Prayers today: Christ our King is coming, the Lamb whom John proclaimed.
All-powerful God, renew us by the coming feast of your Son and free us from our slavery to sin. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, …
Blessed Anthony Grassi (1592-1671)
Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17. Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a "walking dictionary" who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being. In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralysed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life. More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks. He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences. In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was re-elected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise. He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console. But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarrelling brothers.
Nothing provides a better reason for reassessing a life than a brush with death. Anthony’s life already seemed to be on track when he was struck by lightning; he was a brilliant priest blessed, at last, with serenity. But his experience softened him. He became a loving counsellor and a wise mediator. The same might be said of us if we put our hearts to it. We needn’t wait to be struck by lightning.
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 1.18-24)
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save his people from their sins.
All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel — which means, "God with us."
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
(Homily by Fr. E.J. Tyler)
This is a precious passage because in it Matthew reports what God revealed to Joseph about Jesus after his conception and prior to his birth. We must assume that the ultimate source of this information was the Virgin Mary, who, of course, would have been told it by Joseph himself. The setting is Joseph’s great perplexity as to the course to follow, having discovered his betrothed to be already with child. He was a most saintly man, and he could have had no doubt as to the sanctity of Mary his betrothed. But what was to be made of her pregnancy? The only course that occurred to him was quietly to bring the betrothal to an end in a way that would avoid all obvious embarrassment to her. This plan forming in his mind, suddenly an angel of the Lord spoke to him in a dream informing him of the true situation. Inasmuch as it is Gabriel who spoke to Mary and Zechariah in the Gospel of St Luke, we may presume it is Gabriel who speaks to Joseph in the Gospel of St Matthew. Joseph is addressed by the angel as “Joseph son of David” and he is the one who is to name the unborn child. That is to say, Joseph by the plan of God is here given the mission to act and serve as his father, and thus the child too will be the son of David. This child is the gift of God, for it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that he has been conceived of the Virgin. In this striking fashion, the child is shown as having been sent from God — not, say, at the moment of a prophetic call, but from the first instant of his conception. Notably, Joseph is informed of the name he is to confer on the child and he is informed of the child’s mission. The child is to be named “Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now, there are a few things to be noticed about this annunciation of the mission of the child. Let us observe that in Luke’s account of the annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel, it is made abundantly clear that it is the Messiah who will be born of her and that the Messiah will be none other than the Son of God. His kingdom will be eternal.
No doubt Mary immediately divined that the child’s messianic mission would be to redeem his people from their sins, but this is not specifically stated by the angel. It is formally stated, though, in the angel’s words to Joseph. It is as if a further revelation is being given as to the precise focus of the child’s messianic work, and what the angel said to each would have been shared one with the other. Joseph is to name the child Jesus (meaning, God saves) because he is to save his people from their sins. Now, notice something further. The saviours of the past (Moses, the judges such as Samson, David, certain valiant leaders such as the Maccabees) saved their people from, we might say, the sins of their enemies. Moses saved his people — at God’s direction — from the Pharaoh, and led them to the promised land. Samson saved his people from the surrounding enemies and the Maccabees saved their people from godless oppression. The Messiah was expected to save his people from all such oppression and give to his people an enduring and absolute peace. The angel reveals to Joseph that this messianic child will save his people from their sins. It is from the bind and the thrall of sin which the Messiah was coming to set his people free. Moreover, it was primarily from their own sins that he was going to liberate them, and not simply from the sins and oppression of their enemies. He was not coming to lead a political liberation but a spiritual one, one directed at the heart of each member of “his people”. The true oppression was coming from within the heart and soul of each of his own, and this liberation from sin was to be his mission — a liberation to be brought to all who chose to count themselves among “his people”. There is perhaps here not only the clear indication of the proper mission of the Messiah, but a hint as to the “people” of the Messiah. They are those who receive the redemption from sin that he would bring. Joseph was being told before the birth of the child what John the Baptist would announce publicly decades later: Here is he who takes away the sin of the world.
Let us take our stand with the humble yet valiant Joseph and listen with him to what the angel says of the child soon to be born. Jesus is the one who saves “his people,” and the redemption he will bring is the redemption “from their sins.” So, two things matter. Firstly we must acknowledge, accept and love our Saviour. Secondly, we must recognize and renounce the sins from which he, our Saviour, has liberated us. Let us then renew the promises of our baptism and renounce sin, professing all the while our faith in Christ our Lord, our Saviour and our God.