Saturday, January 2, 2010

Prayers for today: God sent his own Son, born of a woman, so that we could be adopted as his sons. (Galatians 4: 4-5)

All-powerful and ever-living God, you give us a new vision of your glory in the coming of Christ your Son. He was born of the Virgin Mary and came to share our life. May we come to share his eternal life in the glory of your kingdom, where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory of Nazianzen

St. Basil the Great (329-379) Basil was on his way to becoming a famous teacher when he decided to begin a religious life of gospel poverty. After studying various modes of religious life, he founded what was probably the first monastery in Asia Minor. He is to monks of the East what St. Benedict is to the West, and his principles influence Eastern monasticism today. He was ordained a priest, assisted the archbishop of Caesarea (now south-eastern Turkey), and ultimately became archbishop himself, in spite of opposition from some of his suffragan bishops, probably because they foresaw coming reforms. One of the most damaging heresies in the history of the Church, Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ, was at its height. Emperor Valens persecuted orthodox believers, and put great pressure on Basil to remain silent and admit the heretics to communion. Basil remained firm, and Valens backed down. But trouble remained. When the great St. Athanasius died, the mantle of defender of the faith against Arianism fell upon Basil. He strove mightily to unite and rally his fellow Catholics who were crushed by tyranny and torn by internal dissension. He was misunderstood, misrepresented, accused of heresy and ambition. Even appeals to the pope brought no response. “For my sins I seem to be unsuccessful in everything.” He was tireless in pastoral care. He preached twice a day to huge crowds, built a hospital that was called a wonder of the world (as a youth he had organized famine relief and worked in a soup kitchen himself) and fought the prostitution business. Basil was best known as an orator. His writings, though not recognized greatly in his lifetime, rightly place him among the great teachers of the Church. Seventy-two years after his death, the Council of Chalcedon described him as “the great Basil, minister of grace who has expounded the truth to the whole earth.”

St. Basil said: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John (1: 19-28)

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, I am not the Christ. They asked him, Then who are you? Are you Elijah? He said, I am not. Are you the Prophet? He answered, No. Finally they said, Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself? John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, Why then do you baptise if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet? I baptise with water, John replied, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptising. (John 1: 10-28)

The manifestation of Christ
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

The dialogue between the priests and Levites from Jerusalem and John the Baptist shows some of the elements of the expectation which characterized the religion of the chosen people. The religions of the peoples of the ancient world had their myths and ritual that accounted for the beginnings and helped them cope with life, both its blessings and its threats. One of the several distinguishing features of the Hebrew religion was its expectation. There was a great Coming which the good Hebrew expected. Not only did he look back to the past when Yahweh saved his people, but he looked to the future when through his Messiah, God would come and both save and judge. With this in mind he prepared accordingly. We remember the elderly Simeon who had been assured by God that he would not see death until he had laid eyes on the Messiah. We remember our Lord telling his disciples that prophets and kings had longed to see what they, his disciples, were now seeing. A distinguishing trait of the revealed religion of the Hebrews was its expectation. They expected that God would come to save. They looked to the future. But we also see that there was great haziness as to the details. Scripture gave pointers here and pointers there, and much of it was left without its synthesis. Moses had told the people that the Lord said to him, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him. If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it” (Deuteronomy 18:18). So another Moses was coming, but who would he be? Most especially, a great Messiah was expected, the Anointed one, the son of David who would sit upon his throne and set his people free. But who would he be? Elijah too must return (Malachi 4:1-5) to anoint and manifest the Messiah. So the visitors asked John, was he the Prophet? Was he the Messiah? Was he Elijah?

These questions posed by the representatives of the highest religious authority manifest the uncertainty and confusion which was present in the chosen people of God. They had much light, but much light was still needed. John denied he was the Prophet. He denied that he was the Christ. He refused the title of Elijah. As a matter of fact, he was the Elijah who was to come, as our Lord made clear to his disciples after his transfiguration. In him the spirit of Elijah had returned, and in him Elijah anointed and manifested the Messiah. As it turned out, all the uncertainty in discerning the true meaning of the Scriptures, all the confusion in interpreting the various figures of the prophecies — the coming Prophet, the coming Elijah, the coming Son of Man, the coming Suffering Servant, the coming son of David — all these figures were to find their synthesis in the person of Jesus Christ. His appearance in the world resolved the prophecies for those enlightened to grasp this. The whole of the Old Testament now had its unity, a unity found in the person of Christ. The word “Epiphany” means manifestation or appearance. The Epiphany of Jesus Christ — his appearance among men — gives to the world and all of God’s dealings with men their common meaning. We may regard John the Baptist of our Gospel passage today as representing the yearning of the Old Testament as it points to the one who is coming. We may regard him too as representing the human race as it hopes for a Solution from God. “ I baptise with water, John replied, but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (John 1: 10-28). In one single Person we have everything. As St Paul writes, in Christ is found every heavenly blessing. As our Lord himself said, All that the Father has is mine. He who sees me sees the Father. This incomparable Jewel has been manifested to all, and it is God’s free gift to any who approach him for it. As we prepare to celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, let us look on Christ as the Treasure manifested to all.

This every Christian should know. But not all appreciate that this brings a responsibility to actively manifest Christ to the world of our everyday life. We must do what John the Baptist does in today’s Gospel. We must endeavour to manifest Christ more and more to the world. We ought act as his Epiphany. Let us do so by word and deed, and thus play our part in the world’s salvation, for salvation is to be found only in Christ. His is the only name by which men are saved.

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