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!

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