Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany or, in popular
parlance, the feast of the Three Kings. Our Gospel presents the following cast of characters: magi coming from the East, following a star; King Herod and his court; the religious leaders in Jerusalem; and the Holy Family in Bethlehem. Of course, the center of attention is the newborn baby Jesus. It is instructive for us to look at these characters, what motivated them, and what the results were.
King Herod had power and he was obsessed with keeping that power and control. That obsession moved him to try to manipulate the magi to return to him with information about “the new born king.” Ultimately, he killed many small children to protect his power, when the child Jesus wasn’t even a real threat to his earthly power.
The chief priests and scribes were wrapped in religious security; they also wielded power over the people. They showed no interest in the star or what the magi had to say; they never caught on that Jesus was the Messiah.
The magi, on the other hand, had open minds. Something was happening and they wanted to find out about it, even though it meant traveling great distances into foreign lands. As a result of being willing to search, they found the child Jesus, even though they were foreigners or gentiles.
What about me? Am I like Herod, obsessed with everyday life and its concerns that I miss finding Christ the many times He comes to me each day? With Herod it was power and control. Other obsessions might be with possessions or pleasure or comfort. Am I like the religious leaders, so wrapped up in “practicing” rituals and prayers that I miss Christ in other situations? Or am I like the magi, with an open mind to search for Jesus in the people and events of daily life?
I invite us to reflect this week on the characters we find in the Gospel today. How much am I like Herod? The religious leaders? The magi? How do I want to change so I can bring the light of Christ into the world more effectively? What New Year resolution can help make that happen?
I wish each of you a healthy and happy 2022 “close to the Lord,” as I like to say. Let us support each other in prayer throughout this new year, as we struggle to be more effective disciples.
Instead of a church sign this week, I begin the new year by wishing you the blessing the Lord gave to Moses for the people:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!
This weekend we have two feasts back-to-back: Saturday we celebrate Christmas, the birth of our Savior, and Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. The two feasts complement each other very well.
At Christmas, we celebrate that Jesus Christ came and “made His dwelling among us.” The literal translation is that he “pitched His tent among us.” It was dangerous to be out in the desert alone. As a result, the people would pitch their tents together, so that they could protect one another. In other words, Jesus threw His lot in with us.
But to do that, to become a human being and pitch His tent among us, He needed the assistance of Mary and Joseph. Mary needed to say, “be it done unto me according to your word.” Joseph had to be open to God’s plan and cooperate by taking Mary and the child Jesus into his home, protecting them so that Jesus could “advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and people.” It was in the context of the Holy Family that Jesus grew and developed, until His hour came to begin His mission.
Christ wants to bring His goodness and mercy into our world today. But, as He needed the cooperation of Mary and Joseph when He first came, He needs our cooperation today. When I can be forgiving and compassionate to someone who hurts me, the light of Christ shines brighter in our world. When I can take time to visit someone who is homebound and lonely, the light of Christ shines brighter for that person and in the world. When I can share the many blessings that God has given me to help those less fortunate, the light of Christ burns brightly. And so on and so on.
As we celebrate Christmas, I invite us to consciously recommit ourselves to bringing the light of Christ into the world by our words and actions. Then we will be making Christmas happen here and now, instead of simply remembering something that happened a long time ago.
Instead of a church sign, I end with a poem that Marcelina Agbius composed and shared with me in her Christmas card:
How special the moment
that comes our way.
The “now” that we have
that God gave away.
It’ll not linger for very long.
So, dare not waste it.
Breathe in and share its wonder,
every last bit.
Life is a miracle,
we unwrap each day.
The gift that keeps giving
in every possible way.
May each of you have a blessed Christmas. Buon Natale!
I am writing this letter on December 6th because of an early
holiday deadline from our bulletin publisher, so it is too early for an exact count, but I can report that just the scrip card part of our Gift Sunday collection is well over $4,000. And that is to say nothing of all of the gifts! I think back to the pile of cards for the homebound that was in front of the church on November 28th and I know that a lot will come in for Food Sunday. PACT: Pius Parishioners Always Come Through. Thank you and may God bless you for your generosity.
As I reflected on our readings for this weekend, I was struck by how God seems to rely on the small and unimportant to get His work done. First, we have the prophet “Micah,” who is called one of the “minor” prophets. Then we are told that the important person will come from Bethlehem, “too small to be among the clans of Judah.” Our Gospel focuses on two women, who were of little or no importance in that culture. Each of these women will bear a child who will have a big impact on the world. Joseph was a nobody carpenter. Zachariah was probably the most influential in our cast of characters, but even he was only a minor priest among thousands of others.
Why is it that the small and unimportant take center stage in the coming of Christ into the world? Could it be because they are not full of themselves and their own personal ambitions, leaving room for them to be able to discern what God wants? Maybe they were humble enough to know that what they wanted or what was most comfortable for them was not the most important thing?
Mary was able to say “thy will be done.” Joseph was able to discern that it was God’s will for him to accept Mary. Twice in our reading from Hebrews we are told that Christ came “to do your will, O God.”
The bottom line is that God wants His Kingdom to break into this world and, to the extent that we discern and do His will, we will cooperate in making that happen. And that is what being a CHRISTian, is all about: discerning and fulfilling God’s will.
Although I can’t tell you what God’s will is in every circumstance, I do know that we have been given a clear guide: show our love of God through love of neighbor. When I am able to act in a loving, compassionate, forgiving, or generous way, I am bringing Christ into the world. And that is clearly God’s will!
In this last week of preparation to celebrate Christ’s birth, let us thank God for choosing us, unimportant and lowly, for the awesome task of bringing Christ to the world. May we respond as did Mary and Joseph!
Church sign of the week: Just because you are offended doesn’t mean that you are right.
Monday evening at 7:00 pm, we will celebrate our Advent
Reconciliation Service in the church. Three priests will be available for individual confessions. Please take advantage of this opportunity to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
In addition to being the third Sunday of Advent, today is the feast of our Lady of Guadalupe. I have very fond memories of celebrating this feast in México, as well as in the Hispanic communities I ministered to in Arizona and Tennessee.
As I have mentioned various times, the season of Advent is a season of hope: the Savior of the world has come among us, He is with us right now through all our difficulties and He wants us to help bring about His Kingdom by the way we live our lives.
From that perspective, Guadalupe is a wonderful feast to fall in the middle of Advent. The Aztec world had been decimated by the arrival of the Spaniards, both from conflict and from new diseases that killed many people. The conquerors were trying to force their religious beliefs on the Aztecs, but without much success. The people were living without much hope, facing more armed conflict with the Spaniards. In that context, the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to St. Juan Diego.
The Virgin had the complexion of a native, she spoke to Juan Diego in his native language, she wore clothes that the natives could identify with, and she said to Juan Diego, Am I not here, I who am your mother? All these things helped the Aztecs to accept Christianity as THEIR religion, not just one imposed on them by invaders; in one sense, this was the beginning of the Mexican people, as we know them today. Within a short time, an estimated 6,000,000 natives accepted Christianity.
I share this example of how, no matter how bleak things might seem, our faith tells us to trust that all will be well. Our God is in control and wants the best for us; Mary says to us, as she did to St. Juan Diego, Am I not here, I who am your mother? What more could we want?
As we continue to prepare to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child among us, may the words of St. Paul that we hear in our reading from Philippian’s reign in our hearts: Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us! God bless.
Church sign of the week: people are prisoners of their phones; that is why they are called "cell" phones.
December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the patronal feast of our country. I invite you to celebrate Mass with us at 7:00 pm on Tuesday or 8:00 am Wednesday, asking our Lord to heal the division and rancor that keep us from moving forward.
This coming weekend, we will celebrate the Anointing of the Sick at every Mass. At 7:00 pm on Monday, December 13th, we will have a Reconciliation Service with three priests available for individual confessions. Please take advantage of these sacraments, as part of your preparation to celebrate the birthday of Christ.
We have received word that all the wells from our 2021 Living Waters campaign have been finished. I am sure more information will come from Sue Haertel, SDS, who is helping to organize this trip. Thank you to all who made this possible for our sisters and brothers in Africa.
Our readings this weekend mark a pivotal switch from an apocalyptic focus (on the final coming of Christ) to the beginning of the events and people leading up to the first coming of Jesus. Luke lists a number of historical figures to identify the exact time that the call came to John the Baptist to begin “preparing the way of the Lord.” John’s message quotes our first reading from the prophet Baruch: A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” John will prepare the way of the Lord, as we are to do through our words and actions.
How can we “prepare the way of the Lord” in a special way these last three weeks before we celebrate His birthday? One way is to look at what is happening in our culture: we are in full swing for the Christmas shopping spree. Ads are all over the place and many are making lists of people for whom they want to buy gifts.
Is Jesus on our list? If he is a special friend of mine, and if we are celebrating HIS birthday, shouldn’t he get a gift? Shouldn’t he be on the top of the list?
What could I get for Him? He doesn’t need any “thing.” The end of war and violence would be a great gift, but it is out of my price range. But I could give Him the gift of repairing a broken relationship or being more patient with a difficult person. The end of world hunger and a just distribution of resources also would be a great gift, but, once again, out of my control.
However, I CAN support food pantries and share some of what I have with those in need. The elimination of prejudice and
discrimination would be great, but I can’t eliminate it in the world. But I can identify a prejudice that I have and work to eliminate it, as a wonderful Christmas gift to the Lord.
We can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can do our little part. And these little efforts are priceless in “preparing the way of the Lord” in our world today. What Christmas gift will you have ready for the Christ child on December 25th? He will be so appreciative, as will those affected by your goodness. God bless.
Church sign of the week: People who rely most on God rely least on themselves.