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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Will the Real January 1st Please Stand Up? A Homily for New Year’s Day

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

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 2018; it is 2018 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 2017 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, 2018, 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 2018 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 Monday and now this week we celebrate New Year’s Day on Monday; Monday to Monday, inclusive, is eight days.

Monday, January 1, 2018 is the eighth day of Christmas. In the Christian tradition, the octave is considered as one long “day” that lasts for eight days. Therefore, Monday, January 1, 2018 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 2017 to 2018 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.

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

What is a Holy Family? A Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

Here in the Christmas Octave, the Church bids us to celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. On the old calendar, it falls later (the Sunday after Epiphany), which makes a little more sense as the Gospels appointed for the feast often take place far forward in time from His birth. The Gospel this year is only forty days into the future (as compared to other years, when the gospel takes place twelve years into the future), but it is still well past the Feast of the Epiphany, which we have yet to celebrate.

Nevertheless, here we are. Perhaps it is a good time to reflect on family life, for at Christmas time, family and extended family often gather together. It is important that we understand what God teaches and effectively proclaim it. In pondering the question of what a holy family is, recall that the primary meaning of the word “holy” is “set apart” or “different. Thus, even if our families are not sin-free, they can be holy if we follow God’s plan.

On this Feast of the Holy Family, let us consider marriage and family along three lines: structure, struggles, and strategy.

I. Structure – All through the readings for Sunday Mass, we are instructed on the basic form, the basic structure of the family. For example,

  • God sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons (Sirach 3:2).
  • May your wife be like a fruitful vine, in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants, around your table (Psalm 128:3).
  • Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so that they may not become discouraged (Colossians 3:20–21).
  • Each year, Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover … Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety (Luke 2:45, 51).
  • And he was obedient to them; … And Jesus advanced in age and wisdom and favor before God and man (Luke 2:51–52).

In these passages we see the basic structure of the family:

  • A father in honor over his children
  • A wife and mother who is supportive of her husband and his authority
  • A husband who supports, loves, and encourages his wife
  • A mother in authority over her children
  • Children who honor and obey their parents
  • Fathers, and by extension mothers, who instruct and admonish their children, not in a way that badgers or discourages them, but rather encourages them and builds them up.
  • A family structure that helps children to advance in wisdom and age and in favor before God and man.
  • A father, a mother, and children, all reverential and supportive of one another in their various roles and duties.

This is God’s basic teaching on family and marriage. It is the basic structure for the family as God sets it forth: a man who loves his wife and a woman who loves her husband. In this stable, lasting, and faithful union of mutual support and love, they conceive and raise their children in the holy fear of the Lord.

Add to this, the principal description of the book of Genesis, which lays out how God sets forth marriage: A man shall leave his father and mother, cling to his wife, and the two of them shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24). To this first couple, God gave the mandate, Be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:22).

Note, that the structure of the family takes its basic form based on its essential work: procreation and the rearing of children. Why should marriage be a stable and lasting union? Why is Adam told to cling to his wife, to form a stable and lasting union with her? Because that is what is best and just for children! Children both need and deserve a stable, lasting union of their father and mother as well as the complementary influence of the two different sexes. It is the best environment in which to raise and form children. The family structure of a father and a mother, a male and a female parent, as set forth by God, flows from what is best and just for children. It is what is sensible and what is best sociologically and psychologically for the proper development of children.

Even without opening the Bible, one can see that it makes sense that a child should have a father and a mother, should have the influence and teaching of both a male and a female. There are things that a father, a male, can teach a child that a mother, a female, cannot teach as well. The mother, a female, can teach and model for children what only she knows best. Both male and female influences are essential for the proper psychological and sociological development of children. God’s biblical mandate that marriage should consist of a father and a mother is not without basis in human reason and common sense.

To intentionally deprive a child of this environment is both unjust to the child and unwise. Both God and nature provide for a father and a mother, a male and a female, to conceive and raise a child.

It also makes sense, based on simple human reasoning, that the relationship between mother and father should be a stable one, something that the children can depend on from day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year.

The proper structure for marriage is set forth both by God and human reason.

II. Struggles – Yet what should be obvious to us as a culture seems to be strangely absent from the minds of many. Let us be clear: sin clouds judgment and makes many think that what is sinful and improper is in fact acceptable or even good. It is not. In our current culture we gravely sin against God and against our children through repeated misconduct and by our refusal to accept what is obviously true. The words of St. Paul are fulfilled in our modern times: their senseless minds were darkened, and they became vain and foolish in their reasoning (Rom 1:21).

It is clear that marriage and the family are in crisis today. It is also clear that it is children who suffer the most. The modern Western world displays a mentality that is both deeply flawed and gravely harmful to children. The crisis is a result of the willful, sinful habits of the vast majority of adults in the areas of sexuality, marriage, and family life. The rebellion of adults against the plan and order of God has caused endless grief and hardship and has led to a cultural environment that is poisonous to the proper raising and blessing of children.

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

Consider that most children born today are no longer born into the stable and lasting family units they justly deserve, with a father and mother committed to each other until death do them part.

The problems begin with fornication, which is rampant in our culture. While most do not think of this as a sin of injustice, it is. It is so primarily because of what it does to children.

Many children are conceived out of fornication, and tragically many of them are murdered by abortion. The overwhelming majority of abortions are performed on unmarried women. Despite all the claims that contraception makes every baby a wanted baby, the data show that nothing could be further from the truth. Abortion has skyrocketed since the widespread availability of contraception. This is because the problem is not fertility; it is lust, promiscuity, fornication, and adultery. Contraception fuels these problems with the lie that there is no necessary connection between sex and procreation. The promises associated with contraception are lies; contraception has the opposite effect.

Fornication and the contraceptive mentality (founded on lies) cause grave harm to children, beginning with their death in huge numbers. Children conceived of fornication who do (thankfully) survive are nevertheless (typically) subjected to the injustice of being born into irregular situations. There are single mothers, some single fathers, and many other abnormalities.

Add to this picture the large number of divorced families. Make no mistake about it, these shredded families cause great hardship and pain for children, including being shuttled back and forth between households each week, having to meet “Daddy’s new girlfriend” or “Mommy’s new boyfriend,” and enduring all sorts of other family chaos. Blended families also dramatically increase the likelihood of sexual and emotional abuse, because strictly legal relationships seldom have the built-in protections of natural ones.

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 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 to be treated for 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 (Getting the Marriage Conversation Right: A Guide for Effective Dialogue, William B. May).

Add to the burdens that children must experience the new trend of adoption by same-sex couples. Never mind that it is best for the psychological development of a child to have a father and a mother, a male and a female influence. No, what is best and just for children must be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness. In many states, same-sex couples and heterosexual couples must be given equal consideration as adoptive parents. It is the adults and their “rights” that seem to matter most; what is best for children is quite secondary.

Here, then, are the struggles we face. Our families are in grave crisis and most children in our culture are not raised in the stable and committed homes they deserve. Let us be even more clear: to intentionally deprive children of this sort of home by raising them outside of a (traditional (male/female)) marriage is sinful, wrong, and an injustice.

Disclaimer – It is not possible to judge every instance of a broken family in sweeping fashion. The modern world has experienced a cultural tsunami and many have been influenced by lies and false promises. If you are divorced, you may well have tried valiantly to save your marriage but your spouse was unwilling. Perhaps in a moment of weakness, perhaps before your conversion to Christ, you fell and bore children outside of marriage, but have done your best since then to raise them well.

In the end, though, we must say that children have had much to suffer on account of adult misbehavior. We need to repent and beg God’s grace and mercy to undo our grave sins of commission, omission, and silence. We have set forth a bitter world for our children to inherit.

III. Strategy – What are we to do? In a phrase, “Preach the Word.”

This strategic proclamation must include these key elements:

  • No sex before marriage, ever, under any circumstances. Sexual intercourse is rooted in the procreation of children and there is no legitimate use of it outside of marriage, ever. There are no exceptions.
  • Children deserve and have the right to expect two parents, a father and a mother, committed to each other till death do them part. Anything short of this is a grave injustice to children and a mortal sin before God.
  • Gay unions, or single mothers and fathers are not an acceptable alternative to biblical marriage. To intentionally subject children to this, for the sake of political correctness or for the perceived needs of adults, does them a grave injustice.
  • Married couples must learn to work out their differences (as was done in the past) and not head for divorce court, something that offends God (cf Malachi 2:16).
  • The needs of children far outweigh the preferences and needs of adults.
  • Marriage is about what is best for children, not adults.

Regardless of the personal failings of any of us in this present evil age (cf Gal 1:4), our strategy must be to preach the undiluted plan of God for sexuality, marriage, and family to our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Even if many of us have fallen short, we must not hesitate to announce God’s plan.

In short, back to the Bible! Back to the plan of God! Away with modern experiments and unbiblical schemes! God has given us a plan. Thinking that we had better ideas, we have caused great sorrow and hardship for our descendants. We have acted unjustly. We have murdered our children through abortion. Through our selfish misbehavior, we have sown the wind and now our descendants have inherited the whirlwind. It is time to repent. We must help our progeny to rejoice in chastity, marriage, and the biblical family. Otherwise we are doomed to perish.

God has a plan. Our strategy to address this crisis of our times must be to get back to God’s structure for our families.

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If the content of this video and the significant consequences of the event are not what you mean to convey when you wish someone Merry Christmas, don’t bother.

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

A Knock at Midnight – A Homily for Christmas Mass

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

In this reflection, perhaps we can consider just a single line in the Gospel, one that both challenges our love and acts as a sign of God’s humble and abiding love for us: For there was no room for them in the inn.

I. The Scene – There is a knock at midnight. Joseph, speaking on behalf of both Mary and Jesus (who is in her womb still), seeks entrance to the homes and lodgings of those in Bethlehem. Although the Jewish people in those days placed a high obligation upon the duty of hospitality to the stranger and passerby, the answer repeatedly given is, “No room here.” Mary’s obviously advanced pregnancy and the imminence of delivery seem to make little difference.

It is indeed a cold night, not so much in terms of the air temperature, but in terms of the hearts of the people. Surely someone could make room for a pregnant woman! But no; no room at the inn.

Yes, it is a cold night. The only warmth to be found is amongst the animals. An old Latin antiphon for Christmas says, O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum, ut animalia viderent Dominum natum iacentem in praesepio (O great mystery and stunning sacrament, that animals would see the newborn Lord lying in a feedbox). Here in the manger, warmth will be found, among the animals. It is sometimes said that man can be brutish, but the reality is that we can sink even beneath the beasts, doing things to ourselves and to one another that even animals do not.

Scripture says,

The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know me, my people do not understand … They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him (Is 1:3-4).

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (Jn 1:10-11).

There was a knock at midnight. The animals received Him and gave warmth, yet we, His own people, knowing Him not received Him not. But in this midnight darkness and cold, the light and warmth of God’s love will shine forth. The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone (Is 9:1).

II. The Stooping – Surely God stoops low to come from lightsome heaven to our war-torn, dark, cold world. As He stoops, He stoops to the lowest place, being born not in a palace or even in a comfortable home. He stoops to a manger. God will defeat Satan’s pride with humility. All who will find Him this fateful night must also stoop.

This stooping of God is illustrated even in the very topography of the area. The towns of the Holy Land were built on the tops of the tall hills (something we almost never do here in America). Where land is relatively scarce, this is done so as to leave the fertile valleys for agriculture. Bethlehem was perched on higher land and the shepherd’s fields lay below. The streets of Bethlehem were steep and built on tiers or levels. Thus, the back lot of many homes and buildings dropped steeply down and beneath the buildings. Beneath the buildings the people hollowed out caves where animals and tools and tools were kept.

It was in such a place, down under, where Joseph and Mary sought hasty shelter, for it was a cold and dark midnight and Mary’s time had come. God stooped with them to be born, among the animals and agricultural implements, in the damp cave under some house or inn.

Those who want to find our God must stoop low. Even to this day, when one visits Bethlehem and wants to see the place of Jesus’ birth, one must first enter the church through what is called the “Door of Humility.” For security reasons, this door was built to be only about four feet high. One must stoop greatly to enter through it. Yes, we must stoop to find our God. The site of the birth is at the other end of the basilica, under the altar area. Here again, more stooping is required; down steep stairs, through another low and narrow door, and into the cave. To touch the spot, one must kneel and reach forward into a narrower part of the cave. Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, says the inscription. The only way to get there is to stoop.

Yes, our God stoops; He stoops to the lowest place. To find Him and be with Him we, too, must be willing to stoop. God hates pride. He just can’t stand it because He sees what it does to us. He comes to break its back, not with clubs and swords or by overpowering, but with humility. Darkness cannot defeat darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot defeat hate; only love can do that. Pride cannot defeat pride; only humility can do that. So God stoops.

Tonight, God calls us with this same humility. He could have ridden down from Heaven on a lightning bolt and stunned us into fearful submission. Instead He goes to the lowest place. He comes quietly, non-violently, without threat, as an infant. Even in this lowly way, though, He is still calling.

So there is a knock at midnight. Scripture says, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me (Rev 3:20). An old song says, “Somebody’s knocking at your door! Oh Sinner, why don’t you answer?”

III. The Saddest Thing – When human history is complete and the last books are written, one of the saddest lines in all of that history will be this one: For there was no room for them in the inn. No room, no room. How strange and sad for this world that God simply doesn’t fit. He doesn’t fit our agendas, our schedules, our priorities. No room; He just doesn’t fit.

Scripture says,

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him (Jn 1:11).

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the power to become children of God (Jn 1:12).

What could be sadder than to miss this gift to become the very children of God? Yes, the saddest line that will ever be written of this world is that there was no room for Him in the inn.

What of us? Is there room for Jesus in the “inn” of our hearts? If there is, Jesus comes bearing many gifts. There is a knock at the door this very midnight. It sounds like Jesus! Oh Sinner, why don’t you answer? Somebody’s knocking at your door.

Make room for Jesus. Every year He comes knocking. He stoops low and invites us to find Him in the lowly places of this world, in the lowly places of our own life. What are the things in your life that may be crowding out Jesus? What obstacles and preoccupations leave little or no room for Him? What keeps you from recognizing Jesus and opening the door wide when He comes?

If you’ve already opened the door to him for many years, praise God and ask the Lord to help you open wider. Even though many of us have invited Jesus in, we’ve given him poor accommodations, perhaps relegating him to the couch or the floor.

Make room for Jesus. Make more and more room for Him in the inn of your soul. I promise you that what Scripture says is true: Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the power to become children of God (Jn 1:12).

If you will receive the gift of Him tonight and make greater room for Him in your heart, I promise you total victory and transformation in Christ Jesus. There will come to you the increasing gift of transformation into the very likeness of God. Tonight is a night of gifts and Jesus stoops low to give us a priceless gift: the power to become children of God. Is there room in the “inn” of your heart?

It’s midnight and there is a knock at the door.

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

Watch! A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

The Sunday Gospel announces a critical Advent theme: While I want to comment primarily on the Reading from Isaiah, the Gospel admonition surely deserves some attention as well.

Too many today hold the unbiblical idea that most if not all people are going to Heaven. For weeks now we have been reading parables in the Gospels in which the Lord Jesus warns that many (possibly even most) are not headed for Heaven. There are the wise and the foolish virgins, the industrious and the lazy servants, and the sheep and the goats. Today’s Gospel features those who keep watch and those who do not.

Although many prefer to brush aside the teachings on judgment or the teaching that many will be lost, Jesus says, “Watch!” to all of us. In other words, we should watch out; we should be serious, sober, and prepared for death and judgment. We must realize that our choices in this life are leading somewhere.

Some try to tame, domesticate, and reinvent Jesus, but it is not this fake Jesus whom they will meet. They will meet the real Jesus, the Jesus who warns repeatedly of the reality of judgment and the strong possibility of Hell. The beginning of Advent is an especially important time to heed Jesus’ admonition and realize our need to be saved.

This leads us to the today’s first reading, from Isaiah, which rather thoroughly sets forth our need for a savior. Isaiah distinguishes five ailments which beset us and from which we need rescue. We are: drifting, demanding, depraved, disaffected, and depressed. In the end, Isaiah reminds us of our dignity. Let’s look at each of these ailments in turn and then ponder our dignity.

1.  Drifting – The text says, Why [O Lord] do you let us wander from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.

It is a common human tendency to wander or drift gradually. It is relatively rare for someone to suddenly decide to reject God, especially if he was raised with some faith. Rather, what usually happens is that we just drift away, wander off course. It is like the captain of a ship who stops paying close attention. The boat drifts farther and farther off course. At first, no one notices, but the cumulative effect is that the boat is now headed in the wrong direction. The captain did not suddenly turn the wheel and shift 180 degrees; he just stopped paying attention and began to drift bit by bit.

So it is with some of us, who may wonder how we got so far off course. I talk with many people who have left the Church; many of them cannot point to a single incident or moment when they walked out of Church and said, “I’m never coming back.” More common is that they just gradually fell away from the practice of the faith. They missed Mass on Sunday here and there, and little by little, missing Mass became the norm. Maybe they moved to a new city and never got around to finding a parish. They just got disconnected and drifted away.

The thing about drifting is that the further off course you get, the harder it is to get back on course. It seems like an increasingly monumental task to make the changes necessary to get back on track. Thus Isaiah speaks of the heart of a drifter becoming hardened. Our bad habits become “hard” to break. As God seems more and more distant to us, we lose our holy fear and reverence for Him.

It is interesting how, in taking up our voice, Isaiah, “blames” God. Somehow it is “His fault” for letting us wander because He allows us to do it. It is true that God made us free and that is very serious about respecting our freedom. How else could we love God, if we were not free? Compelled love is not love at all.

What Isaiah is really getting at is that some of us are so far afield, so lost, that only God can find us and save us. And so we must depend on God being like a shepherd who seeks his lost sheep.

Thus, here is the first way that Isaiah sets forth our need for a Savior.

2.  Demanding – The text says, Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.

There is a human tendency to demand signs and wonders. Our flesh demands to see, and when we do not, we are dismissive, even scoffing.

This tendency has reached a peak in our modern times when so many reject faith because it does not meet the demands of empirical science and a materialistic age. If something is not physical, not measurable by some human instrument, many reject its very existence. Never mind that many things that are very real (e.g., justice, fear) cannot be weighed on a scale. What most moderns are really doing is more specific: rejecting God and the demands of faith. “Because we cannot see Him with our eyes, He is not there. Therefore, we may do as we please.”

Isaiah gives voice to the human demand to see on our own terms. We demand signs and wonders before we will believe. It is almost as though we are saying to God, “Force me to believe in you” or “Make everything so certain that I don’t really have to walk by faith.”

Many of us look back to the miracles of the Scriptures and think, “If I saw that, I would believe.” But faith is not so simple. Many who did see miracles (e.g., the Hebrew people in the desert), saw but still gave way to doubt. Many who saw Jesus work miracles fled at the first sign of trouble or as soon as He said something that displeased them. Our flesh demands to see, but in the end, even after seeing we often refuse to believe.

Further, God does not usually do the “biggie-wow” things to impress us. Satan does overwhelm us in this way. God, however, is a quiet and persistent lover who respectfully and delicately works in us—if we let Him. It is Satan who roars at us with temptation, fear, and sheer volume, so that we are distracted and confused. More often, God is that still, small voice speaking in the depth of our heart.

Thus the Lord, speaking through Isaiah, warns us of this second ailment, the demand for signs and wonders. Our rebellious flesh pouts and draws back in resentful rebellion. We need a Savior, to give us a new heart and mind, attuned to the small still voice of God in a strident world.

3.  Depraved – The text says, Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people.

The word depraved comes from the Latin pravitas, meaning crooked or deformed. It means to be lacking what we ought to have. Hence, the Lord (through Isaiah) here describes our deformed state in the following ways.

Unthinking – the text says that we are “unmindful” of God. Indeed, our minds are very weak. We can go for long periods so turned in on ourselves that we barely if ever think of God. Our thoughts are focused on things that are passing, while almost wholly forgetful of God and Heaven, which remain forever. It is so easy for our senseless minds to be darkened. Our culture has “kicked God to the curb.” There are even fewer reminders of Him today than there were in previous generations. We desperately need God to save us and to give us new minds. Come, Lord Jesus!

Unhappy – the text says of God “You are angry.” But we need to remember that the “wrath of God” is more in us than it is in God. God’s anger is His passion to set things right. God is not moody or prone to egotistical rage. More often than not, it is we who project our own unhappiness and anger upon God. The “wrath of God” is our experience of the total incompatibility of our sinful state with the holiness of God. God does not lose His temper or fly into a rage; He does not lose His serenity. It is we who are unhappy, angry, egotistical, and scornful. We need God to give us a new heart. Come, Lord Jesus!

Undistinguished – the text says, we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people. We are called to be holy. That is, we are called to be “set apart,” distinguished from the sinful world around us. Too often, though, we are indistinguishable. We do not shine forth like a light in the darkness. We seem little different than the pagan world around us. We divorce, fornicate, fail to forgive, support abortion, contracept, and fail the poor in numbers indistinguishable from those who do not know God. We do not seem joyful, serene, or alive. We look like just like everyone else. Our main goal seems to be to fit in. Save us, O Lord, from our mediocrity and fear. Come, Lord Jesus!

4.  Disaffected The text says, There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.

In other words, collectively speaking we have no passion for God. We get all worked up about politics, sports, the lottery, and television shows; but when it comes to God, many can barely rouse themselves to go to Mass, pray, or read Scripture. We seem to find time for everything but God.

Here, too, Isaiah gives voice to the human tendency to blame God. He says, God has hidden his face. But God has not moved. If you can’t see God, guess who turned away? If you’re not as close to God as you used to be, guess who moved?

Our heart and our priorities are out of whack. We need a savior to give us a new heart, a greater love, and better priorities and desires. Come, Lord Jesus!

5.  Depressed The text says, All our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.

One of the definitions of depression is anger turned inward. While Isaiah has given voice to our tendency to direct anger at and blame God, here he gives voice to another tendency of ours: turning in on ourselves.

Our good deeds are described as polluted rags. While they may be less than they could be, calling them polluted rags gives voice to our own frustration with our seemingly hopeless situation and our addiction to sin and injustice.

Ultimately, the devil wants us to diminish what little good we can find in ourselves. He wants us to be locked into a depressed and angry state. If we think there is no good in us at all, then we think “Why even bother?”

There is such a thing as unhealthy guilt (cf 2 Cor 7:10-11) and self-loathing that is not of God, but from the devil, our accuser. It may well be this that Isaiah articulates here. From such depressed self-loathing (masquerading as piety) we need a savior. Come, Lord Jesus!

So the cry has gone up: Come, Lord Jesus; save us, Savior of the world! We need a savior and Advent is a time to mediate on that need.

Isaiah ends on a final note that takes the song from the key of D minor to the key of D major.

Dignity the text says, Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.

Yes, we are a mess, but a loveable one. God has so loved us that He sent His Son, who is not ashamed to call us brethren.

We are not forsaken. In Advent we call upon a Father who loves us. Our cry, Come, Lord Jesus, is heard and heeded by the Father, who loves us and is fashioning us into His very image. God is able and will fix and fashion us well. Help is on the way!

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied below with his kind permission.

On the Fear of Death

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

This is the second in a series of articles on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell.

For the faithful, the day we die is the greatest day of our life on this earth. Even if some final purifications await us, the beatific vision for which we long lies just ahead; our exile in this valley of tears is ended.

Is calling the day we die the greatest day of our life too strong a statement? I have seen some fellow Christians wince at this statement. In this age of emphasis on worldly comforts, medicine, and the secular, we rarely speak of Heaven—or Hell for that matter. I wonder if we have lost some of our longing for Heaven and cling too strongly to the trinkets of this life.

At the funeral of a relative several years ago, I was approached by a friend of the family. She was an unbeliever, a self-described secular humanist, and she made the following comment to me: “Perhaps there is Heaven for the faithful who believe that there is life after death, and perhaps, then, for them the day they die is the greatest day of their life, but I do not observe that Christians live as if they believe this. It seems to me that they are as anxious as anyone else about dying and earnestly seek to avoid death just as much as anyone else.”

It was a very interesting observation, one that I found mildly embarrassing even though I quickly thought of some legitimate explanations. Even after giving her some of those explanations, some of the embarrassment lingered as to the kind of witness we Christians sometimes fail to give to our most fundamental values. Based on her remark—and I’ve heard it before—most of us Christians don’t manifest a very ardent longing for Heaven.

There are, of course, some legitimate reasons that we do not rush towards death; there are also some less legitimate ones. Here are some legitimate and understandable reasons that we may draw back from dying and may not at first think of the day we die as the greatest day of our life:

  1. There is a natural fear of dying that is part of our physical makeup and, it would seem, hard-wired into our psyche as well. Every sentient being on this planet, man or animal, has a strong instinct for survival. Without this instinct, strongly tied to both hunger and sexual desire, we might not only die as individuals but as a species. It also drives us to look to the future, as we work to ensure the survival, even thriving, of our children and those who will come after us. It is a basic human instinct that we ought not to expect to disappear, because it has necessary and useful aspects.
  2. We would like to finish certain important things before we die. It makes sense, for example, that parents would like to see their children well into adulthood. Parents rightly see their existence in this world as critical to their children. Hence, we cling to our life here not just for our own sake, but because others depend upon us.
  3. The Christian is called to love life at every stage. Most of us realize that we are called to love and appreciate what we have here, for it is the gift of God. To so utterly despise this world that we wish only to leave it manifests a strange sort of ingratitude. It also shows a lack of understanding that life here prepares us for the fuller life that is to come. I remember that at a low point in my own life, afflicted with anxiety and depression, I asked the Lord to please end my life quickly and take me home out of this misery. Without hearing words, I felt the Lord’s silent rebuke: “Until you learn to love the life you have now, you will not love eternal life. If you can’t learn to appreciate the glory of the gifts of this life, then you will not and cannot embrace the fullness of eternal life.” Indeed, I was seeing eternal life merely in terms of relief or escape from this life, rather than as the full blossoming of a life that has been healed and made whole. We don’t embrace life by trying to escape from it. A healthy Christian attitude is to love life as we have it now, even as we yearn and strive for a life that we do not yet fully comprehend: a life that eye has not seen nor ear heard, what God has prepared for those who love Him.
  4. We seek to set our life in order to some degree before we face judgment. While it is true that we can procrastinate, there is a proper sense of wanting time to make amends and to prepare to meet God.
  5. We fear the experience of dying. Dying is something none of us has ever done before and we naturally tend to fear the unknown. Further, most of us realize that the dying process likely involves some degree of agony. Instinctively and understandably, we draw back from such things.

Even Jesus, in His human nature, recoiled at the thought of the agony before Him—so much so that He sweat blood and asked that the cup of suffering be taken from Him if possible. Manfully, though, He embraced His Father’s will, and our benefit rather than His own. Still, in His humanity, He did recoil at the suffering soon to befall Him.

Despite this hesitancy to meet death, for a faithful Christian the day we die is the greatest day of our life. While we ought to regard the day of our judgment with sober reverence, we should go with joyful hope to the Lord, who loves us and for whom we have longed. That day of judgment, awesome though it is, will for the future saint disclose only that which needs final healing in purgation, not that which merits damnation.

We don’t hear much longing for our last day on this earth or for God and Heaven. Instead, we hear fretting about how we’re getting older. We’re anxious about our health, even the natural effects of aging. And there are such grim looks as death approaches! Where is the joy one might expect? Does our faith really make a difference for us or are we like those who have no hope? Older prayers referred to life in this world as an exile and expressed a longing for God and Heaven, but few of today’s prayers or sermons speak this way.

Here are some of the not-so-legitimate reasons that we may draw back from dying:

  1. We live comfortably. While comfort is not the same as happiness, it is very appealing. It is also very deceiving, seductive, and addictive. It is deceiving because it tends to make us think that this world can be our paradise. It is seductive because it draws and shifts us our focus away from the God of comforts to the comforts of God. We would rather have the gift than the Giver. It is addictive because we can’t ever seem to get enough of it; we seem to spend our whole life working toward gaining more and more comforts. We become preoccupied by achieving rather than working toward our truest happiness, which is to be with God in Heaven.
  2. Comfort leads to worldliness. Here, worldliness means focusing on making the world more comfortable, while allowing notions of God and Heaven to recede into the background. Even the so-called spiritual life of many Christians is almost wholly devoted to prayers asking to make this world a better place: Improve my health; fix my finances; grant me that promotion. While it is not wrong to pray about such things, the cumulative effect, combined with our silence on more spiritual and eternal things, gives the impression that we are saying to God, “Make this world a better place and I’ll just be happy to stay here forever.” What a total loss! This world is not the point. It is not the goal, Heaven is. Being with God forever is the goal.
  3. Worldliness makes Heaven and being with God seem more abstract and less desirable. With this magnificent comfort that leads to worldly preoccupation, longing for Heaven and going to be with God recedes into the background. Today, few speak of Heaven or even long for it. They’d rather have that new cell phone or the cable upgrade with the sports package. Some say that they never hear about Hell in sermons, and in many parishes (though not in mine, thank you), regrettably, that is the case. They almost never hear about Heaven, either (except in some cheesy funeral moments that miss the target altogether and make Heaven seem trivial rather than a glorious gift to be sought). Heaven just isn’t on most people’s radar, except as a vague abstraction for some far off time—certainly not now.

This perfect storm of comfort and worldliness leads to slothful aversion to heavenly gifts. That may be why, when I say that the day we die is the greatest day of our life, or that I’m glad to be getting older because I’m getting closer to the time when I can go home to God, or that I can’t wait to meet Him, people look at me strangely and seem to wonder whether I need therapy.

No, I don’t need therapy—at least not for this. I’m simply verbalizing the ultimate longing of every human heart. Addiction to comfort has deceived and seduced us such that we are no longer in touch with our heart’s greatest longing; we cling to passing things. I would argue (as did my family friend) that we seem little different from those who have no hope. We no longer witness to a joyful journey to God that says, “I’m closer to home. Soon and very soon I am going to see the King. Soon I will be done with the troubles of this world. I’m going home to be with God!”

There are legitimate, understandable reasons for being averse to dying, but how about even a glimmer of excitement from the faithful as we see that our journey is coming to an end? St. Paul wrote the following to the Thessalonians regarding death: We do not want you to be like those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). Do we witness to the glory of going to be with God or not? On the whole, it would seem that we do not.

The video below features a rendition of the hymn “For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Rest.” Here is a brief passage from the lyrics:

The golden evening brightens in the West,
Soon, soon, to faithful warriors cometh rest.
Sweet is the calm of Paradise most blest. Alleluia!

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If you read this post on Msgr. Pope’s blog, you will find many
of his other outstanding reflections. For your convenience it is copied
below with his kind permission.

Close Your Umbrellas! A Mediation on a Saying at Fatima.

by Msgr. Charles Pope (posted with permission – source)

On at least two different occasions, Sr. Lucia gave the following instruction to the crowd at Fatima: “Close your umbrellas. Our Lady is coming!” In the pictures of the throngs gathered on the 13th of each month in Fatima, one can often see umbrellas. They were sometimes used to shield people from the rain, but even more often to provide shade from the strong sunlight.

“Close your umbrellas” isn’t exactly one of the more famous aspects of the message of Fatima. However, the instruction has something important to say to us, especially in these days of ease when we seem so inconvenienced by the slightest hint of sacrifice or even minor discomfort.

An umbrella is used to ward off the heat of a hot day or the soaking of the rain. The call to close our umbrella is a call to accept the sacrifices that are often necessary to purify us so that we can receive greater blessings. How many of us who are concerned with the condition of our culture and our world are willing to make sacrifices for the conversion of souls? We want things to get better, but are we willing to do things such as fast or pray the rosary daily? For us who are called to be prophets in this unbelieving time, are we willing to close our umbrella and endure the heat of scorn from those who resist our witness? Are we willing to endure the discomfort of annoyance, ridicule, indignation, or scoffing indifference raining down on us? Closing our umbrella involves accepting the sacrifices necessary to preach the Gospel.

To lower our umbrella is also a sign of humility, for in lowering it we lower ourselves; we experience our frailty, unprotected from the elements. Humility is the key to unlocking greater blessings, for if we do not lower the umbrella of our pride and close the umbrella of illusory self-sufficiency we will miss the miracle and glory of greater blessings.

Consider a mere physical fact: October 13, 1917 was a dreary, rainy day. Photos of the nearly 70,000 who gathered in Cova da Iria at Fatima show an abundance of umbrellas, testifying to the poor weather. At the critical moment, just before the miracle of the sun, when the rosary beads were finished, Lucia said, “Close your umbrellas. Our Lady is coming!” The miracle of the Sun was about to happen, but in order to see it, the people had to come out from under their umbrellas. They had to submit themselves to the rain and take up the momentary sacrifice, in order to dispose themselves to see the miracle.

Now humbly uncovered and having made the sacrifice they could see what the Lord would show. Here is an account of that day:

As if like a bolt from the blue, the clouds were wrenched apart, and the sun at its zenith appeared in all its splendor. It began to revolve like the most magnificent fire wheel that could be imagined, taking on all the colors of the rainbow and sending forth multicolored flashes of light, producing the most astounding effect. This was repeated three distinct times, lasted for about ten minutes. The immense multitude, overcome by the evidence of such a tremendous prodigy, threw themselves on their knees. … The sun, whirling, seemed to loosen itself from the firmament and advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was terrible. … Then the light turned a beautiful blue, as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral, and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands … people wept and prayed with uncovered heads, in the presence of a miracle they had awaited.

Thus we see that the people had to close their umbrella in order to see the miracle of the sun. This is a kind of paradigm for the whole spiritual life. If we are to see glory and experience graces it is often necessary to accept sacrifices and hardships and to humble ourselves by setting aside our self-designed protections. As long as we insist on hunkering down within our own enclosed world, we are turned inward and downward. Self-reliance too easily replaces faith and trust. We cling to our comforts rather than to the cross, which is our true ladder to glory and the key to Heaven’s gate.

What does it mean for you to close your umbrella? You will have to discern, with God, and see what it means. Perhaps it means discovering what things you are unreasonably relying on. Perhaps it means accepting some discomfort for the salvation of souls. Perhaps it means taking up a sacrificial practice such as voluntary abstinence, fasting, or additional prayers. Perhaps it is accepting a cross you already endure, but with less grumbling and complaining. Perhaps it means being willing to endure heat of other’s anger beating down upon you or the scorn of others raining down upon you as you speak up for what is true.

As an additional hint to help you discern, recall that Our Lady asked for the daily rosary. On May 13, 1917, Our Lady asked the three children, “Are you willing to offer yourselves to God and bear all the sufferings He wills to send you as an act of reparation for the conversion of sinners?”

In the end, we close our umbrella not only for our own sake, but also for the conversion of sinners. Find out what it means to close your umbrella.

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