10 January 2018

'Jesus said to them,"Come and see".' Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

From The Gospel of John, directed by Philip Saville

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which is translated Anointed. He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).

St Andrew the Apostle, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

God calls each of us to our particular vocation in life in a unique way. Pope Francis has told us, for example, that it was on the occasion of going to confession when he was 17 that he saw clearly that God was calling him to be a priest. A couple at whose wedding I officiated some years ago were members of the same Catholic organisation in the university they attended. They became an 'item', as they say in the Philippines, when they were the only members of the group to turn up at the appointed time for an outing. While waiting for the others to arrive they discovered that they were more than just casual friends. Now they are happily married with four children.

I'm always amused by the Second Reading from the Office of Readings for the feast of St Anthony the Abbot, 17 January. St Athanasius tells us: He went into the church. It happened that the gospel was then being read, and he heard what the Lord had said to the rich man 'If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.'

The young man Anthony, whose parents had died about six months previously, took these words to heart and went to live in the desert. He became, without planning it, the 'Father of Monasticism' in the Church. And perhaps if he had not been late for Mass that day the Gospel might not have struck him as it did. He was to be 'later' than most in another sense in that he was 105 when he died, a remarkable age to live to now but even more remarkable in the fourth century! Unlike the married couple above whose punctuality led them to discover God's call for them, it was through being late for Mass that Anthony discovered what God had in mind for him.

Raphaël Simi, Jean Vanier and Philippe Seux, 2014

In 1964 Jean Vanier invited two men with learning disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, who had been living in institutions, to live with him in a small cottage that he bought and renovated in France. Having done so he realized that he had made a commitment to these two men and that his commitment involved remaining single. He had no intention of founding a movement but, in God's plan, that's what came about: L'Arche. Raphaëand Philippe are now considered, with Jean, co-founders of L'Arche.

Fr Hans Urs von Balthasar, a great Swiss theologian much admired by St John Paul II, in reflecting on today's Gospel from the First Chapter of St John, links it to an incident in the last chapter, John 21: 15 ff [starting at 0:55 in the video below].




Fr von Balthasar writes: In the last chapter of the book Peter will be the foundation stone to such a degree that he will also have to undergird ecclesial love: 'Simon, do you love me more than these?'

John 21:15-17 was the gospel read at the Pope's Mass in Manila Cathedral on 16 January 2015 with priests, religious, consecrated persons and seminarians. This passage shows what is at the heart of every call from God, whether to marriage, to the priesthood, to the consecrated life, to the single life. The call is above all to an intimate relationship with Jesus. Pope Francis highlighted this in his homilyFor us priests and consecrated persons, conversion to the newness of the Gospel entails a daily encounter with the Lord in prayer. The saints teach us that this is the source of all apostolic zeal! For religious, living the newness of the Gospel also means finding ever anew in community life and community apostolates the incentive for an ever closer union with the Lord in perfect charity. For all of us, it means living lives that reflect the poverty of Christ, whose entire life was focused on doing the will of the Father and serving others.

Pope Francis also said, The poor are at the centre of the Gospel, are at heart of the Gospel; if we take away the poor from the Gospel we can’t understand the whole message of Jesus Christ.

Living the Gospel within the context of a deep personal relationship with Jesus the Risen Lord involves seeing reality through the eyes of those with little in life. Pope Francis showed this in a beautiful way by an unplanned - at least it wasn't on the official schedule - to a group of very poor children at TNK in Manila, near the Cathedral. ('Tulay ng Kabataan' means 'A Bridge to Children').



05 January 2018

'The seed of eternal life.' Sunday Reflections, The Baptism of the Lord, Year B

Baptistry, St Mark's, Venice [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


John the Baptist proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
In countries where the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated this year on Monday 8 January, eg the Philippines and the USA, there is only one reading before the Gospel and the Creed is omitted.

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 2013

FEAST OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
MASS AND ADMINISTRATION OF THE SACRAMENT OF BAPTISM
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Sistine Chapel, Sunday, 8 January 2012

[I have highlighted parts of the Pope's homily]


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is always a joy to celebrate this Holy Mass with the baptism of children on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. I greet you all with affection, dear parents, godparents and all of you, relatives and friends! You have come here — you said so aloud — so that your newborn babies may receive the gift of God’s grace, the seed of eternal life. You, parents, have desired this. You thought of Baptism even before your child was born. Your duty as Christian parents made you think immediately of the sacrament that marks entry into divine life and into the community of the Church. We can say that this was your first educational decision as witnesses of the faith to your children: it is a fundamental decision!

The parents’ task, helped by the godfather and godmother, is to raise their son or daughter. Raising children is very demanding and at times taxes our human capability, which is always limited. However, educating becomes a marvellous mission if it is carried out in collaboration with God who is the first and true educator of every human being.

In the First Reading, we heard from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God addresses his people precisely as a teacher. He puts the Israelites on their guard against the danger of quenching their thirst and appeasing their hunger at the wrong sources: “Why”, he says, “do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy?” (Is 55:2). God wants to give us good things to drink and to eat, things that do us good; whereas at times we use our resources mistakenly, we use them for things that are useless, indeed, even harmful. Above all, God wants to give us himself and his Word. He knows that in distancing ourselves from him we will soon run into difficulty — like the Prodigal Son of the parable — and, especially, that we will lose our human dignity. And for this reason he assures us that he is infinite mercy, that his thoughts and ways are unlike ours — fortunately! — and that we can always return to him, to the Father’s house. Thereafter he assures us that if we receive his Word it will bear good fruits in our life, like the rain that waters the earth (cf. Is 55:10-11).

We responded to these words which the Lord has addressed to us through the Prophet Isaiah with the refrain of the Psalm: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”. As adults, we have striven to draw from the good springs for our own good and for the good of those entrusted to our responsibility, and you in particular, dear parents and godparents, for the good of these children.

And what are “the springs of salvation”? They are the Word of God and the sacraments. Adults are the first who should nourish themselves at these sources, so as to be able to guide those who are younger in their development. Parents must give much, but in order to give they need in turn to receive, otherwise they are drained, they dry up. Parents are not the spring, just as we priests are not the spring. Rather, we are like channels through which the life-giving sap of God’s love must flow. If we cut ourselves off from his spring, we ourselves are the first to feel the negative effects and are no longer able to educate others. For this reason we have committed ourselves by saying: We will “draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation”.

The Baptism of Christ, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

And we now come to the Second Reading and to the Gospel. They say that the first and principal education takes place through witness. The Gospel speaks of John the Baptist. John was a great educator of his disciples, because he led them to the encounter with Jesus to whom he bore witness. He did not exalt himself, he did not wish to keep his disciples bound to him. Yet John was a great prophet, his fame was very great. When Jesus arrived John drew back and pointed to him: “After me comes he who is mightier than I…. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:7-8).

The true teacher does not bind people to himself, he is not possessive. He wants his son or daughter, or disciple, to learn to know the truth and to establish a personal relationship with it. The educator does his duty fully, he assures his attentive and faithful presence because his objective is that the person being educated listen to the voice of truth speaking to his heart and follow it on a personal journey.

Let us return once again to the witness. In the Second Reading, the Apostle John writes: “And the Spirit is the witness” (1 Jn 5:7). He is referring to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, who bears witness to Jesus, testifying that he is the Christ, the Son of God. This is also apparent in the scene of the Baptism in the River Jordan: the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus as a dove to reveal that he is the Only-Begotten Son of the eternal Father (cf. Mk 1:10). In his Gospel too, John underlines this aspect where Jesus says to the disciples: “When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning” (Jn 15:26-27). This is a great comfort to us in the work of educating in faith, because we know that we are not alone and that our witness is sustained by the Holy Spirit.

It is very important for you parents, and also for the godparents, to believe strongly in the presence and in the action of the Holy Spirit, to invoke him and to welcome him within you, through prayer and through the sacraments. It is he, in fact, who illumines the mind and warms the heart of the educator so that he or she can pass on the knowledge and love of Jesus. Prayer is the first condition for teaching because by praying we prepare ourselves to leave the initiative to God, to entrust children to him, who knows them before and better than we, and who knows perfectly what their true good is. And at the same time, when we pray we listen to God’s inspiration in order to do our part well, which in any case is our duty and which we are bound to do. The sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance, enable us to carry out our educational action in union with Christ, in communion with him and continuously renewed by his forgiveness. Prayer and the sacraments obtain for us that light of truth thanks to which we are able to be at once tender and strong, gentle and firm, silent and communicative at the right time, admonishing and correcting in the right way.

Dear friends, let us therefore all invoke the Holy Spirit together so that he may come down upon these children in abundance, consecrate them in the image of Jesus Christ and always go with them on their journey through life. Let us entrust them to the motherly guidance of Mary Most Holy, so that they may grow in age, wisdom and grace and become true Christians, faithful and joyful witnesses of God’s love. Amen.

A Catholic baptism [Wikipedia]

May each of us thank God today for our parents and godparents who brought us to be baptized so that we might receive 'the seed of eternal life'.

04 January 2018

'We have come to pay him homage.' Sunday Reflections, The Epiphany, Years ABC


The Adoration of the Magi, Luís Tristán de Escamilla [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’


Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
In countries where the Epiphany is a Holyday of Obligation it is celebrated on Saturday 6 January. Otherwise it is celebrated on Sunday 7 January this year. The Vigil Mass has its own antiphons and prayers but uses the readings above.


Adoration of the Magi, Blessed Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

While based in Britain from 2000 till 2002 I was able to spend Christmas with my brother and his family in Dublin, a short flight from England, in 2000 and 2001. During the holiday in 2001 I saw a documentary on RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcasting service, about Filipino nurses in Ireland. These began to arrive in 2000, initially at the invitation of the Irish government to work in government hospitals. Very quickly there was an 'invasion' of Filipino nurses and carers, now to be found in hospitals and nursing homes in every part of the country.

One of the nurses interviewed told how many Filipinos, knowing that the Irish celebrate Christmas on the 25th, unlike the Philippines where the culmination of the feast is the family meal, the noche buena, on the night of the 24th, offered to work on Christmas Day so that their Irish companions could be with their families. This also helped to dull the pain of being away from their own families.

I was moved to tears at the testimony of one nurse, from Mindanao as I recall, speaking about her job and her first Christmas in Ireland in 2000. She spoke very highly of her employers, of her working conditions and of her accommodation, which she compared with that of the Holy Family on the first Christmas night. She spoke of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in this situation as if they were members of her own family, as in a very deep sense they are, or we of their family.

Here was a young woman from the East powerfully proclaiming, without being aware of it, that the Word became flesh and lived among us. The fact that she wasn't aware of it, that she was speaking about her 'next door neighbours', made her proclamation of faith all the more powerful. She would have known many in her own place, and very likely knew from her own experience, something of what Joseph and Mary went through in Bethlehem. Her faith in the Word who became flesh and lived among us wasn't something in her head but part of her very being.

For much of the last century thousands of Catholic priests, religious Sisters and Brothers left Europe and North America to preach and live the Gospel in the nations of Africa, Asia and South America. Some of the countries and regions from which they left, eg, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ireland, Quebec, have to a great extent lost or even rejected the Catholic Christian faith. The Jewish people had, in faith, awaited the coming of the Messiah for many centuries. But when He came it was uneducated shepherds who first recognised him and later Simeon and Anna, two devout and elderly Jews who spent lengthy periods in prayer in the Temple.

Today's feast highlights wise men from the east, not 'believers' in the Jewish sense, led by God's special grace to Bethlehem to bring gifts in response to that grace, explaining, We . . . have come to pay him homage.They reveal to us that God calls people from every part of the world to do the same and to bring others with them.

Will nurses from the Philippines and from Kerala in India, migrants from Korea and Vietnam, from the east, bring the gift of faith in Jesus Christ once again to the many people in Western Europe and North America who no longer know him in any real sense? Will they by the lives they lead as working immigrants gently invite those in the West who have lost the precious gift of our Catholic Christian faith to once again come to pay him homage?

We Three Kings of Orient Are
The Madrigal Singers, University of the Philippines



28 December 2017

'And the favour of God was upon him.' Sunday Reflections, Feast of the Holy Family; Mary, Mother of God

Presentation in the Temple
Gerbrand van de Eeckhout [Web Gallery of Art]


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord [ (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
    and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.]

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Note that there are alternative First Readings, Responsorial Psalms and Second Readings. There are also longer and shorter versions of the Gospel.
Before Christmas we listened to the words of St Matthew: Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do 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 as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1:18-21)

Joseph, by obeying God's messenger and by naming the Son his wife Mary bore, became the legal father of Jesus. The Church honours him above all as the Husband of Mary. St John XXIII added the words and blessed Joseph, her Spouse to the Roman Canon, now also known as the First Eucharistic Prayer, while Pope Francis has included that phrase in the other three main Eucharistic Prayers. It was as the Husband of Mary that St Joseph took care of her and of Jesus. It was St Joseph whom Jesus knew as Dad/Papa/Tatay. It was from St Joseph that Jesus, God who became Man, learned, in his humanity, to grow into manhood.

St Joseph submitted his whole being, as did his wife Mary, to doing God's will. Jesus was flesh of her flesh, but not of his. Yet he loved Jesus as if he was his own son, first of all by loving his mother.
The Census at Bethlehem (detail)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

Peter Bruegel the Elder, maybe the first major painter to focus on the lives of ordinary people, captures the quiet responsibility of St Joseph, leading the donkey on which the heavily pregnant Mary is riding. The picture above is a detail of the full painting:



Bruegel has transposed Bethlehem to a village in the Netherlands in the middle of winter. He captures the reality that the Holy Family were 'nobodies'. None of the people around notices them. They too are caught up in the red tape of their day, having to travel long distances to have their names registered.

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout in the Presentation in the Temple shows St Joseph as a man who is somewhat shy, not wanting to be in the limelight, but standing protectively over Mary as she kneels before Jesus held in the arms of Simeon, with Anna the Prophetess in the background. St Joseph here reminds me very much of my own father.

And in the video of the Presentation what strikes me is that St Joseph is the one carrying Jesus. But before he hands the infant to Simeon he quietly asks Mary's permission to do so. Mary hands Jesus back to Joseph after receiving him from Simeon and it is St Joseph, as head of the Holy Family, who presents the infant to the priest who offers him to God. The priest has no idea who this child of poor parents really is.

On 17 November 2014 Pope Francis saidIt is necessary to insist on the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its intangible assets. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's growth and emotional development. This is why, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I stressed the 'indispensable' contribution of marriage to society, a contribution which 'transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple' (n. 66). And this is why I am grateful to you for the emphasis that your colloquium has placed on the benefits that marriage can provide children, the spouses themselves, and society.

There have always been children who have grown up without one or both parents. In the Bible they are seen as young persons in need of special care from the wider community. I have known many single parents, some of them widowed, raising their children lovingly and heroically. But this is not the norm.

Incredibly, many within the last three or four decades have come to dismiss the importance of husband/father and wife/mother, have come to dismiss the conception and birth of children in the way that God intended.

Pope Francis with recovering drug addict, Brazil 2013 [Wikipedia]

Though without a family of my own I have for many years experienced the title 'Father' as a call to be one in a number of senses: a 'spiritual father' who leads others to our Heavenly Father through his Son Jesus Christ, and a father-figure to young persons who may have lost their father or who may even have been abused by their father or by other fatherly figures in whom they should have been able to trust.

As a man, I see today's Feast of the Holy Family to be a call especially to us men to be like St Joseph, to be responsible, to be loving; if married to love our wives above all, if not, to be like fathers to young persons who come into our lives in whatever way and for whatever reason.

As a priest I am grateful to God for calling me not only to be 'Father' but to be a father to many in the sense that St Joseph was truly a father to Jesus.




Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

The Mother of God Enthroned, Andreas Ritzos [Web Gallery of Art]

The first day of 2018 is observed by the Church as the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. It is also the last day of the Octave of Christmas and World Day of Peace. In some countries, eg the Philippines, it is a Holy Day of Obligation. In others, eg Ireland, it is not.

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Adoration of the Shepherds, Jacopo Bassano [Web Gallery of Art]
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE
FRANCIS
FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE 
51st WORLD DAY OF PEACE
1 JANUARY 2018



Happy New Year!

Manigong Bagong Taon!

Athbhliain Faoi Mhaise!

19 December 2017

'Both Son of God and Son of Man together had one name.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas

The Annunciation, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’  The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

The Annunciation, Gerard David [Web Gallery of Art]

The Incarnation
by St John of the Cross

Then He summoned an archangel, 
Saint Gabriel: and when he came, 
Sent him forth to find a maiden, 
     Mary was her name.

Only through her consenting love 
Could the mystery be preferred 
That the Trinity in human 
     Flesh might clothe the Word.

Though the three Persons worked the wonder 
It only happened to the One. 
So was the Word made incarnation 
     In Mary's womb, a son.

So He who only had a Father 
Now had a Mother undefiled, 
Though not as ordinary maids 
     Had she conceived the Child.

By Mary, and with her own flesh 
He was clothed in His own frame: 
Both Son of God and Son of Man 
     Together had one name.  

                [Translation by Roy Campbell]

In both paintings above Mary has the word of God, the Hebrew Bible, what we Christians call the Old Testament, open in front of her. And when she says, let it be with me according to your word, she is accepting the Word. The opening words of St John's Gospel, read at the Mass During the Day on Christmas Day and read at the end of every Mass in the Extraordinary Form, tells us who the Word is: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Further on, in Verse 14, St John writes those magnificent words that are at the centre of our faith: And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes what St John of the Cross said about this: In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say. . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son. Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behavior but also of offending him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.

The Annunciation in an Initial R, Fra Angelico [Web Gallery of Art]

'Silence' is not what most of us associate with the days coming up to Christmas. But the Church invites us to enter into an inner silence during these days, difficult though that may be. The above is on a parchment, part of a Missal, which in the old days included the readings during Mass. Fra Angelico, a Dominican friar, was declared 'Blessed' by St John Paul II in 1982. This work again invites us into contemplation of the wondrous event of the Annunciation, the moment of the Incarnation when God became Man in the womb of Mary.

Julian of Vézelay (c.1080 - 1165), a French Benedictine monk, reflects on the silence into which Jesus entered, the silence that Mary bore in our heart, the silence that God invites us to enter at this time:

There came a deep silence. Everything was still. The voices of prophets and apostles were hushed, since the prophets had already delivered their message, while the time for the apostles' preaching had yet to come. Between these two proclamations a period of silence intervened, and in the midst of this silence the Father's almighty Word leaped down from his royal throne. There is a beautiful fitness here: in the intervening silence the Mediator between God and the human race also intervened, coming as a human being to human beings, as mortal to mortals, to save the dead from death.
I pray that the Word of the Lord may come again today to those who are silent, and that we may hear what the Lord God says to us in our hearts. Let us silence the desires and importunings of the flesh and the vainglorious fantasies of our imagination, so that we can freely hear what the Spirit is saying. Let our ears be attuned to the voice that is heard above the vault of heaven, for the Spirit of life is always speaking to our souls; as scripture says, a voice is heard above the firmament which hangs over our heads. But as long as we fix our attention on other things, we do not hear what the Spirit is saying to us.

Collect
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord,
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may by his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.



1. The angel Gabriel from heaven came
His wings as drifted snow his eyes as flame
‘All hail’ said he ‘thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

2. ‘For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

3. Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
‘To me be as it pleaseth God,’ she said,
‘My soul shall laud and magnify his holy name.’
Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

4. Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ was born
In Bethlehem, all on a Christmas morn
And Christian folk throughout the world will ever say:
‘Most highly favored lady,’ Gloria!

The Nativity (Christmas) 

The Census at Bethlehem (detail)
Pieter Bruegel the Elder [Web Gallery of Art]

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

By U.A. Fanthorpe

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.


The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord has four different Mass formularies, each with its own prayer and readings. Any of the four fulfills our obligation to attend Mass. These are:

Vigil Mass, celebrated 'either before or after First Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Nativity'; that means starting between 5pm and 7pm.
Mass During the Night, known before as 'Midnight Mass'. In many parts of the world it does begin at midnight but here in the Philippines since the 1980s it begins earlier, usually at 8:30pm or 9pm.
Mass at Dawn.
Mass During the Day.

When you click on 'Readings' below from the New American Bible you will find links to the readings for each of the four Masses. The readings from the Jerusalem Bible for the four Masses are all on one page.


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Mary's Boy Child
Written by Jester Hairston in 1956. The lyrics are in a Caribbean dialect of English.