Happy New Year! Happy Feast of Mary, Mother of God!
First of all, I wish you a Blessed and prosperous New Year 2023! On New Year’s Day, we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Gospel and second reading are more closely related to Mary. The first reading from the book of Numbers is a famous passage in the Jewish tradition. It’s the traditional high priestly blessing. It is a very common blessing in Jewish circles. Let us bless each other as we embrace the New Year:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!
It is an excellent opportunity to begin the New Year by reflecting on the Mother of God and our mother. After Vatican II, Pope Paul VI transferred the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God— which used to be from October to January 1st. Prior to the Vatican council, the feast of the Holy Name was celebrated on January 1st. Holy Name was removed from the calendar after Vatican II and St. John Paul II restored it to January 3rd. January 1st we pray for World Peace. To ensure peace in the world, we have to be like Mary, "Hear the Word of God and treasure it." To be the Mother of God is to be a carrier of the Prince of Peace.
When a child is born a mother is born. When a child is born, its mother begins to be a mother. Even if she was already a mother to other children this new child makes her a new mother; a new chapter in her mothering begins. In the birth of the Son of God, Mary begins her role as Mother of God.
In the Gospel of Luke 1:43, when Mary visited, Elizabeth says, “And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Mother of the Lord, reveals two mysteries, the divinity of Christ and Mary’s divine maternity. In A.D. 431, the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus defined Mary’s unique relationship to Christ and honored her with the title, “Mother of God.” In 1964, Vatican II, (Lumen Gentium, 53), reaffirmed this dogma. This is the first Marian dogma expounded by the Church.
The Gospel passage for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God is from Luke 2:16-21. Luke was not an Apostle and never knew Jesus, but he was a traveling companion of St. Paul. Luke tells us that he has talked to all the key eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life (Luke 1:1-2). Luke gives us a detailed version of the birth of Jesus. He tells us of the visits of the Archangel Gabriel both to Zechariah and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Luke gives us a precise recounting of the birth of Jesus: the Roman census, the journey to Bethlehem, the visit of the shepherds—even the intimate moment of the child being wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. He also tells of Jesus’ circumcision as an infant and the finding in the temple at the age of 12. We note in today’s Gospel passage that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 1:19). Luke’s insight sight suggests that Mary is either a direct or indirect source of information. Many saints and theologians throughout the centuries have believed that St. Luke consulted with the Blessed Virgin in the writing of his gospel. At the end of the Gospel passage, you might have noticed that it says, “At the end of eight days he was circumcised and given the name Jesus” (Luke 2:21). January 1st is the eighth day after Christmas.
The second reading ties to the Gospel passage, which emphasizes Mary’s role in the birth of Jesus (“born of a woman” Galatians 4:4). We see in the Gospel and the second reading that followed the law which shows the solidarity with God’s covenant people.
We honor Mary, respect her, love her and seek her intercession, praying, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners." We honor her primarily because God honored her by choosing her to become the mother of Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity when He took on our flesh. I pray that the Lord Jesus and his Mother Mary may enrich your lives during the New Year 2023 with an abundance of God’s blessings.
THANK YOU! I would like to express my gratitude to all of you who made Christmas beautiful in our cluster by donating flowers, trees, wreaths, and so on, sharing your time and talents to decorate, and all other ministers: music, greeters/ushers, servers, Eucharisic ministers, and all those who coordinated and participated in the children’s program . A special thanks to our children and youth. The list goes on...All three parishes were well prepared. Thank you! Also my gratitude to all those who sent cards, gifts, and goodies. It is much appreciated. Thank you! Fr. Shaji
One special evening in a small town everybody was very busy. There were lots and lots of people traveling towards that town. Families were busy receiving relatives and friends and finding accommodations. The houses were full, there were no rooms in the inns, and people were everywhere. Everyone was trying to find a comfortable place to lay their heads that night. A poor family couldn’t find a place to stay in town, so they had to rest in a cave in the countryside. On the other side of the hill, shepherds were “keeping the night watch over their flock” Luke 2:8. Angel said to them, “…For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” Luke 2:10. The multitude of the heavenly host with angels sang: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” Luke 2:14. When the shepherds came, Mary and Joseph were with the Newborn Baby in the cave. Animals were their company. Magi followed the star and came from the far east. The rest of the world was busy, and they missed the Newborn Baby.
We were in four weeks of Advent, waiting and preparing. In our busy time, let us pause for a moment, meditate on these beautiful readings, and be ready to adore the Newborn King.
The first reading for Christmas Eve, and Dawn is from Isaiah 62. Isaiah uses imagery to describe the conversion of Israel from gloom to joy. The prophet tells them that their God is a saving God who extends his redemption to the Holy City. The incarnation represents the marriage of divine and human nature. This passage expresses the joy of the bridal people of God at the arrival of Christ, our Bridegroom.
The first reading for Christmas at midnight is from the book of Isaiah (9:1-6). Isaiah says that people who walked in the darkness, oppressed by Assyria, eventually will see the light and restoration of Israel. Prophets brought hope to the people of the Israelites. Gospel of Matthew 4:12-23 records the fulfillment of the prophesy, as Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, the tribal territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, the territory destroyed by Assyria. They were the first people to witness the spiritual restoration of Israel through Jesus Christ.
The first reading for the Mass during the day, Isaiah (52:7-10) proclaims the good news of the coming of the Lord. In the incarnation, that prophecy is fulfilled, and it is fulfilled literally in God coming in person, in the person of his son to Jerusalem as a man in the person of Jesus Christ. And that truly is good news.
Gospel readings are from Matthew, Luke, and John. On Christmas Eve Mass, we read the genealogy of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s Gospel summarizes and tells us that Joseph is from the family of David, and Jesus is from the stump of Jesse, Jesus was born into a royal family. Joseph was a carpenter by day, but he belongs to Davidic royal family.
The Gospel of Luke emphasizes the role of Mary. How she listens to the message from the angel, obeyed, sharing that joy with her cousin Elizabeth. While Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, the birthplace of David, Mary gave birth to Jesus.
We have the reading from the Gospel of John for the Mass of the day. John says, Word was with God, Word was God, and referring to that he was the eternal word of the Father. John says Jesus is the Eternal Word through whom everything was created and in the fullness of time Word made flesh.
This Christmas again God is looking for the hearts to be born. Let us invite him into our hearts, homes, our parish, and every aspect of our life. Listen to Him…! Don’t miss Him! I pray that each of us finds Him this Christmas and watches his smile, listens to his whispering, and experiences his love, forgiveness, and healing. Christmas is not just on December 25th, but it should happen every day of our life.
THANK YOU! I would like to express gratitude for so many people thinking of me during the Christmas season, sending cards, and gifts, bringing goodies, and so on. It is much appreciated. I didn’t get a chance to write to each one of you. Thank you, everyone, I keep you all in my prayers. Please keep me in yours. Merry Christmas!
A great sign...
During Advent, we are looking in two directions – looking back to the first coming of Jesus at Bethlehem 2000 years ago and we are looking forward to the final coming of Christ. On the first Sunday of Advent, we meditated on the second coming of Christ. On the second and third Sundays, we were meditating on John the Baptist who came to prepare the way for the Lord. On the fourth Sunday of Advent, the Gospel reading is the infancy narrative according to Matthew, where Joseph is the principal character. Last year we read Luke’s infancy narrative where Mary was the principal character. Luke’s infancy narrative is filled with joy, which contains several joyful hymns – Mary’s hymn: Magnificat; Zacharia’s hymn: Benedictus; Angelic hymn: Gloria, in Excelsis Deo; Simeon’s Canticle: Nunc dimittis. The mood of the infancy narrative in Matthew little bit dark side with the climax of King Herod’s plan to kill the child, Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-24 is the account of the birth of Jesus Christ, his virginal conception, and birth through the Virgin Mary. When we read this Gospel passage, we may be tempted to compare the betrothal of Joseph and Mary to an engagement in our time. In an ancient Jewish setting, a man and a woman would become legally married through an act of betrothal. But they won’t live together until the wedding ceremony took place. It’s different than an engagement in our time.
Joseph was a righteous man who committed to living the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 6:25) and decided to divorce Mary quietly because he didn’t want to expose her to shame. Under the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 22:22-24) the punishment for adultery was death.
When Joseph decided to divorce Mary, the Angel guided him to take her into his home and accept the child as his own. The angel appears to him and says, “don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife”—meaning take her into your home — “for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20). Matthew says that the prophet Isaiah’s prophesy is fulfilled: “The young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), which is the part our first reading. Catechism of the Catholic Church 497 says God chose Joseph to be the husband of Mary and the custodian of the Holy Family.
In the first reading, Isaiah is telling King Ahaz, “Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!” (Isa 7:11). Look at the Ahaz reply, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
When we read this passage, we need to know the back story. God had promised (2 Samuel 7:14) an unending dynasty to David. We know under the leadership of David the northern (Israel and the southern kingdom (Judah) came together (2 Samuel 5:1). But after Solomon’s death, the kingdom split into the Northern Kingdom (ten tribes) and Southern Kingdom (two tribes). Judah, the southern kingdom ruled by the descendants of David. Ahaz, a descendant of David, was a weak ruler. During Ahaz’s reign, God asked the prophet Isaiah to urge the people of Judah to return to fidelity to the Lord. Isaiah encourages the king to stand strong in the face of the foreign threat and even offered a miraculous sign to strengthen his faith. But Ahaz express falls humility by saying, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” But God gave him a sign, “The virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
Matthew, in his Gospel passage, tells us that this passage came true in the Virgin Mary. She conceived a son through the Holy Spirit. Prophets waited to see the birth of Messiah. The entire Jews waited for the precious moment. Now we are waiting and preparing for the celebration of Christmas. Let us remain reflecting on the great sign, which is revealed to us every day through the birth of Jesus.
The third Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of Joy. It’s called Gaudete Sunday and today’s Mass begins with the opening antiphon: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” The theme for this weekend is joy and encouragement. We light the Rose Candle and rose vestment, a sign of joy.
The prophet Isaiah, in the first reading, encourages the exiled Jews in Babylon to believe that God is going to save them and transform their lives. The desert shall blossom; the blind, deaf, lame, and dumb will be healed; the ransomed of the Lord will be returning with singing to Zion. Isaiah promised them a new exodus and gave them hope. The assurance of this second exodus is chosen for Advent because both Exodus events foreshadow the coming of the Messiah.
In the Gospel of Mathew 11:2-11, when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, and he knew the messianic prophecies, so he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” He knew the prophecies, and it looks like Jesus quotes our first reading (Isaiah 35:4-6), telling John’s disciples that the prophecies are being fulfilled before their eyes, indicating the kingdom of God has arrived. We see similar prophecies in the book of Isaiah 26:19; 29:18; 61:1-2. The people are rejoicing, because they can see, hear, talk, and walk. They are healed and restored physically, emotionally, and spiritually. They are rejoicing.
As John’s disciples left, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” John the Baptist’s ministry recalls Malachi 3:1 “Now I am sending my messenger-he will prepare the way before me, and the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; the messenger of the covenant whom you desire-see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts” As in Isaiah 40:3 (Matthew 3:3) the messenger is the Lord’s forerunner.
Malachi’s prophecy is associate the Lord’s forerunner with Elijah, the great prophet of the Old Testament Malachi 3:23. Jesus views John the Baptist who preaches repentance in the spirit of Elijah (Luke 1:17). Jesus says John as the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, “yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." In the heavenly Jerusalem, they are greater than John, because they see God face-to-face.
In the second reading, James encourages the early Christians to be patient, “because the coming of the Lord is at hand.” He says, as an example of suffering and patience, brethren, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (James 5:10).
Now, why are the prophets an example of patience? Two key reasons. First, most of them never saw their prophecies come to fulfillment. That’s the first thing. So, think about Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Jeremiah’s prophecies of the coming Messiah. They all died before any of those things ever came to pass.
On this Sunday God invites us to embrace the joy he shares with us. He is with us to heal, liberate, and to renew. In this Advent, let us approach him with open hearts and minds, he will bless us and send us out with a mission to bring the Good News to others.
As St. Teresa of Avila would say, “Christ has nobody on earth now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth. Yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.”
The First Sunday of Advent has given us the message of the Second Coming of Jesus. On the second Sunday of Advent, the focus is on the first coming of Jesus. John the Baptist is inviting us to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”. God the Father sent his Son to bring us salvation. Salvation is a gift from God, but God gave us the freedom to accept or reject it.
In the Gospel reading from Matthew, we see John the Baptist preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” When Jews heard these words, they might have gone to the prophecies of the Old Testament. Matthew tells us by quoting from Isaiah 40:3 “A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist was preaching in the Judean desert by the bank of Jordan. It was not far from Jericho. Jericho was a significant trade root, so there was an opportunity for a lot more people that could come and listen to John the Baptist. John asked them to prepare for the new exodus. We know the Old Testament ended by the Jordan and they entered the Promised Land. John heralds the coming of the new exodus. People kept coming to listen to John and receiving the baptism of repentance.
John was the new Elijah. The Jews expected Elijah to return prior to the coming of the Messiah (Mal 4:5). The way John dressed was similar to Elijah which we read in 2 Kings 1:8, “He wore a hairy garment with a leather belt around his waist.” Jesus himself affirmed John’s role when he said, "Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things, but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also, the Son of Man will suffer at their hands” (Mt 17:11-12).
John was proclaiming about the one who is to come and invited them to prepare the way of repenting and bearing fruit. He told them, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” He said, “…the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” In those days, the slave is the one who carries the sandals. Here John was saying he is not even worthy to be Jesus’ slave. John points to Jesus and says, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
The first reading from the book of Isaiah is the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah and speaks about Jesse, who was the father of David. A shoot from the stump of Jesse is a metaphor for the Kingdom of David. The kingdom of David is destroyed by Babylonians and Assyrians, but a branch is going to come from the house of Jesse and that branch is the Messiah. The new king, the Messiah would be filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit. The weapon of the new king is His Word. In revelation 1:16, we read, “A sharp two-edged sword came out of his mouth, and his face shone like the sun at its brightest.” And St. Paul brings the image of the Word of God in Ephesians 6:17.
Isaiah says, in the new kingdom there will be peace and harmony, “the wolf shall be a guest of lamb….” It is an image of returning to the original peace of the Garden of Eden Genesis 1:30). The animals were present in the cave with the newborn king: a kind of new Eden on the night of Jesus’ birth. Jesus is our new Adam who brings back to Eden. He made it possible to have access to the Tree of Life through the Eucharist. Moses led the Israelites from slavery to the promised land,.Jesus is the new Moses, who led us from slavery of sin to freedom.
As we prepare for Christmas and ultimately for the Second Coming, we need to listen to John the Baptist and embrace the invitation for the baptism of repentance. It is a call for a change of mind and heart. Every day, we need to allow our newborn king to be reborn in our minds and heart. We listen to John the Baptist, and at the same time, we are sent out to proclaim the Good News and invite others to celebrate the birth of the newborn king with us.