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Contents: Volume 2 - The NATIVITY of the LORD
- December 25, 2022

 

Nativity

of the

LORD

(A)

 

 

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Dennis Keller with Charlie

3. -- Brian Gleeson CP

4. -- Paul O'Reilly SJ

5. --(Your reflection can be here!

 

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1.

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The Nativity of the Lord Christmas 2022

Well, it is about time for Christmas Day, and, as usual, I am not "ready" either for a holiday or especially this holy day. It has been a rather difficult and time-consuming 4 months and Advent got smushed along with that. So here I am, reading all of the readings for the various Masses and hoping my granddaughter's walrus cough (thanks to the flu even though vaccinated) will be gone before her scheduled altar serving on Christmas Day.

It is easy to become distracted and even overwhelmed at these kinds of times, for sure. The important question relative to the readings and to each of our lives though is always the same. Who is this Baby Jesus?

Long ago, the shepherds and then the magi (who will come soon) wondered the same thing. National Geographic magazine had an interesting article in December of 2017 about "the Real Jesus", but still concluded that no matter what "facts" or artifacts may be found about Jesus's time, believers will still believe. Recently, I read an article about a cave of Salome, a woman thought to be a midwife to Mary by some. Confusing stuff, for sure!

My antidote for being overwhelmed or hopelessly confused is to listen to a modern song "Mary, Did You Know?" My favorite version is sung by one of my granddaughter's teachers or commercially by the Pentatonix but there are several. The lyrics are:

 

Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

And when your kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God

Oh Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again

The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?

This sleeping child you're holding is the great I am.

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Buddy Greene / Mark Lowry

It is clear to me that with all that is going on in the world and in my life, that I certainly do need a SAVIOR. That is who Jesus is to me, born as a little one of Mary... Mary, the Mother of God.

Christmas Blessings!

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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2.

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CHRISTMAS 2022

  • Vigil Mass: Isaiah 62:1-5; Responsorial Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17 & 22-25; Gospel Acclamation contemporary; Matthew 1:1-25
  • Mass During the Night: Isaiah 9:1-6; Responsorial Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Gospel Acclamation Luke 2:10-11; Luke 2:1-14
  • Mass at Dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Responsorial Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Gospel Acclamation Luke 2:14; Luke 2:15-20
  • Mass During the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Responsorial Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-6; Gospel Acclamation contemporary; John 1:1-18

With four liturgies of the Word possible for our Christmas celebration, creating one reflection becomes an interesting challenge. Most will hear only one set of readings and thus one homily from each preacher. But the Scriptures are so magnificent and so hope-filled that it’s a shame to overlook any one of the selections.

Let’s start with Isaiah. It is a bow to that great prophet of warning, of endurance, and finally of triumph that we have all three sections of the Prophet. In these three sections we begin in Chapter 9 with the period before the siege by Babylon when the threat was from the combined Syrian and Northern Kingdom (then known as the Kingdom of Israel. That section is a call to the people and their leadership to trust in God – Yahweh who defines Self as being WITH the people of Judah and Benjamin. That message is one that tells of the birth of a child who will be a continuation of the Line of David, the time of the united Kingdom of all twelve tribes; a time of great prosperity and joy. The child to be born would return the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin to peace and joy while that child become adult sits on the throne of David. The people in great darkness of despair at the oncoming threat are given a great light in the person of a child born. That child will be a worthy king over Judah and Benjamin and bring a joyful peace. This will come about because of God’s zeal for his people. Clearly, this Christmas at this mass during the night we apply the birth of this child promised by Isaiah to the birth of Jesus, God and Man. He brings the beginnings of a new Kingdom, one of peace through judgment and justice when he ascends the throne of David. That ascension will come by way of the Cross and Resurrection. For it is through suffering that the work of the Kingdom is accomplished. Even though suffering is mentioned here, it is in the second segment of Isaiah that we hear about the "suffering servant," that lamb of God whose suffering takes away the enslavement of sin.

The reading from Isaiah for the Mass during the day is from the second section of Isaiah. It is the time of the captivity in Babylon. That was a time of slavery of loss of freedom. During that time the exiled and captive people struggled to understand why it was that God’s chosen people had to go through all of this. It was during this time that an awakening of ancient faith came about especially from an examination of the history of the people with God. It was during this time that the first five books of the Bible – often called the books of Moses – were compiled from four oral and some written accounts of the history of the people. Those four traditions make up the story of salvation for these people. These people became a nation made up of twelve clans, tribes whose common bond was that they had as their revered ancestor Abraham. Abraham was chosen by God to be father of a great people. The Egyptian experience of welcome turned to slavery became the story of this chosen people. From favor to enslavement was also sensed as the story of humanity. Formed in favor depravity and violence, dishonor and untruth, goodness morphed into evil in lust for power, for wealth, for pleasure. The slavery imposed by a nameless Pharoah became the starting point of salvation of these tribes formed into a nation by a generation of deprivation in the desert. The Law became the antidote against the depravity of the world gone bad. That story, that narrative enriched the captives of Babylon and again they began to long for the land given to Father Abraham. This reading from Isaiah speaks of hope, a new beginning. While still captive to the successor of Egypt, that harlot, Babylon, there arose a hope and a conviction that God had not abandoned this people God had chosen. Isaiah insists, in this reading, that God has not forgotten. The ending phrase offers us as well hope against what holds us captive, what terrors in our hearts, what depravity deludes us, what chains have locked up our spirits into sadness and the darkness that is God’s absence in our living. "All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God." And our responsorial psalm repeats with sounding joy – "all the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God." Perhaps if we understand the depth of this, our hearts will be lifted up and we will experience the freedom of the children of God!

The third section of Isaiah we hear in the reading for the Vigil – the evening Mass on the 24th. This is the hope of the enslaved. The story is the Cyrus of Persia – called The Great – overcomes the Babylonian empire and releases the Jews – Judah and Benjamin – and tells them to go home. He returns the vessels looted from the Temple and supplies artisans and engineers to rebuild the temple and the great wall for the city Jerusalem. That vigil reading is foretelling. "You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘Espoused.’" Here is a reversal at the hand of God from slavery to freedom. Here is once again a community of praise for the God who saves. What an opportunity for us to participate in this release from captivity – if only we desire it sufficiently!

The reading at Dawn shouts out the joy that will be coming to the enslaved. "They shall be called the holy people, the redeemed of the Lord and you shall be called ‘Frequented,’ a city that is not forsaken." Yet the reality of this release from slavery was not peaches and cream. The work of rebuilding a destroyed city and its infrastructure calls to mind in our day the rebuilding that will be so costly and painful for the people of Ukraine. The writings indicate how often teetering at the brink of despair were these people as they struggled to regain the viability of the city once build by David. Ah, David comes repeatedly into the thinking and desires of the people of God! It was a time of opportunity and achievement. It was a time of order and beauty. It was a time when love was possible, love of what God had made. Love in family that mirrored the very life of God.

It is no wonder then, that the gospel readings shout out the prophecies of Isaiah. In the vigil Mass, Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Jesus ties us back into the glory of the united kingdom formed by David. At the mass for the night, we hear about the birth of Jesus, the coming of the long-awaited one whose kingdom would replace that of David. The Mass at dawn is from Luke’s gospel and brings in the shepherds – and us with them as ordinary folk looking for what we can’t define. And as Luke is often times heard, he speaks of Mary and how she is the disciple we are to emulate. "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." It tells us to do likewise, to reflect on our daily experience and discover there the secrets of creation and our own particular experiences under the light that comes with the Angels song and leads us to a very humble place. It is there in that very humble place -as it is with us in our ordinary living – that we view and experience what Isaiah in all three iterations brings us to understanding the meaning and purpose of our gifted living. But it’s John whose prologue sings, literally sings in polyphonic meter and pregnant words the wonder that is the Word, who was from the beginning and through whom all things were made. And it is that "Word that became flesh and made his swelling among us." That past tense of "made" is only the coming. The reality remains – that with eyes cleared of cataracts "we see his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth." So may it be with us at our tables, in our gatherings, in our assemblies as we sing that Angels song, "Glory to God in the Highest, and peace on earth to all persons of good will!"

Dennis Keller with Charlie dkeller002@nc.rr.com

Blessed Christmas to all God’s Children, one and all

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3.

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TWO KINDS OF CHRISTMAS CELEBRATION: COMPARE THE PAIR

Isaiah 9: 1-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14

‘… but the angel said. "Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:10-11)

Houses, shops, and churches all around us are telling the Christmas story, but in two different versions. In churches, the story is about the birth of the child Jesus at Bethlehem, about the loving and caring presence of his parents Mary and Joseph, and about the visits, first by the shepherds and their animals, and later, by the three kings from the East. But the brightly-lit houses and shops in our streets tell the story of Santa and Mrs. Claus, their reindeer and sleigh, packed with presents for good children. Both stories of Christmas though, even if in such different ways, share some of the same messages. Christmas is about being together and about generosity and love, peace and joy.

We are followers of Jesus. But we live in a society where many other people have different religious beliefs or none at all. The result is that some of our state schools, out of respect for non-Christians, exclude any reference to the stable of Bethlehem in their break-up celebrations. Beth, a mother of six-year-old Nicholas, recalls what happened recently at her son’s state school.

For weeks Nicholas had been memorizing songs for what his teacher called the ‘Holiday Pageant’. His mother could not get to her son’s performance on the night since she was working, but she did get to the full-dress rehearsal the same day. She reached the school gym ten minutes early, found a spot on the floor in front of the makeshift stage, and watched each class, led by their teacher, take their places around the room until called to the stage to sing or dance or both.

Because a couple of years ago the school had stopped even using the word ‘Christmas’ – a word, incidentally, which means ‘Christ-Mass’ – Beth was expecting only songs about jingle bells, reindeer, Santa Claus, snowflakes, fun, and good cheer. So, when Nicholas’ class rose to sing a song that was announced as ‘Christmas love’, Beth could hardly believe her ears.

There on the stage, her son was glowing with joy, as were all his classmates, all decked out in their fur mittens, red tops, and white snow caps. As the class was to sing ‘C is for Christmas’, a child would hold up high the letter ‘C’. The next child would hold up ‘H is for happy’ and so on until all the cards spelled out the complete message ‘Christmas Love’.

That was the plan, but Beth reports what happened:

The performance was going smoothly until suddenly we noticed her – a small shy girl in the front row holding the letter ‘M’ upside down. She was totally unaware her letter ‘M’ appeared as a ‘W’. The audience, mainly other schoolchildren, started giggling at the little one’s mistake. But she had no idea they were laughing at her. So, she stood tall, proudly holding up her ‘W’.

Beth goes on:

Although many teachers tried to shush the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised. Then we all saw it together. A hush came over the audience, and eyes began to widen. In that instant, we understood the reason we were there, and why even in the chaos and confusion, there was a good reason for all our joy and fun.

For when the last letter was held up high the message read loud and clear: ‘CHRIST WAS LOVE!’

He still is, we believe!

God certainly works in mysterious ways!

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

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Year A, B, C: Christmas Night: Midnight mass

"and wrapped him in swaddling clothes".

If the consistent witness of the Gospels is to be believed, the most momentous event in human history begins with the idle whim of a public sector bureaucrat in urgent need of a data point to satisfy his constant anxiety for administrative exactitude – that addictive need for false reassurance through arithmetic that is the all too common characteristic of personally insecure public sector bureaucrats everywhere. It is a census which requires, for no good reason, indeed for no stated reason at all, yet at enormous human cost, every single citizen of the entire empire – the known "civilized" world, to spend time and effort returning to his registered hometown in order to get a tick in a box. How many thousands of people must, like Joseph and Mary, have had to travel hundreds of miles by foot to satisfy a bureaucrat’s pitiless search for administrative order and symmetry – and all in the false worship of a supposedly greater good. Nothing else matters if the numbers look good to your line manager. If you have ever wondered why this world ever really needed a savior, you may feel no need to look any further than that for your answer.

So into this world of cruelty, suffering and evil is born a much predicted child who, it is piously believed, will live and grow and thrive to become a leader, a King, an Almighty God in the world who will deliver his people Israel and they will call his name Emanuel – a name that means "God is with us".

And so just such a child is born to travelers in the most abject poverty and in the most dreadful circumstances. The family is excluded from the inn, stabled in the barn, lying down with the animals and laid on the hay in the manger. And wrapped in swaddling clothes. I’ll bet that hardly anyone in this church knows what swaddling clothes really are. Well, in the days before obstetrics, incubators, special care baby units and neonatal intensives, perhaps as many as 10% of all children died within their first day of life, because they were so weak, so unable to take care of their most basic needs that they could not even control their own body temperature. So, to save them from the cold they were wrapped in insulating blankets – swaddling clothes. The most such a child could achieve on his first day was to be an object of pity, compassion and love. You would not need to be a Shepherd of a particularly skeptical disposition to ask,

  •  "what kind of the savior is this?
  • What kind of King is this?
  • What kind of Almighty needs swaddling clothes?"

Then I remembered Celia (not her real name) and her story of the five-hour day and it changed my mind about Jesus almost as much as it changed my mind about her.

Of all the chaotic, street homeless, used and abused young women I have ever known, Celia was about as bad as it gets. She ran away from "Care" at the age of 14 and lived for the next 13 years, mostly on the streets, or in prison, sometimes in hostels and sometimes in hospitals. And for most of that time she was an active injecting drug user, primarily crack cocaine and heroin, and occupied all her waking hours in either using drugs, or doing whatever it took to obtain the money to buy them.

When I first meet her, she is 27 and it is my responsibility to tell her, on a first meeting, that she is now pregnant.

It is a shock to the system; she hasn’t been so good with keeping her dates, but we think she’s about 16 weeks. We order a scan and the scan says that she is carrying twins. Like many women do, even after years of chaotic use, she simply stops using on the day she discovers that she is pregnant. Doing harm to oneself is one thing; doing it to one’s child is something entirely different. We help her as best we can with opiate substitutes such as methadone.

To begin with she does quite well. She is housed in a bed-sit in Bayswater with "the most useless boyfriend in North London" (her words, not mine). And she passes into the care of another GP, the social services and the specialist maternity drug services. We do not meet again until some months later when she brings the two new babies on a kind of triumphal tour down to the surgery. There’s a great deal of hugging, kissing and general congratulations all round.

But above all there is a nagging question - if not a sword of Damocles, then at least an elephant in the room. She is still in the same bed-sit with two babies to look after, with no family support, the boyfriend long gone, with the occasional visits of the social worker. She has her benefit money, no other income and no other visible means of support. So, however nice you try to be and however nicely you try to put the question, you eventually have to ask, "My dear, how are you… errmmm… so to speak… managing?"

To which she answers, without hesitation, some of the most noble words I’ve ever heard: "Oh! That’s easy. They are my babies. Yes, it’s a five-hour day, but when I think back to when I was using, it’s easy."

I have known many mothers of new born children, even some who had twins. Many mothers who have had to live the five-hour day of get up, feed baby, toilet baby, wash baby, sleep - repeated over a five hourly cycle, it seems for ever. And never before had I heard one describe it as "easy". But that describes what it is to be a street homeless intravenous drug addict – a constant five hour day of Get up, make money, use, sleep.

  • Get up, make money, use, sleep.

  • Get up, make money, use, sleep….

  • Repeated indefinitely.

And so, for me, Celia will always be my image of a woman who found her place in the world, her peace with the world, her way of life, her place in God’s plans. And that is why I think the Lord comes to us not first with power and pride, to make of himself an object of worship. I think that is why he comes rather as an object of pity, compassion and love – a baby born, laid in the manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. A King who asks not what the Christ will do for you, but first what you will do for the Christ. Because we believe in the mystery of the Incarnation – that the Presence and Goodness of God in the World does not come to do something for us; rather he comes to give us the grace to be something - to be God’s People in the World.

 

So that is why one of my proudest possessions is a photograph of Celia, taken just last year, of her walking along a beach in midsummer, somewhere in the North West of England, with her two boys – dressed for some reason as reindeer.

 

So I ask you, in the course of this coming year, whenever you get those moments when nothing is working, nothing is right, nothing is hopeful; when you feel useless and valueless in the world – and never forget that we all have such moments – I ask you to remember Celia and pray that, whatever may have happened in the past, and however difficult the circumstances may be in the present, that you too may be given the grace to bring Christ into the World to give us all a future.

 

Let us pray that this new Incarnation may live not in front of us, not around us, but within us.

 

Paul O'Reilly, SJ. poreillysj@jesuit.org.uk

 

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