit than the other nine; he alone returned to Christ, praising God and giving thanks. Jesus said of him: There was no one to come back and thank God except this foreigner. He tells him: Stand up and go on your way, for your faith has made you whole.
The Lord Jesus, in his divine wisdom, taught you about the goodness of the Father, who knows how to give good things, so that you might ask for the things that are good from Goodness itself. He urges you to pray earnestly and frequently, not offering long and wearisome prayers, but praying often, and with perseverance. Lengthy prayers are usually filled with empty words, while neglect of prayer results in indifference to prayer.
Again, Christ urges you, when you ask forgiveness for yourself, to be especially generous to others, so that your actions may commend your prayer. The Apostle, too, teaches you how to pray; you must avoid anger and contentiousness, so that your prayer may be serene and wholesome. He tells you also that every place is a place of prayer, though our Savior says: Go into your room.
But by “room” you must understand, not a room enclosed by walls that imprison your body, but the room that is within you, the room where you hide your thoughts, where you keep your affections. This room of prayer is always with you, wherever you are, and it is always a secret room, where only God can see you.
You are told to pray especially for the people, that is, for the whole body, for all its members, the family of your mother the Church; the badge of membership in this body is love for each other. If you pray only for yourself, you pray for yourself alone. If each one prays for himself, he received less from God’s goodness than the one who prays on behalf of others. But as it is, because each prays for all, all are in fact praying for each one.
To conclude, if you pray only for yourself, you will be praying, as we said, for yourself alone. But if you pray for all, all will pray for you, for you are included in all. In this way there is a great recompense; through the prayers of each individual, the intercession of the whole people is gained for each individual. There is here no pride, but an increase of humility and a richer harvest from prayer.
I may not agree with everything in Running Afoul of the Catholic Left and Right: Calling for a Ceasefire but it is well written, and worth a thoughtful read.
This point is spot on, we need to stop assuming that people who disagree with us are either stupid or evil. I also agree with this recognition:
“Catholicism (defined as broadly as possible) is a form of Christianity that has an increasingly hard time fitting into the structures of the United States. On the one hand, we are pro-life, many of us have traditional sexual ethics, we think the family is the basic, pre-political foundation of any given society and think there are aspects of our society that require conserving. On the other hand, we believe in preferential treatment for the poor, we combat racial injustices, we believe in the inherent dignity of all human beings (born and unborn), we believe in caring for our common home. We don’t fit. We never will, that’s simply part of Christianity.”
May God bless America and bring about a revival in the hearts of individual women and men, for it is in our hearts that the true battle is being fought. In many respects, the legitimate importance of this election and other worldly concerns override and trample the time and importance we need to give to nurturing the peace and wisdom that God wants to breathe into us. We stop that from happening by our passionate fixation on things that will pass away, and in so doing, end up relying upon our own wisdom to the best of our limited abilities. Our wisdom, has brought us to where we are. There is a better path.
- Catholic Church
- Family Life
- Social Networking
- Something To Chew On