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Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church

All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God (Psalm 98)


How do we know we know God? And do Christians know God in a way different from everyone else? 1John 2:22 -28 tells us that the unique experience of Christianity is knowing God as our Father. And we can only know him as Father by sharing in the life of the Son—and therefore in the Son’s own act of knowing the Father as Father. We experience this knowledge of the Father and this union with the Son when we pray with awareness, “Our Father, who art in heaven....” 1


John says we “know that we know” by two things, both essential: through the “anointing” of the gift of the Holy Spirit poured out in our hearts; and through fidelity to what we have “heard from the beginning” in the teaching of the Apostles.


Christianity is by nature an experience of the divine in the human and of the Spirit in the flesh. Jesus is God made human. In his human nature, actions and words, we encounter God. And in the human natures, actions and words of the members of his body on earth, the Church, we continue to encounter Jesus. To reject Jesus in the flesh is to deny the Spirit. To reject the Church is to reject Jesus in the flesh he has today. To deny the Spirit speaking in the Church is to become deaf to the Spirit speaking in our hearts. We simply cannot separate the divine from the human and continue to be Christians. But...

If what you heard from the beginning does remain in your hearts, then you in turn will remain in the Son and in the Father. He himself made us a promise, and the promise is no less than this: eternal life.


John 1:19-28 makes clear the difference between religion as just a human way of worshiping the divine, and religion as a divine way of being human.


John the Baptizer was a human preaching a human gesture. The “baptism of John” was a washing in water as a symbol of repentance. But he said, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” Matthew and Luke add: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This is more than a human gesture. It is God giving the gift of the Spirit and of divine life. We need to be aware of this mystery when we attend a Baptism or think of our own. 2

What is true of Baptism is true of all the sacraments. An action of God is taking place, a mystery of the divine acting through the human. Sacraments remind us to look for this same mystery in all that we do. Say the WIT prayer!


Initiative: Be aware of the mystery of the divine and human united in you.

View Today's Readings Here


1 See Matthew 11:25-27; Luke 10:21-24.See also the Jerome Biblical Commentary, 1968: “Here ‘anointing’ is an Old Testament figure for reception of the Spirit of God (1Samuel 16:13; Isaiah 61:1).... To deny that Jesus is Christ [divine Savior of humanity] is to reject the divine filiation that is at the very heart of Christianity.” 2 Luke 3:16; Matthew 3:11.



Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

The Old and the New


May God bless us in his mercy! (Psalm 67)


Inventory

How do you feel about the New Year? Do you connect it with Mary being “Mother of God”? Are you inspired to make any “New Year’s resolutions”?


Input

Recognizing a New Year is combining the old and the new. The length of the year is not arbitrary; we didn’t decree it. We figured out that it takes 365 days for the earth to revolve around the sun. Because the orbit is elliptical, the distance from the sun varies, giving us hot and cold seasons that make what we call a complete year. Because the earth’s axis is tipped over about 23.5° from vertical, the seasons vary in different areas of earth, depending on how direct their exposure to the sun is. This state of things is old! It has been going on for about 4.5 billion years. Every time we say, “Happy New Year!” we are acknowledging an objective order in the universe determined, ultimately, by God billions of years ago. We measure time by it.


At the same time, we know nothing remains the same forever, particularly where human beings are making choices that change the conditions on earth for everyone: for better and for worse. So we hope that the changes during this new year will be happy ones. And we act to make them so, praying: May God bless us in his mercy!


Looking forward


Numbers 6: 22-27 echoes this prayer: “The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!” We look forward to the New Year with hope. The Responsorial Psalm specifies: “So may your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation.” Christians are always aware that we have a mission to the world. We cannot rest until everyone on earth knows God’s way and follows it into the joy of salvation. But this is not cut-and-dried.


We ourselves must be constantly learning God’s way, constantly trying to understand and follow it better. We define ourselves as a “pilgrim Church.” We know where we are going, but we are constantly correcting our course. If we ever think we “have all the answers” and need do nothing more than “keep the rules,” we have succumbed to the virus of Phariseeism. Jesus said, “Everyone who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven... brings out... what is new and what is old.” To settle for what we already know is to reject the unfolding truth of God. 1


Mother of God


Luke 2: 16-21 shows Mary responding to something so new we hardly grasp it. She was invited to become the “Mother of God.” This just doesn’t fit into any rational categories. A creature cannot be the mother of the Creator. Or give life to God. To understand this we have to get into another orbit of knowledge. God’s own orbit.


In Jesus, God the Son became human. He was conceived in Mary’s womb, not through human intercourse, but by the “overshadowing” of the “Most High.” Therefore he is called “the Son of the Most High.” Jesus is the Son of God, and Mary is the Mother of God.


Creatures begin to exist when God says, “Be!” And we continue to exist only as long as God “holds the note.” But when God the Son took flesh from Mary to make it his body, he stopped giving that flesh created existence by his “Beee,” and made it, and all of Jesus’ human nature, exist instead by his own eternal, infinite, divine Act of Being. In Jesus the voice of God is not saying, “Be!” It is saying, “I AM.” The human nature of Jesus does not exist because it was created, but because God is within it, saying, “I AM.” And yet, that human nature came from a creature. Jesus was conceived, not just “in” Mary, but “of” Mary. The flesh he took was human flesh. That is why he is truly and completely human, while at the same time truly and completely divine. And Mary is the Mother of “Jesus”; that is, of all he is.


This is a “mystery,” which means “a truth that invites endless exploration.” For Mary, everything about Jesus was this. After his birth, when the shepherds “made known what had been told them about the child,” the Gospel tells us “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She was always trying to enter into new understanding, new appreciation of the mystery of her life and God’s. And that is what we are called to do. To imitate this in Mary would be a good resolution for the New Year.” 2


Looking inwards


In Galatians 4: 4-7 the mystery is extended. Mary, by her “Yes,” became the Mother of God. We, by our “Yes” at Baptism, become the body of Christ and “in him” children of the Father:


God sent his Son, born of a woman... so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.


It is as shocking to say we are true “sons and daughters of God” as to say Mary was the “Mother of God.” They both depend on the same mystery of the divine and human being united: first in Jesus, who was “Son of God” because he existed by God’s divine life; then in us, who are “sons and daughters in the Son,” because we share in that divine life by incorporation into his body.


This is not something we can understand by being taught the right words in catechism. Or just by repeating them at Mass during the Profession of Faith. Our being, the life we live, the life with which we begin this New Year, is a mystery. Our own life is a “truth that invites endless exploration.” It is the life of God in us, Jesus’ own life that he is sharing with us. To understand ourselves, we must “treasure all these words and ponder them in our heart.” We need to keep ourselves aware that our life is a mystery to enter into.

The sad truth is, judging from appearances, at least, most Christians are not bent on entering into the mystery, either of their own lives or of God’s. We learned on the first day of catechism that God made us “to know him, to love him, and to serve him.” We tend to equate “serving” him with just keeping the Commandments, and few spend any time at all getting to “know him” after the obligatory religious instruction required to receive the sacraments. We should find it hard to claim we “love him” even as much as we love our intimate circle of friends. Whom do we think about more often? In whose interests do we sacrifice ourselves more? With whom do we spend more time?

All that we do for and with our friends could be something we do for and with Jesus, of course. If only we have that awareness of what we are doing that converts it into a mystical experience. This is the value of saying the WIT prayer all day long.[3]

So how about New Year? This would be a time to ask myself very deeply—and very honestly—“Am I really trying to grow in knowledge. love and service of God? If so, what is my plan?”


Most people have no plan for spiritual growth. That is why for centuries we taught that the vowed life in religious orders is the only “way of perfection.” They have a “Rule,” a specific way of living designed and approved by the Church as an authentic way to grow into deeper union of mind, will and heart with God. They have a plan. Laity don’t. But everyone should.


“To fail to plan is to plan to fail.” Be honest: if you have no plan for spiritual growth you have chosen not to be a fully authentic Christian. Your religion is to affirm Catholic doctrine (mysteries that invite “endless exploration,” but which you are not exploring); to keep “in bounds” by obeying the rules; and to maintain a certain level of devotion by observing the Catholic “practices” of attending Mass (probably without “full, conscious, active participation), receiving the sacraments in a way that is not a mystical experience, and saying some prayers. If you read Scripture you are an exception. But you need a plan.


Insight

Does the New Year invite me to revise my way of living? Does God?

Initiative:

Give a clear “Yes” or “No” to embracing a plan of spiritual growth.


View Today's Readings Here

1 See Vatican II, The Church, chapter 7; Matthew 13:52. 2 Cp. Confessions of Sr. Augustine, Book 10, “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new....” See also Luke 2:51. 3 Matthew 25:40. The WIT prayer is, “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me.”


Seventh Day of Christmas and Feast of St. Sylvester I


Responsorial Psalm 96 still invites us to express koinonia: “Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice.


1John 2: 18-21 speaks to every Christian whose friends or family members have “left our ranks” — either left the Church or chosen to “leave it alone” for awhile by defecting from the community that gathers for Eucharist. How should we feel about this?

First, John says this is a characteristic of the “final hour” and a sign that the “antichrist” is at work. We should not dramatize these words. The “final hour” is not the “day of the Lord,” when Jesus will come again, but simply the last “hour,” or historical period, of the world: the time from the coming of the Messiah to his return at the end of the world. All who oppose or falsify the truth of Christ are “anti-christs.” In this sense we can identify the “antichrist” with every distorted human culture, or with the “world” as John uses the word.


So why have our children left the Church? Parents blame themselves, the bishops and priests, parish ministry in general, or various trends in the Church. Or all of the above. But the most deadly influence is simply the seduction of the culture: the winds and currents of thought and behavior in families, schools, universities, social groups, advertising, business and politics that constantly disorient us.


Benedict XVI identified Relativism as the “central problem for faith today.” Now he seems to be targeting “secularism.”1 Both of these are cultural, not religious trends. But if our society can succeed in stripping education of all rational certitude, and the social environment of all visible signs of religion, this has to have an effect. If we add to this the perennial lure of “sensuality, the lure of appearances, and pride which comes from earthly possessions”2 that saturate the media and music youth are immersed in, and which deeply infect (let’s be honest) the practical value-system expressed in family, educational and business life, the odds against faith surviving in youth are slim. The young are conformity-addicted; they feel a desperate need to “belong.”


We owe it to them to give them koinonia: a strong awareness of “communion in the Holy Spirit” shared with all believers. For this the word of our faith must be made flesh. Our communal faith, hope and love must find daily, constant, credible, enthusiastic expression at home, in Christian schools, and at Mass.


John 1: 1-18 says it all: “The Word became flesh.” Christianity is the religion of the incarnate God. We express our faith, our hope, our love physically. When we do, the Light of divine life in us becomes visible, and we make visible “his glory, the glory that he has... as only Son of the Father, filled with enduring love.” To see, taste, share, and experience that glory together is to experience koinonia. Belonging.


The key to this is self-expression. “No one has ever seen God.” But the Word who became flesh “has revealed him.” We extend that revelation by letting him express himself now in and through our physical words and actions.


Initiative: Give flesh to the glory of Christian koinonia. Express your faith.


View Today's Readings Here

1 For Relativism see “The Central Problem for Faith Today,” an address given by Cardinal Ratzinger to the presidents of the Doctrinal Commissions of Latin America, in Guadalajara, Mexico, 1996. For Secularism, see John Allen’s blog, http://ncronline,org, Nov 6, 2009. 2 See New Jerusalem Bible footnote to 1John 2:16.

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