The Journey of Faith – A Homily for Epiphany

There are so many wonderful details in the Epiphany story: the call of the Gentiles, their enthusiastic response, the significance of the star they seek, the gifts they bring, the dramatic interaction with Herod, and their ultimate rejection of Herod in favor of Christ.

In this meditation, I would like to follow these Magi in their journey of faith to become “Wise Men.” As magi, they followed the faint stars, distant points of light; as wise men, they follow Jesus, who is the ever-glorious Light from Light, true God from true God.

We can observe how they journey in stages from the light of a star to the bright and glorious Light of Jesus Christ. And, of course, to authentically encounter the Lord is to experience conversion. All the elements of this story ultimately serve to cause them to “return to their country by another route.” Let’s look at the stages of their journey from being mere magi to becoming, by God’s grace, wise men.

Stage 1: The CALL that COMPLETES – The text says, When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

Notice the identity of these individuals: they are labeled magi (μάγοι (magoi) in Greek) and are from the East.

Exactly what “magi” are is not clear. Perhaps they are learned men; perhaps they are ancient astronomers. We often think of them as kings, though the text of this passage does not call them that. It also seems likely that Herod would have been far more anxious had they been actual potentates from an Eastern kingdom. We often think of them as kings because Psalm 72 (read in today’s Mass) speaks of kings coming from the East bearing gifts of gold and frankincense. However, for the record, the text in today’s Gospel does not call them kings, but rather “magi.”

Yet here is their key identity: they are Gentiles who have been called. Up until this point in the Christmas story, only Jews had found their way to Bethlehem. This detail cannot be overlooked, for it is clear that the Gospel is going out to all the world. This call completes the Church, which needs both Jews and Gentiles.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul rejoices in this fact, saying, the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Eph 3:6). Because most of us are not Jewish by ancestry we ought to rejoice, for the call of these Magi prefigures our call.

Notice that God calls them through something in the natural world: a star. God uses something in creation to call out to them.

We do well to wonder what is the “star” that God uses to call each of us? Perhaps it is Scripture, but more typically God uses someone in our life in order to reach us: a parent, a family member, a friend, a priest, a religious sister, or a devoted lay person. Who are the stars in your life through whom God called you?

God can also use inanimate creation, as he did for these Magi. Perhaps it was a magnificent church, or a beautiful painting, or an inspirational song that reached you. Through something or someone, God calls each of us; He puts a star in our sky. These Wise Men, these Magi, followed the call of God and began their journey to Jesus.

Stage 2: The CONSTANCY that CONQUERS – Upon arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi find a rather confusing and perhaps discouraging situation. The reigning king, Herod, knows nothing of the birth of this new King. The Magi likely assumed that the newborn King would be related to the current king, so Herod’s surprise may have confused them. And Herod seems more than surprised; he seems threatened and agitated.

Even more puzzling, Herod calls in religious leaders to get further information about this new King. They open the sacred writings and the Magi hear of a promised King. Ah, so the birth of this King has religious significance! How interesting!

But these religious leaders seem unenthusiastic about the newborn King, and after providing the location of His birth, make no effort to follow the Magi. There is no rejoicing, no summoning of the people to tell them that a longed-for King has finally been born, not even further inquiry!

So the wicked (Herod and his court) are wakeful while the saints are sleepy. How odd this must have seemed to the Magi! Perhaps they even thought about abandoning their search. After all, the actual king knew nothing of this new King’s birth, and those people who did know about it seemed rather uninterested.

Ah, but praise the Lord, they persevered in their search; they did not give up!

Thanks be to God, too, that many today have found their way to Christ despite the fact that parents, clergy, and others who should have led them to Jesus were either asleep, ignorant, or just plain lazy. I am often amazed at some of the conversion stories I have heard: people who found their way to Christ and His Church despite some pretty daunting obstacles (e.g., poor religious upbringing, scandalous clergy, and poor role models). God sometimes allows our faith and call to be tested, but Those who persevere to the end will be saved (Matt 24:13).

To persevere is to open the door to wisdom, which often must be sought in spite of obstacles. This constancy is often what it takes to overcome the darkness and discouragements of the world.

Stage 3: The CONDESCENSION that CONFESSES – The text says, After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.

With what little information they have, the Magi set out and continue to follow the call of God through the star.

Note that they enter a “house.” We often think of the Magi as coming that same Christmas night to the cave or stable, but it seems not; Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are now in a house. Apparently they have been able to find decent lodging. Has it been days or weeks since Jesus’ birth? Regardless, it is likely not Christmas Day itself.

Notice, too, that they “prostrate” themselves before Jesus. The Greek word used is προσεκύνησαν (prosekunēsan), which means “to fall down in worship” or “to give adoration.” This word is used twelve times in the New Testament and each time it is clear that religious worship is the reason for the prostration.

This is no minor act of homage or sign of respect to an earthly king; this is religious worship. It is a confession of faith. The Magi manifest faith! The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. And these Magi are well on their way from being mere magi to being wise men!

But is their faith a real faith or just a perfunctory observance? It is not enough to answer an altar call or to get baptized. Faith is never alone; it is a transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. So let’s look for the effects of a real and saving faith.

Stage 4: The COST that COMES – There is a cost to discipleship. The Magi are moved to give three symbolic gifts that show some of what true faith includes. They are costly gifts.

Gold symbolizes all of our possessions. In laying this gift before Jesus, they and we are saying, “I acknowledge that everything I have is yours. I put all my resources and wealth under your authority and will use them only according to your will.” A conversion that has not reached the wallet is not complete.

Frankincense is a resin used in incense and symbolizes the gift of worship. In the Bible, incense is a symbol of prayer and worship (e.g., Psalm 141). In laying down this gift, we promise to pray and worship God all the days of our life, to be in His holy house each Sunday, to render Him the praise and worship He is due, to listen to His word and consent to be fed the Eucharist by Him, to worship Him worthily by frequent confession, and to praise Him at all times.

Myrrh is a strange gift for an infant; it is usually understood as a burial ointment. Surely this prefigures Jesus’ death, but it also symbolizes our own. In laying this gift before Jesus we are saying, “My life is yours. I want to die so that you may live your life in me. May you increase and may I decrease. Use me and my life as you will.”

Yes, these three gifts are highly symbolic.

The Magi manifest more than a little homage to Jesus. They are showing forth the fruits of saving faith. And if we can give these gifts, so are we.

In their holy reverence for God is wisdom in its initial stage!

Stage 5: The CONVERSION that is CLEAR – The text says, And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Here, then, is essential evidence for faith: conversion. It is not enough to get “happy” in Church; we have to obey. These Wise Men are walking differently now. They are not going home by the same way they came. They’ve changed direction; they’ve turned around (conversio). They are now willing to walk the straight and narrow path that leads to life rather than the wide road that leads to damnation. They are going to obey Christ. They are going to exhibit what St. Paul calls the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 16:26). They have not just engaged in perfunctory worship; they are showing signs of a true and saving faith. They are not just calling out to Jesus, “Lord, Lord!” They are doing what He tells them (cf Luke 6:46).

No longer mere magi, they are now wise men!

So there it is. Through careful stages, the Lord has brought the Gentiles (this means you and me) to conversion. He called these Magi to wisdom. They remained constant, confessed Him to be Lord, accepted the cost of discipleship, and manifested conversion. Have you? Have I?

Walk in the ways of these Wise Men! Wise men still seek Him; even wiser ones listen to and obey Him. Are we willing to go back to our country by another route? Is ongoing conversion part of our journey home to Heaven? Epiphany means “manifestation.” How is our faith made manifest in our deeds and conversion?

I have it on the best of authority that as the (now) Wise Men went home by another route, they were singing this gospel song:

It’s a highway to heaven!
None can walk up there
but the pure in heart.
I am walking up the King’s highway.
If you’re not walking,
start while I’m talking.
There’ll be a blessing
you’ll be possessing,
walking up the King’s highway.

Hail Mary Full of Grace, Punch the Devil in the Face: A Meditation on Spiritual Warfare

Some years ago I wrote a blog post, Is the Church a Cruise Ship or a Battleship? I was surprised at the amount of negative commentary I got. For example, “How dare you compare the Church to an instrument of war!” Other comments lamented recourse to any violent imagery, ever. Still others called for bans on songs such as “Onward Christian Soldiers,” “I am On the Battlefield for My Lord,” and so forth. You might say that the response from the anti-military group was “militant.” I certainly wasn’t feelin’ the love! Most of those comments I didn’t publish because I didn’t want “war” to erupt in the combox.

Of course the reference to a battleship was by way of analogy, not literal. No one is insisting that the Church should actually use sixteen inch guns against unbelievers or purveyors of sin. The battle is a spiritual one requiring spiritual weapons. This is why we call it spiritual warfare!

It is important in our times that we recover some sophistication when it comes to language and how people use it. Analogies, similes, metaphors and the like are not to be interpreted in a crudely literalistic way. Deadpan literalism usually shows a lack of sophistication and maturity needed to engage others in a real conversation about what is actually being said. It usually rejects the possibility of analogy or hyperbole and assumes bad will on the part of one’s interlocutor, looking to take offense when none is intended.

Earlier this year an article in The Atlantic made such laments and actually expressed fears of growing violence that might come from “traditional” Catholics with all their talk of “war,” and so forth.  The author claimed that the rosary was an example of  “extremist gun culture” among traditional (he calls them “rad-trad”) Catholics.   Of course the article and the author exhibited just the kind of unsophisticated deadpan literalism mentioned above and thereby exhibited a gravely deficient understanding of an ancient Catholic tradition and instinct that we call spiritual warfare. I wonder if he even talked to an actual traditional Catholic, or was he just looking for trouble? Further, how many mass shooters or violent gang shooters march under Catholic banners? None.

But as noted above, many inside the Church as well misunderstand the battle language of spiritual warfare and, as a result, are either offended or fearful about the metaphorical language used by the faithful. But this should invite investigation rather than quick rejection.

To all the hand-wringing associated with “violent imagery” I can only say, “Hail Mary, full of grace, punch the devil in the face.” In other words I don’t think apologies and changes are due when some take offense at metaphorical language the Church has used for the whole of her existence. The picture above of Mary punching the devil in the face is from the 13th Century. But the tradition of Mary and Jesus at war with the Devil is even older than that. If the use of violent imagery in the spiritual warfare against Satan and the kingdom of darkness is such a terrible thing, then God Himself never got the memo. God said in Genesis 3:15  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will crush your head while you will strike his heel. Gadzooks! Such violence!

In this vein, I have recently attracted some negative attention by referring in sermons and writings of the rosary as a “fifty-round clip” to fire at the devil. Again, most people “get it,” while a small but vocal minority object to such violent imagery. I upped the ante with my recent purchase of a “bullet rosary” (see photo at left). Such a image has sparked both whimsical understanding and instant outrage among those who have seen it. One woman protested that, with all the violent shootings and killing in our land, such a rosary is reprehensible. But this weapon, and these bullets are directed against Satan. Real bullets cannot harm Satan since he has no body. But the spiritual bullets of rosary prayers, other prayers, fasting, obedience  and so forth can inflict real harm on the kingdom of darkness. These are the practices  at the heart of spiritual warfare. The message of a “bullet rosary” is that unless we are willing to wage spiritual warfare we get physical warfare. Our Lady at Fatima said “Pray the rosary every day to bring peace to the world and the end of the war.” (1st Apparition May 13, 1917) 

The Rosary is the chief weapon of our times. To exasperated souls who lament the moral condition of this world comes the answer: “Pray the Rosary.” What are you waiting for? Take up your weapon and wage war against Satan. If we will not wage spiritual warfare what we will get is physical warfare: real bullets, tanks, planes bombs and all the death toll.

To those who still fret at the warlike imagery, I can only say, Sorry, but we are at war whether you like it or not. Satan wages war against the faithful and you’d better take up your weapons too. This war waged against us by Satan is responsible for most of the casualties you see lying about you: those addicted, those who die from hatred, racism and physical violence, the sexually confused, victims of the sexual revolution, those destroyed by drinking and overeating, those lost in greed, and those lost in confusion so deep they cannot even distinguish a man from a woman.  Yes, we are at war and the victims lie all about us. And if we will not choose sides and do battle, we are not just useless, we are on the other side.

Those who want to “sit on the fence” forget that Satan owns the fence. There are only two armies on the field. Tertium non datur (no third way is given).

Take up your beads, your fifty-round clip and start shooting. Blessed be the LORD, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle! (Psalm 144:1) The Church is not a clubhouse, she is a lighthouse meant to conquer the darkness. She is not a cruise ship, she is a battleship sent to despoil Satan by shooting rounds of truth snatching back souls from his lying grasp.

This is war. Fight or be conquered.

 

Some Brief Thoughts at the Passing of Pope Benedict

Many wonderful articles have already been published in reference to the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict. I can only affirm much of what I have read as to his scholarship, and the dignity with which he conducted the Office of the Papacy. To have such a renowned theologian as pope makes one think of Pope Gregory the Great who like Pope Benedict would have prefered the quiet of the monastery to the heavy weight of the chair of Peter.

Neither Gregory or Benedict had it easy. Tumultuous waves rocked the barque of Peter during Gregory’s time as the Roman Empire continued to crumble and the Lombards made their steady advance. Pope Benedict XVI endured the storms of the collapsing Western culture, lamenting that the lights were going out in Europe and he warned us of the “dictatorship of relativism” that we now know all too well.

Surely, if the lights were going out in the dying West, the Church must all the more be as a lighthouse in the deepening dark. I was certain that Pope Benedict was just the man the Lord could use. But Pope Benedict also sensed the wolves were near, and asked us to pray that he not flee from them. Sadly, as we know, for reasons of his own, he chose to step aside. I cannot doubt that he thought it best for the Church, but I must still lament the loss of his light in a world sinking into deeper darkness and murky confusion. It is zero-dark thirty for the Western world we once called Christendom.  And we, the Church, called to be the light of the world, are terribly divided and caught in a morass of scandal, ambiguity and confusion.

I can only ask God to receive Pope Benedict XIV into the arms of His mercy and permit his prayers for us to be like a ray of light shining past the barrier of death on a gloomy and storm-tossed world.  Permit my informal cry like a son to his father: “Papa Ratzi pray for us! And we too prayer for your repose, dear and Holy Father.”

Sometimes when you struggle to cry, humor has a role in releasing sorrow and also pent up joy. In that vein, I’d like to include a short video I put together many years ago that celebrated the photogenic quality of Pope Benedict. His face is wonderfully expressive. I hope you might enjoy a one minute diversion down memory lane as a moment too of prayer.

I also put together another video of the Pope as a pilgrim and world traveler set to Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Enjoy a toe tapper of a song with photos showing the Pope’s far flung travels.

This Pope’s Been Everywhere! 

 

 

The Rich Tapestry of Faith On New Years Day

The feast day of January 1st is a very complex tapestry, both culturally and liturgically. Perhaps we can use the second reading by St. Paul to the Galatians as a way to weave through some of the many details. We can look at it in three parts.

I. The chronology of our celebration– The text from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians says, When the fullness of time had come …

Most people are going about today saying, “Happy New Year!” And rightfully so, for it is the beginning of a new year; but most people think of New Year’s Day in almost wholly secular terms. Sadly, it is best known as an occasion for loud parties and excessive drinking.

It is a mistake to view New Year’s Day simply as a secular holiday. In speaking of “the fullness of time,” St. Paul reminds us that all time and all ages belong to God.

It is not simply 2023; it is 2023 Anno Domini (A.D.). Even the most unbelieving of people in the Western world denote their place in time in relation to Jesus Christ. It is 2023 years since the birth of Christ. Every time we write the date on a check or at the top of a letter, every time we see it at the top of the newspaper or on our computer screen, that number, 2023, points back to Christ. He is the Lord of history. Jesus sets the date; He is the clock by which we measure. All time belongs to Him.

Jesus says in the book of Revelation, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, The beginning and the end. He who is, and who was, and who is to come (Rev 22:13).

If it is true that 2023 references the birth of Christ, then why is Christmas Day not also New Year’s Day? The fact that it is not actually makes a lot of sense if we understand liturgical and spiritual sensibilities.

In the Church and stretching back into ancient Jewish times, it was customary to celebrate the high feasts of faith over the period of a week. In Christian tradition this came to be known as the “octave.” Although we think of a week as comprising seven days, consider that we celebrated Christmas this past Sunday and now this week we celebrate New Year’s Day on Sunday; Sunday to Sunday, inclusive, is eight days.

Tuesday, January 1, 2023 is the eighth day of Christmas. In the Christian tradition, the octave is considered as one long “day” that lasts for eight days. Therefore, Tuesday, January 1, 2023 completes Christmas day; it is fulfilled. Or, as St. Paul says, the “fullness of time” in terms of Christmas day has come. At the end of this eight-day Christmas day, our calendar flips from 2022 to 2023 A.D.

The rest of the secular world has largely moved on already, barely thinking of Christmas anymore. As I walk in my neighborhood, I see Christmas trees already set out at the curb waiting to be picked up by the recycling trucks. Yes, for many in our hurried world, Christmas is over. We in the Church, however, continue to celebrate the great Christmas feast and cycle. Having completed the octave, we move on to Epiphany week.

This New Year’s Day we contemplate the “fullness of time.” The passage of another year reminds us of the magnificent truth that to God all time—past, present, and future—is equally present. He holds all things together in Himself. He is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. Whenever He acts, He acts in our time, out of the fullness of time. This is a very deep mystery and we should ponder in silence the mystery that for God, all things are. He is not waiting for things to happen. For Him, everything is accomplished.

II. The content of our celebration – St. Paul goes on to say, God sent forth his son born of a woman. This statement again reminds that we are still in the Christmas cycle.

While it is New Year’s Day, there is also a complex tapestry of religious meanings to this day as well. It is still Christmas day, the eighth day of the one long day that we call Christmas.

Historically, this is also the day of Christ’s circumcision. For a long period in Church history, today was the feast of “The Circumcision of the Lord.” As I have written previously, I regret the loss of this feast, at least in terms of its title.

Today is the day when Joseph and Mary brought Christ to be circumcised. In this, Jesus as man and as God reverences the covenant He has made with His people. It is a beautiful truth that God seeks relationship with His people. In this covenantal act of the circumcision is the moving truth that Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers (Heb 2:11).

There is the first shedding of Jesus’ blood. It is also a sign of His love for us.

This feast day also celebrates the Most Holy Name of Jesus, for not only was a Jewish boy circumcised on the eighth day, but he was also given his name; all heard that name for the first time on that day.

The name Jesus means “God saves.” Indeed, this Most Holy Name of Jesus, when used in reverence, has saving power. We are baptized in His Holy Name along with that of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and all of our prayers conclude with His Holy Name. Scripture says this of His great and holy name:

Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2: 9-11).

Yet another meaning of today’s feast day is shown in its current, formal title: “The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.” This replaced the title of “The Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord” in 1970. However, it is the most ancient title for this feast day. Again, you may read more on this topic in a previous blog post.

We note in the second reading that St. Paul says that God sent forth his Son, born of a woman. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father; He is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. Jesus is God, and because Mary gave birth to Him, she is the Mother of God because Jesus is not two different persons.

Mary did not just give birth to part of Jesus, she gave birth to Jesus. Thus, the title “Mother of God” speaks to us as much about Jesus as it does about Mary. She has that title because of the Church’s insistence that Jesus cannot be divided up into two different people. We cannot say that Mary gave birth to one Jesus but not to “the other one.” Although He has two natures, human and divine, there is only one Jesus.

Thus, on this feast of Christmas, on this eighth day of Christmas, we are reminded and solemnly taught that Jesus is both human and divine. In taking a human nature to Himself from His mother Mary, He remains one person. God has sent forth his son, born of woman.

III. The consolation of our celebration– St. Paul goes on to say, Born under the law to ransom those under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son in our hearts crying out Abba, Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and, if a son, also an heir through God. Note three things about this passage:

Our Adoption– We have already noted that on the eighth day Jesus is circumcised and enters into the Covenant, into the Law. In the Incarnation, He joins the human family; in the Covenant, He joins our family of faith. He will fulfill the old Covenant and inaugurate the new one. By this New Covenant, by baptism into Him, we become members of His Body and are thereby adopted as sons.

We become sons in the Son. When God the Father looks at His Son, loving Him, He is also looking at us and loving us, for we are in Christ Jesus, members of His Body through baptism. God is now our Father, not in an allegorical sense, but in a very real sense. We are in Jesus and therefore God really is our Father.

Our Acclamation– St. Paul says that the proof of our sonship is the movement of the Holy Spirit in us that cries out Abba! In Aramaic and Hebrew, Abba is the family term for father. It is not baby talk, like “Dada.” However, just as most adults call their father “Dad” or some other endearment rather than the more formal “Father,” so Abba is used in a similar way. It would be quite a daring thing for us to call God “Dad” unless we were permitted to do so and instructed to do so by Christ.

St. Paul speaks of this word, Abba, as proof that we are sons. In so doing, he emphasizes that it is not merely the saying of the word that he refers to. Even a parrot can be taught to say the word. Rather, St. Paul is referring to what the word represents: an inner movement of the Holy Spirit wherein we experience a deep affection for God the Father. By our adoption, our baptism into Christ, by our reception of the Holy Spirit, we love the Father! We develop a deep affection for Him and dread offending Him. By this gift of the Spirit, God is our Father, whom we deeply love!

Our Advancement– Notice that St. Paul then speaks of how we have moved from being slaves to being sons, heirs. In Jesus, we are not just any son; we are the only Son of the Father. As Jesus has a kingdom from His Father, so do we as we too inherit it with Him. As sons in the Son, we are heirs with Jesus to the Kingdom!  Jesus speaks of His disciples as reigning with Him one day: And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me (Lk 22:29). In Jesus, all Heaven will be ours and we will reign with Him forever. This is not our doing, not our glory; it is Christ’s doing and His glory in which we share.

Thus we have a very rich tapestry on this New Year’s Day, this feast of the Octave of Christmas, this Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, this Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, this Feast of Mary, Mother of God. We are given this feast wherein the glory of Christ is held before us and we who are members of His Body are told of the gifts that we receive by His holy incarnation and His passion, death, and resurrection.

It’s not a bad way to start the new year: being reminded of God’s incredible love for us and of His rich blessings and promises.

On The Feast of the Holy Innocents, A Meditation on the Sins Committed Against Children

Today, we observe the feast of the Holy Innocents, a feast commemorating the young children, of even younger age who were cruelly murdered by the paranoid and crazed killer known as Herod “the Great.” So paranoid was he that others might usurp or limit his power that he killed three of his own sons, and his wife. He ruthlessly killed many others as well. As his own death drew near, according to Josephus,  Herod decreed that in order that the nation properly mourn his death, one member of each family should be killed in his honor, and thus the mourning in all Israel for him would be sincere. His last and final act as King was to rise from his death bed and sentence to death a group of Jewish zealots who had removed an Eagle he place over the entrance of the temple. They had thought the image a desecration. Having killed them, he himself died (in bed) the next day.

Herod was a cruel tyrant and a ruthless and paranoid killer. Calling him “the Great” can only be a reference to his skill in architecture and building and to his headship of the equally cruel Herodian dynasty.

Yet here Christ was born and found, in the midst of crisis and disaster. More than ever, the Christmas message is relevant. For despite our cruelty and despite the crises of this world, Christ is still to be found. He was born in one of the most crisis-torn regions of the world. He bids us to find him in just these sorts of places and times, as if to say, there is still hope: The mercies of the Lord are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent; it is renewed each morning (Lam 3:22-23).

That he was willing to be born in such circumstances is clear, and from this we see his mercy.

But  from our perspective he should not have to have been born like this. And thus our call to repentance remains. This crisis at Christmas was our human doing, our insensitivity. As Scripture says, He came unto his own, and his own received him not (Jn 1:11). That’s us the scriptures are talking about, No room in the inn.

And while Herod may be said to have acted alone, we cannot evade all responsibility, for to some extent we all participate in making and maintaining a cruel world where such ignominies routinely happen.

Children have much to suffer in this world of our collective making. And while not all of us are equally guilty of contributing to the suffering of children, none of us are wholly innocent either, if for no other reason than our silence.

      • Our culture has sinned against children by sexualizing them, robbing them of their innocence at an earlier and earlier age, and exposing them to all sorts of indoctrination and experimentation in schools. The most recent horrors center on exposing even kindergarteners to confusing sexual messages and practices related to transgenderism, homosexuality, “drag-queen story hours” and many other practices that desensitize and groom little children in sexual matters about which they need not know so far before puberty. We used to have a discretion about this; we used to protect little children from sexual matters, rightly concluding that they were too young to understand and that such matters could trouble and confuse them. Adults speaking to little children about these matters used to be considered a grave and even criminal violation.  What is wrong with so many today? And how is it legal for doctors to administer puberty blocking drugs and even perform mastectomies and genital mutilations on minors (with or without parental permission)?  Imagine the health complications in stopping puberty, a natural and essential stage of growth! How can a minor make such life-altering and often permanent decisions?  It is a sin against these children to incite sexual confusion, indulge it and even cooperate in dangerous hormonal and surgical interventions in service of a lie that one can alter their sex. All this used to be obvious to us until about five minutes ago in our culture. 

      • Next, consider that most children born today are no longer born into the lasting family units they deserve with a father and mother committed to one another till death do them part. The problems begin with fornication, which is rampant in our culture. And while most do not think of this as a sin of injustice, it is. It is so because of what it does primarily to children.
      • Many children are also conceived of fornication. Tragically most of these children who are thus conceived are outright killed by abortion. 85% of abortions are performed on unmarried women. And for all the vaunted declarations of how contraception makes every baby a wanted baby, nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion has skyrocketed with the availability of contraception. This is because the problem is not fertility, it is lust, promiscuity, fornication and adultery. And contraception fuels these problems by further enabling them. The promises associated with contraception are lies, it does the opposite of what it promises.
      • So, fornication and the contraceptive mentality (founded on lies) cause grave harm to children, beginning with death, in huge numbers. And the children, conceived of fornication who do (thankfully) survive are, nevertheless subjected to the injustice of usually being born into irregular situations. There are single mothers, some single fathers, and many other irregularities.
      • Add to this picture the large number of divorced families. And make no mistake, these shredded families cause great hardships and pain for children that include: children being shuttled back and forth between different household each week, having to meet “daddy’s new girlfriend” or mommy’s new “live-in boy-friend” and all sorts of other family chaos. Blended families also dramatically increase the likelihood of sexual and emotional abuse, since legal relationships seldom have the built-in protections of natural relationships. To be sure, not all people are divorced in the same way. Some tried to prevent it but their spouse was unwilling, etc. Still the harm caused to children remains.

All of this misbehavior, individual and cultural, harms children. Not being raised in a traditional marriage dramatically increases a child’s likelihood of suffering many other social ills, starting with poverty.

The chief cause of poverty in this country, is the single motherhood, absent fatherhood.
71% of poor families are not married.
Children of single parent homes are 2 times more likely to be arrested for juvenile crime,
2 times more likely be treated for emotional and behavioral problems,
Twice as likely to be suspended or expelled from school,
33% more likely to drop out of school,
3 times more likely to end up in jail by age 30.
50% more likely to live in poverty as adults,
And twice as likely to have a child outside of marriage themselves
. [*]

Not all of us do all these things personally and to the same degree. We should further note that abortion is complex and some women have recourse to it out of despair, others are pressured and so forth. But the point emphasized in this reflection is that all of us do contribute to the sort of culture that is increasingly poisonous and unjust to children if not downright deadly.

If nothing else, too many of (starting with clergy) are far too silent about the sins of injustice committed against children. Many remain quite silent while the bad behaviors adults pile up in our culture. Our silence is largely the product of fearing to offend other adults. Meanwhile children suffer, and the injustices pile higher, beginning with the body count of aborted babies and watered by the tears of surviving children who have had much to suffer.

Something to think about on the feast of the Holy Innocents.

I put the following video together to honor these young martyrs. The musical setting is by Michael Haydn of the hymn for the Feast of the Holy Innocents: Salvete Flores Martyrum The Latin text of this ancient hymn is quite beautiful. I produce here the Latin text followed by a fairly literal translation.

Salvete flores martyrum, – Hail Martyr Flowers
quos lucis ipso in limine – On the very threshold of the dawn (of life)
Christi insecutor sustulit – Christ’s persecutor destroyed (you)
ceu turbo nascentes rosas. – like the whirlwind does the budding roses.

Vos prima Christi victima, – You Christ’s firstfruits
grex immolatorum tener, – A flock of tender sacrificial victims
aram sub ipsam simplices – right up by the very altar
palma et coronis luditis. – now play with your palms and crowns

Iesu, tibi sit gloria, – Jesus to you be glory
qui natus es de Virgine, – who were born of the Virgin
cum Patre et almo Spiritu, – with the Father and loving Spirit
in sempiterna saecula. Amen. – unto to eternal ages. Amen.

The Nativity Set is Snapshot of the Church

It is a nearly universal practice among Catholics to have a nativity set in our homes and surely in our parishes. Not only does the nativity set remind us of the birth of Christ, it is also a miniature replica of the Church. In the scene we see God (Jesus) and man, saints (Jesus Mary and Joseph) and sinners (all the rest), the rich (the Magi) and the poor, (Mary Joseph, Jesus and the shepherds). We see the learned (the Magi) and the simple (the shepherds). There are Jews and Gentiles since the Magi are Gentiles and the rest are Jews. In this midst of this diverse scene, Jesus is found! 

While it may seem “institutional” to ponder the Church on Christmas Day, please realize that it is not. The Church is not an institution, the Church is the Body of Christ; He the Head of the Body, the Church and we, his members (cf Col 1:18; 1 Cor 12:27). Therefore we do well to ponder Christ’s presence in the Nativity setting and what it teaches us about his Body, the Church. Let’s ponder some of the elements:

Divine and Human –  Cleary, Christ alone is divine and all the other figures are human or animals. But it is essential, when pondering the Church to remember that the Church is both divine and human. The Church is divine because it is Christ’s body and he is the head of the Body as noted above. It is human because we are members of Christ’s Body, the Church. Let’s be clear, if it wasn’t for the divine indwelling of the Church by Christ’s headship and the presence of his Holy Spirit, the Church would have lasted only twenty minutes, max. But the Church is still here, 2,000 years later proclaiming the same Gospel. The Church is a miracle. There is simply no way to explain it perdurance except that Christ is its head. We can call the Church “Holy” because of Christ, but without him we know sin from the human dimension of the Church would have destroy it centuries ago. Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is found at the center of the nativity scene, surrounded by the human beings he loves. The Church is human, to be sure, but the Church is also divine and thus holy and an object of faith.

Saints and Sinners – Jesus of course is sinless and holy. By his grace so is Mary his mother. Joseph is surely a saint even if not sinless from conception. The rest are sinners. Today also in the Church are saints and sinners. Some of the saints are perfected and in heaven. Some of the saintly are still among us here on earth, even if not perfected yet. And, to be sure, most of us are still sinners trying to make it in. This is the Church: many who are holy, and many who are sinners striving for holiness. Sadly there are also among us some who aren’t even trying to be holy, but the Church still holds us close and Christ is still calling. There is an impatience by many that the Church is not very holy and has too many scandals. Indeed, one is too many, but a perfect Church would be an empty Church, at least here on earth. Hospitals work for healing, but must admit the sick. So too the Church which is called to heal, must admit sinners to do so. Christ is found in Bethlehem among both saints and sinners. So too today.

Learned and Simple – In the Nativity Scene we Have Jesus surrounded by the learned and the simple. The wise men were learned, the shepherds were likely simple, unlettered men. Joseph and Mary knew their Scripture and the Jewish Law but were not likely credentialed scholars. In the Church too we have those of great learning, we have unlettered peasants and everyone in between. Saints Augustine and Aquinas, Saints Theresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena are all learned Doctors (teachers) of the faith in a Church which has a great deposit of faith and learning. And yet, many unlettered and simple believers also fill our pews throughout the world and through time.  The Church is the patron of the arts and sciences and also the refuge of the poor and simple.

Rich And Poor – The Magi were surely wealthy for they came with gold, frankincense and myrrh. The rest were likely among the working poor. They were not destitute, but their wages permitted little frills. So to the Church through time has included the rich and the poor and always together. A certain Anglican, years ago converted to the Catholic Faith in England. Upon hearing of his plans, his mother fretted: “Oh dear, you will be worshipping with ‘the help.'” Indeed, in a Catholic parish one may just as easily find the banker and the laborer kneeling in the same pew. The Church has benefited from certain wealthy benefactors, but has always been a home to the poor.

Jew and Gentile – In the nativity scene, wth the arrival of the Magi, we see Jews and Gentiles together with Christ. In the Creed we describe the Church as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. The term “catholic” means universal. People of every nation, race and language are summoned to Christ and the Church has a mission “unto the ends of the earth.”  Jesus said to the apostles, Going therefore, teach all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you (Matt 28:19-20). Today we can rightly claim that the Catholic Church is in every land, speaks every language and summons everyone to accept Jesus Christ and live his teachings. If you look at most Catholic parishes in our region you will see what looks like the United Nations. There is an old expression regarding the Church: “Here comes everyone!” 

Added to our Nativity scene are also the Angels who gathered that night. And, though invisible to our eyes, they dwell among us in unimaginable numbers. Wherever you go, the angels are everywhere attending to creation and assisting in our human endeavors. Trust God’s assistance and providence! We are not alone, myriads of angels assist and surround us and assist the Church!

Finally, and most humbly, do not neglect to notice what the older translations called the “ox and the ass.” St. Francis of Assisi who gave us the Nativity Set as a devotion placed them there in fulfillment of the Prophet Isaiah who wrote: The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s manger: but Israel has not known me, and my people has not understood (Is 1:3). I suppose the implied question is “Are you as smart as an ox or an ass?” We ought to be smarter, but too often we compare poorly to these otherwise stubborn and stupid animals if we fail to seek the Lord where he is humbly found. 

This Christmas and every Christmas, we can learn a lot just by studying the Nativity sets we set up. I like you, strive to go to that humble and challenging place where the Lord is actually found. We may wish to find him in a church or family of our own design. Instead, he is found in a complex place that includes the rich and poor, the learned and simple, Jew and Gentile, saints and sinners, even the likes of you and me.

And he is not ashamed to call us his brethren (see Heb 2:11). 

Five Reasons We Need a Savior – An Advent Meditation on a Text from Isaiah

Blog12-1As Christmas draws so near, we should ponder why we need a savior. In short, we’ve got it bad and that ain’t good. But praise the Lord, there is a doctor on the way. His name is Emmanuel; His name is Jesus, which means “God saves.”

Let’s look at a keynote reading of Advent describing five reasons we Jesus a savior!

I. Distant Sons Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for the Lord speaks: Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me! An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger; But Israel does not know, my people has not understood. Ah! sinful nation, people laden with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children! They have forsaken the Lord, spurned the Holy One of Israel, apostatized (Is 1:2-4).

At the heart of most of our troubles is that we have distanced ourselves from God. Sometimes this is through forgetfulness rooted in a dullness of mind. Culturally in the West we have moved God to the periphery by an increasingly strident secularism. We are distant children. Collectively speaking, we have disowned our Father: the God who made us and who enables us to do everything we have done.

In so doing, we are cutting ourselves off from the very source of our power and achievement. This, of course, is the height of foolishness. Consider a fan that has just been unplugged. At first the blades continue to spin and the fan may “think” that all is well. But gradually the blades move more and more slowly. Eventually, they stop completely. It is this way with us as well.

Most of us believers are rightly concerned that our culture, having been unmoored, is becoming just as God described faithless ancient Israel: a sinful nation laden with wickedness, evil, and corruption. No age of this “paradise lost” has ever been sinless, but increasingly we cannot even get consensus on the most basic moral issues: that killing infants in the womb is wrong, that homosexual acts are disordered, and that promiscuity is unhealthy for the body and the culture. Even the most rudimentary understanding of biology shows that a life in the womb is a human baby and that homosexual acts are not meant to be (the parts don’t fit and the full purpose of sex is impossible). And clearly promiscuity brings disease. And this is just the biological evidence. Even a high school biology student can figure out that these practices are misguided.

But so deep is our confusion, that even the most obvious aspects of things evade us as we get lost in our rationalizations and foolish attempts to justify what we know, deep down, is wrong. Yes, unplugged from God, we get a little slow in our thinking.

The Lord goes on to compare His distant children to oxen and donkeys. Yes, even they are smarter than some of us, for they know their owner and who feeds them. Are you and I smarter than a donkey or an ox? There is a reason our nativity sets usually feature a donkey and a cow. They were there for the birth of Christ, but we had no room for him in the inn.

So the first reason we need a savior is that we tend to stray from God. And having strayed, we get lost in more ways than one. God has to come find us, just as in the garden when the first couple sinned He went through the Garden calling, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:9) So now He seeks us, His distant children.

II. Disease-StruckWhy will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot to the head there is no sound spot: Wound and welt and gaping gash, not drained, or bandaged, or eased with salve (Isaiah 1:5-6).

This is a bad situation. The Lord says simply, “There is no sound spot.” The damage caused by sin is enormous and the Lord describes it sickening terms: wounds; welts; and horrifying, pus-filled, gaping gashes.

We tend to make light of sin, but God does not. St. Paul put things more bluntly and tersely: “You were dead in your sins” (Eph 2:1).

But making light of our sins we stand there and continue to get struck; we continue to rebel. We ignore the body count of abortion, the toll that divorce and promiscuity take on children, the high price of greed, and the foolishness of casting aside God and His wisdom.

As God describes it, our stance is unreasonable and just plain stupid. We rebel, glory in evil things, and assert a false notion of freedom. But God says to us that if we could only see ourselves as He does, we would be sickened: gaping wounds and foul discharge.

Jesus said to Sister Faustina, You see what you are of yourself, but do not be frightened at this. If I were to reveal to you the whole misery that you are, you would die of terror. … But because you are such great misery I have revealed to you the whole ocean of my mercy (Diary II. 718).

Here, then, is the second reason we need a savior: Our sins and stubbornness have made us wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev 3:17). We cannot save ourselves. Only with grace and mercy do we stand a chance. We need more than an angel; we need a savior.

III. Desolate Scene Your country is waste, your cities burnt with fire. Your land before your eyes strangers devour, [a waste, like Sodom overthrown]—And daughter Zion is left like a hut in a vineyard, Like a shed in a melon patch, like a city blockaded. Unless the Lord of hosts had left us a scanty remnant, We had become as Sodom, we should be like Gomorrah (Is 1:7-9).

Ruined cultures eventually produced ruined cities and plundered landscapes. You don’t think it can happen today? Throughout the age of the Church, empires have risen and fallen, countries have come and gone, and powerful coalitions have gathered and fallen apart. None of them thought that they would collapse either. But they are all gone. Where is Rome? Where is the Napoleonic Empire? Where is the USSR? It was once said, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” Now it does. The Church alone, by Christ’s promise, is indefectible. And she, too, needs often-severe purifications.

In the Bible the usual focus was on land, crops, and buildings. In our age, we speak of “economies.” But no matter what we call it, we cannot have strong economies or unless we are strong, true, consistent and disciplined. Our moral decline produces a decadence (from the Latin for “to be fallen down”) and a laziness.

We are even too lazy to have children. And thus the text above speaks of “strangers devouring your land.” Once-Christian Europe is soon to become a Muslim caliphate. Hagia Sophia became a mosque; will the great cathedrals of Europe go the same way?

In America the situation is more complex. Thankfully, most of our immigrants are Catholic Christians. But it does seem clear that our years of being an economic and political leader among the nations is fading; the thinning soil of our culture can little longer sustain the taller growths. Our economy has been stagnant for at least a decade now, and unemployment is shockingly high. There’s no telling where it will end up, but things don’t look very vigorous right now.

And here is the third reason we need a savior: to save us from the mess we’ve made and reinvigorate us with the things that make for healthy families, healthy communities, a healthy culture, and a healthy Church. We need rebuilding, reinvigoration, restoration, refocusing, and reformation.

IV. Disconnected Sacrifices Hear the word of the Lord, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! What care I for the number of your sacrifices? says the Lord. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure. When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. New moon and sabbath, calling of assemblies, octaves with wickedness: these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow (Is 1:10-19).

Even our worship lacks integrity. That which is supposed to glorify God and bring forth in us a holy obedience has become lip service. God seeks hearts that are humble, docile, loving, and repentant. We cannot buy Him off by just singing hymns, saying a few prayers, or attending Mass. These things, good though they are, are meant to effect a conversion in us that makes us more loving of both God and neighbor, less violent, more just, more merciful, more generous to the poor, and more holy. Our worship should effect change in us such that we cease doing evil and learn to do good, we strive for justice, we address injustice, and we defend and help the poor.

An additional problem with our worship today is that God has become almost an afterthought. Much of our liturgy is self-centered, self-congratulatory, and anthropocentric (rather than theocentric). We are “the aware, gathered community celebrating itself.” While the Mass should focus on God and summon us to humility and joy before Him, too often it seems more an exercise in pride and self-congratulation. We are very narcissistic, even in a communal setting.

God cannot be pleased with all of this. Even if our worship is rightly ordered, we are not going to buy God off. God wants an obedient heart more than sacrifice. Sacrifice without obedience is a sham.

This is the fourth reason we need a savior: We need God to restore our integrity and give us a new heart. We are “dis-integrated,” in the sense that pieces of our life that should be together (e.g., worship and obedience, liturgy and healing) are not. Too often our worship does just the opposite of what it should. Instead of drawing us more deeply into the love and obedience of God it becomes the very occasion of keeping God at a distance and seeking to placate him with superficial gestures. This makes our worship an insult and a lie. God doesn’t mince words in the passage above when He says how displeased He is with this.

We need God to give us a new heart, one that loves Him as well as the people and things that He loves. Only then will our worship will truly reflect the heart that God seeks: a loving, humble, and generous heart.

V. Desire to Save Come now, let us set things right, says the Lord: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; Though they be crimson red, they may become white as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Is 1:18-20).

God says that we should get started. Let the healing begin! And all the people must say,

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until you, O Lord, the Son of God appear.”

A Late Advent Message From the Lord

As the end of Advent approaches, the Office of Readings features some final admonitions from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. On the one hand they console; on the other, they challenge us to remain firm.

Let’s look at these admonitions from the Lord (Isaiah 46:3-13), which were addressed to three different groups in ancient Israel. However, let’s apply them to three groups in our own times:

        • the faithful remnant,
        • the foolish rebels, and
        • the fainthearted at risk.

To the Faithful RemnantHear me, O house of Jacob, all who remain of the house of Israel, my burden since your birth, whom I have carried from your infancy. Even to your old age I am the same, even when your hair is gray I will bear you; It is I who have done this, I who will continue, and I who will carry you to safety.

This is directed to the devoted, to the remnant, to those who remain after the cultural revolution in our times, to those sometimes discouraged and sorrowful over the infidelity of loved ones and of the world around them. To these (often the elderly among us who remember a more faithful even if imperfect time) the Lord first speaks.

In effect, He says, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Who are the mournful? They are those who see the awful state of God’s people: not glorifying the Lord in their lives, not knowing why they were made, spending themselves on what neither matters nor satisfies. Yes, those who mourn shall be strengthened, and, as their sorrow has motivated them to pray and work for the kingdom, they shall be borne to safety.

This faithful remnant should never forget that God has carried them from the beginning, even in the strength of their prime. Now, reduced by age, they are still carried by the Lord. He has never forgotten them and will carry them to safety; their faith in difficult times will be rewarded.

To The Foolish Rebels Remember this and bear it well in mind, you rebels; remember the former things, those long ago: I am God, there is no other; I am God, there is none like me. Whom would you compare me with, as an equal, or match me against, as though we were alike? There are those who pour out gold from a purse and weigh out silver on the scales; Then they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god before which they fall down in worship. They lift it to their shoulders to carry; when they set it in place again, it stays, and does not move from the spot. Although they cry out to it, it cannot answer; it delivers no one from distress.

The word “rebel” is from the Latin re (again) + bellum (war). In this context it refers to those who are forever at war with God and His plan for their lives. They foolishly forget His saving deeds. They imagine vain things: that there are other gods or entities that could save them. Even more foolishly, they craft other “gods” that they have to lift upon their shoulders to carry.

Many in our day act in the same way: always at war with God, His Church, and His plan. As G.K. Chesterton once noted, when people stop believing in God, it is not that they will believe in nothing but that they will believe in anything. Chesterton also wrote that when we break God’s big laws, we don’t get liberty; we get small laws. We transfer our trust away from God to false, crafted gods like government, or science, or the market. We hope that they will carry us, but we end up carrying the weight of these gods on our own shoulders. We carry this weight in the form of taxes, debt, and anxiety about everything in our health or environment (demanded by the increasingly politicized scientific and medical communities).

Science, the market, and government are not intrinsically evil, but they are not gods, either. They cannot deliver us from ourselves; only God can do that. To the many who rebelliously and foolishly persist with their “non-gods,” He says, “I am God; there is no other.”

To the Fainthearted at Risk Listen to me, you fainthearted, you who seem far from the victory of justice: I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation shall not tarry; I will put salvation within Zion, and give to Israel my glory. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand, I accomplish my every purpose. I call from the east a bird of prey, from a distant land, one to carry out my plan. Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it, and I will do it.

Among the faithful there are some who are at risk, who are nearly ready to give up. God encourages them, but also warns that His plan will stand whether or not they endure. Thus there is an implicit warning from Jesus here (and an explicit warning elsewhere) that we must persevere. Jesus says that because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved (Matt 24:12-13).

St. Augustine wrote, [God has] devised a plan, a great and wonderful plan … All this had therefore to be prophesied, foretold, and impressed on us as an event in the future, in order that we might wait for it in faith, and not find it as a sudden and dreadful reality (From a discourse on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop (In ps. 109, 1-3: CCL 40, 1601-1603)).

God’s plan will stand whether or not we do. We must stand as well, even when we want to faint or fall back. Our love must not grow cold nor our strength fail. God has triumphed and Satan has lost. We must choose with whom we will stand.

The evidence of the present age does not seem to show this, but as Scripture reminds us,

Therefore, we do not lose heart … So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-17).

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 Jn 2:16-17).

Here, then, are some final instructions from the Lord this Advent, instructions for us who wait for Him: be faithful; the plan will come to pass. Do not be a foolish rebel, nor one of the at-risk fainthearted. Rather, be part of the faithful remnant. St. Paul says, Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved” (Romans 9:27).

The song performed in the clip below is entitled “Lord Help Me to Hold Out.”