18Dec 18 December, 4th Sunday of Advent

50 years ago I was ordained a priest, by archbishop John Charles McQuaid. The half century since 1966 has seen many changes, and challenges too, both in society and in our church, but also many blessings for which to be thankful. I admire the tireless work of the diocesan clergy, but appreciate the support of community life with amiable confreres, without whom I could hardly have stayed so (relatively) contented in the celibate state. Friendships with laypeople have been very important to me and a real support to my vocation. I’m as convinced as ever of the value of priestly service in the church, but I fully agree with the ACP’s call on our bishops to seriously dialogue with us priests, and with interested laypeople, about planning a future for the Catholic priesthood here in Ireland.
Pat Rogers cp


Saint Flannan

First Reading: Book of Isaiah 7:10-14

The Lord himself will give you a sign: “Immanuel, God-is-with-us”

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.
Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

Second Reading: Epistle to the Romans 1:1-7

The Good News from God is about Jesus Christ

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,
To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Gospel: Matthew 1:18-24

Inspired by God, Joseph takes Mary home as his wife

The birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”

When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.

BIBLE

What’s in a name?

What can it tell about the person who owns it? Not much, unless it happens to be a well-chosen nick-name. Names like Helen, Sharon or Jason are useful for distinguishing various members of a family; but they don’t say much about the people themselves. One’s name seldom reveals the personality or life-work of the one who carries it. With some Biblical names it is different. For instance, Abraham meant “Father of a great people” (Gen. 17:5) and Moses meant “Rescued from the Waters” (Ex. 2:10.) Above all, our blessed Lord has names which tell us who he really IS: “Jesus” means “God saves,” “Christ” means “God’s Anointed Messiah” and the name “Emmanuel” (today’s Gospel) means “God in our midst.”

How important is Jesus, really, for our personal life? Be honest. Ask the man-in-the-street what Christianity all about, and what’s the usual answer? Something to do with being a decent person, loving our neighbour, keeping the law; and perhaps going to church on a Sunday? Not many will directly mention of Jesus Christ, who is at the very centre of our faith. Ghandi once said, If you Christians took your Christ to heart, the whole world would be Christian.

He is our bridge-builder (Pontifex) Nowadays, one of the most positive trends is in building up community, sharing efforts and projects with others, seeking out ways find common ground with long-term enemies. In a word, bridge-building and reconciliation with our fellow human beings. The greatest bridge-builder of all, who spans the gulf between us and God, is Jesus Christ. (High-Priest: Pontifex.) “No man has ever seen God; the Only-Begotten Son, who is closest to the Father’s heart, has made him known” (Jn. 1:18.)

He shares our lot. At Christmas we will concentrate on the simplicity and poverty of Our Lord’s birth: how human he was, born of a young woman, not in luxurious comfort, but in the discomfort of a stable. That shows him as one of us, the human side of “Emmanuel.” This gospel however mentions the divine origin of Jesus. Although he has a human mother, he has not a human father, but was conceived in Mary by the power of God. This unique way of coming into life, with God as father, and the virgin Mary as mother, underlines who Jesus truly is: both God and man, one of ourselves and yet one with the eternal God.

St. Joseph’s faith. If this mystery seems deep to us, it must have been baffling for St Joseph. Close to Mary as he was, and yet seeing her pregnant without any action on his part, Joseph could only accept in faith what God’s messenger told him, that the child was in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. With great patience and humility, Joseph accepted the part for which God had chosen him, as human foster-father to the Saviour. This faithful acceptance is just what is required of each of us, when Christ comes into our lives, for he truly is “God-with-us.


Inner Experience

[José Antonio Pagola}

The evangelist Matthew has a special interest in telling his readers that Jesus should be called «Emmanuel». He well knows that this could end up jarring us and seeming strange. Who can be called by a name that signifies «God with us»? However, this name contains within it the nucleus of the Christian faith, and is at the center of the Christmas celebration.

The ultimate mystery that surrounds us on every side and that we believers call «God» isn’t something far off or distant. This mystery is with us and with each one of us. How can we know it? Is it possible to believe in a reasonable way that God is with me, if I don’t have some personal experience, no matter how small? Ordinarily we Christians haven’t been taught to perceive the presence of God’s mystery within ourselves. That’s why many imagine this mystery as off in some undefined and abstract place in the universe. Others seek this mystery adoring Christ present in the Eucharist. More than a few try to listen to this mystery in the Bible. For others, the best way is Jesus.

Without doubt, God’s mystery has a way to make itself present in each one’s life. But it could be said that in today’s culture, if we haven’t experienced it in some way within ourselves, it’s difficult to find it outside of ourselves. Or to turn this around: if we actually perceive God’s presence in our interior, it will be much easier to trace it in our surroundings.

How can this be? The secret consists, above all, in knowing how to just be, with our eyes closed and in a gentle silence, welcoming with a simple heart that mysterious presence that encourages and sustains us. It’s not about trying to think about it, but just «welcoming» the peace, the life, the love, the forgiveness… that comes to us from the most intimate place within us.

When going deep within our own mystery, it’s normal to meet up with our fears and worries, our wounds and sufferings, our mediocrity and our sin. We don’t need to get upset by this, but just remain in the silence. The loving presence that is at the most intimate depth of ourselves will go about calming us, freeing us, healing us.

Karl Rahner, a deep-thinking theologian of the 20th century, held that, in the midst of the secular society we live in, «this experience of the heart is the only one that can help us to understand the faith message of Christmas: God became man». The final mystery of life is a mystery of goodness, of forgiveness and salvation, a mystery that is with us: within everyone and within each one of us. If we welcome it in silence, we will come to know the joy of Christmas.


Joseph’s part in the story

[Stan Mellett]

Attempts to portray Jesus in the cinema are varied. We may recall films like The Last Temptation of Christ, or Jesus of Montreal and a few years ago Mel Gibson’s drama, The Passion of the Christ. But the most impressive, with a ring of truth about it is probably a film done by an Italian Communist named Pasolini, entitled The Gospel according to Matthew. There were no added words, just the text of the gospel. The opening of the film portrays the episode described in today’s gospel reading. For about 7 or 8 minutes not a word is spoken as we see a strong, wholesome young man walking towards a village. Standing in a doorway in the village is an obviously pregnant girl. We can see at once that the man is Joseph, the village is Nazareth and the girl is Mary. Joseph is striding along, carefree and happy until he catches sight of Mary. He stops transfixed in shock. This is girl he going to marry, this is girl his parents and her parents have chosen as a suitable wife. And she is pregnant. In a close up Mary’s eyes seem try to say, there is an explanation, I can explain. Joseph waits for no explanation, he turns on his heel and just walks and walks and walks for miles until exhausted, he collapses and falls asleep. In his sleep the explanation is given in a dream. He wakes and slowly walks back to the village. Mary is waiting. Their eyes meet. And you know they both somehow know that nothing wrong or untoward has occurred but that somehow God has intervened.

Joseph goes on to accept in faith his vocation – his role in the story of God with us. Quietly, without fuss, Joseph is open first of all to believe the mystery of the virgin birth. And secondly to take his essential part in the drama of Christ in his infancy and all that goes with it. That surely was no easy thing when you consider that faith in the virgin birth of Jesus from the very beginning has met with opposition, mockery and incomprehension from Jews and Gentiles alike. This one teaching and tradition is treated with contempt by unbelievers and with doubt by believers. Joseph believed and accepted the word of God.

John the Baptist is a prominent Advent figure and since Advent is about Coming and since John was the one who supremely prepared the way for that coming it is appropriate the he be given such a prominent place in the liturgy of Advent. But I like to focus on Joseph because he represents all the quiet, unobtrusive, hardworking men and women who are as essential to the story of every family and enterprise as Joseph was to the story of the birth of Jesus. God notices that kind of person –‘my eyes are drawn to the man of humble and contrite heart’. This is what catches the loving gaze and attention of God.

 

The drama of the gospel today is about that humble and just man, St Joseph.

  • He believed when it was not easy to believe. A man of faith! We know now what God was doing. Joseph had only a dream to go on. Taking Mary as his wife while already pregnant in this strange way. How could he explain that if the nosey and inquisitive began to ask questions.
  • A humble and just man, who represents the quiet, hardworking providers for families. Man or woman provider – if funds are running low – trying to make ends meet – pray to St. Joseph.
  • Tradition that Joseph died young. No sign of him in Jesus adult life – passion and death – at his end Jesus and Mary there – patron of happy death.

Really believing in “God-with-us”

Moments of crisis reveal aspects of ourselves that we don’t face up to very often. They can show where our real self lies. Do we react defensively or aggressively out of self-concern, or are we able to see beyond ourselves to the care of others? Usually crisis also puts our faith to the test; are we really convinced about God’s care and support for us?

Today’s first reading invites us to analyse what true faith is. We meet king Ahaz who could not rely on God in the great political crisis of his life. What he relied on were his military and political security systems. Is our faith much the same? Is the god we really trust the range of our own power and resources, only turning to the true God as an extra insurance, a vague something to look forward to when this world is over? But such faith is inadequate. Real faith is relying on God’s continual presence with us, not just in those moments when human presence and support fails. Real faith accepts the reality of God in the strong as well as the weak moments of life. True faith sees God as a dimension of all our experience, the Emmanuel.

This reality of God-with-us is a deep mystery, and faith in this mystery is a gift. However, to say that faith is a gift should not be used as a “cop-out,” a pretence that it is totally beyond us, a gift for the chosen few. We all have some dimension of faith in our lives, we are all offered some share in this gift. We are invited today to use what we have been given, to develop it through real searching for the truth in all things. We are also called to make the great decisions of our lives conscientiously according to the faith we have been given.

Faith may involve a leap in the dark, it may be the “conviction about things we do not see” (Heb 11:1), but seeking signs to confirm that conviction is not necessarily a testing of God as Ahaz would have us believe. It is only when we demand signs as a pre-requisite without which we refuse to believe, it is only then that the seeking for a sign is contrary to true faith (cf. Mk 8:11-13.) Signs can be sought legitimately and offered as confirmation for those who are truly open to the word of God and struggling to be faithful to what they know of him.

The promise that God is with us was not for Isaiah’s time only, it is for our own. Even now the sign of that continuing presence is a young woman and her child, the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus. For Joseph the unexpected pregnancy of Mary was not a sign to confirm his trust either in her or God, it was a contradictory sign. In the hours of his darkness he found the enlightening Spirit of God, the Spirit who teaches us not to judge by what our eyes see or by what our ears hear (cf. Is 11:3.) This gospel shows us that the signs God gives are not always the ones we would choose for ourselves. He gives signs for those who are willing to take on the darkness of doubt in openness and sincerity. There are no signs for those locked into the need for security only on their own terms.

Ultimately faith is obedience, the gift of response to him who is both son of David and son of God (second reading.) Christ himself in his life, death and resurrection is the ultimate sign of God’s presence in our world. It is he alone who can evoke the fullness of that presence. It is in our experiences and encounters with those who reflect Christ and his gospel that we find signs of God to confirm our faith. “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, ever at the Father’s side, who has revealed him” (Jn 1:1-18.)


Saint Flannan, bishop

Flannan Mac Toirrdelbaig was a 7th century Irish saint (d. c. 678). The the son of an Irish chieftain, Turlough of Thomond, Flannan entered Mo Lua’s monastery at Killaloe, where he later became Abbot and was considered a great preacher. He made a pilgrimage to Rome where Pope John IV consecrated him as the first Bishop of Killaloe, of which he is the Patron Saint.



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