What are we really celebrating at Christmas?

pax-christi-nativity

The short answer to this question, of course, is “We celebrate Jesus’ birthday.”

But if we stop there, and regard the holiday as just another historical anniversary, we would overlook the life-changing truth: God became man, and was born of the Virgin, to fulfill his saving plan for you.

Jesus knows us, intimately and personally, because He is truly God, the Son of the Father. Existing from all eternity, He thought of us and loved us, eons before He created us.

That’s why the Son descended from heaven and became a baby in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus was undertaking a divine mission to redeem us from our sins and make it possible for us to enjoy life with God forever.

Therein lies the radical newness of Christmas, its fundamental difference from the usual events of human history. Instead of receding ever further away from us over time, Christmas marks a new stage of the relationship between God and humankind – a relationship that is ongoing, touching each one of us, and drawing us toward union with God.

Benedict XVI has spoken movingly of the meaning of Christmas:

At Christmas, therefore, we do not limit ourselves to commemorating the birth of a great figure: we do not simply and abstractly celebrate the birth of the man or in general the mystery of life…

A great light really was lit: the Creator of the universe became flesh, uniting Himself indissolubly with human nature…made Himself tangible to our senses and our minds: we may now touch Him and contemplate Him.

Thus the Word of God “is a ‘Word’ addressed to us…a Person who is concerned with every individual person: He is the Son of the living God Who became man…”

We rejoice that God is not a “remote being, Whom it would never be possible to reach, but a God Who made Himself our neighbor and Who is very close to us, Who has time for each one of us and Who came to stay with us.”

Quotes from General Audience of December 17, 2008

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Engaging the Gospel – Corpus Christi

Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Year C): Gospel – Luke 9:11b-17

“The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through His disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of His Eucharist,” the Catechism teaches (paragraph 1335).

Hence one of the names of this Most Blessed Sacrament is “the Breaking of Bread, because Jesus used this rite, part of a Jewish meal, when as master of the table He blessed and distributed the bread, above all at the Last Supper” (1329), “giving His disciples His Body and His Blood” (1339).

In the Eucharist, “the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ — and therefore, the whole Christ — is truly, really, and substantially contained” (1374).

To strengthen our faith in this extraordinary gift, St John Paul II expressed “with deep emotion” his own “testimony of faith” in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (59-60):

Here is the Church’s treasure, the heart of the world, the pledge of the fulfillment for which each man and woman, even unconsciously, yearns. A great and transcendent mystery, indeed….

In the Eucharist we have Jesus, we have His redemptive sacrifice, we have His resurrection, we have the gift of the Holy Spirit, we have adoration, obedience and love of the Father. Were we to disregard the Eucharist, how could we overcome our own deficiency?

Question for reflection: How does receiving the Eucharist satisfy my deepest need?

Engaging the Gospel – Most Holy Trinity

Most Holy Trinity: Gospel – John 16:12-15

God’s interior life as Holy Trinity is “a mystery that is inaccessible to reason alone, or even to Israel’s faith, before the Incarnation of God’s Son and the sending of the Holy Spirit,” as the Catechism notes (237):

The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – reveals Himself to men and reconciles and unites with Himself those who turn away from sin (234).

As St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389) wrote,

the Old Testament proclaimed the Father clearly, but the Son more obscurely. The New Testament revealed the Son and gave us a glimpse of the divinity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit dwells among us and grants us a clearer vision of Himself (quoted in 684).

Through the revelation of the Holy Trinity, we see that God exists in an eternal relationship of love, and He “freely wills to communicate the glory of His blessed life” (257) to us:

By the grace of Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we are called to share in the life of the Blessed Trinity, here on earth in the obscurity of faith, and after death in eternal light (265).

Question for reflection: When have I felt that God was leading me patiently into a deeper knowledge of Him?

Engaging the Gospel – Pentecost

Gospel – John 7:37-39 (Vigil), (Year C) John 20:19-23 or John 14:15-16, 23b-26

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit fulfills Old Testament prophecy, and continues in the life of the Church, as the Catechism explains:

In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for His saving mission…[Jesus’] whole life and His whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit Whom the Father gives Him “without measure.”

This fullness of the Spirit was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people…a promise which [Christ] fulfilled first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost.

–Catechism paragraphs 1286-87

From that time on, the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism…The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.

–Paul VI, quoted in Catechism 1288

Through the anointing of the sacrament of Confirmation, we receive the indelible “mark, the seal of the Holy Spirit. A seal is a symbol of a person, a sign of personal authority, or ownership of an object” (1295).

“This seal of the Holy Spirit marks our total belonging to Christ, our enrollment in His service for ever, as well as the promise of divine protection in the great eschatological trial” (1296).

The “effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the full outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost” (1303).

Question for reflection: How have I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in my life?

 

Engaging the Gospel – Ascension of the Lord

Ascension of the Lord (Year C): Gospel – Luke 24:46-53

“Jesus’ final apparition [to the disciples] ends with the irreversible entry of His humanity into divine glory,” His Ascension into heaven, where He is “exalted at the Father’s right hand” (Catechism paragraphs 659-660).

“Being seated at the Father’s right hand signifies the inauguration of the Messiah’s kingdom” (664) and reveals that “Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history” (668).

To extend the reign of His kingdom on earth, He instructs His disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations, a command handed down the ages, even to our own day.

In one respect, “the Church is catholic [literally, ‘universal’] because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race” (831).

As the Vatican II document Lumen gentium states,

All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God’s will may be fulfilled: He made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all His children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one (quoted in 831).

Question for reflection: In what ways do I express solidarity with fellow Christians around the world?

Engaging the Gospel – Sixth Sunday of Easter

6th Sunday of Easter: Gospel – John 14:23-29

Jesus tells the disciples that the Father will send the Holy Spirit to them. The Catechism explains:

Before His Passover, Jesus announced the sending of ‘another Paraclete’ (Advocate), the Holy Spirit. At work since creation, having previously spoken through the prophets, the Spirit will now be with and in the disciples, to teach them and guide them into all the truth.

–paragraph 243.

This knowledge of faith is possible only in the Holy Spirit: to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit. He comes to meet us and kindles faith in us (683).

The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls His word to them, and opens their minds to the understanding of His death and resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist…(737).

The Holy Spirit, whose anointing permeates our whole being, is the interior Master of Christian prayer (2672).

The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era in the ‘dispensation of the mystery’ – the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates His work of salvation through the liturgy of His Church, until He comes (1076).

Question for reflection: When have I been comforted by a timely reminder of Jesus’ words?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Easter

5th Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 13:31-33a, 34-35

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

The Catechism teaches:

The entire Law of the Gospel is contained in the ‘new commandment’ of Jesus, to love one another as He has loved us (paragraph 1970).

The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear; a law of grace, because it confers the strength of grace to act, by means of faith and the sacraments; a law of freedom…lets us pass from the condition of a servant…to that of a friend of Christ…or even to the status of son and heir (1972).

Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see (2840).

It is impossible to keep the Lord’s commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by Whom we live can make ours the same mind that was in Christ Jesus (2842).

Question for reflection: Why do I sometimes fail to love others as I should?