Thursday, 28 December 2017

December 31st 2017.  FEAST OF THE HOLY FAMILY
GOSPEL Luke 2:22-40
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 2:22-40
When the day came for them to be purified as laid down by the Law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord — observing what stands written in the Law of the Lord: Every first-born male must be consecrated to the Lord — and also to offer in sacrifice, in accordance with what is said in the Law of the Lord, a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Now in Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was an upright and devout man; he looked forward to Israel’s comforting and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord. Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and he said:
‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace,
just as you promised;
because my eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared for all the nations to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans
and the glory of your people Israel.’
As the child’s father and mother stood there wondering at the things that were being said about him, Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘You see this child: he is destined for the fall and for the rising of many in Israel, destined to be a sign that is rejected — and a sword will pierce your own soul too — so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’
There was a prophetess also, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well on in years. Her days of girlhood over, she had been married for seven years before becoming a widow. She was now eighty-four years old and never left the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer. She came by just at that moment and began to praise God; and she spoke of the child to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem.
When they had done everything the Law of the Lord required, they went back to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. Meanwhile the child grew to maturity, and he was filled with wisdom; and God’s favour was with him.
The Gospel of the LordPraise to you Lord Jesus Christ

Kieran’s summary . . . In Hebrew culture, there were various rituals by which the people consecrated the important moments of their lives to God. The point of these rituals was that they expressed the belief that God was the master of life. He gave the gift of children so it made perfect sense that the first-born child must be entrusted back to him. How often we seek to be the masters of our own lives! And when we do, we end up building concentration camps, or enacting laws that allow us to select which lives to keep and which to discard. We test the child within the womb and if we don’t like the result of the analysis, we act like God and become selectors of who is to live and who is to die. In the feast of the Presentation, Mary humbly consecrates her child to God. And, incredibly, God entrusts him back to us! As the Gospel tells us, this act of presentation is the source of a conflict in the world, the fall and ring of many. We are confronted with the choice to consecrate our lives to God, or to live in a self-referential way, depending on purely human resources. But human resources cannot break down the walls of nothingness that surround us! Only Jesus can. God brings life where it seems impossible, as in the infertility of Abraham and Sarah recounted in the first reading. This Christmas Season, let us entrust our lives to the child born in a stable who reaches down from the depths to entrust his life to us!

Jesus was born among the animals because he wanted to reach down to our very depths to lift us up to him
We approach the feast of the Holy Family in the context of the wave of joy that comes during the celebration of the Christmas season. The birth of Jesus in the stable of Bethlehem is the key for interpreting the readings of Sunday's feast. Why is it so important and urgent that the Son of God himself should become man and be born with a flesh like ours? Why couldn't God just have given us a clear list of instructions by which to live? Why couldn't we just make a greater effort to behave better? None of this was enough for God, and that is why Christmas is such a joyful time. God comes himself to live among us and raise us up. He initiates the great adventure of the union between humanity and the divinity. Immanuel - "God with us" - makes himself the least of humanity. In fact he is born in a stable among animals because there is no room for him in human society. God reaches down to the very place where mankind has dehumanised itself in order to lift it up to God. It is this union with God that makes Christmas so joyful. Life is no longer focussed on the purely biological, on the trivial issues that drive us to despair. The union of God and humanity lifts our gaze to higher things, to the wonderful dignity that we possess, and to our supernatural vocation on account of the fact that the image of God has been imprinted on us.

The first reading tells how God blesses us by doing extraordinary things, by giving life where none seems possible
These themes become concrete in the holy family. The first reading from Sunday tells how Abraham has arrived at the edge of desperation. He is old and still has no heir. But God makes him realize that what is at going on here is something of global significance, a blessing that is unfolding and that has no limits. Then the reading skips on a few chapters and we are told that Sarah in her old age conceives a child. Here, we are confronted with the great, the extraordinary, the unexpected. We cannot survive without the extraordinary! Why did the Son of God become incarnate? Because we need something exceptional that only he can give! We need to see the sterile womb becoming capable of generating life, the old age of Abraham transformed into something fertile. 

The Presentation is about consecrating life to God. When we try to be the masters of our own lives, we end up destroying the unborn, constructing concentration camps, and creating horrific situations in the world. Life belongs to God and must be entrusted to him. At the same time, God entrust his only son to us.
In this light we consider the Gospel reading, which this year describes the presentation in the Temple of Jesus. The days of purification have ended and it is time to present the first-born to the Lord. This theme is very important in the Old Testament. Life is a gift from God and the first born must be entrusted to the Lord. Rites of purification in the Hebrew tradition were rites that involved human cycles of birth, life and death. There was no sense of "dirtiness" in these rites. Instead they were held sacred because they were ways of consecrating life to God. Life was not something that we were to manage by ourselves. When we seek to manage life by ourselves, we end up constructing concentration camps. When we take it upon ourselves to decide the parameters of life, then we engage in a selection of the species, which is exactly what we are doing now. Our laws permit us to make decisions, following medical analyses, as to whether particular children are suitable for life or not. If we don't like what we see, we are free to discard the life freely. We have become the selectors of who lives or dies. When humanity grants itself the authority to manage the issues of life, we do things that are inhuman and intolerable. In the Gospel, by contrast we are confronted with a mother who humbly consecrates her child to God. But there is also a more universal dimension to the story. The mother is entrusting her child to God, whilst God at the same time is giving his son to all of humanity. 

The Presentation of Jesus causes a conflict in the world. Salvation is placed before us. Indeed, the son of God is entrusted to us. We too must consecrate ourselves to him. If we do not, then we will end up living lives that are incomplete and not even human. God is the source of real life. Without him we cannot penetrate the wall of nothingness that surrounds us.
During this Presentation scene we hear beautiful and illuminating prophecies. Jesus is to be a light for all nations and the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies. But at the same time, a sword will pierce the soul of Mary; the child will cause many to rise and fall. What is the source of this conflict? We will rise from dust to glory, seeing that glory has descended to the dust in Christ Jesus. But to rise from the dust it is essential that we entrust ourselves to this child who is placed before us. Our families are often precarious places, heading for shipwreck. And they are in this terrible state because they are self-referential, based purely on human resources. But human logic will not overcome the wall of nothingness that surrounds us. In order to truly discover who we are, we must penetrate this wall of nothingness, and it is only with the Lord Jesus that we can accomplish this. In order to overcome the challenges that confront the family, we must consign ourselves to Jesus, purify ourselves so that our hearts are penetrated by the sword that rids us of what is not ours. We do not come to salvation on a wing, making our way with things that are merely human. We must give ourselves over to the Lord. The Lord gives himself to us so that we might give ourselves to him. His was born in the stable of Bethlehem was so that we might start to be reborn in him, to make the essential leap away from ourselves and towards him. The presentation in the temple manifests this combat in which we must engage in order to make the leap. We belong to God. If we do not consecrate our lives to God then our lives are not even human. They are unsatisfying and incomplete. In God everything becomes holy and wonderful. But God cannot force us to give ourselves to him; we must do it ourselves just as Mary did when she consecrated her only son.

We wish a peaceful season of Christmas to everyone and a happy celebration of the incarnation of Our Lord.

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