Friday, 13 January 2017

January 15th 2017. Second Sunday of Ordinary Time
GOSPEL: John 1:29-34
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: John 1:29-34
Seeing Jesus coming towards him, John said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I spoke of when I said: A man is coming after me who ranks before me because he existed before me. I did not know him myself, and yet it was to reveal him to Israel that I came baptising with water.’ John also declared, ‘I saw the Spirit coming down on him from heaven like a dove and resting on him. I did not know him myself, but he who sent me to baptise with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptise with the Holy Spirit.”
Yes, I have seen and I am the witness that he is the Chosen One of God.’
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kierans summary . . . John the Baptist points out Jesus and says, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. Before the Exodus, the Israelites sacrificed a lamb and spread his blood upon their doorposts, thus saving them from extermination when the Angel of Death passed by. The Exodus was a historical event at one moment in time, but Jesus is the lamb of God who saves us from death, saves us from separation with God in a much more radical way. The true drama of human life is our exile from God, our broken communion with the Father, the emptiness we feel inside of us. We seek to resolve human problems by creating structures, developing democracy, eradicating poverty. There is no doubt that much human progress has been achieved, but no political or economic solution can tackle the fundamental issue at the heart of humanity – our sinfulness. Only Jesus can confront that problem, but how does he do it? We translate the phrase from John the Baptist as “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” but the original Greek says “who takes upon himself the sins of the world”. This difference is important and demonstrates the self-giving manner in which Christ saves us. Only Jesus can touch the emptiness and alienation that is inside the human heart, and he does it in a personal way. John the Baptist testified to the presence of the Holy Spirit with Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit is not about dramatic gifts or extraordinary abilities. The fundamental gift of the Spirit is the forgiveness of our sins and the planting in our hearts of a solid joy that comes from being pardoned and loved.

In Egypt the people were saved from extermination by the blood of the lamb spread on each doorpost. But Jesus is the lamb who saves all of us from extermination in a much more general sense. All of us are separated from God. We do not have full communion with him. We are cut off from God and in need of a lamb to save us.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist points out Jesus in a very distinctive manner. The key for interpreting this passage is given by the second canticle of the servant found in the first reading. Here the Lord says, “You are my servant Israel in whom I shall be glorified”. This servant was formed in the womb by the Lord with a definite purpose. He is not only to be a servant, but will be a light to the nations through whom salvation will reach the ends of the earth. What is this salvation referred to in the prophet Isaiah? John the Baptist is the last of the prophets and sees the Lord Jesus approaching him. He describes the salvation wrought by Jesus in liturgical language, in terms of the most important liturgy of the Jewish people – the Passover. The lamb of the Passover saved the people of Israel from extermination in Egypt.  If the blood of the lamb was spread on the door, then the Angel of Death passed over the household, whilst the first-born of each Egyptian household was slain. This extermination was a particular historical event confined to a particular place and time, but it came to refer to death in a much more general sense, the death that is a daily feature of human life. The true drama of human existence is the fact of our separation from God, the fact that we are not in full communion with him, our self-imposed solitude in the face of the love of God.

We work hard to bring justice and democracy to the world, but our structural changes can only achieve so much. The radical thing amiss with humanity is its state of sin. No structure can tackle our sinfulness, our broken communion with God. How does this lamb bring us back into communion with God? By wiping away sin like the way chalk is wiped off the blackboard? No, Jesus takes our sins upon himself.
John the Baptist points out the lamb of God “who takes away the sins of the world”. This translation comes from the Latin rendering of the phrase which has been used liturgically from ancient times. The Greek term used originally in John’s Gospel means to “take upon himself the sins of the world”. The sins are tackled not simply by eliminating them but by bearing them. Who can tackle the enigma of humanity, the disaster of its separation from God? We have tried to improve humanity by developing democracy and improving our structures, and there is no doubt that many good and beneficial things have been achieved. Some poverties have been eliminated and there has been healthy evolution in certain quarters. But there is something dramatically amiss that we cannot achieve by ourselves. No matter what wonderful structures we construct, we cannot remove sin from the life of humanity. No human being is able to tackle this fundamental issue. The Pharisees will later criticize Jesus for his claim to forgive sins because they know that only God can accomplish that. Only God can touch, resolve, illuminate this interior crisis of man. Our vices, the irresolution of our being, the barriers we construct around us, the emptiness we feel within – these are all symptoms of the separation between us and God, of the fact that we are not rooted in the love of the Father.

The Holy Spirit is with Jesus and his mission is the forgiveness of sins. We sometimes think the Holy Spirit is given so that we can do extraordinary feats, but his fundamental mission is to forgive our sins and plant the joy of being loved firmly in our hearts.

“Behold, the Lamb of God!” It is for this reason that John is convinced that Jesus is the Son of God, because of his ability to bear our sins. Only Jesus is capable of entering into the sadness of humanity, taking it upon himself on the cross when he becomes the sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb who is given, the Lamb who is slain, but yet wins the most difficult of all battles – the battle that rages within the heart of man. Other generations will come, people throughout history who will appropriate this salvation by allowing Jesus to bear our faults. The prophet Isaiah in the first reading foretells the coming of this servant who is not only a servant but also the light that leads us out of darkness of our solitude. Jesus is the servant upon whom the Holy Spirit comes to rest. The presence of the Holy Spirit does not refer to stunning gifts of knowledge or extraordinary abilities. The Holy Spirit is given for the forgiveness of sins, for planting solidly in the heart of man that which he lacks: the joy of being loved, the joy of being forgiven. John the Baptist announces that which was there from the beginning, the plan of God that exists from eternity. The Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, has a mission with respect to humanity, to love us and forgive us.

Friday, 6 January 2017

January 8th 2017. The Baptism of Our Lord
GOSPEL: Matthew 3:13-17
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: Matthew 3:13-17
Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. John tried to dissuade him. ‘It is I who need baptism from you’ he said ‘and yet you come to me!’ But Jesus replied, ‘Leave it like this for the time being; it is fitting that we should, in this way, do all that righteousness demands’. At this, John gave in to him.
As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him’.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kierans summary . . . The first reading is from Isaiah 42, a chapter that speaks of a servant who will achieve marvellous things: he will bring God’s righteousness to humanity and will be a covenant to the peoples and a light to all nations. But how is this servant going to accomplish such wonderful deeds? By his personal attributes or his frenzied actions? No! The servant’s defining characteristic is that he is beloved by the Lord, elected, chosen, selected out personally. But he is not only chosen, he is also favoured, blessed, sustained and held by the hand. We find the same theme when we read Matthew’s account of the baptism of Jesus. Before the event, Jesus tells John the Baptist that he is not interested in following the human pecking order of who is superior to who, or who should baptize who: all Jesus cares about is fulfilling his mission. This involves starting from zero, becoming as lowly as the lowest one of us. But if Jesus starts from zero in human terms, then what is his foundation for the great mission of bringing God’s righteousness to the world? His starting point is manifested at the moment of his baptism. The Spirit descends on him and we hear the voice of the Father, “This is my son, the beloved, on whom my favour rests”. Jesus is the servant spoken of in Isaiah whose entire existence is grounded on the fact that he is loved, chosen and sent by the Father. And there is a fundamental message here regarding our baptism too. Woe to us if we do not see in the baptism of Jesus the meaning of our own baptism! Our life as Christians - our activity in the church - cannot be based upon our attributes, actions, or two-bit strategies! To confront the challenges we face as men, women, ministers of the Gospel, spouses, parents, colleagues, friends, we need to begin from who we are before God. The immensity of who we are for him is what our baptism testifies to. Our baptism cries aloud that our value in the eyes of God is worth infinitely more than our talents and attributes, our actions and what we possess. In baptism, God has gratuitously elected us, called us, chosen us, favoured us, blessed us, and loved us. He has taken us out from the old man and brought us into a new life that is based entirely on his love.  

The Gospel account of the baptism of Jesus makes reference to passages from Genesis and the prophet Isaiah. The text in Genesis speaks of a “beloved son” whilst the piece from Isaiah describes a servant on whom the favour of the Lord rests. The fact that Jesus is a beloved Son of the Father doesn’t stop him from being a dedicated servant.
The account of Jesus’ baptism that we read on Sunday comes from Matthew 3. Every passage from the Bible is a mine from which many treasures can be unearthed. Each story can be looked at from many different points of view, but we will follow the interpretation suggested to us in Sunday’s liturgy by reading the Gospel passage in the light of the first reading. The first reading that is chosen for the Sunday Eucharist always contains a key for interpreting the Gospel. On Sunday the first reading is the Canticle of the Servant of God from Chapter 42 of the prophet Isaiah. The Gospel reading from Matthew actually cites this passage from Isaiah, but it mixes it with a citation from Genesis 22, where Abraham is called to sacrifice Isaac. At the beginning of Isaiah 42 we read:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom my soul delights.
I have endowed him with my spirit
that he may bring true justice to the nations.
He does not cry out or shout aloud,
or make his voice heard in the streets.
He does not break the crushed reed,
nor quench the wavering flame.
Faithfully he brings true justice;  
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth,
This marvellous passage continues and we will hear all of it at Mass on Sunday. Our Gospel reading then cites the first words of this canticle. When Jesus goes to be baptized, John tries to stop him saying, “I need to be baptized by you, but you come to me for baptism?” Jesus replies, “Let it be so for now so that all righteousness will be fulfilled”. After the baptism, Jesus emerges from the water and we are treated to a complete manifestation of the Trinity. The Spirit of God descends like a dove and the voice of the Father is heard, “This is my Son, the beloved on whom my favour rests”. Here we have a mixed reference to Genesis 22 (where Isaac – the only son of Abraham - is described as the “beloved”) and Isaiah 42 (“Here is my chosen one in whom my soul delights”). As in Genesis 22, Jesus is referred to as the “Son”, but Isaiah 42 reminds us that he is also a servant.

John is told that Jesus must undergo baptism in order to fulfil “all righteousness.” Jesus is the servant mentioned in Isaiah who will bring God’s righteousness to the world. How will he achieve this great goal? By respecting the human pecking order of honour that John wishes to respect by insisting that Jesus baptize him? NO! Jesus’ starting point is somewhere else!
Why does the Gospel take such pains to recount this rather futile-sounding exchange between John the Baptist and Jesus? Isaiah 42 helps us to understand the significance of this exchange for each one of us. What is the “righteousness” that Jesus must accomplish? It is not a forensic righteousness in the sense of a rule or a ritual that must be respected. We are talking here about the righteousness that is at the very heart of God’s plan for humanity. The state of unrighteousness is when we find ourselves separated from God’s plan. Some passages in the Old Testament speak of the “retribution of God”. God’s “retribution” is the misery and unhappiness that awaits us when we follow a course that does not lead where the Lord wants. Sin and deceit entail that we are living in a manner different to the one that God has planned for us. Jesus’s mission is to establish this righteousness. He is about to embark on his mission and encounters John, his precursor, who follows a line of reasoning that is perfectly understandable to each one of us. Why should Jesus come to John for baptism? There is an issue here regarding the relative significance of these two characters. John wants to give honour to the Lord Jesus and it seems logical that Jesus should accept this proper ordering of things. But this sort of logic is nothing more than the way we continue on in our existence from day to day.  We base ourselves on these human building blocks of the honour that we derive from certain attributes that we possess, on the attention that we can garner from certain goals that we achieve. Jesus comes and rejects this pedestal, this notion that he is more than others, the whole mentality in which one person is compared to another. His mission is to bring about the righteousness of God for the salvation of the world and he must make something else his starting point.  

The incredible achievements of this servant will be based entirely on the fact that he is beloved, chosen, elected, sustained, favoured, blessed, held by the Father
The Holy Spirit descends and a voice comes from heaven, “This is my Son the beloved. On him my favour rests”. In the text from Isaiah we are presented with a servant who will achieve extraordinary things: he will bring justice to the nations and will not waver until he has fulfilled his mission. This is what Jesus is referring to when he speaks to John the Baptist: the fact that he will make the world righteous. The “islands” referred to in Isaiah were considered of unimaginable distance away. Thus the mission of the servant extended to the whole world. He was to be appointed as covenant to the peoples and light to the nations. How will the servant accomplish such incredible deeds? The foundation of what he will achieve is his relationship with God, not the honour given to him by men! The Lord Jesus begins from zero in earthly terms. He openly says that his prestige among men doesn’t interest him and is of no use to him. All that matters to him is who is he is in the eyes of the Father, the beloved Son on whom his favour rests. The passage from Isaiah makes reference to “my” servant. In Hebrew, the possessive pronoun is put at the end of the sentence, so it reads as “servant of mine”, emphasizing the intimate relationship between them. And we are told that the Lord defends and sustains this servant, maintains him and holds his hand. The servant is the “elected one”, the one who has been chosen, picked out from the crowd. The word in Hebrew for “elected” means to be selected out in order to become extraordinary. Furthermore, the servant is the one “in whom my soul delights”. All of these attributes are actions of God on behalf of the servant. Similarly, in the Gospel, we have, “This is my Son, the beloved”. “Beloved” is a passive term and indicates the joyful state of this Son who is sustained by the strength of the love of a tender Father.

As for Jesus, so also for each one of us. Woe to us if we do not see in the baptism of Jesus the meaning of our own baptism! The baptism of Jesus tells us that it is the fact of being beloved and elected by the Father that is the foundation of the mission of Christ. And so too for us. We will not construct the Church upon our two-bit strategies and frenzied activities. Our sole starting point must the fact that we are beloved and chosen by God. Only then can the life of the Spirit be manifested in us.

This is the foundation of Christian action! Woe to us if we do not learn from this Feast of the Baptism of Jesus the meaning of our own baptism! In the first place, baptism concerns the power of God, not human considerations or honour or pecking order. We shouldn’t think that the church can be constructed upon ineffectual strategies where we focus on a myriad of things that are best left to the Lord. To confront the challenges we face as men, women, ministers of the Gospel, servants of the Lord, spouses, parents, colleagues, friends, siblings, constructors of society and the church, we need to begin from who we are before God. Who we are for him is what our baptism testifies to. Our baptism cries aloud that our value in the eyes of God is worth infinitely more than our talents and attributes, our actions and what we possess. God has gratuitously elected us, called us, taken us out from the old man and brought us into a new life that is based entirely on his love.  

Friday, 30 December 2016

January 1st 2017. Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God
GOSPEL: Luke 2:16-21
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: Luke 2:16-21
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem 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.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Mary, Mother of God. The title “Mother of God” is not only a description of Mary: it expresses the essential mystery of the incarnation of Jesus. He was not simply God; nor was he only a super-talented human. Jesus was true God and true man, and this fact is of immense significance for our life of faith. Like Mary, each one of us is called to be a generator of divine life. How do we do that? First of all, let us consider the obstacles we face! Our modern world has become a very infertile place. This is manifested not only in the unprecedented unwillingness to nurture and defend life. Our entire culture emphasizes independence and autonomy. The fulfilment of our desires, the satisfaction of our own ambitions and the pursuit of sensuality are all considered legitimate behaviour for a mature adult. If I live my existence from one moment of self-gratification to the next, then how can I be fecund in any meaningful sense? God calls me to be a source of life, not the end goal of life! We are so preoccupied with our own physical endowments, but consider for a moment that Mary remained a virgin and yet became a source of life! She is our example and model. It was not her personal capacities that made her the generator of divine life but her radical openness to the action of God. The divine life that she generates is then laid in a manger and becomes food for the world. Jesus does not ask for anything but offers himself in a feeding trough as bread that is broken for us. Each one of us can follow the example of Mary if we cease looking for what we want or think we need. We can escape from our infantile state and become mature Christians if we bow low like Mary and say “Yes!” to God. Then the Lord can work through us and achieve wonderful things.

Mary’s title “Mother of God” is a title that helps us to maintain a correct understanding of who Jesus really was. He was not simply God, nor was he only a super-talented man. The mysterious fact that he was both human and divine achieves our salvation and enables us to share his divine life.
The liturgical feast that is always celebrated on the first day of the year is that of the maternity of Mary. In Greek the term for “Mother of God” is Theotokos. This title was approved and transmitted by the early fathers of the Church who wished to protect the integrity of our faith. For them the title expressed a profound truth that had to be conserved. Why was it so important to retain that Mary is the mother of the only-begotten Son of God? Surely it is contradictory to say that a creature generated God? But here we encounter that novelty that continues to surprise us. If Jesus was simply God, then his life would not have the same relevance for us. His self-giving would have been something done by God and would remain something impossible for any of us to accomplish. On the other hand, if Jesus was only a man, then his existence would simply have been that of a super-endowed human being and would have finished there. The title of Theotokos protects the truth that Jesus was true God and true man. Mary is a woman and - from her human flesh - the Son of God is mysteriously generated. The mystery of the Incarnation cannot be grasped by logical or mathematical descriptions.

The divine motherhood of Mary is not just a matter for philosophical debate. It is something that is at the heart of our faith. Along with Mary, each one of us is called to be mothers, sisters and brothers of Christ. But how do we do that?
The fact that Mary is truly the mother of Jesus, and the fact that Jesus is truly divine, might seem to be a problem of a purely philosophical sort. Instead, it is an urgent problem of faith that we confront this question in the correct manner. On the very first day of the year we are presented with this capacity of Mary to generate God. And it is a capacity that is extended to each one of us! In Luke’s Gospel there is a passage in which Jesus is told, “Your mother and brothers are waiting for you outside” (“brothers” was a generic term in those days for “relatives”). Jesus replies: “Who is my mother? Who is my brother? The one who listens to my Father’s word and puts it into practice is my brother and sister and mother.” In other words, we can accomplish the same thing as Mary. Just as Mary allowed Christ to be generated in her, so we too, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, have the potential to permit the glory of God to emerge from our works. We, according to the plan of God for each one of us, can become genuine conduits through which the greatness of the Lord is transmitted to the world.

The modern world ceases to be fecund to the extent that it emphasizes the importance of autonomy, gratification, and the centrality of my own feelings. I am called to be a source of life, not the end goal of life! How can I nurture life in the world if I am fixated with the frivolous satisfaction of my own bodily life? Mary conceives virginally, highlighting the point that it is not our physical capacities that count. God can generate wonderful life from me, regardless of my incapacity, once I say “Yes! to him
However, there is a particular problem with our times which obstructs our capacity to generate divine life. To be the Mother of God requires, first of all, to be a mother. In order to be the source from which the works of God are generated, it is necessary that we have a certain fecundity. There is no doubt that we have the potential to be children of God and children of humanity at the same time. Our baptism endows us with this divine dimension and it is manifested in the lives of many holy people. But the problem of our time is the unprecedented unwillingness to be mothers and fathers, a closure to the kind of fecundity that is so evident in Mary. It is not only the common reluctance to generate children, and a negation of the duty to defend and protect new life, but a deeper problem with human identity itself. The delirium of independence and the ideal of individual autonomy has brought each one of us to the point of solitude. We are in love with ourselves, our own rationalisations, our own feelings, and our sensuality. The superficial fixation with self-gratification, the attempt to live life from one moment of pleasure to the next, destroys our fecundity. I am called to be a source of life, not the end goal of life! I am invited to generate new life, not make my life into its own final purpose! I am challenged to nurture life, to become a fount of light and good. Mary is the model and image of every Christian and is the mother of God, permitting the splendid action of the Holy Spirit in her. The fact that Mary conceives virginally highlights the essential point that our own natural capacities are not the central issue. What makes her a mother is her openness, her saying “Yes!” to God.

Jesus lies in a manger because he has come to offer himself to us as food. Like Mary, we become generators of divine life when we cease asking for what we want and instead offer ourselves to the Father so that he can transform the world through us

The shepherds go to look upon a child in a manger. He does not consider himself as a mouth to be fed but as bread for the nourishment of others. A manger is not a suitable place to lay a child in normal circumstances, but this child has come to give himself to us as bread. He has not coming looking for glory in human terms. He does not seek to be the centre of attention, to have dominion over the existence of others. He comes as bread broken for us and we adore him to the extent that we appreciate his hidden beauty and generosity. Jesus is not pretentious. He does not look for something from us: he comes to give. We are called to be children of our heavenly Father following the example of Mary, not as people who make demands, preoccupied with their own rights. Mary responded by offering herself, not by asking for something. All of us have something to offer. All of us have much to give. We are freed from our infantile state when the centre of our attention ceases to be fixated on what we want and need. The feast of the maternity of Mary: the feast of each one of us and our potential to be sources and origins of what is good.

Friday, 23 December 2016

December 25th 2016. The Nativity of Our Lord
GOSPEL: John: 1:1-5; 9-14
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: John: 1:1-5; 9-14
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God. 
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God, 
to those who believe in his name, 
who were born not by natural generation 
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision 
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kierans summary . . . The Gospel for Mass on Christmas Day is from the Prologue of St John. This poetic passage speaks of “word”, “light”, “darkness”, “life” and “creation”. Is it some kind of abstract philosophical treatise? No! The central verse tells us that our God has become flesh and has lived in our midst, giving us the opportunity to encounter this concrete person and behold his “glory”. But what is his “glory”? Glory - kabod in Hebrew - refers to someone’s real value. St John tells us that he has “beheld his glory”. When and where did St John behold the glory of Jesus? He saw it when Jesus was hanging from the cross. And we see it too when we contemplate Jesus on the cross and behold his self-giving love. The fact that God has become one of us helps us to realize the incredible dignity we have as human beings. Sometimes there is a tendency to think that our bodies and our materiality are something to be disparaged. But Jesus incarnation, death and resurrection teaches us that creation has been redeemed and that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We can live the LIFE that Jesus lives. When I contemplate the fact that Jesus became human, then I begin to appreciate how wonderful it is to be human, what an opportunity it is to be human, what infinite potential I have as a human being. If Jesus can be a child of the Father in the fullest sense even as a human being, then I too, with and through Jesus, can live the LIFE of a true child of the Father.

This poetic passage speaks of “word”, “light”, “darkness”, “life” and “creation”. Is it some kind of abstract philosophical treatise? No! The central verse tells us that our God has become flesh and has lived in our midst.
The Gospel on Christmas Day comes from the marvellous Prologue of St John’s Gospel. This poetic hymn is an interpretative key for reading the entire Gospel. This Sunday we have the option of reading the full eighteen verses or following a shorter form. Here we will follow the shorter form which contains the more salient points for celebrating the feast of Christmas. The passage speaks of the Word who was with God in the beginning and who is the mediator of everything. All things were created through him and he is the substance of everything that exists. He is life and this life is the light of humanity. These beautiful notions of light, life and creation – are they abstract concepts that we are expected to exercise our intelligence in trying to understand? Is the language being used here some sort of coded message that we need to interpret? Hardly! The central verse is absolutely concrete and is the one we focus on at Christmas: “The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us”. The Word is no abstraction if he becomes flesh! He is not something distant from us but actually comes to live in our midst. The original Greek says that he “pitched his tent among us”.

We encounter this concrete person and have the possibility of beholding his “glory”. But what is his “glory”? Glory in Hebrew refers to someone’s real value. We see the glory of Jesus when he is hanging on the Cross. It is then that we fully behold his self-giving love.
The passage tells us that “The word became flesh”. From this we can make three points: firstly, he is a person, not some kind of myth; secondly, he is not simply spirit, but is also flesh like us; thirdly, he dwells not in some other place distant from humanity, but among us. All of this points to the fact that we have the possibility to encounter this concrete person and contemplate his glory. “Glory” does not refer to something spectacular or ostentatious. In Hebrew the word for glory is “kabod” and signifies the weight or true value of something. The glory of God refers to his authentic value. To contemplate the glory of God is to appreciate something of how he really is. It does not refer to something that is flamboyant or visually impressive. When someone dies we often see his “glory” in this sense; we discover who he is in reality. It is in moments of difficulty that we see people’s real mettle; how they are inside comes to the surface. When St John says, “We have seen his glory”, what is he referring to? He is referring to the moment that the disciple turns his face to Christ on the cross and contemplates who Jesus really is. And this knowledge is brought to completion when the disciple sees him again after the resurrection.

The fact that God has made himself so banal for us entails that we have the opportunity to encounter him in this material world. Our bodies and our materiality are not something to be disparaged. Rather, creation has been redeemed and our bodies become temples of the Holy Spirit.
In this passage at Christmas, we discover that God has made himself visible and tangible. The first letter of John refers to what “our eyes have seen, our ears have listened to and our hands have touched”. Christmas announces that God is within arm’s reach, that he is not a distant figure, that he made himself flesh. We recall the experience that the apostles and early Christians have transmitted to us of their direct encounter with him. All of this tells us that God is not a concept to be understood; he is a child that has been born in a humble state; he has lived our life and therefore our life is the place that God manifests himself concretely. This means that it is possible for us, strange as it might seem, to see the glory of God. Our existence is not something that must be rescued from its materiality. Rather, our existence, materiality and all, has been redeemed. Our bodies have become the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is not just that we will contemplate the glory of God in the future if we make it to heaven: we can already meet God concretely here on this earth and have a genuine experience of him. Christianity is not a system of values: Christian values are derived from a personal encounter. Each one of us does not have to make an arduous search to encounter Jesus Christ. The shepherds found him in the most banal of conditions. A child with his mother. Leaving aside the sentimental visualisations of this scene, the picture of a child with its mother is the most concrete of all situations.

When I contemplate the fact that Jesus became human, then I begin to appreciate how wonderful it is to be human. I begin to see that I too, like Jesus, can become a child of the Father.

If I understand the flesh of Christ, I understand my own flesh. If I see his glory, then I begin to realize the relevance of my own life. If I appreciate the extent to which God has emptied himself for me, the efforts he makes to associate with me, then I begin to comprehend who I am. Through seeing him, I come to know my own dignity. It is not simply that the incarnation helps us to grasp the generosity of God. It is something that helps us to discover the dignity of our own nature. If the one who created the galaxies and the cosmos has made himself nothing in order to meet us, then we start to ask “Who are we that he has taken us so much to heart?” Christmas announces that I can live the life of a child of God. To see his glory and to welcome him is to be transformed into a man or woman who is capable of living fully his grace, to receive his grace and his truth. Jesus comes to us full of grace and truth. How many wrong ideas we have about God! How far off our impressions are at times! This Christmas, let us just look at him and see how he is. Let us recognise how humble he is, how tangible he is, how available he is, how complete a gift he is from God. Let us rejoice in this gift which is utterly for us. Let us rejoice that God has made himself flesh. How significant it must be to have flesh! How relevant it is to have a body, to be alive! As John Paul II said, if it was not beneath God to become human, then it must really be something special to be human.

Friday, 16 December 2016

December 18th 2016. Fourth Sunday of Advent
GOSPEL: Matthew 1:18-24
­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Translated from a homily by Don Fabio Rosini, broadcast on Vatican Radio

Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...

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GOSPEL: Matthew 1:18-24
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kierans summary . . . The Gospel story tells us of the dilemma facing Joseph. He knows that Mary is pregnant, but what should he do? The Law demands that he renounce her and hand her over to possible stoning. He does not want to do this because he knows the character of the girl who is engaged to him - he cannot easily accept that she has been unfaithful. But neither can he ignore her unexplained pregnancy and do nothing. So he decides to take the middle way: renounce her, but keep it all secret. This problem of discernment reminds us a bit of the malady of the modern world. The fabric of our society is so relativistic that people have difficulty discerning right from wrong. We encounter people of forty years of age that have difficulties making life decisions of a fundamental sort. As well as that, there is a general malaise that afflicts males in particular, and that is the reluctance to make commitments and take responsibility. As a result, the modern man lacks virility and fecundity. Instead of doing the things that he ought to be doing, which involves firm decision making, he sits on the fence trying to keep his options open and everyone satisfied. The solution for this modern affliction is the very same solution that presented itself to Joseph. While Joseph was sleeping, the angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him to overcome his fear and take Mary to be his wife. It was when Adam was sleeping that God removed a rib and gave him his spouse. Sleep represents a state of impotence and openness before God. It is when we are still that God is able to intervene in our lives. And a dream represents something that is beautiful and extraordinary. Openness to God and a willingness to believe in the dream is what each one of us needs if we are to permit the extraordinary intervention of God in our lives! We cannot maintain a marriage, follow a religious vocation, build up the church or do anything worthwhile in the world unless we believe in the dream, and open ourselves to the extraordinary power of God to act in our lives. If, instead, we insist on acting using our own logic and our own efforts, all we will achieve is the mediocre solutions and “middle ways” that lead nowhere.

The Gospel is a story about discernment. Joseph is in a predicament and must do that most human of things – make a decision
Following Matthew’s genealogy, which shows how Jesus is rooted in the history of Israel, the Evangelist goes on, “This is how the birth of Jesus came about”. The story of how the Saviour is born is then recounted. “When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” Though we are being presented with the stupefying fact of the Incarnation of the Son of God among us, the Gospel recounts the story in a simple way, from the point of view of an act of discernment of Joseph. This passage, in fact, is a passage about discernment. Joseph must come to a decision. Decision-making is an action that is distinctively human. Our lives every day are made up of a succession of decisions. Life is the business of successively opting for certain things in the place of others. Some of the decisions that we make can have dramatic significance. Joseph is presented with a decision of this sort. What should he do with this pregnant girl? If it was simply a matter of pregnancy, then his way would have been clear: he would be obliged to reject her. But she is his betrothed and he already knows the kind of girl she is. He cannot simply accept that she has been dishonest.

Joseph has two options, but neither one seems right. How often today our young people find themselves caught between two options! They find it difficult to choose either one because the relativistic fabric of our society has dissolved the parameters of right and wrong.
Often our decisions are not simply between an evident good and an evident evil. Often we must decide between two things that seem equally good, or in this case, two things that seem equally bad. It does not seem right to condemn her and to expose her to the risk of being stoned to death. Neither can he ignore the fact of her pregnancy. Joseph seems to be caught in a genuine predicament with no means of escape. Real problems of discernment are often of this sort. In today’s world we encounter many young people who take endless amounts of time to come to a life decision. They lack the parameters by which to make a decision because the fabric of our society has become so relativistic. People no longer know how to tell good from evil. They fear things that are not risky in the least and they give credence to ideas that are not the slightest bit plausible. Nowadays we find people of thirty, thirty five or forty years of age that cannot make up their minds about basic things.

Joseph looks for the middle way. Our generation of males is a bit similar in that it is a generation that is sitting on the fence, a generation that lacks virility and abdicates its responsibility to make clear and firm decisions
Joseph is supposed to get married, and this text is principally about matrimonial discernment. The decision to marry is something that is daunting for the human being even in normal circumstances. Here, Joseph finds himself in an even more difficult situation. The Gospel tells us that he was a righteous man. The word “righteous” is a technical term, and refers to someone who was obedient to the Law. To the extent that he was obedient to the Law, he would be expected to denounce Mary in this condition. But the word “righteous” has a double sense, and also refers to the fact that he was a man who wanted to do what was right. He could not denounce Mary without feeling that he was making a mistake. Was there a middle way that he could take? This is how we tend to respond to situations of the sort. We want to take both decisions at once and keep everyone happy. So Joseph decides to reject Mary but to do it in secret so that she does not have to suffer the consequences. Our generation of males is a bit like this. Men want to keep all their options open and keep everyone (especially themselves) happy, but in the end this means that they do not exercise their virility in the proper manner. They end up failing to be truly fecund, abdicating their responsibilities to be husbands in the true sense of the word. Instead of doing what they ought to be doing, they remain in the stagnant state of not making a commitment of any sort.

Joseph’s dilemma is resolved by the action of God. While he is asleep God works in him through a dream. The estate of sleep represents a state of complete impotency, a state of openness to God. When we place ourselves before God in this way, then he is permitted to act, and then we no longer have need of our “middle ways”, the mediocre solutions that are of our own making.
How does Joseph escape from this quandary? How does the modern male escape from the dilemma that besets his contemporaries? Joseph has a dream in which an angel of the Lord appears to him. During sleep we may be impotent, but do not forget that it was in sleep that Adam had his rib removed so that when he awoke he discovered that he finally had a companion. It is a curious thing, but to allow God to act it is necessary to be quiet, to be in a receptive state, to be available to the point of total weakness. The word “dream” is also used for things that are idyllic, things that are the fruit of our imagination. In dreams we often exhibit the most incredible imaginations. To believe in the content of a dream is often to believe in beauty. Joseph escapes from his dilemma by believing in something that is the most beautiful, most good, most noble and most supernatural of all. He is to overcome his fear and welcome Mary into his home. Mary is to be “his” and he is to take possession of her. He is told that it is through the Holy Spirit that this situation has come about, and that what is happening does not simply regard the narrow life of Joseph: this child will do nothing less than save his people from their sins. All of this will fulfil what the prophet Isaiah foretold: that a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son - the extraordinary response of God to our poverty.

To do anything worthwhile – to maintain a marriage, to pursue a religious vocation, to build up the church – each one of us must be like Joseph and believe in a dream, believe in the extraordinary intervention of God into our affairs once we allow him to come in.

From mediocre solutions to believing in the eruption of God into history! Joseph tries to make a choice between two options, but discovers that he achieves nothing until he opens himself to the intervention of God. He must awake and be obedient to a dream. It takes courage to conform one’s life to something that is so irrational, something that goes beyond our human parameters. But how can any marriage survive if the spouses are not obedient to an ancient dream that they once shared? How can someone be true to a religious vocation if they are not obedient to an instinct in their hearts that is immensely noble? How can we build up the church if we do not believe in something supernaturally sublime? How can we hope to do anything worthwhile in this world if we do not believe in goodness – in fact, if we do not believe in the supreme Good? Using logic and rationality alone, no matter how much effort we expend, all we can achieve will be small and mediocre things. All we will manage are compromises, like the decision that Joseph took when he resolved to renounce Mary in secret. But look at what happened once Joseph opened himself to the extraordinary! We are on the threshold of Christmas, the threshold of the appearance of the extraordinary among us. The extraordinary has a power of its own. All we need to do is to be open to it and let the Lord act according to his own designs. This does not mean that we do not need to use our intelligence. We must use our head in order to appreciate its limitations.

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