Thursday, December 23, 2010

CATHOLIC LIVING TODAY "Out of Egypt I called my son"

The first Sunday after Christmas is always dedicated to the Holy Family. This year it comes the very next day after Christmas Day and so perhaps we see even more clearly the link between the two celebrations. Our Discussion Questions for December 26, 2010 will guide your Online Sunday Bible Study sessions with your family, friends and church groups.

The Message of Christmas Day

The message of Christmas takes our breath away every year and continues to stagger the imagination: the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the only begotten Son of the Father, the eternal Word, our Creator, wills to clothe himself in our nature, and to become man, our brother, one of us! God himself lies in the manger, completely human, completely divine. It is an awesome reality!

Thomas Rosica, CSB says this Christmas message announces a new divine presence among us. We live in God's heart, and Christmas visibly brought among us the Son of God who cares infinitely for each of us. God did not want to live that love at a distance. But this transformation of the world and of us is not magic. It cannot happen unless we cooperate with the Word of God. You and I, Abbot Philip Lawrence, OSB reminds us, must not only listen to this Word and celebrate the birth of the Word, we must allow that Word to transform us.

Yes, our hearts call out for God - but only because he calls out for us. Fr. Phil Bloom points out that Christmas is God coming to humanity. Christmas is God becoming man so he can call us to him. Father Cusick rounds things up by giving us the customary reading for Christmas from the Roman Martyrology, often proclaimed prior to the celebration of Christmas Mass at Midnight.

Feast of the Holy Family

The Sunday gospel continues the story of the wise men from the east, who under divine guidance to pay homage to the child Jesus. Then Joseph is warned by an angel to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt because Herod plans to kill the child. The family will remain there until the Lord calls his son out of Egypt just as the people of Israel were once called out. After returning to Israel, Joseph settles his family in Nazareth.

Matthew comments that all these things are not by chance, but in fulfillment of divine providence. What we have here, Fr. Alex McAllister SDS points out, is not just a pious story about Jesus being taken to safety and returned in due time to live in a nondescript village in Palestine until he is ready to make his mission known. What we actually have is an account of a series of events which are in fact a revelation of the identity of Jesus.

Fr. Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B. further tells us that this Sunday gospel - even if we should be close to despair - proclaims the good news: God is with us. Every moment, every event of history, even its evil dimension, is somehow transformed by God's powerful and loving care to become a part of the divine plan.

Fr. Ron Rolheiser says this story is a warning to us all against believing that we are self-sufficient, that we can have community and family on our own terms, and that we can have God without dealing with each other. Hence the truly human, genuinely Christian priority is not so much what others can do for me but rather what I can do for others. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB says preoccupation with self must be set aside as we cast ourselves in the role of servant rather than served. Serving and selflessness are at the core of authentic family life.

The Holy Family is the Ideal Family

If you are part of a family, you too must take great care today. The family unit is in peril, chased down and slain by the Herods of modern culture. On this, the feast of the Holy Family, it makes sense to ask: what makes a man a real man, what makes a woman a real woman? And we can add, what makes a child, a real child? Fr. Joseph Pellegrino states that the answers are found if we look at the Holy Family.

We all want to be part of the great web of love that is God’s presence on earth. Fr. John Foley, S. J. says it is played out in the foibles and fun of ordinary family life. God is there. College student Lauren Butler points out that Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus set an example for us in the way we are to gather as a family who loves and praises God.

Today, therefore, we ask the Lord to help husbands be real men, men who protect, provide and unite their families to God. We pray that wives be real women, women who nurture, sacrifice and are the heart of their families. And we pray that young people may take the steps they need to take away from self absorption and into the reality of Christian life so that when their time comes, they may form Holy Families, families that raise children of God.

Do we really need Christmas?

Is Christmas becoming obsolete? Here are a few illustrations. In some places, Christmas midnight mass is becoming too dangerous -- or too disruptive. Is this a tradition that is about to disappear? Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas laments how the success of Christmas is now measured by sales figures from retail stores and online. The Christmas season no longer begins with the First Sunday of Advent, it begins with Black Friday. So, do we really need Christmas? The good bishop says the answer is Yes.

Christmas is much more than the season of Santa Claus and sugar plums. Pope Benedict reminds us that Christmas is not a fairy tale for children. It is God's answer to mankind's yearning for peace, says Benedict XVI. He calls all the faithful to "let ourselves be amazed" by the "Star that inundated the universe with joy." Let us be amazed, he exhorts us, and purify our lives of everything that is contrary to Jesus Christ.

The Deeper Meaning of Christmas

There are many paradoxes and seeming impossibilities in the incarnation. As mysteries they cannot be fully solved, so they claim our reverence. We genuflected in the past, and we bow today at the mention of the incarnation in the creed for it is a deep mystery. As we approach Christmas, Msgr. Charles Pope offers us a list of some of the paradoxes of Christmas. Try and spend a moment to reflect upon each one of them.

“Peace on Earth, Good will towards men.” True peace can never be forged by steel, Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio explains, but only by love. It is the humble babe in the manger, not Caesar in his chariot, who is the real prince of peace.

Giving Gifts & Celebrations

So what do we do with America’s gift-giving extravaganza at Christmas? What is your gifting philosophy. Is it a present a gift or is it a donation?

It is after all It’s Jesus’ birthday. But the presents under the tree are the real focus, especially for the kids. The first is unwrapped and then another and another, faster and faster. It resembles a school of sharks going into a feeding frenzy. Almost instantly the thrill is gone. Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio suggests that we should set rules to make them more meaningful. He calls it the Catholic approach to gift-giving.

But Fr. Peter deSousa offers an alternative approach. Make this Christmas a time of celebrating our love as a family and sharing that love with some who are lonely, suffering or in need. What are we willing to sacrifice this Christmas in our family so that we may reach out to our spouse, children, parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors and those who serve us and help us?

And what about that tree? What's the point of a Christmas tree? Does it really have anything to do with Christmas? Pope Benedicts explains, "With its loftiness, its green [color] and the lights in its branches, the Christmas tree is a symbol of life that points to the mystery of Christmas Eve." The Pope says our traditional tree is a symbol of life and hope.

A Christmas Story at the Mall & More

Here's one that's been making the rounds since the early days of the internet. And it still moves me every time I read it. I know this story of the child and the shopping mall Santa Claus who played Christmas angel will touch your heart as well. Enjoy it - again and again.

'Do You Hear What I Hear?' It's a song you've probably heard many times throughout this Christmas season. Many people mistakenly assume this Christmas classic has been around for years and that it is of European origin. But it was written in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis as a powerful plea for peace by a man who had experienced the horrors of war. The song’s message of peace is as desperately needed today as it was then. Here is a live version by Carrie Underwood.

And then we bring your Judith costello's latest article, "The Handmaid’s Story." St. Bernard once wrote a homily as if he were talking to Mary who had just heard from the angel Gabriel. The gospel says, “Mary was greatly troubled by his words (of praise for her.)” Here is Judith's version. And she starts with "Dear Mary."

Favorite Christmas Movies

There’s nothing quite like this wonderful time of year to gather round with the family and sit by the warming roar of a television set. Christmas has inspired some of the finest cinematic classics – as well as things like Jingle All the Way. So as my Christmas treat to you all, here’s Paul Zummo's list of the five best Christmas movies of all-time.

And of course there is no more beloved Christmastime flick than the manly classic, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. "Manly” is not a word typically associated with the film, especially given the fact that more than one man will find himself teary eyed and avoiding eye contact with his wife at its conclusion. But the film has a good deal to teach us about being a man, the right kind of man. So in the spirit of quality Christmas movies, I offer you men a quick guide to manliness, as taught by It’s a Wonderful Life.

Another eventful week in our Catholic world. Have a merry Chruistmas. Happy birthday, Jesus.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

Burning Question: Should Catholics be offended by the term "Xmas?"
Featured Blog: Lessons in Manliness from It’s a Wonderful Life
Pastoral Hispana: La Sagrada Familia es ejemplo de unidad, amor y reconciliacion

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