Advent IV-C Sunday (Dec 23rd) Homily – (One-page Summary)
Central theme: Today’s readings remind us that Jesus is reborn every day in ordinary people living ordinary lives, who have the willingness to respond to God’s call and the openness to do God’s will. They suggest that Christmas should inspire us to carry out God’s word as Mary and Jesus did, in perfect obedience to His will, in cheerful kindness and unselfish generosity.
Scripture lessons: In the first reading, the prophet Micah gives assurance to the Jews that God is faithful to His promises and that from the unimportant village of Bethlehem He will send them the long-expected ruler. The third stanza of today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps. 80), is a prayer for God’s blessing on the Davidic king. The second reading, taken from Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, reminds us to be thankful to Jesus Christ who offered the perfect sacrifice of obedience that liberated us from sin. By his willingness and eagerness to do God’s will, (“Behold, I come to do your will”), Christ gave Himself in the place of all the other ritual sacrifices offered as the means of sanctification. In the Gospel, Luke tells us how two seemingly insignificant women met to celebrate the kindness and fidelity of God. It shows us how sensitive Mary was to the needs of Elizabeth, her older cousin who had miraculously become pregnant in her old age. For Luke, discipleship consists in listening to God’s word and then carrying it out, and Mary does both, to become the most perfect disciple.
Life messages: 1) We need to carry Jesus to others as Mary did. Christmas is the ideal time for us to be filled with the spirit of Christ, allowing his rebirth within us. Once Christ is reborn in us, He enables us to share his love with all whom we encounter by offering them humble and committed service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate, caring love. Let us take the time to visit others this during Christmas season, especially the sick and shut-ins, to bring some inspiration into their lives, and hopefully to bring them closer to God.
2) We need to bless and encourage the younger generation. Elizabeth demonstrates the responsibility of the older generation to inspire the younger generation. Grandparents, parents, teachers, and leaders have the responsibility of encouraging those around them. By complimenting and encouraging one’s spouse, children and friends, let us make them know how valuable they are to us and to God.
3) We need to recognize the Real Presence of the Emmanuel (God is with us) in the Holy Eucharist, in the Bible, in the Sacraments, and in the praying community. The hill country of Judea is right here in our surroundings. Let us convey Jesus to people around us by our acts of love, kindness and forgiveness. (L/18)
Advent IV [C] (Dec 23) Mi 5:1-4a; Heb 10:5-10; Lk 1:39-45
Homily starter anecdotes #1: “At least I made a difference to that one!” A little girl was walking along a beach covered with thousands of starfish left dying by the receding tide. Seeking to help, she started picking up the dying starfish and tossing them back into the ocean. A man who watched her with amusement, said, “Little girl, there are hundreds of starfish on the beach. You cannot make a difference by putting a few of them back into the sea.” Discouraged, she began to walk away. Suddenly, she turned around, picked up another starfish, and tossed it into the sea. Turning to the man, she smiled and said, “At least I made a difference to that one!” Today’s Gospel tells us how Mary, a village girl carrying Jesus in her womb, made a difference in the lives of her cousin Elizabeth and of the child, John. in her womb. John, as he grew up, helped Mary’s Son to transform the history of mankind by preparing the way for the Messiah. The starfish story suggests that each person, no matter how unimportant, may truly benefit from our work, and that any service, however small, is valuable. The story also shows how seemingly hopeless problems can be solved by taking the first step.
#2: Elijah heard a tiny, whispering sound and Mary a baby’s cry: There’s a marvelous scene in the Old Testament that sort of illustrates in a very stark fashion something of what is occurring in today’s Scriptures. It is the scene where the famous prophet Elijah, being pursued by his enemies, takes refuge in a cave and waits for the Lord to tell him what to do. He is prompted to go to the mouth of the cave. A great wind sweeps through the valley, breaking the trees, it is so powerful. But the Scriptures say, the Lord was not in the wind. Then there is a terrible earthquake and the mountains tumble. But the Lord, we are again informed, was not in the earthquake. Then comes a huge fire; but there again, Scripture declares, the Lord was absent. Finally, Elijah hears a tiny, whispering sound, and he promptly covers his face with his mantle out of reverent fear of God’s holy presence. A tiny, whispering sound! Not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the tiny whispering sound, God speaks. And in much the same way He speaks again, and for a final and complete time, when He speaks His ultimate Word to the human race for all ages. For this time, He speaks in the soft cries of a little baby boy in Bethlehem.
# 3: “Thanks for the money, but what I really needed was a handshake.” Composer and performer Bradley James has set Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s teachings and prayers to music in the internationally acclaimed recording, Gift of Love: Music to the Words and Prayers of Mother Teresa. Bradley remembers her teaching: “Mother said we don’t have to go to Calcutta to help the poor; rather, we must help them right in front of us.” He applied this lesson when he encountered a homeless beggar on the streets of San Francisco. Bradley placed some money in his metal cup, then reached out and shook the man’s hand. The recipient gave him a big smile, and the two exchanged names and small talk. Bradley recalls: “Then he pulled me a little closer and said, ‘Thanks for the money, but what I really needed was a handshake’” [Cf. Susan Conroy, Our Sunday Visitor (Oct. 19, 2003), p. 17.] Indeed, what was remarkable in this incident was not the coin, but the gift of human dignity and the love of Christ that Bradley James brought to the beggar through the handshake and his fraternal presence. In effect, Bradley replicated in his life and experience the joyful mystery of the Lord’s Visitation (cf. Lk 1:39-45) described in today’s Gospel.
Introduction: Today’s readings prepare us for the upcoming feast of Christmas by bringing together the major themes of the first three Sundays of Advent, namely, promise, repentance, transformation and joy. They remind us that the mystery of the Incarnation comes to ordinary people living ordinary lives, who have the openness to do God’s will and the willingness to respond to God’s call. Today’s readings suggest that we should not celebrate Christmas as just an occasion for nice feelings. Instead, commemorating Jesus’ birth should inspire us to carry out God’s word as Mary and Jesus did, in perfect obedience to His will, in cheerful kindness and unselfish generosity, and thus to become true disciples.
Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, the prophet Micah insists that God chooses what is humanly insignificant and unpromising to bring about His own loving purposes. Micah gives assurance to the Jews that God is faithful to His promises, and that from the unimportant village of Bethlehem He will send them the long-expected ruler. He will restore order and harmony in the world by teaching and practicing submission to the will of God. “God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will.” The third stanza of today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 80), is a prayer for God’s blessing on the Davidic king. In the light of the first reading, this may be said to refer appropriately to Jesus Christ. Thus, we put ourselves in the position of ancient Israel waiting for the coming of the Messiah as we wait for the celebration of His coming at Christmas. The second reading, taken from Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews, reminds us that it is the Son of God and Son of Man, Jesus Christ, who has offered the perfect sacrifice of obedience that liberates mankind from sin. The reading portrays the Son of God as accepting a human body, the true Christmas theme. It also gives the profound reason Jesus came into the world: “Behold, I come to do your will.” By willingness, eagerness to do God’s will, Christ offered Himself, in the place of all the other ritual sacrifices offered, as the means of mankind’s sanctification. This reading reminds us that God, like any loving parent, wants us to do His will – for our good, not His. In the Gospel, Luke tells us how two seemingly insignificant women met to celebrate the kindness and fidelity of God. It shows us how sensitive Mary was to the needs of Elizabeth, her older cousin, who had miraculously become pregnant in her old age. For Luke, discipleship consists in listening to God’s word and then carrying it out, and Mary does both, to become the most perfect disciple.
First reading, Micah 5:1-4, explained: Micah prophesies the doom of the corrupt leaders of Judah in chapters 1, 2 and 3. Like his three immediate prophetic predecessors — Amos, Hosea and Isaiah — Micah’ receives oracles from the Lord God rooted in the Jewish concept of social justice: the relationships people are expected by God to develop with one another and with Him. The pain His people are experiencing from Assyrian invasions is Yahweh’s punishment for their lack of concern for the unfortunate individuals around them. Then in Chapter 4, Micah is given the Lord God’s Good News to foretell: the restoration of the people living in Judah to a godly state. In Chapter 5 Micah prophesies that Israel will be led by a new king, who will come from the town of the great historic King David (“Bethlehem-Ephrathah”), and from David’s family. The situation when Micah wrote seems to be that which prevailed at the end of the Exile, when hopes ran high for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy. With a background of kings who heard and spoke Yahweh’s word, but never did anything different because of it, the Lord God speaks through Micah about a future, God-rooted king, who “shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord.” The future, kingly descendant of David of Whom the Lord God speaks here will lead the Israelites to victory over their enemies, and “He shall be peace” (Micah 5:4). Micah expresses a rare hope: if his people recognize and follow the religious insights of this one special Davidic King, they’ll achieve the peace they’re seeking.
The second reading: Hebrews 10:5-10, explained: The letter to the Hebrews was written for the benefit of Jewish converts to Christianity. When their old friends turned them out of synagogue and Temple, they missed the institutions of Judaism, especially the law, the priesthood and the Temple rituals and sacrifices. Hence, Paul gives them the assurance that it is Christ and their relationship with Him in the Church which replaces and improves upon everything they’ve been asked to give up. In today’s passage, Jesus is said to have quoted Psalm 40 which explains his mission: “to do his Father’s will” in the world. Paul explains that the meaning of the Incarnation is summarized in the words, “Behold, I come to do your will.” More than anything else, it’s Jesus’ determination to discover God’s will and carry it out that actually saves us. True Faith is doing God’s will, carrying out God’s commands in our everyday lives. Unfortunately, however, it is often not God’s will that we seek. Instead, we make idols of our jobs, our spouses, our children, our wealth and our bodies. Hence, Paul reminds us that Christ took a body so as to have an instrument with which to offer this perfect obedience to the will of God. “You have prepared a body for me… Behold I said, I come to do your will.” This means that our bodies are the meeting place of God and human beings. That is why, as a believing community, we take our bodies seriously. We wash them in the waters of Baptism; anoint them with holy oil to seal them in the Holy Spirit; and feed them with Bread from Heaven. In addition, when we are ill, we ask the priest to anoint our bodies with holy oil. When we die, we honor our bodies with Christian burial. (http://netministries.org).
Gospel exegesis: Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. There is a saying, “He (she) who is on fire cannot sit on a chair.” Mary, filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit and carrying the newly- conceived Jesus, hurried to the mountain country where Elizabeth lived, thereby conveying the Holy Spirit to her cousin and Elizabeth’s unborn child. Like all good Jews, whatever Mary did was prompted by her commitment to God’s word in her life. “How exactly did Our Lady make the tiring journey from Nazareth to the place traditionally associated with the birth of John the Baptist, Ain Karim, nearly 100 miles away? The trip would take a week to ten days. (Later Christian tradition identified Ain Karim, about 5 miles west of Jerusalem, as the place; Jerusalem Bible note on Luke 1: 39). Since traveling alone was not safe, Mary must have gone with a caravan. Mary’s journey, over Judea’s rugged terrain would have been by donkey, although most people preferred camels.
The greetings of the cousins: The two cousins greeted one another, one running to assist the other, both pregnant with life and Faith. Mary’s formal salutation served both as a prophetic gesture and as a prophetic oracle. Elizabeth’s unborn child, touched by the Holy Spirit, leaped with joy in recognition that salvation was near. John’s “leap” revealed the sheer joy of being filled with God’s Spirit. Elizabeth was the first to hear the words, but John was the first to experience the grace. Elizabeth perceived Mary’s coming; John perceived the coming of the Lord. Many scholars also see a possible parallel with the “leaping” of the brothers Esau and Jacob in their mother’s womb (Gn 25:22). No wonder, John would be the first to recognize the presence of Jesus as He began His public ministry! “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb”: to many Catholics, these lines are most familiar because they form part of the core of the Hail Mary. Elizabeth does not simply speak these words; on the contrary, the text says that she “shouts them out with a loud voice”. Elizabeth then prophetically interprets this event, pointing away from her own motherhood to reveal the hidden identity of her visitor and the baby she carries. We too can “leap for joy,” because Jesus has come to us to forgive our sins. Elizabeth’s concluding words (“Blessed is she who believed… “) express a deeply Biblical—and profoundly Jewish—conviction: to trust in the Lord and in the Lord’s promises (no matter how seemingly impossible) the epitome of that authentic Faith is, of which both Mary and Elizabeth are key exemplars for Luke. Elizabeth, in turn, gives Mary assurance and confirmation to strengthen the young woman’s Faith in the early stages of her pilgrimage. She pronounces a blessing over Mary. Having been both blessed and favored, Mary was now in a blessed and happy condition. Mary was blessed both because of her Faith and because of her bearing of the Christ-child. Thus, Mary becomes the true believer, model of Faith and first among her Son’s disciple-followers. Mary helps Elizabeth in her time of need and serves her till John is born — her perfect, loving, and sacrificial gift to Elizabeth. This story teaches us the importance of mutual ministry. Each of us has a unique call, leaving us no reason for envy. Mary brought the Savior; John recognized and identified Him; and Elizabeth gave prophecy, mediating God’s word by interpreting this event. These two women rejoice, and we are called to rejoice with them, for one reason and one reason only: because God loves us enough to act. God wants each of us, like Mary, to bear within us, and to carry to those around us, no one other than the Lord of life.
The new Ark of the Covenant. Mary’s journey to visit Elizabeth had enormous significance for Luke’s Jewish and Gentile readers. It showed them that Mary’s womb was truly the locale of God’s presence. This story suggests a mysterious parallel between Mary’s journey into the hill country and the movement of the Ark of the Covenant to the same locale on its way to Jerusalem (II Samuel, Chapter 6). Both the Ark and Mary are greeted with “shouts of joy;” both are sources of joy for the households into which they enter; both the Ark and Mary remain in the hill country for three months.The sacred leaping and dancing before the Ark (2 Samuel 6:12) could be compared to John’s stirring, or, more literally, leaping (eskirtesin) for joy in Elizabeth’s womb. In the same way that King David had leapt and danced with joy in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant, so John is leaping and dancing within the confines of Elizabeth’s womb.As a temporary vessel housing the immanent presence of God, Mary appears to fulfill the same purpose as the Ark of the Covenant. What the Ark of the Covenant could only signify (and only in a local way), Mary makes a reality, in a personal and universal way: Mary with her Child is an effective sign of God’s presence with his people. The Jewish Christians believed that God dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem, but now, the evangelist tells them, God is present in Mary. Like the Ark of the Covenant, God is journeying throughout His land, visiting His chosen people, and blessing them with His presence. As Ark of the New Covenant, Mary is the model par excellence of what every believer is called to be, the dwelling place of the Divine presence on earth.
The paradox of blessedness. In his commentary on this episode of visitation, William Barclay remarks that blessedness confers on a person both the greatest joy and the greatest task in the world. Nowhere can we see the paradox better than in Mary’s life. Mary was granted the blessedness and privilege of being the mother of the Son of God. Yet that very blessedness was to be a sword to pierce her heart: one day she would see her Son hanging on a cross. So, to be chosen by God is often both a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow. God does not choose us for a life of ease and comfort, but in order to use us for His purposes. When Joan of Arc knew that her time was short, she prayed, “I shall only last a year; use me as You can.” When we realize God’s purposes in our lives, the sorrows and hardships of life disappear.
Life messages: 1) We need to carry Jesus to others as Mary did. We can make a real difference in the lives of others by carrying Jesus to them. However, we cannot give what we do not possess. Christmas is the ideal time for us to be filled with the spirit of Christ, allowing his rebirth within us. Thus, he enables us to share his love with all whom we encounter by offering them humble and committed service, unconditional forgiveness and compassionate caring. Sharing Jesus with others is the best Christmas gift we can give. God wants each of us, like Mary, to carry to those around us the Lord of Life. It is easy to send flowers, Christmas cards or gifts. To give the gift of oneself, however, is the greatest gift of all. Let us take the time to visit others this Christmas, to bring some inspiration into their lives, and hopefully to bring them closer to God. Let us share with them the Spirit of God, the Spirit of consolation, of courage, of peace and joy, just as Mary did. During the Christmas Season, God calls us into action as He did Mary. Is there anyone we know who is lonely, in a nursing home, ill or bedridden? Can we help him or her with a brief visit? Is there extra food in our pantry that a poor family could use? Such organizations as the Ladies of Charity or St. Vincent de Paul Society can find such a family for us.
2) We need to bless and encourage the younger generation. Elizabeth demonstrates the responsibility of the older generation to inspire the younger generation. We need others to recognize our gifts, to honor our true being, and to pronounce “the goodness of God upon us.” Grandparents, parents, teachers, and leaders have the responsibility of encouraging those around them by saying, “You are an important person, valuable to God and to me.” During this Christmas week, parents and older people might convey a blessing to others, especially the young. Complimenting and encouraging one’s spouse, children and friends, let us make them know how valuable they are to us and to God.
3) We need to recognize the real presence of the Emmanuel (God Is With Us) and say “yes” to Him: The Visitation of Mary reminds us that, through his holy ministry, Christ continues to be present among his people. The same Christ “dwells among us” in the Bible, in the Sacraments, and in the praying community. The hill country of Judea is right here in our sanctuary. The same Jesus who dwelt in Mary’s womb and who caused John to leap in Elizabeth’s womb now dwells among us in our liturgy and in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus has come — he lives with us and in us through the Holy Spirit. What is expected of us during this Christmas week is the readiness to say “Yes!” to the Father, “Yes!” to Jesus, “Yes!” to all that we will experience in the coming year and “Yes!” to every call that God makes and will make on us.
4) Mary’s pilgrimage should be our model: As we journey with Mary to the hill country, let us continue to contemplate our own life’s journey — its joys and sorrows, its triumphs and its tragedies. Our Christian journey began in Christ at the Baptismal font where He joined Himself to us forever. Our journey continues with Christ as he nourishes us along the way with the food of his Word and the food of his Flesh. It will end with Christ as we await our blessed end and join him and all his Saints in Heavenly splendor. It is up to us to prepare for that great day by spending our lives glorifying God in serving others with love and commitment.
Jokes of the week: 1) Christmas telegram: The preacher and his pregnant wife had left for a conference in France, forgetting to give instructions for the banner which was to decorate the hall at the Christmas Carol Concert, the following weekend. The parish secretary was astonished to receive a telegram from France which read simply: UNTO US A SON IS BORN. NINE FEET LONG AND TWO FEET WIDE. REV. AND MRS. JOHNSON.
2) Christmas Stamps: A woman went to the Post Office to buy stamps for her Christmas cards. “What denomination?” asked the clerk? “Oh, good Heavens! Have we come to this?” said the woman. “Well, give me 20 Catholic stamps for me and 20 Baptist stamps for my husband.”
3) On whose side? During the American Civil War, a lady exclaimed effusively to President Lincoln: “Oh Mr. President, I feel so sure that God is on our side, don’t you?” “Ma’am,” replied the President, “I am more concerned that we should be on God’s side.”
WEBSITES OF THE WEEK
2) Catholic Information Network (CIN), http://www.cin.org/
23- Additional anecdotes: 1) The ripple effect: Robert F. Kennedy said: “Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence… Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation… It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Today’s Gospel describes how an unknown Jewish virgin, Mary could cause such a ripple effect by her little, loving acts of humble service to her elderly and pregnant cousin Elizabeth.
2) “Advent Teufel” or Advent Devil: Maula Powers is a storyteller. In an issue of Catholic Digest some years ago Ms. Powers told about a creature called the “Advent Teufel.” Teufel is a German word for devil. According to an old German folktale, it is the Advent Devil who tries during the Advent season to keep people so busy in outward affairs that they lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas. The Advent Devil doesn’t want people to have time to experience the rebirth of Christ within themselves. The temptations of the Advent Devil are diabolically clever. He makes it so easy for us to go along with the flow of seasonal celebrations. The Advent Devil’s business is to keep us so busy with holiday obligations that we forego daily prayer, Scripture study, and Church services. Some of us have been fighting the Advent Devil this year. Hopefully, we now have him under control. Just a couple more days. I hope you are in a position to use that little bit of time that’s left to focus on the real meaning of it all.
3) “All of a sudden I realized, I matter, I really matter.” A man in the hospital is being treated for cancer. He is estranged from the Church. He has this long list of things he can name for you in his indictment. He doesn’t like the Church in its present institutional form. But he is in the hospital. One day a priest walks into his room. He didn’t invite him in, he just walked in. The priest asked him, “Do you want to be anointed?” That is the Catholic rite for the sick. The man said, “Yes.” Then he wrote this. “Lying on my narrow, hospital bed, feeling the oil of gladness and healing, I knew I had little time. More importantly though, I felt by a wondrous grace that this was the first time in my memory that the Church was paying attention to me, individually, by name, naming me, praying for me to deal with my painful circumstances and my suffering, the suffering that is uniquely mine. All of a sudden I realized, I matter, I really matter. I still can’t get over the power of this feeling of mattering, of being an irreplaceable individual.” In the Visitation scene described in today’s Gospel, two insignificant women realize how they matter by being selected the mothers of the Messiah and his precursor.
4) “May Christ be born in you.” Sue Monk Kidd in her book From When the Heart Waits writes about her visit to a monastery around Christmas years ago. She passed a monk walking outside the church and said “Merry Christmas.” And the monk replied, “May Christ be born in you.” At the time, Ms. Kidd thought that this was a very peculiar greeting. But she never forgot it. And, with time, she came to realize the power of that simple greeting: “May Christ be born in you.” When Christ dwells within, there is peace. Pope St. John Paul II, in his Angelus message of December 19, 1999, explained that Christmas is not simply the remembrance of the Event that took place about 2000 years ago when, according to the Gospel, the power of God took on the frailty of a baby. It is really about a living reality that is repeated every year in the heart of believers. “The mystery of the Holy Night, which historically happened two thousand years ago, must be lived as a spiritual event in the ‘today’ of the Liturgy,” the Pope clarified. “The Word who found a dwelling in Mary’s womb comes to knock on the heart of every person . . .” (5) Bethlehem reminds us that God is with us in the person of Jesus Christ. (http://www.appleseeds.org/Christmas‑quotes.htm. )
5) Messiah in the monastery: Here is a story of the enormous difference that the awareness of the presence of Christ among us could make in our lives as individuals and as communities. A certain Palestinian Jewish monastery in the first century before Christ discovered that it was going through a crisis. Some of the monks left, no new candidates joined them, and people were no longer coming for prayer and consultation as they used to. The few monks that remained were becoming old and depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. The abbot heard about a holy man, a hermit living alone in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how the monastery had dwindled and diminished and now looked like a skeleton of what it used to be. Only seven old monks remained. The hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him. One of the monks now living in his monastery was actually the Messiah, but he was living in such a way that no one could recognize him. With this revelation the abbot went back to his monastery, summoned a community meeting and recounted what the holy hermit had told him. The aging monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who among them could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prayed all the time? But he had this holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Joseph who was always ready to help? But he was always eating and drinking and could not fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits as a way of camouflaging his real identity. This only made them more confused and they could not make a headway figuring out who was the Christ among them. At the end of the meeting what each one of the monks knew for sure was that any of the monks, excepting himself, could be the Christ. (Fr. Munacci).
6) Pope Benedict XVI on the Visitation: the world’s first Eucharistic procession: Pope Benedict XVI has written that the Visitation is more than just a trip into the country for a young girl from Nazareth. As he explains, when Mary “set out in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, she embarked on the world’s first Eucharistic procession. She carried Christ into the world. She was a living tabernacle. And so it is that her cousin became the first to experience Eucharistic adoration, and to share in the first Benediction. “Blessed are you,” she says to Mary. “Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Blessed are you who believed.” Three times, she speaks the word “Blessed.” I can’t help but be reminded of our own Benediction, when the bells ring three times, and then we chant the divine praises: “Blessed be God…”
7) Mary needed the wisdom and strength of an older woman? In Rumer Godden’s exquisite novel In This House of Brede, there is a moment when Abbess Catherine, who has been elevated to that office in a time of unusual stress for the Brede Abbey, also contemplates this moment in the Gospel: Every evening at Vespers in these days, Abbess Catherine, as if echoing the Abbot’s words, thought, as the antiphon to the Magnificat was sung, of the Visitation, when the Virgin Mary, with the angel’s announcement beating in her heart, had gone “in haste,” as Saint Luke says, to visit her far older cousin. Why, wondered Abbess Catherine, did the theologians always teach – and we take it for granted – that Mary went simply to succor Elizabeth? Probably she did do that, but could it not also have been that she needed the wisdom and strength of an older woman? How wonderfully reassuring Elizabeth’s salutation must have been : “Whence is this that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” A recognition without being told, and Mary, as if heartened, touched into bloom by the warmth and honor of that recognition, had flowered into the Magnificat.
8) Western Schism and feast of visitation: On November 9, 1389, it was decreed by Pope Boniface IX that the Feast of the Visitation should be extended to the entire Catholic Church in the hope that Jesus and His Mother would visit the Church and put an end to the Great Schism that was taking place.
This Schism was known as the “Western Schism.” The New Catholic Dictionary, (Van Rees Press, NY, Copyright 1929), reports the Western Schism as follows:
“The cause of the so-called Western Schism was the temporary residence of the popes at Avignon, France, which began in 1309 under Clement V. This exile from the Eternal City met with opposition, especially in Italy where the people clamored for the return of the sovereign pontiff. Finally in 1376 Gregory XI reestablished his see in Rome, and on his death, 1378, the future residence of the vicars of Christ was the main issue in the subsequent conclave. The cardinals meeting in the Holy City duly elected Urban VI, an Italian. General dissatisfaction, especially on the part of the French members of the Sacred College, and disagreement concerning the validity of the choice led to a second conclave at Fondi (20 Sept.) and the election of another pope, a Frenchman, as Clement VII, who immediately took up his residence in Avignon. As both claimed to be legitimate successors, the Western Church quickly divided into two camps, each supporting one or the other. There was really no schism, for the majority of the people desired unity under one head and intended no revolt against papal authority. Everywhere the faithful faced the anxious problem: where is the true pope? Even saints and theologians were divided on the question. Unfortunately, led by politics and human desires, the papal claimants launched excommunications against each other, and deposed secular rulers who in turn forbade their subjects to submit to them. This misunderstanding lasted forty years (1378-1417). An attempt to mend the breach at the Council of Pisa (1409), produced a third claimant and the schism was not terminated until the Council of Constance (1414-18), which deposed the Pisan, John XXIII, received the abdication of the Roman, Gregory XII, dismissed the Avignon Benedict XIII, and finally elected an undisputed pope, Martin V (11 Nov., 1417).” Imagine the confusion that the people must have had to tolerate in those days when communication was limited to traveling by foot or by horse. The faithful would hear of one pope here and another one there. Consequently, the Lord Jesus and His Mother visited the Catholic Church and resolved the situation to secure that Apostolic succession would continue as we enjoy it today.
9) “Please come back again!“ An electrician did a small job, one afternoon, for a popular local restaurant. He met many of the employees and management, and he was very impressed by how friendly everyone was. He and his wife had never been there before, so the following week, they went to the restaurant for dinner. And, during dinner, the man kept mentioning to his wife how nice everyone was when he did the job there and that they almost made him feel like he was part of the crew. They had a wonderful dinner, and finished off a bottle of fine wine. When the check came, the man was amazed at how little the bill was, and noticed that the waiter had written “50% Off” on the check and deducted that amount. He showed this to his wife. He mentioned just how incredibly nice everyone was at this restaurant. And even though he only worked there for just one afternoon, they gave him this great discount. He paid the check and thanked the waiter for the generosity of the restaurant and staff. On the way out, the man stepped into the kitchen to personally thank the chef, and shook hands with everyone on the crew (about a dozen employees), expressing his appreciation for the great dinner and discount. He also left a note for the owner, thanking him, and offering him 50% off his next electrical maintenance job. On his way out the door, he thanked the maitre d’ for the generous discount. The maitre d’ then explained to him that not only did the man and his wife get the discount, but everyone else in the place did also. He said, “Sir, tonight, and every Tuesday, is ‘Half-Price Night.’ But I have to tell you that you are the only customer in the history of this restaurant to thank the entire kitchen crew and the owner for having it…. Please come back again!” One of the attributes of a grace-filled life is a spirit of gratitude. What a wondrous and glorious blessing! The Gospel today demonstrates that with a true spirit of gratitude comes the spirit of generosity. The Magnificat teaches gratitude; the Visitation teaches generosity.
10) The sonnet, entitled “The Visitation“, and today’s feast, celebrate one wonderful moment of our salvation as Mary shares with Elizabeth the arrival of the “hidden God”. The poem was written by American poet Joyce Kilmer (1886–1918), author of “Trees.” It has a dedication to fellow-American poet, Louise Imogen Guiney. A sergeant in the 165th US Infantry Regiment, Kilmer was killed at the Second Battle of Marne in 1918 at the age of 31.
There is a wall of flesh before the eyes
Of John, who yet perceives and hails his King.
It is Our Lady’s painful bliss to bring
Before mankind the Glory of the skies.
Her cousin feels her womb’s sweet burden rise
And leap with joy, and she comes forth to sing,
With trembling mouth, her words of welcoming.
She knows her hidden God, and prophesies.
Saint John, pray for us, weary souls that tarry
Where life is withered by sin’s deadly breath.
Pray for us, whom the dogs of Satan harry,
Saint John, Saint Anne, and Saint Elizabeth.
And, Mother Mary, give us Christ to carry
Within our hearts, that we may conquer death.
11) History of the Feast of the Visitation: This feast is of medieval origin. It was kept by the Franciscan Order before 1263 when Saint Bonaventure recommended it and the Franciscan chapter adopted it. The Franciscan Breviary spread it to many Churches. In 1389, Pope Urban VI inserted it in the Roman Calendar, for celebration on 2 July, hoping thereby to obtain an end to the Great Western Schism,. In the Tridentine Calendar, it was a Double. When that Missal of Pope Pius V was replaced by the Missal of Pope Clement VIII in 1604, the Visitation became a Double of the Second Class. It remained so until Pope John XXIII reclassified it as a Second-Class Feast in 1962. It continued to be assigned to 2 July, the day after the end of the octave following the feast of the birth of John the Baptist, who was still in his mother’s womb at the time of the Visitation. In 1969, however, Pope Paul VI moved it to 31 May, “between the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord (25 March) and that of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June), so that it would harmonize better with the Gospel story.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visitation_(Christianity))
12) When Pregnancy Met Pregnancy (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in The World’s First Love): One of the most beautiful moments in history was that when pregnancy met pregnancy, when child-bearers became the first heralds of the King of Kings. All pagan religions begin with the teachings of adults, but Christianity begins with the birth of a Child. From that day to this, Christians have ever been the defenders of the family and the love of generation. If we ever sat down to http://www.ignatius.com/Products/WFL2-P/the-worlds-first-love-2nd-edition.aspx?src=iinsightwrite out what we would expect the Infinite God to do, certainly the last thing we would expect would be to see Him imprisoned in a carnal ciborium for nine months; and the next to last thing we would expect is that the “greatest man ever born of woman” while yet in his mother’s womb, would salute the yet imprisoned God-man. But this is precisely what took place in the Visitation. (http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2011/fsheen_visitationwfl_may2011.asp)
13) Dutch painter Rembrandt’s visitation painting: The 17th century Dutch painter Rembrandt however, paints for us a very different picture of this Biblical scene. Mary, the mother of our Lord, and Elizabeth are not dressed like royalty. Instead of wearing colorful robes and royal dress they have on simple cloaks. They meet outside of a dwelling in the hill country, in a town of Judah. They are not surrounded by cherubs and seraphim – no angels. Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, in his old age, leans upon the shoulders of a boy, to support his steps. This visitation looks like a rather ordinary scene. In this painting, a common dog is walking by Mary and Elizabeth, paying them no mind. Rembrandt paints a golden beam upon the two women to shine light upon their interaction. Elizabeth, in a flash of recognition, joyfully grabs the shoulders of Mary to hug her, exclaiming, “Blessed are you Mary! Why is this given to me that you, the Mother of my Lord, should come to me!” With Elizabeth – her facial expression, body language, and intense gaze into Mary’s eyes suggest an awareness that they stand at the beginning of a new world – as Jesus lies in the womb of young Mary. Mary in an upright posture lets a servant remove her common cloak. A man behind her holds a bridled mule, indicating the distance of her travel. So alarmed is Elizabeth that she cries out in great surprise, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This simple plea of Elizabeth is an act of worship, a Divine hymn, “Who am I Lord! Who are we that the Lord should come near to us?” (For larger picture visit: http://james-a-watkins.hubpages.com/hub/Rembrandt-is-my-favorite-artist
14) Elizabeth in Islam: Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, the mother of John the Baptist and the sister of Mary, is an honored woman in Islam. Although Zechariah himself is frequently mentioned by name in the Qur’an, Elizabeth, while not mentioned by name, is referenced. Islamic tradition, like Christianity, gives her the name. She is revered by Muslims as a wise, pious and believing person who, like her sister Mary, was exalted by God to a high station. She lived in the household of Amram, and is said to have been a descendant of the prophet and priest Aaron.Zechariah and his wife were both devout and steadfast in their duties. They were, however, both very old and they had no son. Therefore, Zechariah would frequently pray to God for a son. This was not only out of the desire to have a son but also because the great apostle wanted someone to carry on the services of the Temple of prayer and to continue the preaching of the Lord’s message after his death. God cured Elizabeth’s barrenness and granted Zechariah a son, Yahya (John the Baptist), who became a prophet. God thus granted the wishes of the couple because of their Faith, Trust and Love for God. In the Qur’an, God speaks of Zechariah, his wife and John and describes the three as being humble servants of the LORD: “So We listened to him: and We granted him John: We cured his wife’s (Barrenness) for him. These (three) were ever quick in emulation in good works; they used to call on Us with love and reverence, and humble themselves before Us.” (Qur’an, chapter 21 (Prophets), verse 90) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_(biblical_figure)’
15) He came in our midst: The Russians have for centuries told a legend about a young medieval prince, Alexis, who lived in a sumptuous palace, while all around, in filthy hovels, lived hundreds of poor peasants. The Prince was moved with compassions for these poor folk and determined to better their lot. So he began to visit them. But as he moved in and out among them he found that he’d got absolutely no point of contact with them. They treated him with enormous respect, almost worship; but he was never able to win their confidences, still less their affection, and he returned to the palace a defeated and disappointed young man. Then one day a very different man came among the people. He was a rough and ready young doctor who also wanted to devote his life to serving the poor. He started by renting a filthy rat-ridden shack in one of the back streets. He made no pretense of being superior – his clothes (like theirs) were old and tattered and he lived simply on the plainest food, often without knowing where the next meal was coming from. He made no money from his profession because he treated most people free and gave away his medicines. Before long, this young doctor had won the respect and affection of all those people, as Prince Alexis had never succeeded in doing. He was one of them. And little by little he transformed the whole spirit of the place, settling quarrels, reconciling enemies, helping people to live decent lives. No one ever guessed that this young doctor was in fact the Prince himself, who had abandoned his palace and gone down among his people to become one of them. -That’s just what God did on that first Christmas day. He came right down side by side with us to help us to become the sort of beings He intends us to be. Let’s wait so that God will come and empty us of falsehood and fill us with joy! (John Williams; quoted by Fr. Botelho)
16) Small men accomplishing great things by doing God’s will: On the morning of the 4th of December 1982 in Melbourne (Australia) Nick Vujicic was born. His parents were shocked because their first born had neither hands nor legs. A baby boy without legs and hands. It took a number of months of tears, questions and grief before they were able to come to terms within their own hearts. Nick grew up with the support of his parents and gained strength to challenge his own destiny. Still young, he now has a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. He is also a motivational speaker and loves to go out and share his story with others. In his speeches he emphasizes that God has a plan, and we must accept the plan of God and submit to the will of God. These words come from a man who does not have hands and legs. (Watch: https://youtu.be/zOzsjEmjjHs). That makes it all the more meaningful. St Francis of Assisi is recognized as “a man of peace”. His message revolutionized Assisi and spread to the ends of Italy and to the whole Christendom. The call of Gandhiji to give up violence and love peace crossed the boundaries of India, and worked miracle in Montgomery, Alabama in America, through Martin Luther King. How did these small men achieve great success? Only by listening to the call of God and with the unconditional response, “Here am I Lord! I come to do Thy will.” (Fr. Bobby Jose).
17) “Little drops make an ocean.”
Little drops of water
Little grains of sand
Make the mighty ocean
And the beauteous land
Little deeds of kindness,
Little words of love,
Make our earth an Eden,
Like the heaven above
And the little moments,
Humble though they be,
Make the mighty ages.
Of eternity. (Mrs. J. A. Carney)
18) The God of small things! Little Anita had a very busy father. He was a dot-com engineer who made a lot of money but had little time to be with his family. Every night, however, Anita insisted that her father read a story before she would go to sleep. This continued for some time till the man found a ‘solution’. He bought Anita a colourful kid’s tape player and made a tape of her favorite stories in the story book. Whenever, therefore, the child asked him to read her a story he would simply push the button and play back the tape-recorded stories. Anita took that for a few days and then revolted and refused to accept the stories on tape. “Why” asked her father, “the tape reads the stories as good as I do!” “Ya,” replied the little girl, “But I can’t sit on his lap.” –Remember, Christmas celebrates the gift of God’s presence in our lives. Let us be present to the people who need us –especially the little ones. (John Pichappilly in The Table of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
19) Attitude changes things! One day a lady who lived in town looked out of her window and saw a big truck pull up to her house. Out jumped five rascals and started unloading electric guitars and loudspeakers and drums…. They took them to the neighbour’s house. The woman was furious. Now her night’s rest and her ears and her life would be ruined by all the noise that would come from the house. Her husband came home from work and she began to scream at him, “We’ve got to move away from here or else we’ll go deaf and mad with that string band next door. But he calmed her down a bit and said, “Honey, why are you angry? Don’t you realize who those musicians are? They are the famous Sanguma String band that plays overseas to large crowds…. Woman, we should be glad they are here; we’ll be getting all this famous music for free.” His wife’s frown turned to a smile. She ran to the telephone and began to call her friends to come over sometime and take advantage of the Sanguma Band…. How attitude changes everything! Our attitude to Jesus too can change everything! (See 1000 Stories You Can Use; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
20) Love in action: On 13th July 2006, in the Deccan Herald, this heroic deed of a pregnant woman appeared. Jessica Bates was expected to give birth to twins any day, but that did not stop her from rushing to the aid of a neighbour in distress. Just before midnight on Saturday, Bates was in her living room watching her two-year old daughter and another child when she heard a cry for help. Bates, 22, rushed across the street to an apartment, where flames were visible through the window. The woman who lived there, Barbara Wellman, was paralyzed from waist down. “I knew she was in a wheelchair, and that’s why I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’” Bates told a newspaper. She found Wellman in the front part of the house and dragged her wheelchair by the foot pedals to the sidewalk. Bates then started banging on the neighbours’ doors, warning them to flee. Another neighbour doused the flames with a garden hose before the fire department showed up to extinguish it. Wellman aged 45, had lived for twenty years in that apartment and that day she escaped without much serious injury, thanks to the courage and love of a woman. Bates, later, said that she was always willing to help those in need. “I don’t look at it as being a hero; I just looked at it like helping someone. I knew it was a risk to myself, but I couldn’t leave her,” said Bates. – Today’s Gospel talks of another woman who reached out to an elderly woman in need! (John Rose in John’s Sunday Homilies; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
21) To love is to serve! The country doctor Brunoy had just said goodbye to his colleagues who had confirmed that Jean, the doctor’s only son, would die in a few hours of diphtheria. The anti-toxin injections had been too late. As he now sat with his wife by the boy’s bedside awaiting the child’s death the doorbell rang. The doctor shouted to his secretary, “I don’t want to see anyone.” But the visitor would not go away. It was the farmer Rivaz who had walked 10 kilometres from Roseland. His son was sick. “I’ll come tomorrow” the doctor told him. “But if you don’t come now, he won’t make it through the night,” the farmer insisted. They began a discussion. “You can cure my son.” “But mine’s lost, he’s beyond all cure.” “But mine isn’t.” “Well, I’ll come tomorrow morning.” “Then it will be too late.” “Let me close the eyes of my dying child.” “But if you cannot help him any longer.” “As long as my son is alive, I’ll remain with him.” “All right, then both the children will die.” The doctor then asked for the symptoms of the boy’s sickness and they were the same as his son’s had been. But it was still not too late to save him. So the doctor decided to go with the farmer. (Ludolf Ulrich in 1000 Stories You Can Use; quoted by Fr. Botelho).
22) With eyes wide shut: In his book Beyond East and West John Wu has a fascinating passage. It reads as follows: “My wife and I had never seen each other before marriage. Both of us were brought up in the old Chinese way. It was our parents who engaged us to each other, when we were barely six years of age. In my early teens I came to know where her house was. I had an intense desire to have a glimpse of her. In coming back from school, I sometimes took a roundabout way so as to pass by the door of her house… but I never had the good fortune to see her.” Wu goes on to say that he realizes the old Chinese marriage sounds incredible to Western readers. Some of his own Western friends could hardly believe it at first. Wu says he was surprised his friends found the system so incredible. He asked them whether they chose their parents, brothers and sisters. Then he said, “And don’t you love them just the same?” John Wu’s passage from his book helps us to appreciate better the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth before Jesus’ birth. Faith makes the difference! (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).
23) Small men achieving big success by responding to God’s call: On the morning of the 4th of December 1982 in Melbourne (Australia) Nick Vujicic was born. His parents were shocked because their first born had neither hands nor legs. A baby boy without legs and hands. It took a number of months of tears, questions and grief before they were able to come to terms within their own hearts. Nick grew up with the support of his parents and gained strength to challenge his own destiny. Now young and he has a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. He is also a motivational speaker and loves to go out and share his story with others. In his speeches he emphasizes that God has a plan, and we must accept the plan of God and submit to the will of God. These words come from a man who does not have hands and legs. That makes it all the more meaningful. St Francis of Assisi is recognized as “a man of peace”. His message revolutionized Assisi and spread to the ends of Italy and to the whole Christendom. The call of Gandhiji to give up violence and love peace crossed the boundaries of India and worked miracle in Montgomery (U. S. A.), through Martin Luther King. How did these small men achieve great success? Only by listening to the call of God and with the unconditional response, “Here am I lord to do thy will.” That was the prayer of Jesus throughout his life, even at the last moments in Gethsemane and Calvary, “O father, let Thy will be done.” (Fr. Bobby Jose). L/18
“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No 5) by Fr. Tony: firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: For Christmas, two thematic homilies and four lectionary-based homilies and 41 anecdotes will be sent next week. Fr. Tony
Visit this website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed or previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at email@example.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.
Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.