Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Shepherds' Haste

“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem.”

Last Christmas night, the Holy Father gave a very beautiful meditation on the shepherds’ haste.

“What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Savior is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste – they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly. And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God’s work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: ‘Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)’. For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place – however important they may be – so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbor is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.”

“…the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to ‘come over’ (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbors. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbors and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: “Come on, ‘let us go over’ to Bethlehem – to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has traveled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths – the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbor, in whom Christ awaits us.”

The Babe in Swaddling Clothes

An excerpt from the Holy Father's Homily for Midnight Mass this year:

The Angel had said to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for
you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”
(Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is
not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he
makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for
our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign
of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and
thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness
itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we
allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and
hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth
and love.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year's Eve

Tonight is the most superstitious night of the year. Soothsayers, fortune tellers, feng shui masters, psychics find this time the busiest of the year. All known practices to assure ourselves of good fortune and to drive away evil spirits are put to the test tonight. In more secular societies, this night is spent in partying with an abundance of good food and drinks. They may not admit it but basically, the reason for spending this night in abundance is still the superstition that if we have an abundance of everything tonight, we will be sure of abundance in the year to come.

We might not realize that superstition, divination, magic, and sorcery are all grievous sins because they are classified as sins against the 1st commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” The Catechism of the Church teaches: “The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion” (CCC, 2110) “Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes…” It is the attribution of some magical importance to some lawful practices or to the mere external performance of prayers and sacramental signs. (CCC, 2111) On the other hand, “All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone” (CCC, 2116). What to many people seem to be harmless ventures into the unknown are actually sins that offend the one true God who revealed himself to us through the prophets and through his only begotten Son.

Basically, our inclination towards superstition and divination comes from our desire to control and our fear of what we cannot control. This is the irony of our times: we have successfully relegated God to oblivion and then we become driven with fear for the unknown. Instead of resting in the assuring love of the true God who is able to save us, we would rather connive with demonic powers to control the future. Thus, “all practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others…are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion” (CCC, 2117). It is disturbing that Catholics would rather believe in the lies that are perpetrated by demons through the false religions than in the teachings revealed by the one and only Savior who has revealed himself as “the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.” We would like to receive blessings in the year to come but we refuse to ask it of the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing.” We would like to be freed from the powers of evil but we refuse to draw near the Savior of whom the demons themselves said: “Have you come to destroy us, Son of God?”

As Christians, we must follow the shepherds who “went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” This night is a wonderful opportunity to stay close to the Blessed Sacrament in an attitude of gratitude and penitence – gratitude for all the blessings we have received this year and penitence for all our faults in what we have done and in what we have failed to do. This year is admittedly a dark and difficult one for our country but this night should find us on our knees in thanksgiving for the faith and grace that sustained us through it all. Let us worship tonight the holy Name of Jesus which was given to the Son of Mary and by which alone can we be saved.

Blessed be the Name of Jesus.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Beasts of Christmas

Picture from Holy Cards for Inspiration

In the octave of Christmas, our thoughts continue to consider the mystery of Our Lord's birth. We now look at the beasts who witnessed the Son of God being born in that Holy Night. Not having any place in the inn, Our Lady gave birth to the Savior in that place where animals are kept.

Isaiah gives light to this choice of the stable: "The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master's crib, but Israel does not know Me, my people does not understand Me" (Is. 1:3). In this prophecy, God complains that the ox and ass know their owner and source of sustainance but man does not recognize God who owns him and feeds him.

St. Cyril sees the beasts in another way: "He found that man had become a beast in his soul, and so He is placed in the manger, in the place of fodder, that we, changing our animal way of living, may be led back to the Wisdom that becomes humanity; stretching out, not towards animal fodder, but to the heavenly Bread for the life of this body." (St. Cyril)

May we recognize our true Owner, our true Source of sustenance. "The hand of the Lord feeds us, He answers all our needs." Rising from our fall, let us seek Him who is the true Bread that comes from heaven.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Meditation on the Sunday in the Octave of Christmas

"In the fullness of time, God sent His Son born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem from the law those who were subjected to it."

God the Son willed to be born under the law and so he allowed Our Lady and St. Joseph to bring Him into the temple to be presented to the Lord. Every first born child is to be redeemed from the Lord at the price of an offering like, in the case of the poor, a pair of turtle doves.

What people saw was a couple entering the temple to redeem their child at the price of the offering of the poor. All except Simeon and Anna did not realize that Our Lady brought into the Temple the most precious offering this edifice of worship has ever seen: Our Lady brought into the temple the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Three days into Christmas and the shadow of Good Friday is already appearing in the horizon. Simeon recognized this for he spoke of the Child as "a Sign of contradiction" - a sign opposed by many. According to him, a sword of sorrow will pierce Our Lady's soul. While the world is still drunk with the holidays, the Church already sees the shadow of the Cross. She sees our Lady's sword of sorrow from afar. Early on in his incarnated existence, Christ is already living a life of suffering and sacrifice. Simeon did not make it a secret to Our Lady that suffering and holiness go together. At the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary the blessedness of her election as Mother of God: Hail, full of grace...You shall conceive and bear a Son. At the Visitation the Holy Spirit, through the lips of St. Elizabeth, honored Our Lady's triple blessedness: she is blessed in her election (Blessed are you among women); she is blessed in her Son (Blessed is the fruit of your womb); and she is blessed in her faith (Blessed are you because you believed).
However, Simeon reveals to her the partner of her blessedness - the Cross. Holiness and Suffering go together. If "the Son had to learn obedience through suffering," then anyone who wishes to be holy, Our Lady included, would have to walk the way of the Cross. Our Lady was exempted from sin but not from suffering. "If anyone wishes to be my disciple, he must renounce himself, take up his Cross and follow me." The first who followed the Lord along this terrible way was his own Mother.

Any one who wishes to be perfect in holiness must definitely expect the Cross. To be on the side of Christ is to be on the side of the Cross. A gift to the newly born Savior is our willingness of suffer: That I may suffer everything out of love for you, O Christ! The Cross - there could be no other way of perfection!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

New Year's Eve Adoration


10:00 PM of December 31, 2009
to 1:00 AM of January 1, 2010

Maamo corner Madasalin Streets
Sikatuna Village, Quezon City, Philippines

As we begin and end our day with prayer, it is also right that we should begin and end the year with prayer, specifically with the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Unfortunately, New Year's eve is celebrated with many pagan superstitions. Fireworks are lighted to drive away evils spirits. People engage in many practices to ensure good luck for the coming year. These customs are useless. Evil spirits are not afaid of fire works. False gods cannot deliver their promises because "they have eyes but see not, they have ears but hear not, they have nostrils but do not have life in them."

What better way for Christians to meet the New Year than by spending the night in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament! We thank the Blessed Trinity for all the blessings He has bestowed upon us in this year that is about to pass. We entrust to the Blessed Trinity the year that is to come. In the hands of the Blessed Trinity, we will always be safe and secure.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day Meditation

St. John in his prologue reveals to us the Divine nature of the Child born of Mary. He went beyond what everybody could plainly see: an infant wrapped with swaddling clothes and laying on a manger. Lest our eyes deceive us into trivializing this child, he tells us who this is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This child is “the Son whom God has made heir of all things, and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word.”

Being that people who “sat in darkness and the shadow of death,” we would find the exposure to Divine light in the fullest degree to hurt and even blinding. Prisoners who emerge from the darkness of dungeons shield their eyes when exposed to the radiant light of the open sky. And so when He, who is “the Light of the human race” came to us, He hid the splendor of his glory under the veil of humanity, specifically, He assumed the humble likeness of a new-born infant. This humble likeness He assumed so that the eyes of our faith may be accustomed to that radiance. Whenever our eyes get used to this glory, He increases the degree of the radiance a little every time: He cures the sick at one time and then increases the radiance a little bit more by multiplying bread. He increases the radiance a little bit more by walking on water, and then a little bit more by resurrecting the dead. The radiance of his glory gets brighter from the transfiguration to the resurrection to His ascension into heaven. St. Paul says “When he had accomplished purification from sins, He took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name He inherited is more excellent than theirs.”

Looking at the Christ child, the words of St. Bede the Venerable comes to mind: “Straightly is He, whose throne is in the heavens, confined in the narrowness of a crib, so that He might open wide to us the joys of His eternal kingdom. He that is the Bread of Angels reclines in a manger, that we as sanctified beasts might be fed with the corn of his flesh…He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, so that He may for us get ready many mansions in the house of His heavenly Father.” He hid his glory for our sake. Thus, St. Ambrose said: “Because of thee, weakness: within Himself, Power; because of thee, poor: within Himself, all riches. Do not measure by what your eye sees, but acknowledge this: that you are redeemed.”

For us to be accustomed to his glory, we must stay long enough in the light he shows. We must remain with him in contemplation like Mary and Joseph. We must remain with him in adoration like the shepherds. And when our eyes are used to the radiance that we see, He prepares us to see something more, something higher, something greater. And staying with Him, we do not only increase in the sharpness of vision. We likewise increase in holiness and grace. “From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace.”

“Come then, let us observe the Feast,” said St. John Chrysostom, “for this day, the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.” All these take place because the One born to us is the refulgence of Divine glory. May we see His glory today – the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Eve

The angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds who were then in the fields keeping the night watch over their flock.

The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today, in the City of David, a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord!"

In that little town of Bethlehem, nobody except Mary and Joseph knew that God the Son has descended on earth and was born as a lowly infant. For this news of joy to be shared to all people, shepherds became recipients and emissaries of such a profound mystery.

The descent of God the Son continues to be cloaked under the humble appearance of bread and wine. Again, the news of His arrival is first revealed to shepherds, to priests under whose breath the mystery takes place and in whose hands the Lord surrenders Himself. The shepherds must be the first to recognize what has transpired inconspicuously. In the old rite, the priest first kneels in adoration before elevating God's Flesh to the people. He is the first to see His arrival. He is the first to fall in silent adoration before the hidden presence of so great a God. He musters enough courage to raise this hidden God for all people to behold. Without a word in that elevation, he proclaims the angelic message loud and clear: Behold, this is the Christ! This is the Lord! Have no fear, let us adore Him!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Simbang Gabi draws to a close

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. In the tender compassion of our God, the Dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1: 76-79)

As the Simbang Gabi draws to a close, our hearts are filled with joyful anticipation for the coming of the Savior. We listened to the Baptist who prepared the way of the One who is to come. Having levelled the mountains of our excesses and having filled the valleys of our omissions, we now see him, the Light who breaks the darkness, the Dawn from on high who shines upon us. The Bridegroom's friend is happy to hear the Bridegroom's voice. He now cries in the wilderness: the Bridegroom is here, go out to meet him! Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

Purification of Priests

Who will endure the day of his coming? and who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner's fire, or like the fuller's lye. He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord. Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord, as in the days of old, as in years gone by. (Malachi 3:1-4)

"The Lord evidently wishes his priests to be pure and holy; that being cleansed from every defect, they may approach the altar to offer sacrifice to him...In the Book of Leviticus he says: They shall be holy to their God, and shall not profane his name; for they offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, and the bread of their God, and therefore they shall be holy. The priests of the Old Law, then, were commanded to be holy, because they offered to God incense and the loaves of the proposition, that were but a figure of the most holy Sacrament of the Altar. How much greater should the purity and sanctity of the priests of the New Law that offer to God the immaculate Lamb, his own very Son? Estius says that we do not offer calves or incense, as the priests of the Old Law did, 'but the Body of Christ who is hanging on the Cross.'" (St. Alphonsus Liguori, Dignity and Duties of the Priest, 56)