1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

1 Peter
2 Peter

Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη

Who was Josephus?
Maps, Graphics

War, Volume 1
War, Volume 2
War, Volume 3
War, Volume 4
War, Volume 5
War, Volume 6
War, Volume 7

Ant. Jud., Bk 1
Ant. Jud., Bk 2
Ant. Jud., Bk 3
Ant. Jud., Bk 4
Ant. Jud., Bk 5
Ant. Jud., Bk 6
Ant. Jud., Bk 7
Ant. Jud., Bk 8
Ant. Jud., Bk 9
Ant. Jud., Bk 10
Ant. Jud., Bk 11
Ant. Jud., Bk 12
Ant. Jud., Bk 13
Ant. Jud., Bk 14
Ant. Jud., Bk 15
Ant. Jud., Bk 16
Ant. Jud., Bk 17
Ant. Jud., Bk 18
Ant. Jud., Bk 19
Ant. Jud., Bk 20

Apion, Bk 1
Apion, Bk 2


Gospel of--
-- Nicodemus
-- Peter
-- Ps-Matthew
-- James (Protevangelium)
-- Thomas (Infancy)
-- Thomas (Gnostic)
-- Joseph of Arimathea
-- Joseph_Carpenter
Pilate's Letter
Pilate's End

Apocalypse of --
-- Ezra
-- Moses
-- Paul
-- Pseudo-John
-- Moses
-- Enoch

Clementine Homilies
Clementine Letters
Clementine Recognitions
Dormition of Mary
Book of Jubilees
Life of Adam and Eve
Odes of Solomon
Pistis Sophia
Secrets of Enoch
Veronica's Veil
Vision of Paul
Vision of Shadrach

Acts of
Andrew & Matthias
Andrew & Peter
Paul & Perpetua
Paul & Thecla
Peter & Paul
Andrew and Peter
Thomas in India

Daily Word 2019


Sundays, 1-34, A
Sundays, 1-34, B
Sundays, 1-34, C

(Ordinary Time)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 1)
Weeks 1-11 (Year 2)

Wks 12-22 (Year 1)
Wks 12-22 (Year 2)

Wks 23-34 (Year 1)
Wks 23-34 (Year 2)

Saints Days


Clement of Rome

Ignatius of Antioch

Polycarp of Smyrna

Barnabas,(Epistle of)

Papias of Hierapolis

Justin, Martyr

The Didachë

Irenaeus of Lyons

Hermas (Pastor of)

Tatian of Syria

Theophilus of Antioch

Diognetus (letter)

Athenagoras of Alex.

Clement of Alexandria

Tertullian of Carthage

Origen of Alexandria

Christmastide Masses

(from Christmas Eve to Saturday after Epiphany, including weekdays)


24. Midnight
25. Xmas Day
26. St Stephen
27. St John
28. Holy Innocents
29. 5th of Octave
30. 6th of Octave
31. 7th of Octave
Holy Family
2nd Sun. aft. Xmas


1st. Mater Dei
Jan. 2nd
Jan. 3rd
Jan. 4th
Jan. 5th
6th Epiphany
7 (Mo post-Ep.)
8 (Tu post-Ep.)
9 (Wed post-Ep.)
10 (Th post-Ep.)
11 (Fr post-Ep.)
12 (Sat post-Ep.)
New Revised Standard Version is used, for its use of inclusive language.
This material has appeared in the ACP website, under "Liturgy: Resources." bgcolor="#f6f1e7"



Dec. 24. Christmas Midnight Mass

1st Reading: Isaiah 9:1-7

God brings them from darkness and bring them to peace and security

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Responsorial: Psalm 95: 1-3, 11-13

R./: Today is born our Saviour, Christ the Lord.

O sing a new song to the Lord,
sing to the Lord all the earth.
O sing to the Lord, bless his name. (R./)

Proclaim his help day by day,
tell among the nations his glory
and his wonders among all the peoples. (R./)

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad,
let the sea and all within it thunder praise,
let the land and all it bears rejoice,
all the trees of the wood shout for joy
at the presence of the Lord for he comes,
he comes to rule the earth. (R./)

With justice he will rule the world,
he will judge the peoples with his truth. (R./)

2nd Reading: Titus 2:11-14

Saint Paul invites us to look forward to the coming of Christ in glory

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Gospel: Luke 2:1-14

How Jesus our Saviour was born

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!"

No Room For Them

Christmas cards  feel a bit old-fashioned in our digital age. Apart from their conventional triteness, the problem is deciding who to send them to. In order to ensure you write to those who are likely to send you a card, the lines can get blurred and the list can expand beyond the bounds, along with the cost of the stamps. In the end, you find yourself including everybody who might possibly send you seasonal greetings. The two lists never quite match and there is a last minute rush to fill the gaps. But whatever the defects of the cards, the thought behind them is undeniably good. Also, they are a yearly exercise in handwriting, where otherwise we tend to use just a keyboard.

It is a pity that Christmas cards so rarely reflect an authentic message about what the birth of Christ means. What about a simple black and white line drawing of a street with a row of houses, with a few touches – a milk bottle outside the door,  an open window with a fluttering curtain – indicating that  the houses are lived in. In the centre would be a man knocking at a door. His head is turned towards the street, where a woman is waiting. The street should be recognisable to us all, as the very street where we live. The stranger knocking at the door of your home. ..: NO ROOM!

The major test for Christmas is easy and foolproof. When last did I/you last stretch out a helping hand to someone in need? open heart or home to somebody in want?  Any unanswered knock on my door may be an ignoring of Christ. If HE is not born in my heart and in my home this Christmas, what happened in Bethlehem long ago has not really taken root in my heart.

Grafted into the Tree of Life

Words are often a weak method of communication. However, we have to use words, and today's gospel is an attempt, in simple language, to describe what happened on that extraordinary day, so long ago. It speaks of Jesus being born, and of the second meeting of heaven and earth, on that same night, when the angels appeared to the shepherds. This was the beginning of a process that is still on-going, as I speak. It is an old story that is ever new.

"Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and always." With God there is no such thing as time. All of time is totally present to him right now. God's work among us is always in process, it never comes to an end. In God's eyes, Christmas is an everyday event, that involves Jesus knocking on the door of my heart, seeking admission. The God-dimension never changes, the offer is always there, the good news is delivered with greater consistency than the morning newspaper. What happens after that is totally dependent on whether I accept the offer, open the door, and make my heart available as a manger.

One important point: when the shepherds heard the message they said, "Let us go to Bethlehem and see it for ourselves." The life of the Christian is a journey of discovery. It involves coming to find out for myself the truth and the reality of what I had been told by my parents, teachers, or preachers in church. I have to cross that bridge. The gospel is in between two phrases. At the beginning, we are invited to "Come and see," and, at the end, we are instructed to "Go and tell."

Christmas Day (25 December)

Theme: We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in our world, though he was with God the Father before all ages. His birth opens up for us a glorious new identity, as children of God.

1st Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10

The joy of the watchmen, at seeing the Lord's messenger

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.

Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

Responsorial Psalm 97: 1-6

R./: All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Sing a new song to the Lord
 for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
 have brought salvation. (R./)

The Lord has made known his salvation;
 has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
 for the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth
 have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
 ring out your joy. (R./)

Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp,
 with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
 acclaim the King, the Lord. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6

The son of Mary is the eternal Son, through whom all things were made

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you." Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son." And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."

Gospel: John 1:1-18

John's Gospel Prologue: the divine nature of the Word-made-flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.


Lord of the welcomes

At Christmas more than at any other time, there's a welcome on the mat. Many families have visitors home for Christmas; and we will surely be making a round of social calls, over the Christmas days. But among all the greetings and the welcoming of friends, there is one welcome of special depth and meaning.

For the people of the Old Testament, light and darkness held special significance. They tended to associate them often with virtue and wickedness in the community, and also with the day of the Lord's coming. Indeed, at Qumran on the Dead Sea shoreline, during the life-time of Jesus, light and darkness were seen as two opposing kingdoms, and the sun's victory over darkness was held to be a symbol of the triumph of faith over the blind pursuit of evil. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." So begins the Bible account of the first creation, and when it was ended, "God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good."

This original goodness and justice was fragmented when our progenitors abused the freedom of will granted them by God, so that once again, as the prophet Isaiah says "darkness came to cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples." (Is 60:2), To dispel this darkness, a new creation was needed, and the ideal of goodness and perfection became a living reality, when the light of Christ came into the world. ."The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; for those who lived in a land of deep shadow a light has shone." (Is 9:2). For God, who had created humanity in his own image and likeness, had now identified with the human race, and by assuming the body of a human child, had come down among us.

The Christmas invitation is, Come to Jesus and feel welcome. No matter what what we’ve done, or how badly we may feel – he can help us become all that we’re meant to be: beloved sons, beloved daughters of God. Come to him… and yes, even if you feel that "churchy things" are not for you. “I don’t like organized religion” you mutter. OK, but Jesus want to open doors for you, not close them. To those accept him this Christmas day, he gives power to become children of God. It is he, our Lord Jesus Christ, who brings us here today. With his help we can make a new beginning as individuals, as family and as a parish. So let us say it again. Come to Jesus this Christmas Day. His mercy, from a heart aware of all human suffering, has no limit. To those who accept him he gives power to become children of God. Come to Jesus, and make this Christmas truly happy, in your heart of hearts.

Light shining in darkness

For the people of Israel, light and darkness were more than natural phenomena. They tended to associate them often with virtue and wickedness in the community, and also with the day of the Lord's coming. Indeed, at Qumran on the Dead Sea shoreline, during the life-time of Jesus, light and darkness were seen as two opposing kingdoms, and the sun's victory over darkness was held to be a symbol of the triumph of faith over the blind pursuit of evil. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." That's how chapter one of the Bible begins to describe creation, and when it was ended, God saw all that he had made, and indeed it was very good.

But this original goodness and justice was to be shattered, because our first parents abused the freedom of will granted them by God, so that once again, as the prophet Isaiah says "darkness came to cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples." (Is 60:2), To dispel this darkness, a new creation was needed, and the ideal of goodness and perfection became a living reality, when the light of Christ came into the world. ."he people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; for those who lived in a land of deep shadow a light has shone." (Is 9:2). For God, who had created man in his own image and likeness, had now identified with the human race, and by assuming the body of a child in the image of man, had come down to become one of us.

It has become a tradition to associate snow with Christmas, and when it does come, shrouding everything with its white mantle, a stillness settles over the countryside, especially at night-time. That combination of darkness and stillness was the setting for the first Christmas. As the Book of Wisdom states, "When all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the middle of her course, your almighty Word leaped down from heaven, from your royal throne." (Wis 18:14f). It was as if God was again saying , "Let there be light" - let the gloom and darkness, which to such an extent exemplify the fallen and corrupt nature of the human race, be lifted, ushering in a new age of glory to God and peace on earth among all its people. And so an angel of the Lord appeared to some humble shepherds tending their flocks in the enveloping darkness, and the brightness of the Lord shone round them. "Do not be afraid," the angel reassured them. ."Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

We too must listen, listen in the stillness of our hearts, and, like the shepherds, we must hasten, and with eagerness draw near to Christ. We must search for Christ, hasten to him with eagerness, and in the quiet times of prayer understand anew our need for Christ. St Augustine held that prior to conceiving Christ in her womb, Mary first conceived him in her heart, by her faith. The Church, too, is the Mother of Christ in that, by obedience to the will of God, she brings Christ into being in the world. But we, its members, are the Church, and so in some sense we too can bring Christ to birth, , in this spiritual way, by doing God's holy will.

The Rudolf Story

Santa's most popular helper by far is Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer, who had a very shiny nose. We all know his story, as told in the Christmas song, how all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolf play in any reindeer games. But one day, all that was turned upside down. For on a foggy Christmas eve Santa came to say: Rudolf with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight? The story of Rudolf is modelled on the story of salvation. It connects with our story both as individuals and as a community. It is not Santa who saves us but the newborn Jesus.

To begin with, Rudolf was a misfit. Compared to the image of the ideal reindeer we can say that something was definitely wrong with him. What is more, he was not in any position to help himself. So are we all, misfits, as the Bible tells us. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6). Like lost sheep we are not in a position to help ourselves. Rudolf could not help himself. All his fellow reindeer only made things worse for him. Only one person could help him, Santa, the messenger from heaven.

Today we celebrate the birth of the real Messenger from heaven. As we read in today's gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:1, 14). He comes to free us from our predicament of sinfulness. For it is sin that mars and disfigures the beautiful image of God that we all are. Sin turns us into a despicable Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer. But the heavenly Messenger comes, not to take away the red nose but to declare to us the Good News that we are acceptable to God even with our red nose. Rudolf's red nose was a defect. But Santa chose him precisely on account of that. The heavenly Messenger has the ability to turn the defects and red noses of our tainted humanity into assets for the service of God. Jesus is this heavenly messenger.

What makes the reindeer gospel so poignant is that Santa does not use his magic wand to heal Rudolf of his defect. He let him go on with the red nose even as his chosen reindeer. Certainly Rudolf would have wanted nothing so much as to be a normal reindeer like all the rest. Similarly Jesus does not simply make us good men and women, rather he makes us into people who can use all their strengths and defects to the service and the glory of God. This is the proof to us that it is not by our own will power that we are able to become children of God. It is by God's grace, by God's unmerited and unconditional love of us. As God tells St Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Like Rudolf's yes to Santa, let us today listen to what the Child Jesus asks of us, following him without looking back, even when we do not know where the journey will lead us, knowing one thing for sure: that the grace of God will supply the strength we need for the long journey of faith ahead. "For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God".

December 26: Feast of St. Stephen, the First Martyr

1st Reading: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59

The martyrdom of Stephen the deacon, according to Luke

Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together, threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.

The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

Responsorial: Psalm 30: 3-4, 6, 8, 16-17

R./: Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit.

Be a rock of refuge for me,
 a mighty stronghold to save me,
 for you are my rock, my stronghold.
For your name's sake, lead me and guide me. (R./)

Into your hands I commend my spirit.
It is you who will redeem me, Lord.
 As for me, I trust in the Lord:
 let me be glad and rejoice in your love. (R./)

My life is in your hands,
 deliver me from the hands of those who hate me.
Let your face shine on your servant.
Save me in your love. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 10:17-22

Jesus warns his apostles about their possible martyrdom

Jesus said to his disciples: "Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved."


Stephen's prayer of forgiveness

When, centuries before, the priest Zachariah was put to death by stoning, his last words were a shouted curse, "may the Lord see this and avenge me!" (2 Chron 24:22) Contrast this with the dying words of Saint Stephen: "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." The Old Testament "Eye for an eye" we can readily understand, since crimes of violence and injustice cry out to heaven for vengeance. In light of the injustice done to him, we can only be amazed by Stephen's final words, praying to God to pardon his killers. His crime was to have spoken some hard truths that his audience did not want to hear. As a result, the frenzied mob put him to death by stoning. Under a rain of rocks that crushed his bones, Stephen commended his spirit to Jesus, and with his dying breath prayed for his killers.

How do we get from Zachariah's "May God punish them!" to Stephen's "Lord forgive them" ? What or rather who has made the difference? The one who speaks in today's gospel, Jesus himself. He had foretold that those sent out to spread his message would be rejected and chased from one town to another and that some would be killed. One would expect his next words to be words of woe to the killers. Instead, they are words of divine mercy: "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings."

Father, forgive them. Jesus himself made this prayer from the cross; he knew what it was to suffer unjustly, to be betrayed, abandoned, mocked, scourged, and nailed to the cross. His blood did not cry out to heaven for vengeance. Instead, it cried out to God for mercy. Unconquered by hatred, Jesus conquered hatred with love -- and so did Stephen, the first of many Christian martyrs, who echoed those saving words: Father, forgive ..

The death of an innocent man

Yesterday we celebrated the joyful birth of a child. Today we honour the martyrdom of an innocent man. In some ways, the birth of Jesus led to the death of Stephen. Stephen was martyred for witnessing to Jesus, for publicly calling him the glorious Son of Man, now standing at the right hand of God. Luke describes Stephen dying with two prayers on his lips, first, a prayer of surrender, "Lord, Jesus, receive my spirit," and then a prayer of petition for his executioners, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

Already, Luke had described Jesus himself as dying with two similar prayers on his lips, a prayer of surrender, "Father, into you hands I commend my spirit" and a prayer for his executioners, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing." Whereas Jesus prays to the Father, Stephen prays to the risen Lord Jesus. Mary's child is now risen Lord and can be prayed to as we would pray to God. In the church we often pray to the Father through Jesus, but we are also invited to pray directly to Jesus. Stephen died as Jesus died because, in the words of the reading, he was "filled with the Holy Spirit." We have been given the gift of the same Holy Spirit, and it is the Spirit who empowers us both to live like Jesus and to die like Jesus. On this feast of Saint Stephen, we pray for a fresh outpouring of that Spirit into our lives.

Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

1st Reading: 1 John 1:1-4

What we have seen with our eyes, what we have touched with our hands

Beloved: What was from the beginning, what we have heard,what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life.

For the life was made visible; we have seen it and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.

Responsorial: Psalm 96: 1-2, 5-6, 11-12

R./: Let the just rejoice in the Lord

The Lord is king, let earth rejoice,
 the many coastlands be glad.
 Cloud and darkness are his raiment;
 his throne, justice and right. (R./)

The mountains melt like wax
 before the Lord of all the earth.
The skies proclaim his justice;
 all the peoples see his glory. (R./)

Light shines forth for the just
 and joy for the upright of heart.
 Rejoice, you just, in the Lord;
 give glory to his holy name. (R./)

Gospel: John 20:2-8

The beloved disciple enters the empty tomb and recognises that Jesus is risen

On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him."

So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.

When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.


If the Word had not been made flesh

(From Augustine's homily on Saint John's First Epistle)

Who could ever touch the Word with his hands unless the Word was made flesh and lived among us? Now this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary's womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment. We know this from John's phrase: "What existed from the beginning." See how the letter bears witness to his Gospel, where it says: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God."

Some might interpret the phrase Word of Life to mean a word about Christ, rather than his body itself which was touched by human hands. But see what comes next: "and life itself was revealed." Christ therefore is himself the Word of life. And how was this life revealed? "It existed from the beginning," but at first it was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread. Then what does Scripture say? "Mankind ate the bread of angels." Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh. In this way what was visible to the heart alone became visible also to the eye, and so could heal the human hearts. For the Word appears to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well. We had the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word. The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal that part of us by which we could see the Word.

John continues: "We are witnesses and we proclaim to you that eternal life which was with the Father and has been revealed among us" -- one might say more simply "revealed to us." Be sure to grasp the meaning of these words. The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face; they heard the words he spoke, and in turn proclaimed the message to us. So we too have heard, although we have not seen.

Are we less favoured than those who both saw and heard? If that were so, why should John add: "so that you too may have fellowship with us?" They saw what we have not seen; and yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith. And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son. And John wrote this to make our joy complete -- complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.

Evangelist of the Word made Flesh

The Evangelist John is rightly celebrated soon after Christmas Day. The opening lines of his gospel sum up in a few words what we are celebrating at Christmas, 'the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.' This, the last of the four gospels to be written, is based on the eye witness testimony of the man described as the disciple Jesus loved. This gives the impression that Jesus loved this disciple more than all the others. What makes this particular disciple special is that he received and responded to the love of Jesus more fully than all the others did. He was the only male disciple present at the foot of the cross, faithful when others had shown themselves to be unfaithful. His faithful love brought him to the empty tomb quicker than Peter; his faithful love gave him the insight to recognize the true meaning of the empty tomb before any else understood its meaning, 'he saw and believed.' His example encourages all of us to give ourselves fully to Jesus as he has given himself fully to us.

Many would consider the "Beloved Disciple" to be a symbolc figure in the fourth Gospel, quite distinct from the evangelist who wrote about him. And we may think that in fact Jesus loved and loves all his disciples equally. He said to them as a group, and indeed says to us also, 'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.' We are all his beloved disciples.

Dec. 28. The Holy Innocents, Martyrs

1st Reading: 1 John 1:5-2:2

Those who walk in darkness, and those who walk in the light

Beloved: This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, "We have fellowship with him," while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin.

If we say, "We are without sin," we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing. If we say, "We have not sinned," we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My children, I am writing this to you so that you may not commit sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.

Responsorial: Psalm 123: 2-5, 7-8

R./: Our soul has escaped like a bird from the hunter's net.

If the Lord has not been on our side
 when men rose against us,
 then would they have swallowed us alive
 when their anger was kindled. (R./)

Then would the waters have engulfed us,
 the torrent goes over us;
 over our head would have swept
 the raging waters. (R./)

Indeed the snare has been broken
 and we have escaped.
 Our help is in the name of the Lord,
 who made heaven and earth. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 2:13-18

Trying to destroy a potential rival, Herod massacres the children

When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him." Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, Out of Egypt I called my son.When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
 sobbing and loud lamentation;
 Rachel weeping for her children,
 and she would not be consoled,
 since they were no more.

They died for Christ, though they did not know it (Quodvultdeus

Quodvultdeus was a fifth-century Christian from Carthage who knew St Augustine of Hippo (d. 430). In time Quodvultdeus became bishop of Carthage and was later exiled to Naples. He died around 450 AD. In one of his surviving writings, he has this rhetorical sermon, which features in the Office of Readings for today's feast.

A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.

Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children. You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself.

Your throne is threatened by the source of grace, so small, yet so great, who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out his own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God's adopted children.

The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the saviour already working salvation. But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it. How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear the palm of victory.

Dictatorship oppresses while Love serves

Lacking in moral sence King Herod was prepared to murder innocent children to quash even a minimal threat to his power. Many such figures litter political history, rulers without scruple, prepared to sacrifice any number of people just to keep themselves. This style of kingship, the dictatorship of Herod, was the polar opposite of the kingship that Jesus came to proclaim, the kind of authority suited to the kingdom of God. This finds expression not in commanding but in the humble service of others.

The child who escaped from Herod’s tyranny went on as an adult to say to his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.” None of us will ever act like Herod, but none of us can afford to be complacent either; we can all be prone to dominate in one way or another. The first reading today declares, “if we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth.” We have to be alert to the ways we can fail to take that path of humble, self-emptying, service of others which is the way of Jesus, the way of God.

29 December. 5th Day in the Octave of Christmas

Saint Thomas a Becket, optional memorial

1st Reading: 1 John 2:3-11

The link between love and walking in the light of God.

Beloved: The way we may be sure that we know Jesus is to keep his commandments. Whoever says, "I know him," but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way we may know that we are in union with him: whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.

Beloved, I am writing no new commandment to you but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. And yet I do write a new commandment to you, which holds true in him and among you, for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.

Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Responsorial: Psalm 95: 1-3, 5-6

R./: Let heaven and earth exult in joy!

O sing a new song to the Lord,
 sing to the Lord all the earth.
 O sing to the Lord, bless his name. (R./)

Proclaim his help day by day,
 tell among the nations his glory
 and his wonders among all the peoples. (R./)

It is the Lord who made the heavens,
 his are majesty and state and power
 and splendour in his holy place. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 2:22-35

Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple; Simeon gives praise to God

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

"Lord, now let your servant go in peace,
 for your word has been fulfilled:
 my own eyes have seen the salvation
 which you prepared in the sight of all people,
 a light to reveal you to the nations
 and the glory of your people Israel."

The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed."


Tuned in to God

St John taught that fidelity and love are the surest ways to walk in God's presence, as his faithful people. In the Gospel, we are shown Mary and Joseph obeying the Mosaic Law by offering the simple sacrifice in the temple that was expected from poor people: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. Two other devout people, whom the propyhets called the Lord's Anawim. (the poor and lowly, faithful ones) were Simeon and Anna, elderly Jews dedicated to prayer and fasting and regular worship in the temple. Their religious spirit helped them to recognize the child Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Simeon's joyful salute to the child shows that prayer and contemplation is not wasted. On the contrary, time could not be better spent than in prayer, since charity and respectful recognition arise from an authentic spiritual life. People who pray, like Simeon and Anna, are fully open to the breath of the Spirit. They are the ones best able to recognize signs from God, because they have their antennae tuned to God

Simeon's prophecy about Mary's future sorrow was like another divine message to Mary predicting how her Son will accomplish his mission, namely, through pain and rejection. If the first message (the angel Gabriel's) brought her incredible joy, the message passed on to her by the holy old man Simeon spoke of a costly work of redemption, that would cause suffering to Jesus and to his mother. But looking to the further horizon, Simeon foresees a magnificent outcome, the "rising" of many, into the light of God's grace.

In contact with the future

When a mother gives birth the family members are agog to admire the new baby and want to hold the child, even if only for a moment, to be in contact with the future. There is something about holding this bundle of new life which is very special. Babies are fascinating and make us think of the future. We focus on them and find it hard to take our eyes off them.

When Mary and Joseph came into the temple with their recently born baby, Jesus, they met Simeon, a devout elderly Jew, who took the child in his arms and blessed God. If every child is fascinating, how much more true is this about the child Jesus? Having held Jesus in his arms and having gazed at him, Simeon was ready to leave this world for the next, "Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace." His beautiful prayer is now part of Compline, the church's night prayer.

Even if we ourselves cannot hold the child Jesus in our arms, we too recognize and welcome him as did Simeon and Anna. We recognize him in the breaking of bread in the Eucharist, we hear his voice when the gospels are read, and, if we are alert, we see him in each other and in daily encounters. We also look forward to that day beyond this earthly day when we too will see him face to face.

Saint Thomas a Becket

Thomas a Becket (1118-1170) from Cheapside in London, was appointed first as chancellor and then archbishop (1162) by order of his friend, King Henry II. As archbishop he sided with the pope on the respective authority of church and state and was slain in his own cathedral of Canterbury in 1170, for defying Henry's desire to govern the church by royal decree.

30 December. 6th Day in the Octave of Christmas

1st Reading: 1 John 2:12-17

Do not be absorbed by the world or the things in the world

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, because you have conquered the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world -- the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches -- comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.

Responsorial: Psalm 95: 7-10

R./: Let heaven and earth exult in joy!

Give the Lord, you families of peoples,
 give the Lord glory and power,
 give the Lord the glory of his name. (R./)

Bring an offering and enter his courts,
 worship the Lord in his temple.
 O earth, tremble before him. (R./)

Proclaim to the nations: 'God is king.'
The world he made firm in its place;
 he will judge the peoples in fairness. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 2:36-40

The prophetic widow, Anna, proclaims the destiny of the child Jesus

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.


A meeting of generations

Forty days after his birth, when Jesus was ritually presented in the Temple (along with the prescribed sacrifice), his future was foretold by an eighty-four year old woman, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel. She was serving God night and day, with fasting and prayer. One could say that she also had a preaching ministry, since she spoke of the child Jesus to all who looked forward to the deliverance of Jerusalem. We don't know how old Simeon was, but probably he was of a similar age. He too had been waiting a long time to see the Christ, and after greeting him he felt ready to leave this life in peace. He too was a man of prayer guided by the Holy Spirit. Such were the people who could sense the significance of the child being carried into the temple by the young couple.

It was a happy meeting of youth and old age. A young couple with the precious child meet a much older man and woman. This meeting turned out to be a blessing for both pairs, the young as well as the old. Youth was graced by age, and age was graced by youth. The promise of youth feels inspiring to older people. The experience of older folk can offer stability and wisdom to the young. Society benefits when the generations stay into contact with each other, since each has something precious to offer. The generation in the middle, those in their middle years, are often best placed to bring the elderly and children together.

No matter what age we are at, our calling as followers of the Lord is to bless and grace others by our presence. All of the people who met in the Temple that day reading were the better for that meeting -- Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna and even the child Jesus himself.. It might prompt any one of us to ask two questions, "Are others the better for having met us? And do we want them to be?"

Anna, the contemplative

The elderly widow Anna is one of those very God-conscious characters who feature in the opening two chapters of Luke. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and of course Mary and Joseph are other such examples of people of strong and active faith. What distinguishes Anna from the others is her age, eighty four years old, and the fact that she never left the Temple, but remained there, serving God night and day with prayer and fasting. When we think of ways of service, it’s usually some activity for others, visits to make, or food to bring them. Anna was a woman who served God by staying put in the Temple, praying and fasting. You could say that she lived a contemplative life. Yet her life of prayer and fasting in the Temple led to her being a powerful witness of God’s activity to others.

When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, Anna praised God and spoke of the child to all who looked forward to salvation. Anna’s prayer and fasting made her a powerful witness to what God was doing. She reminds us that there are many ways of serving God, and one of the most important ways is by our prayer. To pray is to serve God; it is to give ourselves over to God. Such service of God will empower us, as it empowered Anna, to be witnesses to God’s presence and activity to all who are still longing for God’s coming.

31 December. 7th Day in the Octave of Christmas

Saint Sylvester, pope. Optional memorial.

1st Reading: 1 John 2:18-21

A community in crisis, yet still trusting in the Holy Spirit

Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth.

R./: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want

The Lord is my shepherd;
 there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
 where he gives me repose.
 Near restful waters he leads me,
 to revive my drooping spirit. (R./)

He guides me along the right path;
 he is true to his name.
 If I should walk in the valley of darkness
 no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
 with these you give me comfort. (R./)

You have prepared a banquet for me
 in the sight of my foes.
 My head you have anointed with oil;
 my cup is overflowing. (R./)

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
 all the days of my life.
 In the Lord's own house shall I dwell
 for ever and ever. (R./)

Gospel: John 1:1-18

The magnificent prologue of Saint John's Gospel

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out "this was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'" From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.


In grateful retrospection

The first reading's evidence of a deeply-divided faith-community has sober relevance for today's Church, and also offers us a stimulus to renewal. It is clear from the epistle that John's small Christian community had been badly shaken by recent events. Their membership has dropped, and no doubt bitter words were exchanged about former members who had turned away and left. But if the desertions made it seem the last hour had come, the author still trusts in the anointing that comes from the Holy One.

In the event, John's badly-shaken group (which Raymond Brown called, The Community of the Beloved Disciple) did not disappear. The final chapter of the fourth Gospel is proof that they re-built their links with the other Christian churches under the trusted leadership of Simon Peter ("Feed my lambs"), and they went on to provide the highest and noblest understanding of Christ, the Word-made-flesh and author of our salvation. The magnificent prologue of John's Gospel, and fruit of the contemplative mind and heart of the Beloved Disciple, shows how even after a severe crisis in the Church a new and greater flourishing can emerge, if we can just listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. For from his fullness we have all received, and one grace is heaped upon another, so that we can all become what we are meant to be, children of God.

We pray that our church, wisely guided by our pastors, may be encouraged begin our new year with renewed trust in the guidance and animation of God's Holy Spirit.

New year's eve is often a time when we look back on the past year. For many, the past year will have been a difficult one. The economic situation of the country has left many without a job and forced others to emigrate whose preference would have been to stay at home. Some will have lost a loved one during the year and are struggling to come to terms with the loss. As well as looking back on the struggles and pains of the year, new year's eve can also be a time to look back in thanksgiving, a time to name the graces and gifts that have come our way and have enhanced our lives. No matter what we have been through, we all have something to give thanks for; we have all been graced in one way or another. It is that graced dimension of our lives that today's gospel draws attention to. The greatest grace and the source of all other graces is the Lord's presence to us. That grace is memorably expressed in today's gospel as, "The Word was made flesh and he lived among us, and we saw his glory." Jesus who was God became flesh as we are flesh, and as risen Lord remains with us until the end of time. The gospel also declares that "from his fullness we have, all of us, received -- yes, grace upon grace." We are invited to keep drawing grace upon grace from the fullness of the Lord's loving presence. That realization keeps us thankful for the past and gives us confidence as we face into the future.

Saint Sylvester, pope.

Sylvester (250-325) was born in Rome in the mid-3rd century and served as a priest under pope Marcellinus before the persecution under Diocletian (303). After the victory of emperor Constantine in 312 he succeeded Melchiades as bishop of Rome in 314 and he sent four legates to represent him at the first Council of Arles, 314. Because of old age, he was unable to attend the Council of Nice in 325 but sent legates who headed the list of its signatories, preceding the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch. Sylvester was pope for 21 years and was buried on 31st December, 325, in the Catacomb of Priscilla. In German-speaking countries his name is popularly given to the New Year's Eve festival.

Sunday after Christmas. The Holy Family

Today we celebrate the domestic life of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, an an inspiration for all families everywhere.

Year A: Sirach, Colossians and Matthew

(See alternative readings for Years B and C, below

1st Reading: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14

A practical application of the fourth commandment, to honour our parents

The Lord honours a father above his children,
 and he confirms a mother's right over her children.
Those who honour their father atone for sins,
 and those who respect their mother are like those who lay up treasure.
Those who honour their father will have joy in their own children,
 and when they pray they will be heard.
Those who respect their father will have long life,
 and those who honour their mother obey the Lord;
 My child, help your father in his old age,
 and do not grieve him as long as he lives;
 even if his mind fails, be patient with him;
 because you have all your faculties do not despise him.
For kindness to a father will not be forgotten,
 and will be credited to you against your sins

Responsorial: Psalm 127: 1-5

R./: Happy are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
 and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper. (R./)

Your wife like a fruitful vine
 in the heart of your house;
 your children like shoots of the olive,
 around your table. (R./)

Indeed thus shall be blessed
 the man who fears the Lord.
 May the Lord bless you from Zion
 all the days of your life! (R./)

2nd Reading: Colossians 3:12-21

Paul's ideal of the kindness to be practiced among Christians

As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart.

Gospel: Matthew 2:13-15; 19-23

Dangers faced by the Holy Family before they settled in Nazareth

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."

Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."

Year B: Genesis, Hebrews and Luke

1st Reading: Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3

Abraham and Sarah are given a child as a reward for their faith

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?”  And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”  But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”  And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised.  Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him.

Responsorial: Psalm 104: 1-6, 8-9

R./: The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.

Give thanks to the Lord, tell his name,
 make known his deeds among the peoples.
 O sing to him, sing his praise;
 tell all his wonderful works! (R./)

Be proud of his holy name,
 let the hearts that seek the Lord rejoice.
 Consider the Lord and his strength;
 constantly seek his face. (R./)

Remember the wonders he has done,
 his miracles, the judgements he spoke.
 O children of Abraham, his servant,
 O sons of the Jacob he chose. (R./)

He remembers his covenant for ever,
 his promise for a thousand generations,
 the covenant he made with Abraham,
 the oath he swore to Isaac. (R./)

2nd Reading: Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19

The outcome of the faith of Abraham and Sarah

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old – and Sarah herself was barren – because he considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son,  of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.”  He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead – and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

Gospel: Luke 2:22, 39-40

The child Jesus was presented to God, then lived at home in Nazareth

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Year C: 1 Samuel, 1 John and Luke

1st Reading: 1 Samuel 1:20-22, 24-28

Hannah dedicates her son, Samuel, to God

In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, "I have asked him of the Lord."

Her husband Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow.  But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, "As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time."

 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young.  Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli.  And she said, "Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord.  For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him.  Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord." She left him there for the Lord.

Responsorial: Psalm 83: 2-3, 5-6, 9-10

R./: How happy they who dwell in your house, O Lord.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
 Lord, God of hosts.
 My soul is longing and yearning,
 is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
 My heart and my soul ring out their joy
 to God, the living God. (R./)

They are happy, who dwell in your house,
 for ever singing your praise.
They are happy, whose strength is in you;
 they walk with ever growing strength. (R./)

O Lord, God of hosts, hear my prayer,
 give ear, O God of Jacob.
Turn your eyes, O God, our shield,
 look on the face of your anointed. (R./)

2nd Reading: 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24

As God's love is lavished on us, we are called to pass on this love to each other in our families

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.

Beloved, we put our trust in God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Gospel: Luke 2:41-52

The finding of Jesus, after being lost for three days

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.  When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.  When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”  But they did not understand what he said to them.  Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favour.


Ideals for family living

Some might feel that this feast sets too high an ideal for families, if the homilist highlights the virtues of the Holy Family, without also showing that they had to face many issues not unlinke those of our own households. Fortunately the Gospel tells us something quite different about the childhood of Jesus, in a down-to-earth way, by instances.

Even though we call them the Holy Family that does not mean they never had problems to face, as every family must. Just as each follower of Jesus has a cross to carry, so also the holy family had to experience the cross in their shared life. To mention just a few examples, we can imagine how misunderstood both Mary and Joseph must have been about the conception of Jesus before they came to live together. Joseph was even planning to divorce Mary privately before being assured that it was the work of God. Nine months later, the birthplace of Jesus was an animal shelter, since no better lodgings could be found.

Today’s Gospel from St Matthew shows how the little family had to flee as refugees to Egypt because the child Jesus’ life was in danger from king Herod, in much the same way as refugees from war-torn countries have to flee to save their lives. This prompts us to be more aware of, and show more empathy towards, those refugees in our own day who seek a safer life among us than they had in the countries from which they fled.

St Luke has another story to illustrate what trials were faced by Mary and Joseph, in trying to understand the development of Jesus as a young person. When he was twelve, they were shocked to lose him for three days and then had to deal with the unsatisfactory explanation that he “had to be about his Father’s business.” Still, he returned with them to Nazareth and was subject to them, in the quiet rhythm of family life in their village. We do not hear of Joseph any more after that so we presume that he had died before Jesus began his public ministry. Then too, the public life of Jesus must have taken its toll on Mary. In the Temple when he was an infant, old Simeon had predicted that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s soul. How she must have been pained to hear his enemies say that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners, and at the end, when Mary watched her son die in public disgrace, on the cross.

What sustained the family of Nazareth through all of these trials and crosses? What holds families together in times of difficulty is love and trust. Whenever families are happy, it is where love and respect are highly prized among them. We pray for an outpouring of those qualities in our families today.A major threat to family life nowadays is that we don’t spend enough time together. We are so busy working, socialising, using our electronic gadgets or watching TV that we have no time to talk to each other.

A barrister, a busy career woman, was living just ten kilometers from her old, widowed father. But months often passed between her visits to him; and when her father texted to ask when she might bring his grandchildren to visit him, she detailed lots of reasons that kept her too busy to see him, court schedules, meetings, new clients, research, etc. Her father frowned and then asked, ‘When I die, will you come to my funeral?’ The daughter was indignant. “Dad, how can you ask me that? Of course, I’ll be there!” He smiled and said, “Aah! Then please forget my funeral and come to visit me now. I need you now more than I will then.” Message understood – and his daughter began to visit him regularly after that.


2nd Sunday after Christmas

1st Reading: Sirach 24:1-2, 8-12

Lyrical praise of the wisdom God has revealed to us

Wisdom praises herself and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.
 In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth,
 and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:
 "Then the Creator of all things gave me a command,
 and my Creator chose the place for my tent.
He said, "Make your dwelling in Jacob,
 and in Israel receive your inheritance."

Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me,
 and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.
 In the holy tent I ministered before him,
 and so I was established in Zion.
Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place,
 and in Jerusalem was my domain.
 I took root in an honoured people,
 in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

Responsorial: Psalm 147: 12-15, 19-20

R./: The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.

O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
 Zion, praise your God!
He has strengthened the bars of your gates,
 he has blessed the children within you. (R./)

He established peace on your borders,
 he feeds you with finest wheat.
He sends out his word to the earth
 and swiftly runs his command. (R./)

He makes his word known to Jacob,
 to Israel his laws and decrees.
He has not dealt thus with other nations;
 he has not taught them his decrees. (R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18

We are God's adopted children, through his only Son, Jesus

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.

Gospel: John 1:1-18

The eternal Son of God has come to us, full of grace and truth

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.


The Word Became Flesh

In a scene called Christ in the House of His Parents, the 19th-century English painter John Everett Millais depicted Jesus as a boy of about eight or ten, helping  in Joseph’s carpentry workshop. In an accident, Jesus had gashed his finger so badly that his blood streamed down, while his mother tended to the wound. Though it’s an imaginary incident, it portrays well what John means in his Gospel today, that the Word truly became flesh.

The Fourth Gospel opens with a sublime statement about the origins of Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God.” It goes on to affirm that the Word became flesh for us. By becoming one of ourselves we might expect the Incarnate Word of God to share the same emotions as ourselves, and indeed he did. In the stories that follow, we read how Jesus showed his love to various people, to Martha, Mary and Lazarus, to his disciple John and to the rich young man who wanted to follow him. Equally, he shared our experience of distress. He could shed tears at times of loss and crisis, such as when his friend Lazarus died and before he publicly entered Jerusalem, knowing that the city would reject and execute him. The Gospels also tell how Jesus enjoyed social occasions and was a guest at so many dinners that his critics called him a glutton and a drunkard. He felt a strong empathy for people who suffered, and when they were hungry he provided the food that they needed. Like all of us, he needed companionship with others, so on several occasions he took Peter, James and John into his special confidence. When exhausted he could fall asleep, even in the stern of a boat being tossed by the wind and waves. He felt intense fear just before his passion, and openly admitted to his followers how troubled he felt in his soul. In his agony he prayed “Father let his cup pass me by.” When the Word became flesh, he joined us on so many levels.

He dwelt among us, fully, passionately. He didn’t just come to live a quiet life. He “pitched his tent among us” and shared the full range of our human experience, in order to draw us near to God. He was so much in touch with outsiders that his critics called him a friend of tax-collectors and sinners. To show his compassion for lepers, he physically touched them, laid hands on them, even at the risk of becoming ritually impure. Because he was a man of the people he spent most of his time among those who needed him most, and they were welcome in his company.

This Word became flesh to make the Eternal Father known to all of us. He came to let us know the Father. Indeed, he is God’s personal message to us. How can we know the Father? Through Jesus who is “the way, the truth and the life.” He is our surest way to the Father. To know the invisible God, we must link up with Jesus, think of him often, and identify with him as children of God. "To those who did accept him, he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not of human stock or human desire or human will but of God himself." We are the ones who are (re)born in this way.

January 01. Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

1st Reading: Numbers 6:22-27

A new-year prayer for God to bless and protect his people

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying,
Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Responsorial: Psalm 66: 2-3, 5, 6, 8

R./: May God bless us in his mercy.

God, be gracious and bless us
 and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
 and all nations learn your saving help. (R./)

Let the nations be glad
 and exult for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples.
 you guide the nations on earth. (R./)

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
 let all the peoples praise you.
 May God still give us his blessing
 till the ends of the earth revere him. (R./)

2nd Reading: Galatians (4:4-7

Through adoption, we can call God "Abba! Father!"

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, 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.

Gospel: Luke 2:16-21

The shepherds visit the manger. Later, Jesus is circumcised and named

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.


A woman of strong and simple faith

At the Council of Ephesus (451), the mother of Jesus was solemnly proclaimed as Mother of God or Theotokos, acknowledging the Godhead of her Son, Jesus Christ. Under this noble title she is still honoured by most Christians around the world, and today's feast invites us to place our hopes and plans for the new-starting year under her motherly care. We can entrust to her our personal concerns and those of our era, the conflicts the glaring injustices, the unequal wealth and opportunity, the war in Syria and Iraq; in short, all that troubles peace and fairness in our world at this time.

In spite of everything, we can enter this new year of 2016 with a sense of wonder and trust. Somehow we can share in the spirit of Saint Peter at the Transfiguration of Christ when he said, "Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here." Such wonder and reverence was typical of Mary, our Mother in the faith, the first believer in our great Christian family. But Mary was also a flesh-and-blood woman of her times, a hard-working girl from Nazareth, cheerfully willing to be of service to others. It would be illusory to imagine her as a Christmas-card Madonna, set serenely against a golden background with hovering angels. Such a figure is simply not true to her life-story as told in the Gospels. The real Mary from Nazareth knew no riches or privelege in her lifetime. Nobody has ever lived, suffered and died in greater simplicity, marked by a strong and simple faith.

As she saw herself, Mary was the handmaid of the Lord, trusting in Providence and sustained by the goodness of God. Indeed, she stands out among the Lord's anawim, the humble hearts who confidently trust that God has everything in hand (Lumen Gentium 55). In the first four Christian centuries, Church writers emphasised Mary's faith rather than her divine motherhood. As St Augustine put it, "She conceived Jesus in her heart before conceiving him in her womb." Also venerated as Mother of Good Counsel, Our Lady can be our guide and counsellor in the area of faith. She wants to beget faith in us, to be our Mother in faith. That is why, in the gospel of John, she is present at the beginning and the end of Christ's public life.

John is the only one to record Mary's presence at Calvary, as in the terse statement, "Near the cross of Jesus stood his Mother" (Jn 19:25). When all the miracles of Jesus seemed a delusion to many, his mother stood there faithful to him to his last breath, still believing in God's power to save. Her faith did not need astounding miracles, but rested on childlike trust in the mysterious ways of God our Father. Nor did her role as mother cease then, for in his dying hour Jesus gave it a new focus when he said to John, "Behold your Mother." The mother of Jesus will henceforth be the mother of all his disciples, sharing with us her strong and simple faith.

On this we see Mary marvelling at what has happened, treasuring the events of Christmas in her memory, and pondering them in her heart. The image is that of the contemplative woman who ponders the marvels the Almighty has done for her and for all people. She ponders in response to what the shepherds said to her. Those simple, humble shepherds had preached the gospel to her, repeating what had been told to them by the angels, "Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." It is this good news, this gospel, that she treasured and pondered over.

The same gospel has come to us, and we are invited to treasure it, to ponder on it and to respond to it, as Mary did. Today, New Year's day, is a day when many feel drawn to make good resolutions. What better new year's resolution could we make today than that of adopting Mary's stance before the grace of God? Today's feast invites us to share in Mary's sense of awe and wonder before God's merciful love, made known to us in Christ, her son. As we look towards the new year, which begins today, we ask Mary to help us to treasure the gospel as she did, so that Christ might come to others through us as he came to us through Mary.

2 January

1st Reading: 1 John 2:22-28

The Holy Spirit received from Jesus, teaches you all things

Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.

I write these things to you concerning those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.

Responsorial: Psalm 97: 1-4

R./: All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Sing a new song to the Lord
 for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
 have brought salvation. (R./)

The Lord has made known his salvation;
 has shown his justice to the nations.
He has remembered his truth and love
 for the house of Israel. (R./)

All the ends of the earth
 have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
 ring out your joy. (R./)

Gospel: John 1:19-28

John the Baptist describes himself as the voice of one crying out in the desert

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water. 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." This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.


John, a Challenging Prophet

By his preaching of repentance, John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. In the Orthodox church, John is titled as “prodromos ,” and in the Western, Latin church he is “precursor ” (forerunner), describing his unique role in the story of our salvation. In order to prepare to be a spiritual guide for others, he was drawn by the Holy Spirit to an austere and contemplative style of life, living in the desert of Judea from his youth until his early manhood, about thirty years of age.

At that stage he began his public mission as a preacher of repentance and renewal to his Jewish people. Clothed in a rough penitential garb of camel-skin, be announced the grace of God to all who came to him in search of repentance, and who went down into the waters of baptism for the washing away of their sins. He showed them simple ordinary ways to serve God in their daily lives, and proclaimed the imminent coming of the Messiah, who would pour out God’s Spirit more richly upon them.

Many people seeking direction, especially those regarded by the Temple authorities as marginal Jews (such as tax collectors and prostitutes) received John as the true herald of God, and heard his words as those of a true prophet. To the official leaders of Judaism, the Priests and the Pharisees, John seemed more a threat than a blessing. Their resistance to a message requiring moral and spiritual renewal made them unable to hear the divine guidance latent in his words. Today’s Gospel is a sober reminder to all of us, but especially to church leaders, to listen to what the Holy Spirit says through the voices of awkward prophecy.

Who are you, then?

The question put to John the Baptist, “Who are you, then?” is one of the most challenging of all questions to answer. We can struggle to answer honestly or fully, “Who am I, really?” It’s easy to reply at a certain level by telling people where we were born or what work we do or what role we play in our family, “I am an accountant” or “I am a carpenter,” “I’m from Dublin; I’m a husband; I’m mother of five children. While these answers would be true, to get beyond the externals of our autobiography to who we are in inmost our core is much more difficult. Our responses to that deeper question can change as we go through life. How we answer it at this moment in our lives is not what we would have said earlier in our lives.

For people of Christian faith, the answer to this existential question will be influenced by our relationship with Jesus, because that relationship affects us at our very core. Saint Paul is the great example of this immersion in Christ. If asked, “Who are you, then?” he might answer in the words he wrote in Galatians, “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” His identity had become a Christ-stamped identity. When John the Baptist was asked that key question in today’s gospel, he cals himself a voice that cries in the wilderness. His identity was shaped by his relationship with Jesus. He is the voice who witnesses to the Word, the Word that has become flesh. Our destiny is to keep on growing into Christ until our identity is fully shaped by our relationship with him.


3 January

1st Reading: 1 John 2:29 - 3:6

We are God's children now; when he is revealed, we will be like him

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.

Responsorial: Psalm 97: 1, 3-6

R./: All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Sing a new song to the Lord
 for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
 have brought salvation. (R./)

All the ends of the earth
 have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout to the Lord all the earth,
 ring out your joy. (R./)

Sing psalms to the Lord with the harp
 with the sound of music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
 acclaim the King, the Lord. (R./)

Gospel: John 1:29-34

The Baptist bears witness to Jesus, who ranks ahead of him.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel."

And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."


The Voice and the Word

Saint Augustine contrasts the roles of John and Jesus, by highlighting the humility of John, who prepared the way of the Lord: “John is the Voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; but Christ from the beginning is the Word who lives for ever. Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? The voice without the word reaches the ear but does not strengthen the heart. When the word is brought to you, does not the voice seem to say: The word must grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice was heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: ‘My joy is complete.’ Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.”

Augustine continues: “Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offence to the word. .. ‘I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him.’ If he had said, ‘I am the Christ,’ he would have been believed, since they thought him the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say this; he clearly acknowledged what he was; he humbled himself. John saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and was careful not to be blown out by the wind of pride.

What is striking about the portrait of John the Baptist is his generosity of spirit. This was a very charismatic person who drew people to himself. As a result, he had his own disciples. Yet, in today’s gospel we find John directing two of his disciples away from himself and towards the one whom he proclaimed as the Lamb of God. As a result John’s two disciples became disciples of Jesus. Having responded to John’s invitation to go towards the Lamb of God, they subsequently respond to Jesus’ invitation to come and see. John was not possessive about his group of disciples. He encouraged them to go towards someone else who had more to offer them than he had.

The way John related to his disciples shows us humanity as its best, human love as an expression of God’s love. To love others in the way God loves them is to want what is best for them, and that will often mean letting them go to others who can help them to grow as human beings and as children of God in ways that we cannot. It is above all the Lord who can help us to grow fully as human beings and as sons and daughters of God. The greatest act of love we can show others is to let them go to the Lord, to direct them to the Lord as John the Baptist directed his own disciples. There was only so much John could do in leading his disciples to Jesus. They had to make their own personal response to the call of Jesus to come and see. There is only so much any of us can do to lead others to the Lord. At some point, we need to make our own personal response to the Lord’s personal call to each one of us to come and see, and then to remain with him.

4 January

1st Reading: 1 John 3:7-10.

How we are reborn as children of God

Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God's seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

Responsorial: Psalm 97: 1, 7-9

R./: All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Sing a new song to the Lord
 for he has worked wonders.
His right hand and his holy arm
 have brought salvation. (R./)

Let the sea and all within it, thunder;
 the world and all its peoples.
Let the rivers clap their hands
 and the hills ring out their joy
 at the presence of the Lord. (R./)

For the Lord comes,
 he comes to rule the earth.
He will rule the world with justice
 and the peoples with fairness. (R./)

Gospel: John 1:35-42

The calling of Jesus' first disciples: "Come and See"

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him an said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).


What are we looking for?

The vocational stories in the first chapter of John's Gospel combine a surface simplicity with challenging depth. They may be compared and contrasted to the call of the fishermen by the lake-shore, but they bring out extra dimensions in the call to follow Jesus. On the one side we see the influence of others, in this case, John the Baptist, pointing towards Jesus, inviting us to see and admire what he has to offer. On the other side, our own desires and questions come into it too. Jesus invites them to express their deepest hopes and aspirations in a deep question: “What are you looking for?” There is no religious vocation without that inner quest which demands satisfaction.

“What are you looking for?” Their first reply is superficial, not really naming what they expected from him. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Well, it’s a start; they want to relate to him in some way; to follow up on their first encounter with him. Then comes his invitation, which calls them into a meeting that will last not just an hour but a whole lifetime: “Come, and you will see.” Here we see that wonderful way in which the fourth Evangelist manages to combine a definite, concrete episode or meeting (“Come to my house this afternoon, and we can talk.”) with an open-ended challenge to a constant religious experience (“Come and be with me, and you will see what life can mean.”) St John achieves a similar effect in each of the later stories in his Gospel. What happened once, in the encounter of some individuals with Jesus, continues to happen for his disciples in every subsequent time and place.

Following on from the work of John the Baptist, we see how the early Christians drew one another to Christ. In Simon’s case it was his brother Andrew who excitedly tells him “We have found the Messiah!” This was the occasion, in John’s account, when Jesus called Simon “Cephas” or Peter. Not quite the same as in Matthew’s Gospel (16:16ff), but just as valid a way of telling us that it is through Jesus that we find our full, God-given vocation.

5 January

Saint Charles of Mount Argus, optional memorial

1st Reading: 1 John 3:11-21

The original Christian message, that we should love one another

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us - and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who as the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

Responsorial: Psalm 99

R./: Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.

Cry out with joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Serve the Lord with gladness.
 Come before him, singing for joy. (R./)

Know that he, the Lord, is God.
He made us, we belong to him,
 we are his people, the sheep of his flock. (R./)

Go within his gates, giving thanks.
 Enter his courts with songs of praise.
Give thanks to him and bless his name. (R./)

Indeed, how good is the Lord,
 eternal his merciful love.
He is faithful from age to age. (R./)

Gospel: John 1:43-51

Jesus promises Nathanael that he will see the heavens opened

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you."

Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."


A man in whom there is no deceit

It's hard not to like the person of Nathanael as portrayed by the evangelist in today's gospel. He clearly wasn't the kind of man who got carried away by other people's enthusiasms. When Philip breathlessly tells him, "We have found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth," Nathanael's reply was, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth." To Philip's credit, he persisted with Nathanael, and he must have broken through Nathanael's prejudice because at the beginning of today's gospel we find Nathanael coming towards Jesus. Jesus addresses him as a man incapable of deceit, someone in whom there is no guile. What you see is what you get, as we might say today. As a result of his meeting with Jesus the sceptic comes to confess Jesus as "the Son of God; the King of Israel." Jesus makes Nathanael a wonderful promise, "You will see;" Angels were understood as mediators, connecting heaven and earth. Jesus promises Nathanael that he will come to appreciate Jesus as the meeting point of heaven and earth. Nathanael travelled a journey from scepticism to great faith, with the promise of greater things to come. We are all on a journey of faith; we can all hope to see those greater things that Jesus promises Nathanael. As Paul says, "now we see as in a mirror dimly, then we shall see face to face."

John Andrew Houben (1821-1893) from Munstergeleen, Holland, was briefly the Dutch army before being called to religious life with the Passionists in 1845, in Belgium, taking the name Charles. After ordination he was sent to England in 1852, where he met Irish emigrants fleeing from the Famine. In 1857 he moved to Ireland, to Mount Argus monastery in Dublin. Never a famous preacher, he excelled in comforting the sick and had amazing gifts of healing. By the time of his death in 1893 he was widely revered as a saint

January 6th. The Epiphany of the Lord

(or the Sunday between 2 January and 8 January)

1st Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6

In those days the Messiah will reveal his glory to all the nations

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
 and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
 and thick darkness the peoples;
 but the Lord will arise upon you,
 and his glory will appear over you.
 Nations shall come to your light,
 and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Lift up your eyes and look around;
 they all gather together, they come to you;
 your sons shall come from far away,
 and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses' arms.
Then you shall see and be radiant;
 your heart shall thrill and rejoice,
 because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you,
 the wealth of the nations shall come to you.

A multitude of camels shall cover you,
 the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
 all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
 and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Responsorial: Psalm 147: 12-15, 19-20

R./: Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
Sion, praise your God!
He has strengthened the bars of your gates,
 he has blessed the children within you. (R./)

He established peace on your borders,
 he feeds you with finest wheat.
He sends out his word to the earth
 and swiftly runs his command. (R./)

He makes his word known to Jacob,
 to Israel his laws and decrees.
He has not dealt thus with other nations;
 he has not taught them his decrees. (R./)

2nd Reading: Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6

Christ is here to save all people, without racial distinction

Surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12

The Magi's visit shows the light of Christ for all the nations

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
 are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
 for from you shall come a ruler
 who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


Imaginative story-telling

The stories about Jesus’ childhood are closely linked to some well-known Old Testament stories. The Evangelists Matthew and Luke use these re-written narratives to explore the identity of Jesus. This literary device seems strange to us, as not being real history at all, but for the original hearers and readers, the Jewish Christians, these biblical resonances gave these stories encouraging and devotional meaning for their faith. We can note three points in particular:

1) The gifts brought by the Magi call to mind a universalist text in Isaiah: “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.” (Is 60:6) It was concluded from this text as well that the mode of transport of the magi was camels, although Matt supplies no such detail.

2) The Magi themselves, symbolising the Gentiles, are an echo in Psalm 72: “May the kings of Tarshish and the islands render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him…” From this reference, it was deduces that the magi were kings. Eventually they were given names – Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar.

3) Bethlehem, the city of David, is often mentioned in the Old Testament, unlike Nazareth. One mention of it was, at the time, read as a messianic prophecy. “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth the one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Mic 5:2)

Presents and Presence

During Christmas time we give presents to different people and others give presents to us. What's it all about? It all goes back to the story of the wise men going to Bethlehem, falling down on their knees, and offering the best gifts they could afford to the Baby King. But Christmas is not just about giving presents. It's more about being present, i.e. sharing ourselves with warmth, affection and sincerity. The quality of our personal presence is everything.In practice, gift-giving may sometimes be aimed more at keeping on side and keeping the peace than being really present. In fact, gift-giving may at times be part of the commercialisation of Christmas instead of an expression of unconditional love.

The wise men were completely single-minded and sincere in their gift-giving. Their gifts were expressions of their respect, reverence, gratitude and love for the child. Their gifts were given with no strings attached, no conditions, and no mixed motives. The flaws in our own gift-giving may make us feel that the whole business of exchanging Christmas presents should be abolished, and that the commercialisation of Christmas should be restrained and restricted, if not eliminated altogether.

If we think such thoughts, it may help to remember that the consumerism of Christmas is somewhat necessary. Were it a completely spiritual celebration, hundreds of small businesses would go to the wall. Thousands of factory workers making bon-bons, trees, chocolates, decorations, cards and toys, would find themselves unemployed. It may also be helpful to remember that if people did not spend money on gifts to family and friends at Christmas, their consciences would not be roused to make donations to the poor and needy at this special time of giving and sharing. (Many charities, in fact, experience a big boost at Christmas time).

Despite the limits and flaws in our gift-giving, it's important to both keep the practice alive and to purify it of its worst excesses. It's particularly important to the lives of children. The good news is that while they are attracted to receiving e.g., a gift of an I-pad or of shiny new roller-blades, they are also attracted to the Crib and to the story of the baby lying there clothed in rags. Their hearts are touched by the plight of his parents who are so poor that they can offer him nothing but their protection and affection.

In fact, children very easily get the message that this is a story of love. They appreciate the humanity of the Holy Family, their struggles and their sacrifices, to bring to the human race the Light of the Nations. The story of the visit to the Crib by the Wise Men is a story of giving and receiving. It speaks of how gifts express love between persons, and of how gifts given with love bind people together. But it is not simply about the giving of things (in this case gold, frankincense, and myrrh) but the giving of persons, the sharing of selves.

In celebrating Epiphany we are celebrating the greatest proof of goodness there has ever been, of God's deeply personal love for us. For it was out of love, that the Father gave us the Son, and gave him to be our Light, our Saviour, our King and our Joy. His present to us is nothing less than the divine presence in our lives. The poet John Betjeman has aptly called this:

A present that cannot be priced
Given two thousand years ago.
Yet if God had not given so
He still would be a distant stranger
 And not the Baby in the manger.

Guided by the stars

It seems most likely that Jesus was in fact born in Bethlehem. But fixing the date of his birth is quite another matter, not even the year, let alone the day or the month. A slim clue may lie in today’s story about the star that led the way to him. The part of the Infancy Narrative one might be most tempted to discard as fairy-tale can also be highly meaningful. Whatever else has changed since Christ was born, the sky at night remains the same. Star-gazers today can follow the same star the Wise Men followed.

Christian tradition has opted for three as the number of the Wise Men and has given them the exotic names Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. We may imagine that they travelled from Persia or South Arabia, though Matthew simply indicates that they came from the East. The gospel leaves no doubt that they were men of conviction, with enquiring minds and adventuresome spirit; in a word, intellectuals.

Our church’s leaders have often not shown such welcome to intellectuals as did Mary and Joseph, in allowing the Magi to visit the child Jesus. No church or religion can flourish if it does not cherish specially its poets, writers and thinkers. The true church in the world is an island of saints and scholars. Stars reveal their secrets to dreamers. The searching of the Wise Men is a fine illustration of the Latin adage for theology, fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). The message for us is clear: if there is to be any epiphany in our lives we will need our heads as well as our hearts. We can ill-afford to ignore the insights of questing intellectuals.

Learn from the Magi

(Epiphany reflection by pope Francis, in his Apostolic Letter Admirabile Signum, on the meaning and importance of the nativity scene)

At the feast of Epiphany  we place the statues of the Three Kings in the Christmas crèche. Observing the star, those wise men from the East set out for Bethlehem, in order to find Jesus and to offer him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These costly gifts have an allegorical meaning: gold honours Jesus’ kingship, incense his divinity, myrrh his sacred humanity that was to experience death and burial.

As we contemplate this aspect of the nativity scene, we are called to reflect on the responsibility of every Christian to spread the Gospel. Each of us is called to bear glad tidings to all, testifying by our practical works of mercy to the joy of knowing Jesus and his love.

The Magi teach us that people can come to Christ by a very long route. Men of wealth, sages from afar, thirsting for the infinite, they set out on the long and perilous journey that would lead them to Bethlehem (cf. Mt 2:1-12). Great joy comes over them in the presence of the Infant King. They are not scandalized by the poor surroundings, but immediately fall to their knees to worship him. Kneeling before him, they understand that the God who with sovereign wisdom guides the course of the stars also guides the course of history, casting down the mighty and raising up the lowly. Upon their return home, they would certainly have told others of this amazing encounter with the Messiah, thus initiating the spread of the Gospel among the nations.

Monday after Epiphany
 . . . or 7 January

1st Reading: 1 John 3:22 - 4:6

Distinguishing the spirit of truth from the spirit of error

Beloved, we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world. Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore what they say is from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Responsorial: Psalm 149: 1-6, 9

R./: The Lord takes delight in his people.

Sing a new song to the Lord,
 his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker,
 let Zion's sons exult in their king. (R./)

Let them praise his name with dancing
 and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation. (R./)

Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
 shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips;
 this honour is for all his faithful. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25

Jesus went about the country villages, teaching and healing

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles - the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." And he went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.


From darkness to light

Some details in his Gospel suggest that St Matthew saw Jesus as a kind of new Moses, adding to the ethical teachings of Israel’s great lawgiver and shaping the New Covenant in a way that was more spiritual, more personally demanding than the Old Covenant. These parallels between Jesus and Moses were important for Matthew’s community, but even more important is the idea that God’s favour is not limited to Abraham’s descendants. There is great significance in Jesus’ moving on to Capernaum, a lakeshore town that represented what Matthew calls “Galilee of the Gentiles.” Out Lord’s moving his home to Capernaum symbolised that all nations will see the light of salvation through him – that is, they will be called into God’s own family and be saved.

Jesus visited various synagogues in Galilee, proclaiming his message about God’s ways (which he called the kingdom of God,) and curing every kind of sickness among the people. It was his healing power, his evident concern for enhancing the lives of the marginalised, that drew the crowds to him. The dynamic that moved him to preach and made him available to all kinds of outsiders, was love. If he called on people to “repent” – to reconsider their ambitions, priorities and lifestyle – it was for their good, to open them up to a fuller kind of life. Then Matthew sums up the impact of all Jesus’ activities in the lovely phrase: “the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light!

His teaching that the kingdom of heaven is near was illustrated by healing those who were broken in mind, body and spirit. St. Matthew conveys the light and life that Jesus brings. There was something so powerful and attractive about him and his message that people gathered to him from a very large area, Galilee, the Decapolis, Judaea and Transjordan, to be taught and renewed in spirit.

The person of Jesus and the message he proclaims are as powerful today as when he walked this earth. He is as much God’s gift to us today as he was two thousand years ago for the people who flocked to him. He is just as much a light in our darkness now as he was then. It is good to remind ourselves of this basic truth about our faith as we face into the year that lies ahead.

Tuesday after Epiphany
. . . or 8th January

1st Reading: 1 John 4:7-10

Love's divine origin and its influence on our lives

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Responsorial: Psalm 71: 1-4, 7-8

R./: Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

O God give your judgement to the king,
 to a king's son your justice,
 that he may judge your people in justice
 and your poor in right judgement. (R./)

May the mountains bring forth peace for the people
 and the hills, justice.
 May he defend the poor of the people
 and save the children of the needy. (R./)

In his days justice shall flourish
 and peace till the moon fails.
He shall rule from sea to sea,
 from the Great River to earth's bounds. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 6:34-44

Jesus feeds the hungry crowd with a few loaves and fishes

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages, and buy themselves something to eat."

But he answered, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "That would take more than half a year's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?" "How many loaves do you have?" he asked. "Go and see."

When they found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.


Loaves and fishes - and ourselves

This memorable miracle-story is told with variations in all four Gospels. It made a deep impression not just on those who were there but on every generation since. The importance of this story for people in those early days is clear enough. In a peasant, agricultural society that was politically and economically oppressed by the occupying Romans, getting enough food to eat was a daily challenge that is almost beyond understanding in the developed world today. For later generations in more prosperous times, it points to a core ideal taught by Jesus, inviting his people to share what they have with others.

Each of the Gospels tells of crowds coming from the surrounding countryside to listen to Jesus, so that at the end of a long day, five thousand people were in urgent need of food and lodging. Sensibly enough, the disciples suggest sending the people away to fend for themselves. But Jesus knows that the food already to hand will be enough, even though so far they had only succeeded in finding five barley loaves and two fish – remember, they were not far from the lake of Galilee. At any rate, when he blessed this apparently meager meal and invited his friends to distribute it, something wonderful happened. They all found to their amazement, that everyone had enough to eat, and the leftovers filled twelve baskets.

Many today would want to personally experience this miracle of sharing, when times are tough. Perhaps it can be achieved still, if the generous spirit of Jesus gets into our hearts, and into our governance, the sharing spirit that Pope Francis is calling for. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is a colourful background to the principle so well expressed in today’s epistle, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.”

Jesus wanted his disciples to be sharers, people of generous spirit willing to offer a helping hand to others in need. But whan they wanted him to send the crowd away and let them forage for themselves, he told them, “Give them something to eat yourselves.” It was as if to say, “Take some responsibility for these needy people yourselves; don’t just wish them away.”

He wants to prod us too, into doing something, however small, to relieve the inequality and injustice we see around us. Eventually they cam up with five loaves and two fish, apparently enough to feed two or three adults. But by some miracle, with those few resources they fed the whole crowd. he was teaching them (and us) that sharing something, no matter how small, can bear rich fruit. He can take our giving, whatever it is, and use it to do good. This miracle encourages us to be generous donors, even when we seem to have little to give that could change the situation we see around us.

Wednesday after Epiphany
. . . or 9th January

1st Reading: 1 John 4:11-18

God abides in those who recognise Jesus as the Son of God

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

Responsorial: Psalm 71: 1-2, 10-13

R./: Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

O God, give your judgement to the king,
 to a king's son your justice,
 that he may judge your people in justice
 and your poor in right judgement. (R./)

The kings of Tarshish and the sea coasts
 shall pay him tribute.
The kings of Sheba and Seba shall bring him gifts.
Before him all kings shall fall prostrate,
 all nations shall serve him. (R./)

For he shall save the poor when they cry
 and the needy who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak
 and save the lives of the poor. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 6:45-52

Jesus walks on the water and calms the gale

Straight away, Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.

When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid." Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.


When the wind dies

The life of an individual is often pictured as a journey (well-illustrated in books like Pilgrim’s Progress; The Exodus or The Odyssey), or alternatively as a voyage (because driven by forces more powerful than ourselves, like wind and wave.) We sail upon a rippling surface of events. When things go well, we feel the vibrant joy of movement, of being alive and going somewhere, like those experienced sailors, the apostles, on their way home from fishing in the lake of Galilee.

But life is not all plain sailing. In today’s Gospel story , a sudden gale blew up, tossing their boat and putting their lives in danger. Our own life-voyage can have its share of storms, anxieties, problems and pressures of various kinds. An unforeseen turn of events, a sudden illness, the break-up of a relationship, can throuw us into crisis. Are we going to make it through to the far shore or not? Many find it hard to stay afloat, bewildered and confused by the rapidly changing times, ill-at-ease in their relationships, discontented and insecure in themselves. At times like that, we are like those frightened apostles in the storm. We are those sailors, tossing about in the waves.

Various remedies are suggested, like medications for sea-sickness! Some will suggest we take a long quiet rest, a change of occupation, get psychiatric help or look for counselling, a course of Yoga or Transcendental Meditation, or attend charismatic prayer meetings. Each remedy has its own advantages, but what better support can be found in times of stress than an understanding friend? Today’s story suggests that our first and most constant recourse should be none other than Christ himself.

We cannot expect to be immune from the hardships and problems that are faced by all our fellow-voyagers in this life. Indeed, Christ himself shared fully in all of these anxieties, being tested in all things just as we are. If we imagine our Church as a boat (in which there are no idle passengers, but all are needed to row!), we have as destination the safe harbour of eternal life. With the compass of faith, and Christ himself as our unseen captain of the ship, that harbour will be reached. In the meantime, though tossed about by circumstances, he tells us: “Courage! Do not be afraid, o ye of little faith!’

The gospels often show Jesus at prayer. Immediately after the  feeding of the large crowd of people, Jesus went off up the hillside to pray. But while he went off alone, his prayer did not remove him from the troubles of this world. It would seem that prayer made him still more responsive to the needs and struggles of others. As he was praying in the hills, Jesus thought of his frightened friends who were worn out with rowing across the stormy lake. So he left off praying and came to their help, telling them to take heart, “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.”

While Jesus stayed in close communion with God he also kept touch with people in their need. The same duality is also true of our own inner selves. In prayer, we are mindful of God’s presence, tuning in to God’s presence within us, but also prompts us to think about others, to feel their needs. This is not surprising. The One whom we contact in prayer is full of love for others, so as often as we talk to him he reminds us to be concerned for others. In many cases our prayer tends to be intercessory prayer, for ourselves and others. Genuine prayer deepens our communion with Christ, but it can also broaden our concern, especially for those who are struggling with the storms of life.


Thursday after Epiphany
. . . or 10th January

1st Reading: 1 John 4:19 - 5:4

Whoever loves God should love Jesus, and all of our fellow-Christians

Beloved, we love God because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a sister or brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten by God, and everyone who loves the Father loves also the one begotten by him. In this way we know that we love the children of God when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.

Responsorial: Psalm 71: 1-2, 14-15, 17

R./: Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

O God, give your judgement to the king,
 to a king's son your justice,
 that he may judge your people in justice
 and your poor in right judgement. (R./)

From oppression he will rescue their lives,
 to him their blood is dear.
They shall pray for him without ceasing
 and bless him all the day. (R./)

May his name be blessed for ever
 and endure like the sun.
 Every tribe shall be blessed in him,
 All nations bless his name. (R./)

Gospel: Luke 4:14-22

In the Nazareth synagogue, Jesus proclaims the Isaiah prophecy fulfilled

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me
 to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
 and recovery of sight to the blind,
 to let the oppressed go free,
 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.


What motivated Jesus

Nowhere else, except during the Last Supper, does Jesus so clearly express his purpose in life as in the Scripture-based manifesto that he spoke in his home-town synagogue in Nazareth. When called to the rostrum to read from the Scriptures and say a word of inspiration and guidance, he chose a key text from Isaiah to sum up exactly what he himself wanted to achieve, as a preacher and healer.

He must have known this prophecy well, for Luke remarks that Jesus unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…’ He must have heard it read and made it his own by frequent meditation. It conveys the same deep, hope-filled spirituality found in Our Lady’s Magnificat, about joy and freedom and justice, and the divine power that will bring freedom to all who are oppressed. What a gracious God is there portrayed, a God who anoints with the Spirit, in order to bring joy and fullness of life to the poor, the captives and the blind. No wonder the villagers were impressed and delighted, to think that such a new day was dawning.

But it’s hard to move from dreaming about renewal to achieving it in the real world. So it was for Jesus. Soon after applauding him, they turned sharply against him and drove him out of Nazareth. This prepares us for the opposition he met later from Scribes, Pharisees and the Jerusalem priesthood as he tries to spread his message. His ideal of freedom, sharing and fraternity, and of loosening up their hidebound, hierarchical structures was anathema to the priveleged few. Ultimately it led to his rejection and execution in the darkness of the hill of Calvary.

Even during his crucifixion, indeed there more than ever (as St Luke shows, Lk 23:45), the Spirit of the Lord was still with Jesus, giving sight to the blind and letting the oppressed go free. His life’s mission, announced in the Nazareth Synagogue and continued in many places over the next three years, reached its climax of completion in his sacrificial death, about which each of us can say “He loved me, and gave himself for me!” (Gal 2:20)

Jesus had told them in a nutshell what would be his future life-work. He would proclaim the grace of God, the Father’s mercy towards all, especially to those who were usually neglected, the poor, the captives, the blind and disabled, the downtrodden. But the post-script to this good news was that miracles would be rare and unpredictable. This was not well received by his neighbours. By the time he finished speaking they were ready to throw him down over the edge of a cliff. It seems as if Jesus’ vision of God was just too big for the villagers, too hospitable, too welcoming, too forgiving, too all embracing, too generous. He challenges our image of God too. But he also has the power to transform us, enrich us in our poverty, bring us freedom where we were captive, enlighten our blindness, restore our sense of belonging to God, regardless of our past.

Friday after Epiphany
. . . or 11th January

1st Reading: 1 John 5:5-13

(God has testified to his Son, Jesus, who grants victory over this world)

Beloved: Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came through water and Blood, Jesus Christ, not by water alone, but by water and Blood.
The Spirit is the one who testifies,
 and the Spirit is truth.
So there are three who testify,
 the Spirit, the water, and the Blood,
 and the three are of one accord.
 If we accept human testimony,
 the testimony of God is surely greater.
 Now the testimony of God is this,
 that he has testified on behalf of his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God
 has this testimony within himself.
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar
 by not believing the testimony God has given about his Son.
 And this is the testimony:
God gave us eternal life,
 and this life is in his Son.
Whoever possesses the Son has life;
 whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.

I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God.

Responsorial: Psalm 147: 12-15, 19-20

R./: Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
 Zion, praise your God!
He has strengthened the bars of your gates,
 he has blessed the children within you. (R./)

He established peace on your borders,
 he feeds you with finest wheat.
He sends out his word to the earth
 and swiftly runs his command. (R./)

He makes his word known to Jacob,
 to Israel his laws and decrees.
He has not dealt thus with other nations;
 he has not taught them his decrees. (R./)

Gospel Luke 5:12-16

Jesus heals the man covered in leprosy, and sends him to the priest, to witness it

It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, "Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean." Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, "I do will it. Be made clean." And the leprosy left him immediately.

Then he ordered him not to tell anyone, but "Go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them." The report about him spread all the more, and great crowds assembled to listen to him and to be cured of their ailments, but he would withdraw to deserted places to pray.


Touching the leper

The Lord demonstrates what it means to minister to others, to really serve them. After calling the first fishermen to follow him, Jesus showed them what it means to be fishers of men. The people he set out to “catch” or engage with his message were not the political and social celebrities, people who were well-off and influential, but primarily the poor and the neglected. Tax collectors, prostitutes, Gentiles, and thieves were drawn to Jesus, for they found him encouraging their dignity and not condemning them. In today’s story, he reaches out one of the most rejected groups of all, people suffering from the dreaded disease of leprosy. This shows us Jesus as a life-giver and healer. He wanted to do exactly what he had said in the Synagogue in Nazareth, to heal, mend, restore, and set free.

“In one of the towns”: Luke does not specify where, but presumably in Galilee, he meets someone who really should not have been there, for a person afflicted with leprosy was obliged to stay far away from other people, to avoid infecting them. Lepers were strictly commanded to live apart from society, and to cry “Unclean! Unclean!” if approached by people (Lev 13:45). They were “untouchables” in every sense of the word, despised, forsaken, judged and condemned.

Maybe the man had ignored convention in order to search for Jesus, and when he saw him he fell down and begged, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” How did he recognize Jesus? Perhaps, as the crowds gave way before the leper, it was only Jesus who did not move aside, but let the diseased man come right up to him. This man never doubted that God could heal him. His request is like that of Naaman who asked the prophet Elijah to cleanse him of his leprosy.

Before replying, Jesus reached out his hand and touched him. This would have shocked both the leper and the onlookers, for rabbis and priests in particular must carefully avoid lepers, so as not to become ceremonially unclean. But such a shocking action allowed Jesus to show his acceptance and compassion to one who had not received such love in a long time. As pope Francis has told us, this kind of “pastoral” risk-taking shows what is needed to be a fisher of men.

Saturday after Epiphany
. . . or 12th January

1st Reading. 1 Jn 5:14-21

Different sorts of sin, some of which is venial, less deadly to the spirit

Beloved: We have this confidence in him
 that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.
 And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask,
 we know that what we have asked him for is ours.
 If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly,
 he should pray to God and he will give him life.
This is only for those whose sin is not deadly.
There is such a thing as deadly sin,
 about which I do not say that you should pray.
 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly.

We know that anyone begotten by God does not sin;
 but the one begotten by God he protects,
 and the Evil One cannot touch him.
We know that we belong to God,
 and the whole world is under the power of the Evil One.
We also know that the Son of God has come
 and has given us discernment to know the one who is true.
 And we are in the one who is true,
 in his Son Jesus Christ.
He is the true God and eternal life.
 Children, be on your guard against idols.

Responsorial: Psalm 149: 1-6

R./: The Lord takes delight in his people.

Sing a new song to the Lord,
 his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker,
 let Zion's sons exult in their king. (R./)

Let them praise his name with dancing
 and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation. (R./)

Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
 shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips;
 this honour is for all his faithful. (R./)

Gospel: John 3:22-30

John the Baptist defers to Jesus as the best man does towards the bridegroom

Jesus and his disciples went into the region of Judea, where he spent some time with them baptizing. John was also baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was an abundance of water there, and people came to be baptized, for John had not yet been imprisoned.

Now a dispute arose between the disciples of John and a Jew about ceremonial washings. So they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, the one who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you testified, here he is baptizing and everyone is coming to him." John answered and said, "No one can receive anything except what has been given from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said that I am not the Christ, but that I was sent before him. The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens for him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. So this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease."

He must increase ... the spirit of the Baptist

The fourth Evangelist sums up in two phrases the honour paid to Jesus by John the Baptist : "He must increase; I must decrease." This is the spirit required by his God-given role as "prodromos" or "forerunner" to the Messiah: it is one of authentic deference, of knowing his place in the order of things. Not for him the all-too-common human desire to hold on to the limelight, to cling to power and prestige until forced to renounce them by death or defeat.

He credits the Baptist with a great spirit of honesty. While many were prepared to revere the Baptist as the awaited Messiah, he stubbornly refused to claim that honour for himself. He called himself the signpost pointing to Jesus, the Voice in the Desert preparing the way of the Lord. He was to Christ as the best-man is to the bridegroom, the reliable, supportive friend. He is honoured by Christians everywhere and is listed in our roll of honour directly after our Blessed Lady, just ahead of the apostles Peter and Paul.

One could say that John the Baptist offers us a challenging role-model:: how to become somehow a forerunner for Jesus in our own lives. Each of us is meant to help others to find the way of the Lord, worship him and savour the special gift he has brought to our lives. Like the Baptist and the many Christian saints who came after him, we can and should make Jesus the centre of our ambition: "He must increase; I must decrease."