Thursday, December 31, 2009

Prayers today: A child is born for us, a son given to us; dominion is laid on his shoulder, and he shall be called Wonderful-Counsellor. Isaiah 9: 6

Ever-living God, in the birth of your Son our religion has its origin and its perfect fulfilment. Help us to share in the life of Christ for he is the salvation of mankind, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Sylvester I, Pope (d. 335)

When you think of this pope, you think of the Edict of Milan, the emergence of the Church from the catacombs, the building of the great basilicas, Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter’s and others, the Council of Nicaea and other critical events. But for the most part, these events were planned or brought about by Emperor Constantine. A great store of legends has grown up around the man who was pope at this most important time, but very little can be established historically. We know for sure that his papacy lasted from 314 until his death in 335. Reading between the lines of history, we are assured that only a very strong and wise man could have preserved the essential independence of the Church in the face of the overpowering figure of the Emperor Constantine. The bishops in general remained loyal to the Holy See and at times expressed apologies to Sylvester for undertaking important ecclesiastical projects at the urging of Constantine.

It takes deep humility and courage in the face of criticism for a leader to stand aside and let events take their course, when asserting one’s authority would only lead to useless tension and strife. Sylvester teaches a valuable lesson for Church leaders, politicians, parents and others in authority. To emphasize the continuity of Holy Orders, the recent Roman breviary in its biographies of popes ends with important statistics. On the feast of Saint Sylvester it recounts: "He presided at seven December ordinations at which he created 42 priests, 25 deacons and 65 bishops for various sees." The Holy Father is indeed the heart of the Church's sacramental system, an essential element of its unity.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John (1: 1-18)
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ From his fullness we have all received one grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No-one has ever seen God, but God the Only Begotten, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. (John 1: 1-18)

The Word Most religions seem to have an account of the beginnings, meaning by this an account of the beginnings of either the people who possess this account, or of the world. The Australian aborigines have their powerful Dreamtime, and numerous other myths of the peoples could be cited. It seems to be one of the functions of religion that it provide this answer to what is a fundamental question. In this, religion has competed with science, with science gradually supplanting the myths of religion and claiming authority to tell the whole story of the beginnings. So it is that in the imagination of many people, science now occupies the chair of religion. In his Oxford University Sermon of December 11, 1831, John Henry Newman spoke of “The Usurpations of Reason,” and much of his point is that this happens when reason strays beyond its own province. It certainly pronounces beyond its competence when it claims to teach the whole story of the beginnings. The Big Bang, of course, does not account for the beginnings because the Bang itself had to begin, and that required an ultimate uncaused Beginner of the Bang. In any case the Bang does not account for the ontological insufficiency of the transient and limited being that is the world. Be all that as it may, Revealed Religion tells us of the ultimate beginnings. As the first verses of the book of Genesis reveal, God spoke and the world began. Just what exactly he did in the world and with the world we leave to science to discover if it can. But the world began in time, and it began because of the act of the one Creator. Genesis teaches that were it not for God there would be no world at all. Why, then, is there not nothing? There is not nothing because God willed that there be something. He, the One without beginning who is sustained in being by no other, began and sustains in being all that is other than He. But there is a further revelation and it is set forth by St John at the outset of his Gospel. The word by which God brought all creation into being, the word which he uttered to his servants the prophets, this word was with God in the beginning.

Whatever point we take as being the beginning, there at that point the Word was with God. The Word did not begin, nor did God. At the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was with God (ho theos), and — surprise of surprises! — the Word was God (theos)! At the outset of his Gospel St John begins forthwith to speak of the mystery of the most holy Trinity. The one and only God is not just one and only person. The Word who became flesh is also this one and only God (kai theos een ho logos). The Word, becoming flesh and dwelling among us, will reveal the person of the Holy Spirit, who will in turn glorify and bear witness to him and to the Father. Our Gospel passage today (John 1:1-18) is traditionally called the Prologue of the Gospel of St John. It sets before us a grand panorama of the beginning of time and of the redemption of the world. We are taken immediately to the heart of reality as it has been from all eternity and we are invited to accept the invitation to enter into communion with the great God who has deigned to reveal himself to us. In simple strokes, like the gentle unfolding of a grand symphony, St John tells us of the Word who will be the protagonist of his Good News. It was through him that we and all else was made. In him is life and that life is our light. It is a powerful light and the darkness cannot comprehend it nor can it master it. There is no other true light for man other than what is in him, so we must choose to regard him as our only Way and our only Truth. He is the Light of the world, and the one who follows him walks in the light, while the one who rejects him walks forever in the darkness. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and it is this which we celebrate during the Christmas season. God made man is the glory of God, and this glory has been seen by man. As the inspired author says, “we saw his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” He brings to us the fullness — the fullness of life, abundant life — “and of his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Let us contemplate the grand and lofty person of Jesus Christ, born a babe, an historical man for his brief span, dead on the cross, risen and now present in all his fullness in his body the Church. He brings to us the fullness of grace and life and light, grace upon grace. He is our hope and to him we must cleave. Let us, with our hand in his, walk by his side as, not his servants, but his friends. I have not called you servants but friends, he says. Let us tread his path whatever be the cost of each day, for he will take us with him into glory.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Prayers today: When peaceful silence lay over all, and night had run half of her swift course, your all-powerful Word, 0 Lord, leaped down from heaven, from the royal throne. Wisdom 18: 14-15

All-powerful God, may the human birth of your Son free us from our former slavery to sin and bring us new life. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,..

St. Egwin (d. 717)
You say you’re not familiar with today’s saint? Chances are you aren’t—unless you’re especially informed about Benedictine bishops who established monasteries in medieval England. Born of royal blood in the 7th century, Egwin entered a monastery and was enthusiastically received by royalty, clergy and the people as the bishop of Worcester, England. As a bishop he was known as a protector of orphans and the widowed and a fair judge. Who could argue with that? His popularity didn’t hold up among members of the clergy, however. They saw him as overly strict, while he felt he was simply trying to correct abuses and impose appropriate disciplines. Bitter resentments arose, and Egwin made his way to Rome to present his case to Pope Constantine. The case against Egwin was examined and annulled. Upon his return to England, he founded Evesham Abbey, which became one of the great Benedictine houses of medieval England. It was dedicated to Mary, who had reportedly made it known to Egwin just where a church should be built in her honour. He died at the abbey on December 30, in the year 717. Following his burial many miracles were attributed to him: The blind could see, the deaf could hear, the sick were healed.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (2: 36-40)

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him Luke 2: 36-40

The example of Anna
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

The flame of religion burns with great variety in the histories of different people. We think of those whose turn to God is distinguished by a decisive conversion. St Paul’s conversion was so dramatic that the phrase, “A Damascus experience,” is a byword for a sudden and enduring conversion. Augustine had been living in sin and dallying with non-Catholic religious creeds and, due especially to the unceasing prayers and love of his holy mother Monica, he underwent a conversion. His conversion was an extraordinary one in its fruitfulness. He became one of the most dominant saints in the Church’s history. Other conversions could be cited. In 1845 John Henry Newman, the leader of the Oxford Movement in England, converted to the Catholic Church. But there are other disciples of Christ whose stories are not defined by a visible change in course. Of course, in the life of every Christian there must be a turning away from sin and an acceptance of the truth of the Gospel. Indeed, this has to be going on throughout life and if sanctity is to be attained, conversion from sin must be a daily and frequent occurrence. But in many — perhaps even the majority — this change is gradual and not especially visible. Imagine a flash-back from the past. A farming family has a small holding in a fairly remote valley among the mountains of New South Wales. The parents are religious and they say the rosary every evening as a family, getting to Mass when the priest comes to their district once a month. The children grow, and gradually the varied quality of their religious faith slowly becomes apparent. One seems to be worldly, and his religion, though there, is never the ruling factor. He never truly understands it because it never becomes the love of his life. His younger sister, though, has always been religious and her Catholic faith seems always to be growing. She has many struggles in life and has to recognize her faults and repent from them, but her religion is real and deep. She loves God, prayer, the Mass, the Sacraments and her Faith. She outlives her brothers and sisters and lives a long life with her religion never failing. She ends her days in the arms of the Lord, with Christ and the Church meaning everything to her.

In our Gospel today (Luke 2: 36-40), we are presented with the impressive figure of Anna the prophetess. There is no suggestion of a Damascus-like, or Augustine-like, or Newman-like conversion at any point of her life. Of course, we do not know, but it looks as if she was religious from her earliest years, her immersion in God growing with the decades of her life. We read that “She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying” (Luke 2: 36-40). There is no mention of children, and it seems as if once her husband died she gave herself up to the Lord’s service with abandon of heart. She seems to own nothing, but lives in the Temple night and day, perhaps having her simple shelter in some hidden cranny among the vast structure. Who knows, but there she may have been perhaps for many decades. She may have known and been revered by the parents and grandparents of Mary the mother of the Child. She has lived in God, and the Holy Spirit has at times spoken through her to people — she is a prophetess and a holy daughter of Sion. Like Simeon, she too looks forward with ardour to the coming of the Messiah — and now, O joy of joys! — the Messiah is suddenly in the Temple. This she knows by an inspiration. The Holy Spirit leads her — and there! The Child of Mary is he. Simeon has handed him back to his mother, and Anna stands by their side with a pure joy filling her faithful soul. She gazes on the serene Child and sees in him the wonder of the world. She raises her eyes and gazes on the holy couple before her, each of whom outstrip her in holiness. Beautiful soul is Anna! Anna the prophetess, embodiment of the best of Israel, as is Simeon who has just prophesied over the Child and his coming sufferings — what a grouping is this. There we have before us the hidden pinnacle of holiness in the Old Testament: Jesus, Mary and Joseph with Simeon and Anna by their side. How heaven must have smiled in joy at the sight.

Anna the prophetess lived her whole life for God and doubtlessly ended her days — perhaps not long after — in the odour of sanctity. Her life was grand and yet filled with a humble round in the Temple, day and night in fasting and prayer before God. Whatever be our route to God, let us hold fast to him when we find him and never let go. Let us humbly run the race to the finish where the crown awaits us. Fidelity is the name, and this faithfulness is lived out in the ordinary things of an ordinary life. Thus — as with Anna — does the ordinary and little life become grand.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Prayers for today: God loved the world so much, he gave his only Son, that all who believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. Jn 3: 16

All-powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light into our world has made the darkness vanish. Teach us to proclaim the birth of your Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170)

A strong man who wavered for a moment, but then learned one cannot come to terms with evil and so became a strong churchman, a martyr and a saint—that was Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his cathedral on December 29, 1170. His career had been a stormy one. While archdeacon of Canterbury, he was made chancellor of England at the age of 36 by his friend King Henry II. When Henry felt it advantageous to make his chancellor the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas gave him fair warning: he might not accept all of Henry’s intrusions into Church affairs. Nevertheless, he was made archbishop (1162), resigned his chancellorship and reformed his whole way of life! Troubles began. Henry insisted upon usurping Church rights. At one time, supposing some conciliatory action possible, Thomas came close to compromise. He momentarily approved the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have denied the clergy the right of trial by a Church court and prevented them from making direct appeal to Rome. But Thomas rejected the Constitutions, fled to France for safety and remained in exile for seven years. When he returned to England, he suspected it would mean certain death. Because Thomas refused to remit censures he had placed upon bishops favoured by the king, Henry cried out in a rage, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights, taking his words as his wish, slew Thomas in the Canterbury cathedral. Thomas Becket remains a hero-saint down to our own times.

No one becomes a saint without struggle, especially with himself. Thomas knew he must stand firm in defence of truth and right, even at the cost of his life. We also must take a stand in the face of pressures — against dishonesty, deceit, destruction of life — at the cost of popularity, convenience, promotion and even greater goods.

In T. S. Eliot’s drama, Murder in the Cathedral, Becket faces a final temptation to seek martyrdom for earthly glory and revenge. With real insight into his life situation, Thomas responds: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (2: 22-35)

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: a pair of doves or two young pigeons. Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel. The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too. Luke 2: 22-35

Simeon’s prophecy
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In the Gospels of Mark and John the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God commences with the inauguration of his public ministry. Most scholars allow that Mark’s Gospel, representing especially the preaching of St Peter, is the earliest to have been set down in written form. Most propose that John’s is the last of the four. In both cases God’s revelation of who Jesus is and the nature of his mission commences with John’s prophetic ministry, his proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah and his baptism of Jesus. But the case is very different with both Matthew and Luke. In their accounts, God’s revelation of the person of Jesus begins before his birth and continues in the immediate aftermath. The essence of it is granted to those immediately involved at the very outset. Matthew informs us that Joseph had been told by the Angel in a dream that the unborn Child of his betrothed would save his people from their sins. He was, accordingly, to be named Jesus. For his part, Luke informs us that immediately prior to the Child’s conception Mary was informed by the Angel that she would conceive her Child by the power of the Holy Spirit. He would be great — Messiah, son of David, Son of God, and his throne eternal. There is a revelation not only of the Incarnation but implicitly of the Holy Trinity. Soon after, under divine inspiration Elizabeth pronounced the Child of Mary to be the mother of her Lord. But that is not all. Nine months later the new-born Child was brought to the Temple and the Holy Spirit led Simeon to the humble parents, moving unnoticed as they were among the worshipers. Speaking in prophecy, Simeon informs Mary and Joseph that their Child is the salvation sent by God. The Angel had informed Mary and Joseph that their Child was the promised Messiah of God’s chosen people, and that he would save his people from their sins. But in his prophetic utterance Simeon reveals more of the scope of his redemptive mission. He is “a light” for “revelation to the Gentiles”. He is not only the glory of the chosen people. He is also the Saviour of the world, Redeemer of mankind.

We are told that both the “father and mother” of the Child “marvelled at what was said about him.” The prophets themselves had been progressively enlightened as to what was to come. Simeon too had been enlightened by the Holy Spirit as to who the Messiah was and what would be his mission. Some thirty years later John the Baptist would be enlightened as to who the Messiah was. He would also be enlightened by Christ himself as to the real course of his Messianic mission. It is clear from the Gospel accounts that the parents of Jesus also received light from on high, and they both “marvelled” at what they were being told. They lived by faith. They were led from light to light that came from God through his messengers and servants, beginning at the Child’s conception and continuing after his birth. First the Angel, then Elizabeth, then Simeon — through each, God was leading the parents of Jesus to understand in its essential elements the full identity and mission of their glorious son. And Simeon had more to tell them. Their Child’s mission would involve division, contestation, contradiction and great suffering. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2: 22-35). It will not be a path of glory and triumphant success as were the paths of certain great rulers — “saviours” — of the world. The Child will be spoken against. Among God’s people, some will rise and others will fall because of him. The good will suffer with him — and, addressing himself to Mary, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” The Holy Spirit is informing Mary and Joseph that the mission of their messianic Child will be a path of suffering. He had come into this world to suffer and, mysteriously, his obedient suffering would be the means of bringing glory to his people and salvation to the Gentiles. Simeon, in addressing Mary, intimates that she will be especially associated with him in this path of suffering — and perhaps intimates to Joseph that he will not live to see this day.

Let us ponder on the mission of the Saviour as it is laid out before the notice of his holy parents, who marvel as they hear the words of prophecy. Let us gaze on the Child, truly man and truly God. How wondrous is the phenomenon of this Child! There in the arms of Simeon lies the great God who sustains the universe by his love. There in his arms lies God become man who has entered the lists as our Champion and who will take up his shield, wield his spear, and begin his great and victorious charge. He will come thundering and will smite the enemy and set us free. What is his shield? What is his spear? What is his charge? It is the cross of Calvary. Dead on the Cross he will have laid the enemy low. Ah, Lord! Now I begin!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Prayers for today: These Innocent children were slain for Christ. They follow the spotless Lamb, and proclaim forever: Glory to you, Lord.

Father, the Holy Innocents offered you praise by the death they suffered for Christ. May our lives bear witness to the faith we profess with our lips. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, …

The Holy Innocents

Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Hence he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne. He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality. He killed his wife, his brother and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few. Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story: Herod was “greatly troubled” when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of “the newborn king of the Jews,” whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” They found Jesus, offered him their gifts and, warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt. Herod became furious and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah,/sobbing and loud lamentation;/Rachel weeping for her children...” (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob/Israel. She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.

Twenty babies are few, in comparison to the genocide and abortion of our day. But even if there had been only one, we recognize the greatest treasure God put on the earth—a human person, destined for eternity and graced by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

“Lord, you give us life even before we understand” (Prayer Over the Gifts, Feast of the Holy Innocents).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (2: 13-18)

When the Wise Men had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: Out of Egypt I called my son. When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. Matthew 2: 13-18

Bearing witness
(H0mily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Bethlehem was a tiny village in one of the world’s backwaters. What happened there would not have caused so much as a ripple on the general scene of the era. Yet unbeknown to the world a momentous event had happened: God had quietly become man there and was being nurtured as a tiny infant. He and his obscure parents had been visited by representatives from the East and they, having honoured him as a great King, had gone. These Magi had inquired of him from Jerusalem and from the wily King Herod, but Herod had heard no more from them. Thereupon Herod hatched an effective plan to destroy this infant Messiah who would doubtless threaten his future dynasty. So very quietly his soldiers arrived at the village, the nation knowing nothing of what was afoot. It may have been a party of ten or twenty — who knows! Swiftly, efficiently, quietly, the settlement was searched by the unexpected henchmen. Each home of the village and its surrounds was visited, entered and examined. Without more ado, home by home the boys under two years of age were dispatched, leaving a pall of life-long sorrow over various families of Bethlehem. But the eagle had flown! Not long before the terrible arrival — perhaps in the nick of time — Joseph was roused by an angel in a dream, and with the Child and his holy mother had fled to Egypt. King Herod thought he had snuffed out yet another threat, but the King of kings had been preserved. But what terrible harm had been done! Innocents had been quietly slaughtered and profound sorrow had suddenly descended upon obscure and helpless families. Where was God? What was he doing? Why did he allow this? Was he not capable of preventing such a deed? Look at the power of his hand. He had led the Magi from the East to the Child by a star. That was a prodigy in itself. He had thwarted Herod firstly by directing the Magi not to return to him to inform him of the Child, and secondly he had warned Joseph of the terrible threat that was so near. He had also told Joseph exactly where he was to go: he was to go beyond reach into Egypt. He could certainly have saved these Innocents and their unsuspecting families from such an evil. But he did not. He did not save them from death.

It can be very difficult knowing what to make of this. That is to say, it can be very difficult understanding the plan of God, for often his ways seem to be inscrutable. He saves one, but not another. He heals one, but not another. He accords the wishes of one, but not another. Our Innocents of today’s Feast died because of hatred for Christ, and the Christ-child was spared. We do not know why in the divine plan this terrible attack on innocent life was allowed, but till the end of time their unknowing sacrifice will be honoured by the Church. They are counted as “martyrs”, which is to say, as “witnesses” to the absolute necessity of Christ and his saving mission. The divine imperative was that the Child must escape. Their deaths at the hand of Herod manifested that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, the One whom Evil fears as its Conqueror. They show that all that matters in life is the person of Jesus, and that our lives serve to honour and glorify him. Whether we live or die, whether our success is great or meagre, whether our lives are counted as fortunate or not, what matters is that they bear witness to the truth and the glory of Jesus. If in the last analysis it will be said that Jesus Christ was honoured and glorified by my brief and poor life, then in all its poverty it will have attained its true and noble end. What would these Innocents have been if they had been preserved from such an evil as suddenly struck them? They would have grown up and lived out their lives as absolutely unknown villagers, lost in the total obscurity of history. But instead, for all eternity they will be counted as Martyrs — “Witnesses” to Christ — though uncomprehending at the time. By the decree of God their lives suddenly received a singular grandeur. The evil was allowed and the saving mission of the Redeemer proceeded. Let us live our lives striving to fulfil God’s will as it seems to be indicated. If mishaps, tragedy and disappointment come our way despite our prayers and appeals, the Holy Innocents show us that God has his plan for us. In all its difficulty and obscurity, our ordinary life will attain its grandeur.

If God is to be honoured and glorified by my life, there is one way to this and one way only. His will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. May the holy will of God be done! As our Lord prayed in the Garden, Father, take this cup from me — but not as I will, only as you will. Mysteriously, suffering, deprivation and even death can be part of the great and wondrously effective plan of God. The Holy Innocents teach us that all that God does or deliberately allows will play their part in Christ’s work of redemption and sanctification. What matters is that we actively do and actively accept his will.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

27 December 2009

Feast of the Holy Family

Prayers today: The shepherds hastened to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. Lk 2:16

Father, help us to live as the Holy Family, united in respect and love. Bring us to the joy and peace of your eternal home. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, …


Father in heaven, creator of all, you ordered the earth to bring forth life and crowned its goodness by creating the family of man. In history’s moment when all was ready, you sent your Son to dwell in time, obedient to the laws of life in our world. Teach us the sanctity of human love, show us the value of family life, and help us to live in peace with all men that we may share in your life for ever, we ask this through Christ our Lord.

The Holy Family

"The home of Nazareth is the school where we begin to understand the life of Jesus — the school of the Gospel. First, then, a lesson of silence. May esteem for silence, that admirable and indispensable condition of mind, revive in us. A lesson on family life. May Nazareth teach us what family life is, its communion of love, its austere and simple beauty, and its sacred and inviolable character. A lesson of work. Nazareth, home of the Carpenter's Son, in you I would choose to understand and proclaim the severe and redeeming law of human work." (— Pope Paul VI at Nazareth, January 5, 1964)

The Holy Family models for us what family life should exemplify. It is a school of virtue for both parents and children. There we find God, and learn how to connect with God and with others. The family is where love is freely given without self-interest. It is where we learn to love, to pray and to practice the gift of charity. Pope John Paul II has said, “The family, more than any other human reality, is the place in which the person is loved for himself and in which he learns to live the sincere gift of self” (Nov. 27, 2002).

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (2.41-52)

Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you. Why were you searching for me? he asked. Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house? But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”

Sanctifying one’s home
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Today we think of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The long awaited Messiah chose to begin his redemptive work in the midst of a simple and normal family. So the first reality which our Lord sanctified by his presence was a home and family. Nothing extraordinary - except what is narrated in the Infancy Narratives - occurred during these years at Nazareth where our Lord spent the greatest part of his life. Joseph was the head of the family; as such he sustained Jesus and Mary with his work. He it was who received the message to give the child the name Jesus. From him our Lord learnt a trade, a means of making a living. To him Christ would often have shown his admiration and affection. From Mary, Jesus learned manners of speech, perhaps popular sayings full of wisdom which later he would use in his preaching. He watched how she used a little yeast in the dough so as to make it rise. If an item of clothing tore, he watched how she patched it. Years later our Lord would draw the material for his parables from this common everyday knowledge. How pleased must the Father and the entire realm of heaven have been at the sight of the Holy Family at Nazareth! It was all that God had planned for home and family. One thing this tells us is that every little aspect of our ordinary everyday lives can be used for a great and holy purpose. Everything we do should be made holy. Everything we do should be done in such a way that we will be holier as a result. And everything we do should be done in a way that will sanctify others as well. All of this can be done in a perfectly normal household and life. The seemingly ordinary home of Nazareth was very holy. Between Mary and Joseph there was a holy love, a spirit of service, an understanding and desire to provide one another with a happy life. Thus was the family of Jesus made sacred, holy, exemplary, a model of the human virtues, and disposed to fulfil exactly the will of God. The Christian home ought be an imitation of the holy home of Nazareth, a home where God reigns and is at the heart of family love.

Is our home like that? Do we dedicate time and attention to the home and to modelling it on that of Jesus? Is Jesus the very centre of our home? In the family, the parents are the first educators of the faith to their children, by means of their word and by example. This was fulfilled in a most singular manner in the case of the Holy Family. The Holy Family recited with devotion the traditional prayers prayed in every devout Hebrew home. One can imagine the fervour with which the Holy Family recited the psalms, and with what devotion they read the Scriptures. We could ask ourselves, Do I teach my children their prayers, and do I teach them to pray with great devotion? Do my children see a spirit of prayer in the family? Do we pray the Rosary which is the prayerful contemplation of the Gospel and the mystery of Christ? A family united to Christ is a member of his mystical body, and the Church calls it a ‘domestic church’. The Christian family ought be a reflection of the Church itself in being a living testimony to Christ. In the Holy Family, every Christian family has a lofty example. The family is also the basic and most simple form of society. It is the principal school of all the social virtues and social life, for in the family a person exercises obedience, concern for others, a sense of responsibility, understanding and help, loving cooperation among different ways of living. So it is that the health of society depends on the health of families. How important then is it that every family have a correct model of family life: this model is the Holy Family. Families were created for the honour and service of God, and so God must be first in our families in everything. The family that thinks that worldly happiness is more important than eternal life with God, is headed for tragedy and disappointment.

In today’s readings, God’s wisdom gives us norms for family life. Each family has a choice: it can follow either the wisdom of God or that of the world, and families broken by following the wrong choice are legion. Families ought reflect on today’s scriptural passages, and pray and discuss and come to a common understanding of family life in Christ. Let us make the resolution to have the Holy Family as our constant model of family life.
Prayers for today: The gates of heaven opened for Stephen, the first of the martyrs; in heaven he wears the crown of victory.

Lord, today we celebrate the entrance of St Stephen into eternal glory. He died praying for those who killed him. Help us to imitate his goodness and to love our enemies. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, …

December 26, Saint Stephen, first martyr (d. 36 A.D.?)

All we know of Stephen is found in Acts of the Apostles, chapters six and seven. It is enough to tell us what kind of man he was: At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenist (Greek-speaking) Christians complained about the Hebrew-speaking Christians, saying that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit.... (Acts 6:1-5) Acts says that Stephen was a man filled with grace and power, who worked great wonders among the people. Certain Jews, members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen, debated with Stephen but proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. They persuaded others to make the charge of blasphemy against him. He was seized and carried before the Sanhedrin. In his speech, Stephen recalled God’s guidance through Israel’s history, as well as Israel’s idolatry and disobedience. He then claimed that his persecutors were showing this same spirit. “You always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors” (Acts 7:51b). His speech brought anger from the crowd. “But [Stephen], filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God....’ They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him....As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit....Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:55-56, 58a, 59, 60b).

Stephen died as Jesus did: falsely accused, brought to unjust condemnation because he spoke the truth fearlessly. He died with his eyes trustfully fixed on God, and with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips. A “happy” death is one that finds us in the same spirit, whether our dying is as quiet as Joseph’s or as violent as Stephen’s: dying with courage, total trust and forgiving love.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (10:17-22)

Jesus said, Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:17-22)

Nature and Grace The Gift of Christ is the Holy Spirit. On rising from the dead, the first thing he did upon meeting his gathered Apostles was to bestow upon them his Gift, the Holy Spirit. He breathed on them and said, receive the Holy Spirit. With that, he entrusted them with a share in his mission: as the Father has sent me, so am I sending you (John 20:21). Ten days after his Ascension to the right hand of the Father, he and the Father sent the Holy Spirit to the infant Church. With that, the Church was born and launched in its mission. And so it is that the Scriptures clearly show that it is God who grants the increase. Now, there are those who, looking to God alone for the power to do any good that bears on salvation, stress the profound and hopeless depravity of fallen man. However, in this stress on the Fall of man they regard nature — natural capacities and the natural means of doing good — to be of relatively little value. They view grace to be everything, and nature to be in effect nothing. For the daily Christian life they place little emphasis on a judicious use of all natural means to attain godly goals. All the emphasis is on faith in God’s grace, together with a neglect of and suspicion against working hard at all the human and natural means. Now, this is an important issue because if God means us to rely on him alone in such a way that nature is eclipsed in the process, then to be calculatingly shrewd in one’s use of natural means must interfere in his work. But if God means us to rely on him while giving full weight to natural means, then failing to give this weight will in its turn cripple the work of God. In our Gospel today our Lord warns his disciples that they will be harassed and persecuted. “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:17-22). The impression one might gain from this is that our Lord is inviting his disciples not to give thought, or to give little thought “about what to say or how to say it”, because the “Spirit of your Father” will be speaking through you. But our Lord does not say that.

Elsewhere in the Gospel, our Lord tells the parable of the sower going out to sow the seed. The sower is the Son of Man — himself — and he is sowing the word of God. The emphasis of the parable is not on the quality of the seed, but on the soil that receives it. In a sense it is the soil that makes all the difference to the degree of fruitfulness the seed will have. The fruit comes from the seed, but the degree of fruitfulness of the seed depends on the quality of the soil that receives it. In some instances — and the parable might be read as implying in most instances — the fruitfulness is extremely meagre, if not lacking altogether. After all, most of the instances mentioned in the parable — the path, the thorns, the rocky ground — are inimical to the seed. It is only the last, the good soil, which bears fruit. Some of the good soil bears thirty, some sixty, some one hundred fold. It is clear from the parable, that Christ means us to appreciate that the concrete steps we take to understand, accept and bear witness to the word are of critical importance in the work of redemption. That is to say, it is a serious and even tragic simplification simply to depend entirely on the power of God if this is understood as neglecting the concrete and human steps we ought take to make it effective. Depending entirely on the help of God does not mean neglecting to work hard at the human factors in the process. It does not mean acting as if God is to do everything. It means depending on God as the One who brings forth the fruit, while acting as if he depends on us to work to make this possible. While praying for a psychological healing, the patient also goes to a good psychiatrist. We are not alone in our efforts. We have God to grant the increase. But neither is God alone. He has us, and we are his instruments in the work he has given us to do. So then, when difficulties come in doing the work with which he has entrusted us, we must not worry as if all is dependent on ourselves alone. No, do not worry because the Spirit of God will be with us. But we must indeed give much thought to “what to say” and how to say it. We must strive to be good soil for the Farmer, soil he can use to bring forth the fruit that will be his alone.

Let us begin every day by asking God to bless and give fruitfulness to our efforts to bear witness to him in our daily work, knowing that all the fruit of it will come from him who is working and speaking in us. We are branches of the vine and the vine is Christ, with the Father the vinedresser. We are members of the body which is the Church, and the head is Christ. We depend totally on Christ to do the work in life which he has, by our vocation and circumstances, given us. Yet he is dependent on us for he has endowed us with freedom and the capacity to take our stand with him or otherwise. Nature depends on grace, but grace builds on, and in, and through nature, sanctifying it and transforming it into the likeness of God.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Prayers: A light will shine on us this day, the Lord is born for us: he shall be called Wonderful God, Prince of peace, Father of the world to come; and his kingship will never end. Is 9: 1, 5; Lk 1: 33

Father, we are filled with the new light by the coming of your Word among us. May the light of faith shine in our words and actions. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,


Almighty God and Father of light, a child is born for us and a son is given to us. Your eternal Word leaped down from heaven in the silent watches of the night, and now your Church is filled with wonder at the nearness of her God. Open our hearts to receive his life and increase our vision with the rising of dawn, that our lives may be filled with his glory and his peace, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (2.15-20)

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste 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.

Celebrating Jesus
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

On Christmas day we wish one another a very happy Christmas. It is a beautiful thing to mean by this to wish another the joy of having a Saviour born for us. But this true meaning of Christmas has surely been largely lost from view. At Christmas many political leaders offer Christmas wishes to the public. How rare in their Christmas messages is any principal reference to the person of Jesus Christ, and any acknowledgment of who he really is. The world of business regards Christmas as an important time indeed, but it is important because of its commercial value. Christmas is successful if a lot of money has been spent. Our society is rightly described as secular, and with this secularism there is present in our culture a subtle and all-pervasive pressure to separate man from God, and to treat God as a purely personal and indeed subjective notion. God is excluded from social and public life, and so it is an embarrassment to mention Christ openly. Christmas has become a secular celebration, a good time in a material and social sense. I read some years back that in China the government was allowing the commercial celebration of Christmas in Changhai (with figures of Santa Claus and Christmas trees) in order to boost buying and selling, while of course repressing all independent worship of Christ.

Christ is used for secular purposes. While Christ is pushed out of sight in order to celebrate a world without God, the convinced Christian welcomes Christ as the Lord of the world. “I bring you news of great joy,” the angel said to the shepherds, “a saviour has been born to you, Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:1-14). He is mankind’s Messiah and Lord. We remember how Thomas bowed before the risen Jesus and said, My Lord and my God. Our Lord himself said that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him by his heavenly Father. So then, as we celebrate Christmas, let us intend to celebrate Jesus our Lord and his coming, and not just secular values. We ought not allow ourselves to be drawn unconsciously into a celebration of the good things of life with no real reference to Christ. On Christmas day let us welcome Christ, and not just a merry time. Let us acknowledge him as the gift of God to the whole of humanity. He is the one who makes all the difference to everything.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Prayers today: The appointed time has come; God has sent his Son into the world. Gal 4:4

Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to your people who trust in your love. By your coming, raise us to the joy of your kingdom, where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Adele

St. Adele, Widow. A daughter of King Dagobert II of Germany, St. Adele became a nun upon the death of her husband, making provisions for her son, the future father of St. Gregory of Utrecht. She founded a convent at Palatiolum near Trier and became its first Abbess, ruling with holiness, prudence, and compassion. St. Adele seems to have been among the disciples of St. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany, and a letter in his correspondence is addressed to her. After a devout life filled with good works and communion with God, she passed on to her heavenly reward in 730.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (1.67-79)

His father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied: Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Zechariah’s Prophecy
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Every Sunday, following the readings from Scripture and the homily, we proclaim together the Creed — the Nicene Creed. During that Creed we profess our faith in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life who proceeds from the Father and the Son. We state that he has spoken through the prophets. In the New Testament also the Holy Spirit is shown as speaking through the prophets — the prophet par excellence, the Prophet long predicted, being Christ himself. He spoke through John the Baptist. He spoke through Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, the parents of John. At Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1: 41-42) we read that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and in a loud voice spoke of Mary and the child in her womb. In our Gospel today, it is her husband Zechariah who is filled with the Holy Spirit and who prophesies. Let us consider his inspired words, for they speak of God. All praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel. He has come to his people to redeem them. This, I would propose, is one of the distinctive features of Yahweh among the high gods of mankind’s religions. Yahweh does not simply remain in the heights and leave contacts with those below to lesser spirits. He himself comes to his chosen people. He redeems them from their enemies and from the hand of all who hate them. He comes to show mercy, to rescue, and to enable his people to serve him in holiness. He is a holy God and all-powerful. His power is shown in his mercy and in his intent to make holiness flourish among his people. He is the God of the holy covenant and of the oath he swore to their father Abraham, the God of his servant David, the God of the prophets, the God of his people. Thus the prophecy of Zechariah confirms the teaching of the Old Testament about the action of God in choosing, guiding and preparing his people for the salvation soon to come. It also announces the arrival of John as “a prophet of the Most High.” He, John, will prepare the way of the Lord, and the people will know the promised salvation from their sins. He will herald the rising sun from heaven.

The prophecy of Zechariah is replete with allusions to the God of the Old Testament, while pointing with more or less clarity to the blessings of the New. Especially notable is the announcement that the salvation “from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” will have a specific sense. It will above all entail a “knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” Sin is the “darkness” and “the shadow of death” in which the people are “living”. Sin is revealed in Zechariah’s prophecy to be a darkness and a shadow of death, and God is coming to rescue his people from it. This divine visitation will be an act of his “tender mercy” for his people. In the Gospel of St Matthew, the angel informs Joseph in a dream that the child to be born of Mary, his betrothed, “will save his people from their sins.” In the Gospel of St Luke, the Holy Spirit reveals through the prophecy of Zechariah that the salvation soon to come will be a salvation through the forgiveness of sin. Sin is the evil from which God’s people will be liberated. It is for this, that John his son shall be a prophet of the Most High. He will prepare the people for the rising sun coming from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death. To be noticed here is that in this prophecy there is no mention of the universal scope of the redemption to come. It is a redemption for God’s chosen people — and this perhaps reflects the specific mission which the Messiah would have, namely to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. In his reply to the importunate Canaanite woman, our Lord said that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. He himself did not undertake a mission to the Gentile world. This task he would entrust to his Church, that they go to the whole world and make disciples of all the nations — and he promised to be with them to the end. Much of this is contained in seed in the inspired prophecy of Zechariah, the father of the Forerunner.

The eve of Christmas is the moment to be filled with the thought of what is to come. Christ is coming. His coming was prophesied. He came. He remains with us in his body the Church and he will come again. He came to save us from our enemies, the greatest of which is the sin that lies deep within each of us and which at the same time is spread throughout the world. It is the sin of every man and the sin of the world. He is the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. Let us take our stand with him and receive from him the blessings of heaven.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Prayers for today: A little child is born for us, and he shall be called the mighty God; every race on earth shall be blessed in him. (Is 9:6; Ps 71:17)

Father, we contemplate the birth of your Son. He was born of the Virgin Mary and came to live among us. May we receive forgiveness and mercy through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. John of Kanty (1390?-1473)

John was a country lad who made good in the big city and the big university of Kraków, Poland. After brilliant studies he was ordained a priest and became a professor of theology. The inevitable opposition which saints encounter led to his being ousted by rivals and sent to be a parish priest at Olkusz. An extremely humble man, he did his best, but his best was not to the liking of his parishioners. Besides, he was afraid of the responsibilities of his position. But in the end he won his people’s hearts. After some time he returned to Kraków and taught Scripture for the remainder of his life. He was a serious man, and humble, but known to all the poor of Kraków for his kindness. His goods and his money were always at their disposal, and time and again they took advantage of him. He kept only the money and clothes absolutely needed to support himself. He slept little, and then on the floor, ate sparingly, and took no meat. He made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, hoping to be martyred by the Turks. He made four pilgrimages to Rome, carrying his luggage on his back. When he was warned to look after his health, he was quick to point out that, for all their austerity, the fathers of the desert lived remarkably long lives.

John of Kanty is a typical saint: He was kind, humble and generous, he suffered opposition and led an austere, penitential life. Most Christians in an affluent society can understand all the ingredients except the last: Anything more than mild self-discipline seems reserved for athletes and ballet dancers. Christmas is a good time at least to reject self-indulgence.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (1.57-66)

When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, No! He is to be called John. They said to her, There is no-one among your relatives who has that name. Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone's astonishment he wrote, His name is John. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God. The neighbours were all filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, What then is this child going to be? For the Lord's hand was with him.

The hand of the Lord
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

In their Gospels, St Mark and St John begin with the inauguration of the public ministry of our Lord and his prophetic sanction by John the Baptist. The first two chapters of St Luke’s Gospel provide, we might say, the backdrop for this entry of Christ into the public sphere. The circumstances of the birth of both Christ and John are described in detail and some details are given of their youth. It is a providential harbinger of what is to come. Our Gospel today is of a piece with this, and it is made clear that from the first, John was chosen as a prophet of the Most High. Abraham was called at the time of his manhood, as was Moses. Samuel was called as a child, and David as a youth. St Luke is at pains to show that the hand of the Lord was with John from before his birth. It was evident to those close to the family that God had marked this child with special favour, and, they began to surmise, with a special mission. Signs had been given of this special marking — Zechariah had returned home from Temple service, now dumb. The parents, beyond childbearing, now had a son. Inexplicably, they separately wanted their child called by a name unprecedented in the family. And lo! At the very point of Zechariah’s announcement of the child’s name, he begins to speak, and he praises God. The attention of all is drawn to the new-born child. God is pointing to him as one whom he has chosen — but for what? What will this child be? What is he to do? It is clear to the circle of friends and relatives that there is here a child of destiny and the wonderment gradually spreads “throughout the hill country of Judea”. Perhaps a rumour spread more widely and people remembered. “All who heard about this wondered.” The child grew, and became strong in spirit. We are simply told that “he lived in the desert until the day when he made his appearance in Israel.” It seems that he left his family home and village — perhaps when his parents died — and lived “in the wilderness.” Some have thought he may have joined the Essenes. We do not know. But from the first God was forming the child for his work.

One of the distinctive features of a genuine religious faith is belief in a particular providence. That is to say, an indicator that a person’s belief in God is real is the belief that he is caring for me, me! — and not just for the world or for people in general. It is generally accepted that the prevailing (religious) philosophical position of the seventeenth and especially the eighteenth century was what has been called Deism. At times Deism is understood to mean that God was regarded as beginning the world, but as rarely if ever involved in its processes. It would be more correct to say that Deism held that belief in a Creator (and religious truth in general) can be determined using reason and observation of the natural world alone, without a need for either faith or organized religion. It tended to assert that God (or “The Supreme Architect”) has a plan for the universe that is not altered either by his intervening in the affairs of human life or by suspending the natural laws of the universe. Revealed religion was discounted and one result was a loss of a sense that God is caring in a special way for me. The course of my life and the circumstances that shape it tended to be seen as simply the upshot of the laws of the world — all of which, of course, were admitted to be in the hands of God. But what was said of John in our Gospel passage today is not what the deist would think is in any way typical: that the hand of the Lord was upon him. But on the contrary, this indeed is typical: the hand of the Lord is upon each of us. This is not expressed in miraculous circumstances as it was in the case of John and Christ in the first chapter of St Luke, but it is the case nevertheless. The hand of the Lord is upon each of us in all the ordinary circumstances of everyday life. And in fact, even in the life of John, Mary, Joseph and Christ himself, the hand of the Lord was upon them precisely in the ordinary circumstances of everyday life. Miraculous circumstances were uncommon. The ordinary life was the norm — and it was in this arena that the hand of the Lord was upon them.

In all the difficulties of life, in all the sadness and frustration and the joys, let us learn to see the hand of the Lord upon us. The saints were able to see that, in both the good times and the bad, God was caring for them. As St Paul writes in one of his Letters, all things come together for the good of those who love God. God’s providence is very particular — his care for us is particular to each of us. It is not just a care for the human race in general. God loves me! As St Paul writes, Christ loved me and gave himself up for me. The hand of the Lord is truly upon each of us.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Prayers today: Gates, lift up your heads! Stand erect, ancient doors, and let in the King of glory.

God our Father, you sent your Son to free mankind from the power of death. May we who celebrate the coming of Christ as man share more fully in his divine life, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Blessed Jacopone da Todi (d. 1306)

Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Third Order of St. Francis. Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Franciscan Order. Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, Stabat Mater. On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favourite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.

“Crazy Jim,” his contemporaries called Jacopone. We might well echo their taunt, for what else can you say about a man who broke into song in the midst of all his troubles? We still sing Jacopone’s saddest song, the Stabat Mater, but we Christians claim another song as our own, even when the daily headlines resound with discordant notes. Jacopone’s whole life rang our song out: “Alleluia!” May he inspire us to keep singing.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (1.46-56)

And Mary said: My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants for ever, even as he said to our fathers. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Mighty God, and Mary His servant
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Throughout the Old Testament the great works of God are extolled and his chosen servants are held up for veneration. Before Abraham, Noah was “a good and blameless man in that age, for he walked with God.” He is set apart by God and preserved from the flood that sweeps away in judgment the sinners that cover the earth. A new covenant is established, but the sorry pattern of sin continues unabated, symbolized by the pride of the Tower of Babel. Abraham is called by God and is promised the divine blessing. He “went as the Lord directed” and proved his obedience and his faith. Following Abraham there are the Patriarchs, Moses, certain of the Judges such as Samson and Samuel, and Kings such as David and Hezekiah, the prophets such as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and certain of the priests. They stand as examples for God’s chosen people, solemnly illustrating the supreme place God occupies in life, bearing witness to what he has done and will do. It is against this broad backdrop that we ought reflect on the words of joy uttered by the virgin Mary in today’s Gospel passage. She extols God and because of him she will be counted as blessed. She thinks of the story of God’s care for his people from generation to generation. He, God, is great. Her “soul” — the core of her entire self — proclaims his greatness (Greek: mega-lunei) and her “spirit” exults in him who saves her. God is her Saviour. If we set the inspired literature of the Hebrews against the literature of the ancient world, the two things which Mary extols in God are those which mark Yahweh off from the other gods of the peoples. He is great and he saves. No other deity compares in greatness with Yahweh. All others in their own way compete for power with other gods. Zeus and Jupiter are not unrivalled. They are restricted by the other gods of the pantheon. But Yahweh is simply great, great beyond compare. He is, as Mary humbly sings, the Mighty One who saves.

In her prayer Mary thinks of the history of God’s dealings with his people. “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.” We think of Yahweh sending Moses to Pharaoh to take his people out of slavery to the promised land. Pharaoh was proud of heart — indeed, the Scriptural icon of those who are proud before Yahweh — but he was scattered by the plagues and wonders with which Egypt was visited at the word of Moses. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” We think of Sennacherib who advanced against Hezekiah and Jerusalem, pouring scorn on the God of Hezekiah and Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah predicted that the city would not be touched and that God would send him packing. “That night the angel of the Lord went forth and struck down one hundred and eighty five thousand men in the Assyrian camp... So Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, broke camp, and went back home to Nineveh” (2 Kings 19: 35-36). We think of the writing on the wall during the banquet of King Belshazzar, and Daniel’s solemn interpretation of it — so powerful an event that the expression, “the writing on the wall”, is now a synonym for a destruction that is certain to come. “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants for ever, even as he said to our fathers.” In all of this the virgin Mary is exulting in the Mighty One who saves. He shows his might in his saving mercy, rescuing and raising up those who are oppressed and suffering. “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.” And Mary herself will be counted blessed for all generations — so she is the greatest instance of the power and the mercy of God. Her greatness, her blessedness, her shining and matchless height among God’s creatures is his merciful gift to one who is but his lowly servant. Mary the humble and lowly one, Mary the blessed one, blessed beyond compare and for all generations to come!

Let us read this precious passage of the Gospel which sums up so deftly the entire meaning of the Old Testament and its revelation of God and his saving ways. We could not do better than read the Scriptures with Mary’s words as their key constantly in mind. With her let us praise the might and mercy of God and count her as the blessed one for all generations. God is great. He is merciful. He saves. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Prayers today: Soon the Lord God will come, and you will call him Emmanuel, for God is with us. Isaiah 7:14; 8:10

Lord, hear the prayers of your people. May we who celebrate the birth of your Son as man rejoice in the gift of eternal life when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597)

The energetic life of Peter Canisius should demolish any stereotypes we may have of the life of a saint as dull or routine. Peter lived his 76 years at a pace which must be considered heroic, even in our time of rapid change. A man blessed with many talents, Peter is an excellent example of the scriptural man who develops his talents for the sake of the Lord’s work. He was one of the most important figures in the Catholic Counter-Reformation in Germany. His was such a key role that he has often been called the “second apostle of Germany” in that his life parallels the earlier work of Boniface. Although Peter once accused himself of idleness in his youth, he could not have been idle too long, for at the age of 19 he received a master’s degree from the university at Cologne. Soon afterwards he met Peter Faber, the first disciple of Ignatius Loyola, who influenced Peter so much that he joined the recently formed Society of Jesus. At this early age Peter had already taken up a practice he continued throughout his life — a process of study, reflection, prayer and writing. After his ordination in 1546, he became widely known for his editions of the writings of St. Cyril of Alexandria and St. Leo the Great. Besides this reflective literary bent, Peter had a zeal for the apostolate. He could often be found visiting the sick or prisoners, even when his assigned duties in other areas were more than enough to keep most people fully occupied. In 1547 Peter attended several sessions of the Council of Trent, whose decrees he was later assigned to implement. After a brief teaching assignment at the Jesuit college at Messina, Peter was entrusted with the mission to Germany — from that point on his life’s work. He taught in several universities and was instrumental in establishing many colleges and seminaries. He wrote a catechism that explained the Catholic faith in a way which common people could understand — a great need of that age. Renowned as a popular preacher, Peter packed churches with those eager to hear his eloquent proclamation of the gospel. He had great diplomatic ability, often serving as a reconciler between disputing factions. In his letters (filling eight volumes) one finds words of wisdom and counsel to people in all walks of life. At times he wrote unprecedented letters of criticism to leaders of the Church — yet always in the context of a loving, sympathetic concern. At 70 Peter suffered a paralytic seizure, but he continued to preach and write with the aid of a secretary until his death in his hometown (Nijmegen, Netherlands) on December 21, 1597.

Peter’s untiring efforts are an apt example for those involved in the renewal of the Church or the growth of moral consciousness in business or government. He is regarded as one of the creators of the Catholic press, and can easily be a model for the Christian author or journalist. Teachers can see in his life a passion for the transmission of truth. Whether we have much to give, as Peter Canisius did, or whether we have only a little to give, as did the poor widow in the Gospel (see Luke 21:1–4), the important thing is to give our all. It is in this way that Peter is so exemplary for Christians in an age of rapid change when we are called to be in the world but not of the world. When asked if he felt overworked, Peter replied, "If you have too much to do, with God's help you will find time to do it all."

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (1.39-45)

At that time Mary rose up and went in haste to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why am I so favoured, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!

Mary in the Christian religion
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of the most intriguing, to say the least, of the features of the Protestant Reformation was its putting down of devotion to the Virgin Mary. This was something new in Christian practice and thought. In neither the East nor the West had this been done before. In common with almost all other features of Christian thought and practice, there had been a gradual development in the Church’s understanding of what God had implicitly revealed of the mother of Jesus Christ. With this growing perception there had been a corresponding growth in appreciation and devotion. The Reformers regarded such developments as corruptions. But as John Henry Newman would point out in his landmark book, The Development of Christian Doctrine (1845), doctrine — understood as the Church’s formal understanding, teaching and expression of revelation — develops. Doctrine should be expected to grow and deepen, as would any idea over time. The distinctive thing about the development of Christian doctrine is that the Church’s dogmatic formulation of this development is guided by the Holy Spirit. It does not merely change over time in response to random historical forces. Of course, the Reformers were reacting against many popular abuses in which the centrality of Christ himself was obscured. Mary and the saints occupied centre stage in the religious imagination of many. Many in effect had forgotten that Christ is our high priest and mediator, ever interceding for us at the right hand of the Father. But in reacting as they did to this popular distortion, the Reformers in their turn forgot that the whole Church by divine appointment shares in Christ’s high priestly mediation, especially those who are most deeply in union with Jesus. All the faithful are members of Christ’s body which is the Church, and as such they share in his saving work and in his intercession. This is pre-eminently the case with the sinless Virgin Mary. In union with him she is our model of discipleship, and in union with him she intercedes for us. In Christ she is our mother and our model, and as Christ loved and honoured her, so should we.

In our Gospel today (Luke 1:39-45), we have a strong expression of this profoundly Christian sentiment in respect to the Virgin Mary, and undoubtedly the inspired author meant it to be understood as such. Mary, having obediently assented to the divine plan that she be the mother of the Redeemer, hastens to the hill country of Judea to assist her kinswoman Elizabeth who herself is likewise a protagonist of the plan of redemption. Mary arrives, virgin mother of the Lord, and upon her arrival the Holy Spirit comes upon Elizabeth and upon the child she is bearing. Mary bears the Redeemer within her, and the Redeemer’s Gift of the Holy Spirit is given. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and she cries out with a loud voice in praise of the virgin Mary. Notice that! The Holy Spirit himself prompts Elizabeth to cry out in a loud voice — a loud voice! — in praise and honour of Mary the mother of Christ. It is a pointer to what the Holy Spirit will prompt the Church to do down through the ages, with mounting crescendo. The Church will sing from generation to generation the praises of the virgin Mary and will declare itself honoured to be visited by the mother of the Lord. In a loud voice — a loud voice! — Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The authentic thought, teaching and practice of the Church never separates Mary from her divine Child: Blessed are you, Mary, and blessed is the Child you bore. True devotion to Mary never obscures Christ. Mary helps the Christian know and love him. Elizabeth, standing for all God’s people, herself a grand representative of the holiness of the Old Testament and positioned at the dawn of the New, professes to be deeply honoured and favoured by the coming of Mary to her. She welcomes her with exultation and her child, the Forerunner, leaps with joy. Of course, both Elizabeth and her unborn child are welcoming first and foremost the Christ-child whom Mary is bringing with her, but honour rendered to Mary is inseparable from this. Blessed are you among women, Elizabeth declares, blessed are you! This has been the cry of Christ’s faithful ever since.

As we approach Christmas, let us be profoundly imbued with what is so evidently the teaching of Scripture, the singular place in Christ which Mary occupies in the Christian life. Our Gospel scene today giving the words of Elizabeth is a template of the attitude of the Church and her members to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ the Son of the living God. She is the blessed one, blessed among women — above all for her faith, but also for her singular calling as mother of the Lord. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Let us pray those very Scriptural words every day of our life.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Prayers today: God of love and mercy, help us to follow the example of Mary, always ready to do your will. At the message of an angel she welcomed your eternal Son and, filled with the light of your Spirit, she became the temple of your Word, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

St. Dominic of Silos (c. 1000-1073)

It’s not the founder of the Dominicans we honour today, but there’s a poignant story that connects one Dominic with the other. Our saint today, Dominic of Silos was born in Spain around the year 1000 into a peasant family. As a young boy he spent time in the fields, where he welcomed the solitude. He became a Benedictine priest and served in numerous leadership positions. Following a dispute with the king over property, Dominic and two other monks were exiled. They established a new monastery in what at first seemed an unpromising location. Under Dominic’s leadership, however, it became one of the most famous houses in Spain. Many healings were reported there. About 100 years after Dominic’s death, a young woman made a pilgrimage to his tomb. There Dominic of Silos appeared to her and assured her that she would bear another son. The woman was Joan of Aza, and the son she bore grew up to be the "other" Dominic — the one who founded the Dominicans. For many years thereafter, the staff used by St. Dominic of Silos was brought to the royal palace whenever a queen of Spain was in labour. The practice ended in 1931.

The Holy Gospel to Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (1.26-38)

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you. Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end. How will this be, Mary asked the angel, since I am a virgin? The angel answered, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God. I am the Lord's servant, Mary answered. May it be to me as you have said. Then the angel left her

The Annunciation
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)

If we search the Old Testament, I do not think we shall find a greeting from God equal to the one expressed by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. In the Book of Genesis the first direct communication from God to man (Adam) is a permission and a command: “You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat. The moment you eat from it you shall certainly die” (2:16-17). God’s first words to Abraham consist of a call, a command: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and your father’s house to a land I will show you” (Gen 12:1). God’s first words to Moses are a warning and a command: “Moses! Moses! Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet ... I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people..” (Exodus 3: 4-10). God’s first words to Samuel (1 Samuel 3: 11-14) were a judgment against Eli and his family. The first words of God to Elijah as reported in the first book of Kings are a command: “Leave here, go east and hide in the Wadi Cherith..” (17:3). God’s first words to the prophet Isaiah were to cleanse his sins and to command him to go to the people as his representative (Isaiah 6: 6-9). But observe the greeting expressed by the exalted emissary from God to the humble and obscure virgin Mary: “Greetings, you who are filled with God’s favour! The Lord is with you.” I do not think there is anything its equal in the history of God’s people. The great Angel, Gabriel, representing God as he does, bows in respectful and loving obeisance before the Virgin. Before the Angel stands one who is singularly endowed by grace, one with whom God is present in every way and in an absolute, unqualified sense. This is the Lady of God’s chosen people, the one who is about to become the new Eve, the mother of all the living. God did not address the first Eve as he does the second. Let us then stand with the Angel and share in his veneration for this singular creature, pure in her holiness beyond description, who gazes upon him in humble wonderment. Hail, Mary!

The angel does not command, but announces the will of the Lord and in doing so asks the Virgin’s consent. But hearken now to his message. It is the will of the Lord that she here and now be with child, and this child will be none other than the Messiah himself. One wonders if, at the very moment the angel arrived, Mary was reading a scroll of a Messianic prophecy. Perhaps she was praying and yearning for the Messiah who was to come, as did Simeon whom she would see and hear before the coming year was out. In any case, the Angel now tells her the wondrous news. Her child would be the Messiah himself. How great a child! “You are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1: 26-38). These words must have burned themselves indelibly on the profoundly impressionable mind of Mary, treasuring them in her heart as she would have for the rest of her life. Reported in Luke, these words have her for their source. Her child was the King of kings, and he would sit on David’s throne forever, and his kingdom would never end. Moreover, he is the very Son of the Most High. How, she humbly asked, could this happen now, for I am a virgin? The Spirit of God will come upon you, the angel explained, and the divine power will cover you. Thus you will become the mother of the Son of God. For nothing is impossible to God! The holy maiden’s reply is simple, yet it expresses the most profound obedience ever lived by any creature of God: “I am the servant of the Lord. May it be to me as you have said.” Her consent obtained, the angel left her. The Son of God had become man, the new Adam. The virgin had become the new Eve, mother of all the living. The greatest miracle here is not that of the virgin birth, but that of the Incarnation. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Son of God was made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. God’s definitive revelation of himself to man as a trinity of persons had formally begun, as had the mystery of the Incarnation.

This revelation was been heard, received and accepted in total faith by the Lady of our race, our mother, the first and foremost Christian, the mother of the Church and the most perfect human image of her divine Son. Let us ask her intercession before God, that we too receive in obedient faith all that God has revealed of his plan for our salvation. Let us receive it as did she, in full faith and obedience. This obedience would lead her to the foot of the cross. It will lead us there too.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Prayers today: He who is to come will not delay; then there will be no fear in our hands, because he is our Saviour. (Heb 10:37)

Father, you show the world the splendour of your glory in the coming of Christ, born of the Virgin. Give to us true faith and love to celebrate the mystery of God made man. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,...

Blessed Pope Urban V (1310-1370)

In 1362, the man elected pope declined the office. When the cardinals could not find another person among them for that important office, they turned to a relative stranger: the holy person we honour today. The new Pope Urban V proved a wise choice. A Benedictine monk and canon lawyer, he was deeply spiritual and brilliant. He lived simply and modestly, which did not always earn him friends among clergymen who had become used to comfort and privilege. Still, he pressed for reform and saw to the restoration of churches and monasteries. Except for a brief period he spent most of his eight years as pope living away from Rome at Avignon, seat of the papacy from 1309 until shortly after his death. He came close but was not able to achieve one of his biggest goals — reuniting the Eastern and Western churches. As pope, Urban continued to follow the Benedictine Rule. Shortly before his death in 1370 he asked to be moved from the papal palace to the nearby home of his brother so he could say goodbye to the ordinary people he had so often helped.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (1.5-25)

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. And they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well on in years. Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshippers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Zechariah asked the angel, How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years. The angel answered, I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time. Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realised he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. The Lord has done this for me, she said. In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.

The Grandeur of the Ordinary
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

If we turn to the Gospel of St John, as soon as the eternal Word of God is introduced in the Prologue (1:1-5), so is John the Baptist (1: 6-8), and much of the first chapter is given over to his ministry. Our Gospel today is from St Luke. Having introduced his Gospel to the reader (1: 1-4), St Luke immediately brings forward the figure of St John the Baptist. A lengthy portion of his first chapter is devoted to the conception and birth of John the Baptist. In our Gospel today we are told how the Angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah the birth of his great son. But let us notice a detail explicitly mentioned by the Angel that is often overlooked. It is the role of Zechariah’s prayer. We read that “an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” Of course, the person and ministry of John was part and parcel of the preordained plan of God — indeed, our Lord said that he was the Elijah who would come again, and the fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi. Nevertheless, the prayer of Elizabeth and Zechariah was an important part of the implementation of that divine plan. The angel implies that the birth of John is in response to Zechariah’s prayer: “Zechariah, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” It seems that the holy couple had been long praying for this favour, even despite their advanced years. They were excellent instances of Old Testament religion. St Luke tells us that “Both of them were upright (dikaioi — righteous, just) in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” The word “upright” is the same as that used of St Joseph the husband of the virgin Mary (dikaios — Matt 1:19). Yet despite their blameless life they had a life-long sorrow. They had no child, despite their prayers for offspring. But they remained faithful to God and continued with their prayer. As it turns out, their prayer and their fidelity were essential elements in the fulfilment of the saving plan of God.

Perhaps our minds turn back to another great prophet of the Old Testament, Samuel. We read at the beginning of the first book of Samuel that Hannah remained year after year without child and was profoundly grieved. In her heartfelt prayer she prayed for a male child, and her prayer is given in the first chapter. The Lord answered her prayer and she conceived, and gave birth to one who was great before the Lord. Samuel her son “grew up and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect. Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:19-20). Hannah’s prayer, the prayer of one who was truly devoted to the Lord, had an important place in the implementation of the saving plan of God. Samuel was the greatest of Israel’s judges, and he anointed first Saul, and then David to be king. David, in turn, was the ancestor of the Messiah. This turn in salvation history may be said to have pivoted on the prayer of Hannah. So too, in a sense, the life and ministry of the John the Forerunner pivoted on the prayer of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Their prayer was heard and John began his existence. It is an indication that in the plan of God much depends on seeming little things, such as the persistent prayer for a particular favour, offered up by those who truly love God in obedience. Another little thing that was so crucial in salvation history was the consent given to the Angel soon after the event narrated in today’s Gospel. I refer to the consent of the Virgin Mary to the announcement by the Angel that in God’s plan she was to be the mother of the Messiah. “Be it done to me according to your word,” the Virgin replied. That simple reply, expressing such incomparable and never-failing obedience, was an essential pin that enabled the divine plan to proceed. Our Gospel today presents us with an otherwise obscure couple from among the chosen people, humbly living lives of obedience to God. As is revealed in the words of the angel, their prayer was very important indeed. Let that be a reminder of the importance of all the little things that make up the ordinary life. All have their dignity, all have their place in God’s plan.

Let us be filled with a sense of the gift of life and all that it has brought, with all its needs, its disappointments, its sorrows and its joys. In whatever situation we find ourselves, let us turn that situation into an occasion whereby God is honoured and glorified. Every need we have has its importance. Every prayer we pray has its importance. All our sufferings can be turned to God’s use. Let the example of Elizabeth and Zechariah remind us again of the grandeur of the ordinary life.