In the name of The Father, and of The Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.
Lully, lullay, thou little tiny child,
Bye bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay”?
Herod the king, in his raging,
Chargèd he hath this day
His men of might in his own sight
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor child, for thee
And ever mourn and may
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
“Bye bye, lully, lullay.” * (Link below)
These haunting words come from a song called the Coventry Carol. The “Coventry Carol” is an English Christmas carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was traditionally performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew: the carol itself refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children.
Now here we are on the fourth day of Christmas. In the midst of a time of happiness and joy and celebration and family and friends. A time where we forget about all the negativity in the world and celebrate the things that we have, and yet on our liturgical calendar we have a reminder of a great tragedy that occurred around the time of the birth of our Lord.
This tragedy sets the stage for what will become a common theme in Christianity, and that is the persecution of the Church. Today we set aside our celebrations to pause and pray and to remember those who have come before us and who have faced persecution for their belief in Christ and for those who are currently part of the persecuted Church.
According to a recent CNN report, 2015 was the most violent year for Christian persecution in modern history. More than 7,100 Christians were killed for their faith; that is up 3,000 from the previous year, and this year alone, according to Open Door, a watchdog organization that follows Christians persecution worldwide, in 2016 there were 322 Christians killed each month. In addition to the loss of life, each month there were 214 churches and Christian-owned properties destroyed; there were 722 acts of violence committed on Christians, ranging from abductions to rape. That is each month.
It is hard for us to imagine in the United States what it is like for our brothers and sisters who are in predominately Muslim countries where a majority of this persecution occurs. We have the opportunity to attend church on Sunday, usually without fear of anything happening to us or our loved ones, we can safely walk the streets and not worry about being harassed because of our faith. But our brothers and sisters are not so fortunate.
I believe that today we are called to remember those who are part of the persecuted church. I think that it is important to leave you with a few ideas on what you can do to help our brothers and sisters who are facing this persecution.
First we must understand that we are called to support our brothers and sisters. In Saint Paul’s First letter to the church at Corinth he says that, “we are one body. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” We must support organizations that help our brothers and sisters in these areas of persecution.
Second, we must bring awareness to the fact that the persecuted church does, in fact, exist. Talk to your friends and family and church leaders and see what you can collectively do together to support our brothers and sisters, especially in the Middle East.
Finally and most importantly, we must pray. Make prayer for the persecuted church part of your daily devotion. There is power in prayer and by praying and putting your faith into action. With prayer we can see miracles take place as we saw in November, when the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh celebrated its first mass in two years.
This is what we are called to do as Christians, to take action and to pray. To always remember the persecuted who have come before us and the persecuted who part of the Church today.
Let us pray:
O God, whom the Holy Innocents confessed and proclaimed on this day, not by speaking but by dying, grant, we pray, that the faith in your which we confess with our lips may also speak through our manner of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Stephen the Martyr=The link with Jesus’s birth
Reading 1:Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59
Psalm:PS 31: 3CD-4, 6 & 8AB, 16BC & 17
Gospel: MT 10:17-22
Yesterday, we celebrated Christmas, the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We contemplated the newly born baby Jesus lying in a stable manager, we sang carols, feasted, and heard the tidings of peace and joy for the whole world. Although we are still very much in a festive mood, with the carols still ringing in our ears and the feasting still bloating us, today’s Feast of St Stephen the first Martyr, is a stark contrast to that of yesterday, but there is indeed a true deep link between the birth of Our Lord Jesus and Today’s Feast of martyrdom.
We all too easily forget among all the joyous festivities of Christmas, that our Lord Jesus was born amongst us, into a hard, cold, and violent world. Our dear Lord Jesus, the Son of God, was born not in a fancy palace or building. No, of all places,he was born in a manger within a simple stable. Not long after his birth, King Herod was looking to have him killed. This was only the very beginning of the violence and persecution which our Lord Jesus was going to face in his life upon the earth, and this would ultimately lead to to his execution upon the cross, paying the ultimate price for our sins and to gain for us eternal life and salvation.
So, when we truly reflect upon both the joy of Christmas and Today’s martyrdom of St Stephen, we can see the deep connection between the divine love and tenderness and human violence and persecution. Our Lord Jesus Christ came to heal our human hate and violence with his divine tenderness and love for us. This was expressed in mercy and by Forgiveness, this was also witnessed to us by the martyrdom of St Stephen. Just as Stephen believed and showed to us, let us also believe the truth, that ugliness and the evil of human hate and violence can only truly be changed with the divine tenderness of love and Forgiveness.
It is only through God’s mercy, love and Forgiveness and of our showing it as servants of our Lord Jesus Christ, just as St Stephen did, that hardened hearts will be turned into loving hearts.
We as Christians love the cross and we appreciate the role it played when Our Lord Jesus won our salvation by dying for our sins upon it and by His resurrection. However, to love the cross and its meaning in completeness, we must truly embrace it by following the command of Jesus when he says, “If you would be my disciples, take up your cross and follow me”.
Truly embracing the cross means we also must embrace our sufferings and hardships, just as our Lord Jesus did for each and every one of us. This has to go hand in hand with appreciating the salvation that Jesus won for us by his death upon the cross for our sakes, it is no good if we do not embrace all our sufferings also.
Today, we the Church, commemorate a man who did indeed truly love the cross, even to the extent that it became part of his name, that of St John of the Cross.
Although John’s father was from a wealthy noble family, he was disowned for marrying a poor peasant woman, and therefore John was born and raised in the sufferings of poverty. After first working as an orderly to the poor sick at a hospital because he couldn’t get an apprenticeship for a trade, John joined the Carmelite order as a simple brother Friar, but his superiors noticed his intelligence and sent him for advanced study before later ordaining him to the priesthood.
John who had much zeal for Apostolic counsel, became discouraged because many of his community failed to share his zeal, and he was about to leave to join the strict hermit order of the Carthusians when he met St Teresa of Avila, who was reforming the Carmelite nuns for the same issue as John had been experiencing.
Teresa convinced John to stay and reform the Carmelite friars and John threw himself into these reforms. Although John had the support of his General superior, many of the friars resisted John’s reform efforts and persecuted him.
John suffered being falsely accused of wrong teaching and he was imprisoned for nine months. He was blindfolded and led in the coldness of midwinter by very rough mountainous roads to prison in Toledo. He was imprisoned in forced seclusion in a little cell, scarcely six feet by ten, which was originally intended to be a closet and with the only little light being refracted from a tiny window located high on the wall. John suffered forced incarceration, isolation, forced fasting and discipline without even the simple comforts of a book or any writing materials.
John suffered all these many hardships and he embraced each and every one of them with such a profound love. He saw them as being his cross that he had to take up to truly follow Jesus.
Although St John leaves us the fruit of his spiritual writings, “The Dark Night of the Soul,” “The Ascent of Mount Carmel,” and “The Spiritual Canticle,” by far the most important of all is that he leaves us his wonderful and beautiful witness of one who did indeed truly love and fully embrace the cross. What an example to us all St John of the Cross truly is!!
May the life and the witness of St John of the Cross, together with his intercession, help us to fully embrace and to take up our crosses, loving the cross as St John did and as we all truly ought to do.
Saint Lucy was born to a rich and noble family around 283 A.D. Her father died when she was young, so she was raised by her mother, Eutychia; and her mother had been considered to focus much of her own life around wealth and status. Lucy, on the other hand, believed that the poor should be cared for instead of focusing on worldly goods. Because of her will to advocate for the poor, she desired to consecrate herself and her virginity to God; yet was unwillingly forced into an arranged relationship with Paschasius by her mother, which Lucy was able to postpone for a few years.
Lucy’s mother developed a hemorrhage which lasted several years, and sought to have it cured by travelling to visit the relics of Saint Agatha who had been executed 52 years prior. Upon visiting the relics, Eutychia was cured; and because of this occasion Lucy saw the opportunity to convince her mother to distribute wealth to help the poor. Because of the healing, Eutychia allowed Lucy to follow her vocation. When Lucy did so, Paschasius was not pleased in losing his future spouse and he had her ordered to be put to death. Some accounts of her last days speak of being accused and condemned of prostitution, as well as set on fire, but God saved her because of her great devotion. While other accounts speak of having her tortured to the point of blindness; she eventually was put to death by the sword. She died in 304 A.D. and has been declared a martyr by the Church. In iconography, the emblem of eyes on a cup or plate apparently reflects popular devotion to her as protector of sight, because of her name, Lucia (from the Latin word “lux” which means “light”). In paintings St. Lucy is frequently shown holding her eyes on a golden plate. Lucy was represented in Gothic art holding a dish with two eyes on it. She also holds the palm branch, symbol of victory over evil.
In today’s first reading from Zephaniah, we see that God is angry with the people for the negative actions, therefore Zephaniah declares he shall make things right with God, that way God will no longer be displeased. He declares that he shall purify the hearts of people, and rid them of the wrongdoings against others. He sees that it is the right thing to do in order for the people to have a relationship with God.
In the Gospel, we read that Jesus is challenging the chief priests and elders about their conduct. He uses the parable of two sons being asked to go out and work in the vineyard by their father; one initially refuses to work but eventually does go out and works, while the other son says he will work but never does. Jesus asks the chief priests and elders which son did his father’s will, and of course they answer him by saying the first son. Jesus affirms that they are correct, yet challenges them by telling them that they have “talked the talk, but not walked the walk.” Their actions speak of following God, but they have consistently done the complete opposite – just like the second son in the parable. Jesus points out that there have been people who have turned from their bad ways, and chosen to follow God and who are, therefore, like the first son, and will enter heaven before the chief priests and elders.
The life of Saint Lucy connects with these readings very well. She possessed the same mentality and conviction as Zephaniah. She knew that there was injustice in society and felt it was her calling to make things right. Lucy’s influence, growing up in wealth, yet desiring to consecrate herself to God and help the poor, ties in with her whole life being like the first son in the parable. She answered the call to help the poor instead of continuing the tradition in which she was raised. She saw that it was her vocation to do what was right, and actually follow through with the cause until the very end. She could very well have been like the second son by acknowledging God but continuing to bask in wealth and do nothing.
Saint Lucy is somebody who we should look to as an example as a way of living. Granted her story is about distributing wealth to the poor, that is only one form of a vocation of helping people in need. Everybody has gifts and talents which can be applied to help others. During my first journey in religious life, I was fortunate enough to know a religious sister who facilitated a ministry center which offered many community outreach programs to help the lives of those in need. The center offered after school meals, a program for immigrants to learn English, as well as classes to learn Life Skills. This sister knew it was her calling to provide the local community with the necessities of life. Yet what are WE going to do in order to be like Lucy; or the first son, if we turned from bad ways? Do we have resources which we are not fully sharing; money or simply time to put toward a ministry? Can we be like this sister I knew? Is there a whisper in your ear from God which you hear, but to which you are responding? Are we wanting to be like the second son, who says yes but then does not act on that yes? We have a week and a half before Christmas, so maybe this might be a time to reflect upon if there is something which we are called to do.
Father, may we be like Saint Lucy, and open our eyes and ears to recognize our true vocation in life. May we follow her example to be of presence and assistance within our own communities, and be like the first son who ultimately says yes. This we ask through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.
When I first became a Christian, I looked for the presence of God in my life. See, I was initially a non-believer, so I asked God for a sign. I’m sure He got a good laugh out of that one. The presence of our Lord was all around me, I just had to open my eyes to see. Yet in Luke 1:39-47, we learn that an unborn child recognized God’s presence in Mary’s womb.
“Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” “
Now imagine if the blessed Virgin Mary appeared to me, just as she did to Juan Diego a long time ago. Would I have been so ready to accept her presence, just as he did? The opening of the New World brought with it both fortune-seekers and religious preachers desiring to convert the native populations to the Christian faith. One of the converts was a poor Aztec Indian named Juan Diego. On one of his trips to the chapel, Juan was walking through the Tepayac hill country in central Mexico. Near Tepayac Hill he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native tongue, the beautiful lady identified herself:
“My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother’s Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard.”
Juan, age 57, and who had never been to Tenochtitlan, nonetheless immediately responded to Mary’s request. He went to the palace of the Bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and requested to meet immediately with the bishop. The bishop’s servants, who were suspicious of the rural peasant, kept him waiting for hours. The bishop-elect told Juan that he would consider the request of the Lady and told him he could visit him again if he so desired. Juan was disappointed by the bishop’s response and felt himself unworthy to persuade someone as important as a bishop. He returned to the hill where he had first met Mary and found her there waiting for him. Imploring her to send someone else, she responded:
“My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen.”
She then told him to return the next day to the bishop and repeat the request. On Sunday, after again waiting for hours, Juan met with the bishop who, on re-hearing his story, asked him to ask the Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was. Juan dutifully returned to the hill and told Mary, who was again waiting for him there, of the bishop’s request. Mary responded:
“My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son.”
Unfortunately, Juan was not able to return to the hill the next day. His uncle had become mortally ill and Juan stayed with him to care for him. After two days, with his uncle near death, Juan left his side to find a priest. Juan had to pass Tepayac Hill to get to the priest. As he was passing, he found Mary waiting for him. She spoke:
“Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me.”
While it was freezing on the hillside, Juan obeyed Mary’s instructions and went to the top of the hill where he found a full bloom of Castilian roses. Removing his tilma, a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber, he cut the roses and carried them back to Mary. She rearranged the roses and told him:
“My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him.”
At the palace, Juan once again came before the bishop and several of his advisers. He told the bishop his story and opened the tilma letting the flowers fall out. But it wasn’t the beautiful roses that caused the bishop and his advisers to fall to their knees; for there, on the tilma, was a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary precisely as Juan had described her. The next day, after showing the Tilma at the Cathedral, Juan took the bishop to the spot where he first met Mary. He then returned to his village where he met his uncle who was completely cured. His uncle told him he had met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She told his uncle:
“Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe”.
It’s believed that the word Guadalupe was actually a Spanish mis-translation of the local Aztec dialect. The word that Mary probably used was Coatlallope which means “one who treads on snakes”. Within six years of this apparition, six million Aztecs had converted to Catholicism. The tilma shows Mary as the God-bearer – she is pregnant with her Divine Son. Since the time the tilma was first impressed with a picture of the Mother of God, it has been subject to a variety of environmental hazards including smoke from fires and candles, water from floods and torrential downpours and, in 1921, a bomb which was planted by anti-clerical forces on an altar under it. There was also a cast-iron cross next to the tilma and when the bomb exploded, the cross was twisted out of shape, the marble altar rail was heavily damaged and the tilma was…untouched! Indeed, no one was injured in the Church despite the damage that occurred to a large part of the altar structure.
In 1977, the tilma was examined using infrared photography and digital enhancement techniques. Unlike any painting, the tilma shows no sketching or any sign of outline drawn to permit an artist to produce a painting. Further, the very method used to create the image is still unknown. The image is inexplicable in its longevity and method of production. It can be seen today in a large cathedral built to house up to ten thousand worshipers. It is, by far, the most popular religious pilgrimage site in the Western Hemisphere.
Mary’s appearance to Juan Diego as one of his people is a powerful reminder that Mary and the God who sent her accept all peoples. In the context of the sometimes rude and cruel treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards, the apparition was a rebuke to the Spaniards and an event of vast significance for Native Americans. While a number of them had converted before this incident, they now came in droves. According to a contemporary chronicler, nine million Indians became Catholic in a very short time. In these days when we hear so much about God’s preferential option for the poor, Our Lady of Guadalupe cries out to us that God’s love for and identification with the poor is an age-old truth that stems from the Gospel itself.
PRAYER TO OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
O Virgin of Guadalupe,
Mother of the Americas,
grant to our homes the grace of loving
and respecting life in its beginnings,
with the same love with which
you conceived in your womb
the life of the Son of God.
Blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother of Fair Love,
protect our families so that
they may always be united
and bless the upbringing of our children.
Our hope, look upon us with pity,
teach is to go continually to Jesus,
and if we fall
help us to rise again and return to Him
through the confession of our faults
and our sins in the Sacrament of penance,
which gives peace to the soul.
We beg you to grant us a great love
of all the holy Sacraments,
which are, as it were,
the signs that your Son left us on earth.
Thus, Most Holy Mother,
with the peace of God in our consciences,
with our hearts free from evil and hatred,
we will be able to bring to all others
true joy and peace,
which come to us from your Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
who with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Happy Holidays????? When I was a kid, way back in the dark ages, I always thought that “Happy Holidays” meant “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” Apparently I was a tad bit under informed…….. So once again, here we go……….
It’s that time of year again. The time for all and sundry to argue the finer points of holiday greetings: Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays. At the risk of being seen as a non-Christian priest, or a politically correct one, and abandoning or at least not defending my faith and my Lord, I feel compelled for some odd reason, to offer a treatise on the use of Happy Holidays. So here goes….
“Happy Holidays.” Now really, what’s wrong with that? It’s a pleasant wish that encompasses good wishes for an entire month and a half long season. Granted, that “season” is usually meant to be the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and is usually understood to include only Christmas and New Year’s Day. However, in that time period, what other holidays are there? “Happy Holidays” is a collective and inclusive wish for the period encompassing Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Winter solstice, Christmas Day (The Nativity of the Lord), Boxing Day and St. Stephen’s Day, St. John’s Day, the New Year and Epiphany, and it would take me forever to get through the list, if I could remember the list at all, just to give a pleasant hello to someone! “Happy Holidays” is just easier! Most of the aforementioned holidays ARE Christian holidays, though, so what’s wrong with “Happy Holidays?”
Leaving those “Happy Holidays” that are in the Christian calendar for a few minutes; let’s look at the ones that aren’t Christian holidays.
The Winter Solstice, or Yule, is celebrated by our Wiccan and Pagan brothers and sisters. This is when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half. Starting the next morning at sunrise, the sun climbs just a little higher and stays a little longer in the sky each day. Known as Solstice Night, or the longest night of the year, the sun’s “rebirth” was celebrated with much joy. It is from this celebration that we get many, many of our Christmas traditions.
Kwanzaa is celebrated by some of our African American brothers and sisters and is not a substitute for Christmas, nor is it a religious holiday. Wishing someone a happy Kwanzaa does nothing to deny Christianity.
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival, celebrating a miracle that occurred way back in the 2nd century BCE. Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt. The story of Hanukkah is alluded to in the book of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, but Hanukkah is not specially mentioned; rather, a story similar in character, and obviously older in date, is the one alluded to in 2 Maccabees 1:18, according to which the relighting of the altar fire by Nehemiah was due to a miracle which occurred on the 25th of Kislev, and which appears to be given as the reason for the selection of the same date for the rededication of the altar by Judah Maccabee. Now, 1 and 2 Maccabees are not considered canonical books by most Protestants, but are included in the Apocrypha, which IS in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. So while Hanukkah is not a Christian holiday, per se, it can be considered Biblical. And since it celebrates the lighting of the rededication of the Temple and is celebrated with lights, and Christ is “the Light of the World,” and the fact that Christianity has its roots in Judaism, Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish friends!
The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, which is celebrated in the Commonwealth countries. The tradition of Boxing Day has long included giving money and other gifts to those who are needy and in service positions, and this European tradition has been dated to the Middle Ages. Shouldn’t we, as Christians, do this year-round, and not just during the “holidays”?
New Years Day: Now, there’s a pagan holiday for you! The Romans dedicated this day to Janus, the god of gates, doors, and beginnings. The month of January was named after Janus, who had two faces, one looking forward and the other looking backward. It is from this Roman custom that we get the making of New Year’s resolutions: looking backward, we resolve to not do something or other, and looking forward, we resolve TO do something or other. Among the 7th century pagans of Flanders and the Netherlands, it was the custom to exchange gifts at the New Year. So, I guess I’m asking, should we as Christians NOT celebrate the new year and not wish everyone a “Happy New Year”? If this is the case, then we should certainly avoid making New Year’s resolutions, too. (Especially those that include diets and exercise!)
And then, there are the religious holidays that most Christians don’t really celebrate, and some don’t even know about. The Feast of Saint Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr on 26 December, the Feast of St. John who was the “Beloved Disciple” on 27 December, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 8 December, and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 12 December have already been mentioned.
Finally, there is Epiphany, which is perhaps one of the most important holidays of the liturgical or church year. It is the last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas of which we sing in the (often-denigrated) Christmas carol, and which is overlooked by most non-liturgical churches. Epiphany, which falls on January 6, is a Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ. Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. The early Christian Fathers fixed the date of the feast on January 6. Ancient liturgies noted Illuminatio, Manifestatio, Declaratio (Illumination, Manifestation, Declaration) taken from Matthew 3:13–17; Luke 3:22; and John 2:1–11; where the Baptism and the Marriage at Cana were dwelt upon. Western Christians have traditionally emphasized the “Revelation to the Gentiles” mentioned in Luke, where the term Gentile means all non-Jewish peoples. The Biblical Magi, who represented the non-Jewish peoples of the world, paid homage to the infant Jesus in stark contrast to Herod the Great (King of Judea), who sought to kill him. In this event, Christian writers also inferred a revelation to the Children of Israel. Saint John Chrysostom identified the significance of the meeting between the Magi and Herod’s court: “The star had been hidden from them so that, on finding themselves without their guide, they would have no alternative but to consult the Jews. In this way, the birth of Jesus would be made known to all.” The earliest reference to Epiphany as a Christian feast was in A.D. 361, by Ammianus Marcellinus. St. Epiphanius says that January 6 is hemera genethlion toutestin epiphanion (Christ’s “Birthday; that is, His Epiphany”). He also asserts that the Miracle at Cana occurred on the same calendar day, and it was on this day, too, that John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. So on 6 January, after all the Christmas trimmings have been put away, the gifts exchanged, New Years resolutions have been made (and some broken already), and the kids are back in school, we can still say, with all feeling, “Happy Holidays.”
Honestly, don’t you think “Happy Holidays” is so much easier? And besides, I really like Bing Crosby’s Christmas carol, “Happy Holidays!”
Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Ambrose, who lived in the 4th century and is considered to be one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of that time. He was born to an intellectual and Christian family, who raised him up in the ways of the faith. He was educated in Rome, where he studied law, literature, and rhetoric. He was appointed to a governorship by the Italian Prefect, after serving as lawyer in the court of the Prefect’s predecessor. Following the death of the Arian bishop of Milan in 370 Ambrose, in his role as governor, went out to help mitigate any conflict between the Catholics & the Arians. During his introductory speech, he was interrupted with a cry of “Ambrose, Bishop!” thus electing him by acclamation as Bishop of Milan. Though hesitant at first, he finally assented and was made Bishop of Milan. By all accounts, Ambrose took to his new duties as bishop with commitment and vigor. He spent several hours each day in prayer and he led a simple and austere lifestyle. Along with administering baptism, penance, discipline of clergy, and civil judicial duties, Ambrose also supervised the charities of the church and defended those who were oppressed. He also had a great influence on another great saint of the Church, Augustine of Hippo. Traditionally, Ambrose is credited with promoting “antiphonal chant,” as well as with composing “Veni redemptor gentium,” an Advent hymn. Ambrose was one of the four original doctors of the Church and is the patron saint of Milan
In our reading from the Old Testament for today from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear the Lord calling the people of Israel to trust in Him, to look to Him as their source of strength and help in time of trouble. The Israelites were feeling downtrodden, thinking that God no longer protected them, that He no longer cared for them: “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” (Isaiah 40:27). The felt that the Lord had abandoned them in their struggles, in their misfortune. Then Isaiah gives us some of the most beautiful words of hope in the Old Testament (Isaiah 40:28-31):
“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”
In our increasingly secular world today, we may not encounter formal heretics like the Arians of Ambrose’s time, but we do encounter many who do not believe in God and do not find joy for their lives. They often criticize believers and say that our hope is in vain. They believe that true freedom and truth is found in individualism, in atheism and humanism. In our workplace, in our homes, in the store, in our own friends and family are those who feel as though they are alone, dejected, and downtrodden. But our message, our hope, our joy, my friends, is that, “The Lord is an everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth…He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless.” Let us be strengthened by these words and pass them on to all in our world who need them. Let us proclaim the truth of the Gospel in Jesus Christ, as did St. Ambrose to the people that he served.
St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church, pray for us.