Christmas Octave

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Pondering the Birth of Christ

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day)

So they went in haste 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. Luke 2:16–19

Merry Christmas! Our Advent preparations have been completed, and we are now invited by our Lord to enter into the glorious celebration of His birth!

How well do you understand the awe-inspiring mystery of Christmas? How fully do you comprehend the significance of God becoming a human, born of a virgin? Though many are quite familiar with the beautiful and humble story of the birth of the Savior of the World, that familiarity can have the surprising negative effect of keeping our intellect from deeply probing the depths of the meaning of what we celebrate.

Notice the last line of the Gospel passage quoted above: “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” What a beautiful line to ponder this Christmas day. Mother Mary was the one person who would have understood the mystery of the birth of her Son, the Son of God, the Savior of the World, far more deeply than anyone else. It was to her that the Archangel Gabriel appeared, announcing her pregnancy and His birth. It was her who carried her Son, the Son of God, in her Immaculate womb for nine months. It was to her that Elizabeth, her cousin, cried out, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). It was Mary who was the Immaculate Conception, the one who was preserved from all sin throughout her life. And it was her who gave birth to this Child, carried Him in her arms and nursed Him at her breast. Our Blessed Mother, more than any other, understood the incredible event that had taken place in her life.

But, again, the Gospel above says that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” One thing this tells us is that even Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of God, needed time to ponder, reflect and savor this most holy mystery. She never doubted, but her faith continually deepened, and her heart pondered the unfathomable and incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation.

Another thing this tells us is that there is no end to the depth of the “pondering” to which we must commit ourselves if we want to enter more deeply into the mystery of the birth of the Son of God. Reading the story, setting up a nativity scene, sharing Christmas cards, attending Mass and the like are central to a holy celebration of Christmas. But “pondering” and “reflecting,” especially during prayer and especially at the Christmas Mass, will have the effect of drawing us ever deeper into this Mystery of our Faith.

Reflect, today, with our Blessed Mother. Ponder the Incarnation. Place yourself into the scene that first Christmas. Hear the sounds of the town. Smell the smells of the stable. Watch as the shepherds come forth in adoration. And enter the mystery more fully, acknowledging that the more you know about the mystery of Christmas, the more you know how little you actually know and understand. But that humble realization is the first step to a deeper understanding of what we celebrate this day.

Lord, I gaze at the wonder of Your birth. You Who are God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, God from God and Light from Light, became one of us, a humble child, born of a virgin and laid in a manger. Help me to ponder this glorious event, to reflect upon the mystery with awe and to more fully grasp the meaning of what You have done for us. I thank You, dear Lord, for this glorious celebration of Your birth into the world. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Family as a Communion of Love

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph
Sunday within the Octave of Christmas (Or, if there is no Sunday, December 30)

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.  Luke 2:39–40 (Gospel Year B)

Today we honor family life in general by pausing to ponder the particular and beautiful hidden life within the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In many ways, their daily life together would have been very similar to other families at that time. But in other ways, their life together is entirely unique and provides us with a perfect model for all families.

By God’s providence and design, the family life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was spoken of in the Scripture very little. We read of the birth of Jesus, the presentation in the Temple, the flight into Egypt and the finding of Jesus in the Temple at age twelve. But other than these stories of their life together, we know very little.

The line from today’s Gospel quoted above does, however, give us some insight worth pondering. First, we see that this family “fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord…” Though this is in reference to Jesus being presented in the Temple, it should also be understood to apply to all aspects of their life together. Family life, just like our individual lives, must be ordered by the laws of our Lord.

The primary law of the Lord regarding family life is that it must share in the very unity and “communion of love” found in the life of the Most Holy Trinity. Each person of the Holy Trinity has perfect respect for the other, gives selflessly to each other without reserve, and receives each person in their totality. It is their love that makes them one and enables them to act together in perfect harmony as a communion of divine Persons. Though Saint Joseph was not immaculate in his nature, the perfection of love did live in his divine Son and in his immaculate wife. This overwhelming gift of their perfect love would have daily drawn him into the perfection of their lives.

Ponder your own closest relationships today. If you are blessed with a close family, ponder them. If not, ponder the persons put into your life who you are called to love with familial love. Who are you to be there for in good times and in bad? Who are you to sacrifice your life for without reserve? Who are you to offer respect, compassion, time, energy, mercy, generosity and every other virtue? And how well do you fulfill this duty of love?

Reflect, today, upon the fact that God wants you to share in a communion of life, not only with the Most Holy Trinity but also with those around you, especially your family. Try to ponder the hidden life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and seek to make their family relationship the model for how you love others. May their perfect communion of love be a model for us all.

Lord, draw me into the life, love and communion that You lived with Your Immaculate Mother and Saint Joseph. I offer You myself, my family and all those to whom I am called to love with a special love. May I imitate Your family love and life in all my relationships. Help me to know how to change and grow so that I may more fully share in Your family life. Jesus, I trust in You.

God’s Promised Inspiration

Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr
Second Day of the Octave of Christmas, December 26

“When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Matthew 10:19–20

These words of our Lord came to fruition in the life of Saint Stephen, the Church’s first martyr. Saint Stephen was martyred within a couple of years after Jesus’ ascension into Heaven. He was one of seven deacons who the Apostles appointed to assist them in their work of caring for the poor as the Church began to grow.

Stephen was a man of deep faith and was filled with the Holy Spirit. After he was appointed deacon, he began to preach with boldness. Among his listeners were members of the synagogue of Hellenistic Jews. Stephen debated them vigorously and proved himself to be full of wisdom and power, performing many signs and wonders in their midst. But this only led his listeners to become outraged to the point of seeking his death. As a result, they made false claims that Stephen was preaching against the Temple and the Law of Moses.

In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 7:2–53), Stephen responded by giving a long and detailed speech by which he explained the full truth of Jesus in light of the Old Testament. Stephen concluded by saying, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors.” This infuriated his listeners in the synagogue even more. After this, something truly miraculous happened. Stephen had a vision. He looked up to Heaven and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” He saw his Lord, standing at the right hand of the Father. And it was his proclamation of this vision that finally drove the infuriated crowd to drag him out of the synagogue and city and to stone him to death. Stephen’s story, however, ended in a beautiful and inspired way. As the crowd was stoning him, he spoke two powerful statements. First, he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And then he prayed in a loud voice,  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

As mentioned above, the words our Lord speaks in the Gospel today came to fruition in the life of Saint Stephen. First of all, we see that Jesus’ prediction that some of His followers would be handed over to deaths by their own kinsmen came true in the life of Saint Stephen. But Jesus also promised that when this would happen, “You will be given at that moment what you are to say.” And it will be the Spirit of the Father “speaking through you.” And that’s exactly what happened with Saint Stephen. First, he was given a glorious vision of Heaven. Second, he was inspired to fully surrender his spirit over to Jesus. And third, he was inspired to pray for his persecutors and forgive them. These words and actions did not come from Stephen alone. They were the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise that when one is persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, the Father will be especially present and give powerful inspiration at the moment of need.

Reflect, today, upon the profound truth that God never abandons us. In fact, when we suffer the most or endure persecution, rejection or any form of mistreatment, God is especially present. Look at your own life and consider those moments that you find most challenging. Pray to Saint Stephen and ask him to pray for you so that you will be open to the inspired words and actions of our Lord when you need them the most.

Most glorious Saint Stephen, please pray for me. Pray for me especially when I experience the heaviest crosses in my life. Pray that I, like you, will be open to God’s inspiration and grace at those times I need it the most. St. Stephen, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Beloved Disciple

Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
Third Day of the Octave of Christmas, December 27

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. John 20:1–3

It’s interesting that Saint John refers to himself as the disciple “whom Jesus loved.” Of course, Jesus loved all people. He loved all of the disciples. But in John’s Gospel, this unique title of the beloved disciple is given to John.

Saint John the Apostle may be understood as this beloved disciple for many reasons. First, recall the special closeness and affection John shows Jesus at the Last Supper when John reclined next to Him. Recall, also, that it was John alone who stood at the foot of the Cross with Jesus’ mother and that Jesus entrusted His mother to John and John to His mother. And note in the passage above that it was John who first ran to the empty tomb as soon as Mary Magdalene revealed her discovery to him. Furthermore, many scholars believe John to be the youngest disciple. And as a younger disciple, he may have received special fatherly-like attention from our Lord.

However, John may also be understood as the beloved disciple for another reason. Simply put, this is how John saw himself as he wrote his Gospel account. John may have done so because telling the story of Jesus’ life was deeply personal to him. His own love and affection for his Lord was the central and most consuming passion of his soul. And it appears that as John speaks of Jesus, and of his own encounters with Jesus, John was compelled to prayerfully ponder the holy and spiritual love that Jesus had for him. Thus, it appears that John could not speak of his encounters with our Lord without also identifying the divine love that united them. It’s as if every time his Gospel story spoke of an encounter he had with Jesus, John was overwhelmed by the simple fact that Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah, knew him and loved him personally. And so he was compelled to state that fact over and over.

In this case, it’s quite beautiful, on a spiritual level, to ponder John’s soul. He was clearly a man who was deeply touched by God in the Person of Jesus. And after Jesus ascended into Heaven, it appears that John’s holy love for Jesus only grew. As he went forth as an Apostle, preaching about the salvation that comes through his Savior and dear friend, he clearly grew closer to our Lord day by day. When John wrote his Gospel toward the end of his life, his heart was clearly aflame with divine love as he was intensely looking forward to being fully united with his Lord in Heaven.

As we honor this unique and holy Apostle, reflect, today, upon the simple truth that you are also invited to share in the holy and intimate love shared by Jesus and Saint John. Ponder the fact that our Lord also loves you with perfect charity, intimacy and totality. If you can gaze upon the love in the heart of this beloved disciple, then you, too, can share in that love and become a beloved disciple yourself.

My beloved Lord, the love You bestowed upon the disciple John was perfect in every way. After Your ascension into Heaven, You continued to deepen Your relationship with him, drawing him ever closer to Your Sacred Heart. Please pour forth upon me that same love and draw me into Your Heart so that I, too, will become Your beloved disciple. Saint John, pray for us.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Courage in the Face of Evil

Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs
Fourth Day of the Octave of Christmas, December 28

When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Matthew 2:13

The most glorious event ever to take place in our world also filled some with hatred and rage. Herod, who was jealous of his own earthly power, felt greatly threatened by the message shared with him by the Magi. And when the Magi failed to return to Herod to tell him where the Newborn King was located, Herod did the unthinkable. He ordered the slaughter of every boy, two years old and younger, who was in Bethlehem and its vicinity.

Such an act is hard to comprehend. How could the soldiers carry out such an evil plot? Imagine the deep mourning and devastation so many families encountered as a result. How could a civil ruler murder so many innocent children.

Of course, in our day and age, so many civil leaders continue to support the barbaric practice of permitting the slaughter of the innocent within the womb. Thus, in many ways, Herod’s action is not that different from today.

The passage above reveals to us the will of the Father regarding not only the protection of His divine Son but also His divine will for the protection and sanctity of all human life. It was satan who inspired Herod to kill those precious and innocent children so long ago, and it is satan who continues to promote a culture of death and destruction today. What should our response be? We, like Saint Joseph, must see it as our solemn duty to protect the most innocent and vulnerable with unwavering determination. Though this newborn Child was God, and though the Father in Heaven could have protected His Son with a myriad of angels, it was the Father’s will that a man, Saint Joseph, protect His Son. For that reason, we should also hear the Father calling each and every one of us to do all we can to protect the innocent and most vulnerable, especially the child within the womb.

Reflect, today, upon the will of God for your life. In what ways is God calling you to be like Saint Joseph and protect the most innocent and most vulnerable? How are you being called to be a guardian of those entrusted to your care? Certainly on a civil level we must all work to protect the lives of those who are unborn. But every parent, grandparent and all those entrusted with responsibility for another must strive to protect those in their care in countless other ways. We must diligently work to preserve them from the evils in our world and the numerous attacks of the evil one on their lives. Ponder this question today and allow the Lord to speak to you of your duty to imitate the great protector, Saint Joseph.

Lord, give me insight, wisdom and strength so that I can work in accord with Your will to protect the most innocent from the evils of this world. May I never cower in the face of evil, and may I always fulfill my duty to protect those entrusted to my care. Saint Joseph, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Wonder and Awe

Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas, December 29

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”  Luke 2:33–35

When something truly supernatural takes place, the human mind that grasps that supernatural event is filled with wonder and awe. For Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, their minds were continually filled with a holy amazement at what they were witnessing.

First there was the Annunciation to our Blessed Mother. Then the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Then the miraculous birth took place. Shepherds came to adore their child and revealed that a multitude of angels had appeared to them. Shortly after this, the Magi from the East showed up to do homage to their child. And today we are given the story of Simeon in the Temple. He spoke of the supernatural revelation he had received about this Child. Time after time, the miracle of what was taking place was placed before Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, and each time they responded with wonder and awe.

Though we are not blessed to encounter this supernatural event of the Incarnation in the same way that Mary and Joseph did, we are nonetheless able to share in their “amazement” and their “wonder and awe” by prayerfully pondering this supernatural event. The mystery of Christmas, which is a manifestation of God becoming man, is an event that transcends all time and space. It’s a spiritual reality of supernatural origin and is therefore an event that our minds of faith have full access to. Just like Mother Mary and Saint Joseph, we must hear the angel at the Annunciation, the angel in Joseph’s dream, we must witness the shepherds and Magi and, today, we must rejoice with Simeon as he gazed upon the newborn Messiah, the Savior of the World.

Reflect, today, upon how fully you have allowed your mind to engage the incredible mystery that we celebrate this holy season. Have you taken time to prayerfully read the story once again? Are you able to sense the joy and fulfillment experienced by Simeon and Anna? Have you spent time considering the minds and hearts of Mother Mary and Saint Joseph as they experienced that first Christmas? Let this deep supernatural mystery of our faith touch you this Christmas season in such a way that you, too, are “amazed” at what we celebrate.

Lord, I thank you for the gift of Your Incarnation. With Simeon, I rejoice and offer You praise and thanksgiving. Please renew within me a true sense of wonder and awe as I gaze with amazement at what You have done for me and for the whole world. May I never tire of pondering this supernatural gift of Your life. Jesus, I trust in You.

A Unique and Sacred Calling

Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas, December 30

There was a prophetess, Anna…She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.  And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.  Luke 2:36–38

We all have a unique and sacred calling given to us from God. Each one of us is called to fulfill that calling with generosity and wholehearted commitment. As the famous prayer of Saint John Henry Newman puts it:

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons…

Anna, the prophetess, was given a very unique, one-of-a-kind mission. When she was young, she was married for seven years. Then after losing her husband, she remained a widow until she was eighty-four. During those decades of her life, the Scripture reveals that “She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.” What an incredible calling from God!

Anna’s unique calling was to be a prophetess. She fulfilled this calling by allowing her whole life to be a symbol of the Christian vocation. Her life was spent in prayer, fasting and, most especially, in anticipation. God called her to wait, year after year, decade after decade, for the one and definitive moment of her life: her encounter with the Christ Child in the Temple.

Anna’s prophetic life tells us that we each must live our lives in such a way that our ultimate goal is to continually prepare for the moment when we meet our divine Lord in the Temple of Heaven. Unlike Anna, most are not called to literal fasting and prayer every day all day within the church buildings. But like Anna, we must all foster an interior life of ongoing prayer and penance, and we must direct all of our actions in life to the praise and glory of God and the salvation of our souls. Though the way this universal vocation is lived out will be unique to each and every person, Anna’s life is nonetheless a symbolic prophecy of every vocation.

Reflect, today, upon how well you imitate this holy woman in your own life. Do you foster an interior life of prayer and penance and daily seek to devote yourself to the glory of God and the salvation of your soul? Evaluate your life this day in light of the wonderful prophetic life of Anna that we are given to ponder.

Lord, I thank You for the powerful witness of the prophetess Anna. May her lifelong devotion to You, a life of continual prayer and sacrifice, be a model and inspiration for me and for all who follow You. I pray that You daily reveal to me the unique way in which I am called to live out my vocation to total dedication to You. Jesus, I trust in You.

Light Dispels Darkness

Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas, December 31

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.  John 1:3–5

What a great image for meditation: “…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” This line completes the unique approach taken by John’s Gospel to introduce Jesus, the Eternal “Word” Who existed from the beginning and through Whom all things came to be.

Though there is much to meditate on in the first five lines of John’s Gospel, let’s consider that ending line about light and darkness. Within the material world, there is much we can learn about our Divine Lord from the physical phenomenon of light and darkness. If we briefly consider light and darkness from the perspective of physics, we know that the two are not two opposing forces fighting with each other. Rather, darkness is simply the absence of light. Where there is no light, there is darkness. Similarly, heat and cold are the same way. Cold is nothing other than the absence of heat. Introduce heat and the cold disappears.

These basic laws of the physical world also teach us about the spiritual world. Darkness, or evil, is not some powerful force fighting against God; rather, it’s the absence of God. Satan and his demons do not try to impose a dark power of evil on us; rather, they seek to extinguish the presence of God in our lives by getting us to reject God through our choices, thus leaving us in spiritual darkness.

This is a very significant spiritual truth to understand, because where there is spiritual Light, the Light of God’s grace, the darkness of evil is dispelled. This is clearly seen in the line “and the darkness has not overcome it.” Overcoming the evil one is as easy as inviting the Light of Christ into our lives and not allowing fear or sin to turn us from the Light.

Reflect, today, upon the very real spiritual battle that takes place each and every day within your soul. But reflect upon it in the truth of this Gospel passage. The battle is easily won. Invite Christ the Light, and His Divine Presence will quickly and easily replace any darkness within.

Lord, Jesus, You are the Light Who dispels all darkness. You are the Eternal Word Who answers every question in life. I invite You into my life this day so that Your Divine Presence may fill me, consume me and lead me down the path toward eternal joys. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Mother of Jesus is the Mother of God 

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
The Octave Day of Christmas, January 1 

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.  Luke 2:19 

Today, January 1, we complete our octave celebration of Christmas Day. It’s an often overlooked liturgical fact that we celebrate Christmas Day for eight straight days. We do this also with Easter Day, which concludes with the great celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday.

On this, the eighth day of the Octave of Christmas, we turn our focus to the unique and beautiful fact that God chose to enter our world through a human mother. Mary is called the “Mother of God” for the simple fact that her Son is God. She was not the mother of her Son’s flesh alone, nor the mother only of His human nature. This is because the Person of Jesus, the Son of God, is one Person. And that one Person took on flesh within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Though becoming the Mother of God was a pure gift from Heaven and not something that Mother Mary merited on her own, there was one particular quality that she had that made her uniquely qualified to fulfill this role. That quality was her immaculate nature.

First, Mother Mary was preserved from all sin when she was conceived within the womb of her mother, Saint Anne. This special grace was a grace that was imparted to her from the future life, death and resurrection of her Son. It was the grace of salvation, but God chose to take that gift of grace and transcend time to impart it to her at the moment of her conception, thus making her the perfect and pure instrument necessary to bring forth God into the world.

Second, Mother Mary remained faithful to this gift of grace throughout her life, never choosing to sin, never wavering, never turning from God. She remained immaculate throughout her life. Interestingly, it is this choice of hers, to forever remain obedient to the will of God in every way, that makes her more fully the Mother of God than the simple act of bearing Him within her womb. Her act of perfect unity with the will of God throughout her life makes her, also, the perfect mother of divine grace and mercy and perpetually the spiritual Mother of God, continually and perfectly bringing Him into our world.

Reflect, today, upon these most solemn mysteries of our faith. This eighth day of the Octave of Christmas is a solemn celebration, a celebration worthy of our pondering. The Scripture above reveals not only how our blessed Mother approached this mystery but also how we are to approach it. She “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Ponder these mysteries, also, in your own heart and allow the grace of this holy celebration to fill you with joy and gratitude.

Dearest Mother Mary, you were graced with a grace beyond any other. You were preserved from all sin and remained perfectly obedient to the will of God throughout your life. As a result, you became the perfect instrument of the Savior of the World by becoming His mother, the Mother of God. Pray for me that I may ponder this great mystery of our faith this day and ever more deeply rejoice in the incomprehensible beauty of your motherly soul. Mother Mary, the Mother of God, pray for us.  Jesus, I trust in You.

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