December 31, 2015

Nativity: December 31, 2015


FOUND


"[They] found Mary and Joseph, and the infant 
lying in the manger" (Luke 2:16)

As the shepherds reverently entered the cave they “found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” (Luke 2:16). “As a sign, the angel had told the shepherds that they would find a child wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. This is an identifying sign—a description of what they would see. … for the shepherds, who had seen God’s glory shining in their fields, this is sign enough. They see inwardly. They see that the angel’s words are true. So the shepherds return home with joy. They glorify God and praise him for what they have heard and seen (cf. Luke 2: 20).” [13] (emphasis added) This was what they had been searching for their entire lives. Finally, they found Him. Yet, ironically, it was they who were found first. It was God who found them. It was God who found them in their night watch. It was God who led them to the nativity. With all their desires, with all their searching, God found them.

How poetic that shepherds found Jesus with such great joy. Years later, not many miles from Bethlehem, Jesus Himself would enliven the imaginations of those most in need. Luke 15 tells us: “The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him … So to them he addressed this parable. ‘What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’” (Luke 15:1; 2-6) And, who could forget the story of the Prodigal Son. The searching son returning to his father expects the worst saying, “’Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.” (Luke 15:21-24)

The Catechism states this further: “God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God's initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response” [14] God wants to find us. God wants to be found. We long to find God. We long to be found. The joy of Christmas is deeper than holiday sentimentality or the romantic filter of exchanging presents. The joy of Christmas is that we have found what we are searching for. The joy of Christmas is that deep within us, within the depths of our hearts that most need peace, we realize that we have been found. There, like lost sheep, God pursues us. He longs for us. He finds us.

Merry Christmas. When you, like the shepherds, find the Christ child you realize that you have been found. God wants you. God wants you to enter the cave, to enter the nativity. You inch toward the cave … you reverently poke your head to catch a glimpse within. As you peek in you are silenced as you see Joseph tenderly embracing Mary as Mary cradles the swaddled child. Captured in silence, Mary’s eyes lock with yours and she invites you to enter the cave. As you enter, she asks you, “Would you like to hold Him?” You have found Him. He has found you. Mary leans forward … you open your arms … and …

For your prayer


The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have prayed Psalm 131. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 131. Read it a few times. Imagine Mary and Joseph singing this Psalm as they hold each other and hold Jesus. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:16b. Be in the scene. . Be with Mary as she embraces this tiny newborn. Now, ask Mary if you too can hold the firstborn son. Ask Mary if you can hold Jesus. 

Today's prayer


"Father, I thank you for the gift of Christ. I ask for the grace today to let you find me so that I may experience your presence in every aspect of my life."

[13] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pg. 79
[14] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2567

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December 30, 2015

Nativity: December 30, 2015


PEACE


"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Luke 2:14)

As the shepherds were “keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:8-14) 

The message of the Angels is familiar to most of us. It is sung it at Mass most Sundays. It is re-enacted in Christmas plays. It is adorned in season’s greetings and holiday decorations. However, the peace proclaimed by the Angels is deeper than mere emotion. The Holy Father explains: “At this point, we must consider a further aspect of the angels’ message. … The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, the kingdom of God, is of another kind. It applies not just to the Mediterranean region and not just to a particular era. It applies to man in the depths of his being, and it opens him toward the true God. The peace of Jesus is a peace that the world cannot give (cf. John 14: 27).” [9] In other words, this peace is not “the mere absence of conflict but a peace rooted in one's reconciliation with God.” [10] True peace is “reconciliation with God” and “applies to man in the depths of his being”. True peace requires that I am open “toward the true God.”

Many of us, when we really look within, may find places in our heart where we are not open toward God. Could be patterns of self-sufficiency. Could be memories of sin or shame. Could be buried grief because God didn’t answer our prayer the way we wanted. Could be unconfessed fear that God won’t love us “there”. Could be the fear of really going all the way with God and becoming “one of those people” whose total lives are all about Jesus. Sometimes we don’t want to look within because to do so would take me to “the depths of (my) being” and “open (me) toward the true God”. However, at the same time you and I make the commitment to read reflections like this. We show up. We do want more. We do long for peace … and, at the same time, we could be a little afraid of where true peace would take us.

Merry Christmas. Again today, I mean this: Merry Christmas. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) The child in the manger is what you are searching for. Jesus was laid in a manger, a feeding trough, because He is the food that quenches the deepest hunger of the human heart. In the manger we see the very thing that we are all searching for. Again, Merry Christmas. The baby grows up and becomes a man … and not merely a man, but a savior. When the Father took the initiative to enter into the human race, He took the initiative to enter into our lives … into your life. He longs to give you peace, true peace. 

Trust the process. While today’s reflection might call you to “the depths” of your heart, be not afraid. Where do you need peace? Where specifically in your life are you most in need of peace? Where specifically in your life are you most in need of reconciliation with God? What places in your heart need to be open toward God? He wants to give you peace. Be not afraid.
  

For your prayer


The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how the shepherds would have sung Psalm 118. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 118:1-14. Read it a few times. Imagine the shepherds singing this Psalm after the Angel appeared to them. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:9. Be in the scene. Be with the shepherds. Be with them as the Angel comes. Be with them as the glory of the Lord shone around them. Be with them as they hear God speaking through the Angel. 

Today's prayer


"Father, I long for peace. Give me the grace I need to find you and your mercy where I most need it."

[9] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 73
[10] Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch, and Dennis Walters, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, page 110.

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December 29, 2015

Nativity: December 29, 2015


AWAIT


"When the angels went away from them to heaven,
the shepherds said to one another,
'Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us.'
So they went in haste." (Luke 2:15-16a)

The “shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went in haste.” (Luke 2:15-16a) “The shepherds made haste. In a similar way, the evangelist had said that Mary, on receiving the angel’s message about her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy, went ‘with haste’ to the town in Judea where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived (cf. Luke 1: 39). The shepherds made haste, partly no doubt from human curiosity, in order to see this great thing that had been announced to them. But surely, too, they were driven by their joy on hearing that now, truly, the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord had been born, the one so long awaited— and they would be the first to see him. How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste— so the evangelist is discreetly telling us— then it is the things of God.” [11]

God had promised to send the Messiah. The chosen people sang of the promise (Psalm 132:11). The great Isaiah reminded them again and again of the promise (Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 52:13-53:12). The prophets that followed renewed the promise (Jeremiah 23:5-6, Micah 5:2, Zechariah 9:9). Over and over, to every generation, the Father promised to send His Son. When God makes a promise, God always comes through on His promise—always. The shepherds lived within. They could see God active in their lives. They knew God would come through on His promise. So they went in haste to see the Messiah.

Christmas reminds us that God came through on the biggest promise He ever made … and, what a promise. Listen to the beauty of the words we pray at Mass:  “For you do not cease to spur us on to possess a more abundant life and, being rich in mercy, you constantly offer pardon and call on sinners to trust in your forgiveness alone. Never did you turn away from us, and, though time and again we have broken your covenant, you have bound the human family to yourself through Jesus your Son, our Redeemer, with a new bond of love so tight that it can never be undone. Even now you set before your people a time of grace and reconciliation, and, as they turn back to you in spirit, you grant them hope in Christ Jesus and a desire to be of service to all, while they entrust themselves more fully to the Holy Spirit.” [12]

The shepherds ran, and ran in haste, because of Him who awaited them. The one who liberates humanity from sin awaited them. The one who reveals the mercy of the Father awaited them. The one brings “glad tidings to the poor” awaited them. He who “was sent to proclaim liberty to captives” awaited them. He who would bring “recovery of sight to the blind” awaited them. He who was sent “to let the oppressed go free” awaited them. (Luke 4:18)

Merry Christmas. Again today … yes, again today, we proclaim: Merry Christmas. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) He awaits you … not in Bethlehem, per se … but, in your heart … within. He is searching for you. He wants to see you. He longs to bring you freedom, forgiveness, and peace. God has promised that He would always be there for us … and God always comes through on His promises.

Run to Him. Make haste and run to Him. Mercy awaits. Freedom awaits. Peace awaits.

For your prayer


The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how the shepherds would have sung Psalm 139. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 139:1-16. Read it a few times. Imagine the shepherds singing this Psalm as they ran in haste to see the Messiah. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:15-16a. Be in the scene. Be with the shepherds as they run. 

Today's prayer


Father, I long for peace. Give me the grace I need to find you and your mercy where I most need it."

[11] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pages 78-79
[12] Preface, Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation I, Roman Missal

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December 28, 2015

Nativity: December 28, 2015


WITHIN


"there were shepherds in that region living in the fields 
and keeping the night watch over their flock" (Luke 2:8)

With the infant Jesus "wrapped in swaddling clothes" and lying "in a manger", the Christmas story shifts from the intimacy of the nativity to the silent pastures outside. There were "shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock." (Luke 2:8) As mentioned earlier, the birth of Christ was outside Bethlehem. The mountains' "rocky caves had been used as stables since ancient times" [7]. After walking with his flock during the day, shepherds would have herded the sheep together by nightfall. The sheep would sleep in the cave, safe from the weather and any predators. The shepherds would man the entrance to the cave, protecting the sheep as they rotated "keeping watch" during the night. Starting with nightfall, and sectioned in three-hour increments, the shepherds would rotate sleeping and "keeping the night watch over their flock."

When it was his turn to keep the night watch a shepherd lived under the quiet blanket of night. When you kept the night watch you paid attention. You paid attention to the rhythm of the sleeping sheep. You paid attention to the silence of the night. You paid attention to your surroundings. And, because shepherds spent so much of their life in silence, they paid attention to within. Our Holy Father writes: "The first witnesses of the great event are watchful shepherds. ... perhaps they were living not only outwardly but also inwardly closer to the event than the peacefully sleeping townsfolk." [8] Shepherds spent most of their lives with sheep. That meant shepherds spent most of their lives in silence. They lived in silence. They lived in harmony with nature. They understood the rhythm of life. Quiet, simple and reflective, shepherds paid attention the world within them as much as they did the world without them.

Most of us don't live in serene pastures. Our homes January through November don't look nearly as decorative as they do in December. Our families don't always get along the way they do around the grand dinner table or the present laden Christmas tree. Our rhythm of life may not feel as balanced in next week's return to work as it felt during this week's vacation. Most of us would like to live within. Yet, most of us feel surrounded by so much noise and busyness that the description of the recollected shepherds seems distant and unreachable.

Merry Christmas. Again today, I mean this: Merry Christmas. Emmanuel is here; "God is with us." God is within us. The shepherds point us to a posture; peace comes from within, not without. Peace comes from God, from within. Whether you are in the pastures outside Bethlehem or traffic in the big city, Emmanuel is with you. Whether you are tranquil or troubled, Emmanuel is with you. Whether your life is messy or merry Emmanuel, is with you.

Where do you seek fulfillment: within or without? Where do you go for comfort and refreshment: within or without? What are you searching for: within or without?

 You may not be able "live" within, but you can pay attention to within. The more we pay attention to our spiritual life - the more we pay attention to within - the easier it will be for us to see God at work in all aspects of our life. 2013 is just around the corner. What if 2013 were the best year ever for your spiritual life? What if during 2013 you were more able to live within?
  

For your prayer


he Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how the shepherds would have sung the Psalms during their quiet lives with the sheep. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 119:1-32 and Psalm 85:9-14. Read them a few times. Imagine the shepherds singing these Psalms the very night Jesus was born. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:8. Be in the scene. Be with the shepherds. Be with them as the Angel comes. Be with them as the glory of God envelopes them. 

Today's prayer


"Father, I long for peace. I long to live more in tune with your movement in my life. I give you permission to teach me how to live quieter on the inside, regardless of how noisy my life seems on the outside."

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 67
[8] Ibid., pages 71-72.

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December 27, 2015

Nativity: December 27, 2015


SEARCHING


She laid him in a manger" (Luke 2:7)


As soon as Mary "wrapped him in swaddling clothes" she "laid him in a manger." (Luke 2:6b-7) As the first-born son there is "a particular way in which Jesus belongs to God" as the Son of God. [4] Wrapped in swaddling clothes "the child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death: from the outset, he is the sacrificial victim." [5] Thus, when Mary "laid him in a manger" (Luke 2:7) she knew exactly what she was doing. "The manger, then, was seen as a kind of altar. Augustine drew out the meaning of the manger using an idea that at first seems almost shocking, but on closer examination contains a profound truth. The manger is the place where animals find their food. But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bread come down from heaven, the true nourishment that we need in order to be fully ourselves. This is the food that gives us true life, eternal life. Thus the manger becomes a reference to the table of God, to which we are invited so as to receive the bread of God. From the poverty of Jesus’ birth emerges the miracle in which man’s redemption is mysteriously accomplished." [6] Jesus was "laid in a manger", a feeding trough, because He is the food that quenches the deepest hunger of the human heart. In the manger we see the very thing that we are all searching for.

We are all searching. I am searching. You are searching. And ... the prodigal son was searching. When you and I don't know what we're searching for we'll search exhaustively in all sorts of places. Lost, hungry, and empty, the prodigal son left the security of his father's house searching for "more" out of life. Painfully, the prodigal son discovered the sobering truth that the world can't give you what you're searching for. Poetically, the searching son "hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine." (Luke 15:15) Hungry ... lost ... searching ... the prodigal son stared at the feeding trough and "longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed". (Luke 15:16) The prodigal son stared at a manger and longed to be filled with the peace he was searching for. Contrast that with Mary lying Jesus in a manger, knowing full well that her son is the only thing that will ever fill what we are all searching for. The "world's mangers" will always leave you empty in the end. "God's manger" will always quench your deepest longings and show you what you're searching for.

What are you searching for? Reverently and respectfully, may I admit to us all that we won't find what we're searching for from Santa or his presents or the shopping that we did for Christmas. In fact, the reason the world is consumed with diversion, longing for the next day of New Year's already, is because it is lost in the exhausting treadmill of pleasure ... hoping that one good holiday will either fill us with what we're searching for or at least medicate the ache because our "real" lives seem empty of what we really want.

Now, Merry Christmas. I mean that: Merry Christmas. In all your searching ... God is searching for you. He made the decision to become man. He chose to enter our world. He took the initiative with the Christmas story. Yes, regardless of your searching ... and the many places you've searched ... God is searching for you. He is in the manger. He is ready for you. What do you want for Christmas? What do you really want for Christmas? What are you searching for?

For your prayer


The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have sung Psalm 63 as they laid Jesus in the manger. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 63. Read it a few times. Consider the sweetness of their singing. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:7. Be in the scene. Be with Mary as she lays Jesus in the manger. Imagine Mary's thoughts as she thinks about her pregnancy ... and then thinks about the first time she'll consume the Eucharist. Once it was her body feeding her son. One day it will be her son feeding her body. Now, ask Mary if you can hold Jesus and lay Him in the manger. Look at Him ... and ask Him to show you what you're searching for. 

Today's prayer


"Father, I desire to experience a profound communion with your Son. I give you permission to open my heart so that I may receive all you desire for me."

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 70
[5] Ibid., page 68
[6] Ibid.

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December 26, 2015

Nativity: December 26, 2015


NEXT


“She wrapped him in swaddling clothes” (Luke 2:7)

As soon as Mary gave “birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:6b-7) What are “swaddling clothes” and why did she do so? Ancient Jewish customs included the swaddling of the newborn infant. Swaddling cloths were narrow bands of cloth wrapped around a newborn child to restrain its movements and quiet him. Pope Benedict XVI helps us understand further: “Mary wrapped the child in swaddling cloths. Without yielding to sentimentality, we may imagine with what great love Mary approached her hour and prepared for the birth of her child. Iconographic tradition has theologically interpreted the manger and the swaddling cloths in terms of the theology of the Fathers. The child stiffly wrapped in bandages is seen as prefiguring the hour of his death … The manger was seen as a kind of altar.” [3] (emphasis added) 

As soon as Mary held her “firstborn son” (Luke 2:7), the very next thing she did was wrap him in swaddling clothes. During the nine months of her pregnancy Mary’s body prepared for the birth of the infant in her womb. However, during those nine months Mary prepared for more than the day of the birth, she prepared for a new life defined by the identity of her son as the Messiah. Mary wasn’t preparing for a day (Christmas), she was preparing for a person (Jesus). And, this person is the Messiah. So, the very next thing she did was wrap him in the very cloths that wrap him as a child, yet at the same time point to his destiny as the Savior. 

Today is the day after Christmas. Most of the world spent the first 24 days of December getting ready for a day. The world was focused on a holiday. The 25th was simply another day circled on the calendar. Therefore, today most of the world is moving on to what is next. For them Christmas was a day. New Year’s is the next day. The world is moving on to the next thing. They will take down the Christmas tree. They will clean up the house from holiday dinners. They will pack up one set of decorations and open up the next. Our secular culture, because it focuses on events rather than people, is gearing up for the next big celebration. 

Contrast that with Mary and Joseph in the nativity. They weren’t preparing for a day; they were preparing for a person. Furthermore, this person would change their life forever. Mary’s focus is on the person. She wraps him in swaddling clothes because she knows full well that this tiny person is the most important thing in life. The next thing for Mary is Jesus … the Messiah … the savior. Mary didn’t move on to the next diversion. In fact, she reminded herself through swaddling clothes that life would never be the same again. 

What’s next for you? What is your interior attitude today? Are you committed to the person of Jesus … or are you feeling the lure to move on to the next day on the calendar? Spend some time with Mary. Hold the very child that she held. The more you experience the grace of the nativity the easier it will be to keep your eyes focused on what’s next – namely, Jesus. 

For your prayer


The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have sung the Psalms during the most silent of nights outside Bethlehem. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 80, the Responsorial Psalm from last Sunday. Read the refrain: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” We want to turn our gaze back to God. Read the refrain, and the Psalm, a few times. Consider the sweetness of their singing. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in 2:7. Be in the scene. Be with Mary and Joseph. Be with Mary as she focuses on Jesus. Be with Mary as she wraps him in swaddling clothes – the bandages that prefigure the hour of his death. Now, ask Mary if you too can hold her son. Ask Mary if you can hold Jesus … and remember … you’re holding God. 

Today's prayer


“Father, I desire to keep my focus on you. I give you permission to hold my inner gaze so that I don’t move on to another holiday.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 68

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December 25, 2015

Nativity: December 25, 2015


SEE


“She gave birth to her firstborn son” (Luke 2:7)

It is quiet; it is still. As if the most important thing in the history of the world is about to unfold, all of creation of captured in utter stillness. In the quiet caves outside Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph are mere seconds away from the birth of the Savior. With the “manger’s” animals attentive in intrigue, the time comes. Mary’s labor intensifies. Joseph clutches her hand. Heaven lunges forward. With Mary’s soul singing her refrain of praise she gasps for one last breath. Your eyes widen; your heart quickens. The baby is seconds away …. and … finally … He is here … the long-awaited Messiah is born!

Imagine the utter silence enveloping Jesus’ birth. Joseph gently receives the newborn infant from Mary’s womb and instinctively rests Jesus on Mary’s chest. As Mary embraces this tiny child she is captured with a gaze that only mothers can describe. Yet, with all her emotion brimming, she is stunned with inexpressible adoration, for Mary is beholding “her firstborn son”. (Luke 2:7)

“What does this mean? The first-born is not necessarily the first in a series. The word ‘first-born’ points not to a continuing number, but rather indicates a theological quality which finds expression in the oldest of Israel’s collections of laws. The instructions for the Passover contain the following passages: ‘The Lord said to Moses: ‘Consecrate to me all the first-born; whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel is mine” (Exodus 13:1-2). ‘Every first-born of man among your sons you shall redeem’ (Exodus 13:13). So the reference to the first-born is also an anticipation of the account, soon to follow, of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple. Clearly, this word highlights the particular way in which Jesus belongs to God.” [1] (emphasis added) 

Sure, Mary is gazing at her son. However, Mary is gazing at God. There were 47 billion people born before Christ … and none of them saw God face to face. There were 300 million people alive at the time of Christ … and none of them were chosen for this moment. In this tiny child “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see”. [2] This is not merely a baby, this is God. God is not invisible. God has a face; God has a name. We can see God in our midst. As Mary embraces her son, she is stunned that the almighty God is merely six inches away from her eyes.

Many of us struggle to see God. In the busyness of the Christmas holiday rush it is often difficult to see God. Even in the joy of presents and family dinners and Christmas carols it can be difficult to see God. When life fails to meet our expectations it can be difficult to see God. When life is hard and the road is tough it can be difficult to see God. To you we say: “Merry Christmas” you can now see God. God is not invisible. He is not hidden. Emmanuel, God is with us, reminds us all God wants us to see Him in our life.

Today will be busy; today will be full. In the midst of it all ask Jesus to help you see Him in the midst of these most sacred of days.

For your prayer


The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have sung the Psalms during the most silent of nights outside Bethlehem. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 24:6; Psalm 27:13;Psalm 66:5. Read them a few times. Consider the sweetness of the singing. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:7. Be in the scene. Be with Mary and Joseph. Be with Joseph as he gently receives the newborn infant from Mary’s womb. Be with Joseph as he instinctively rests Jesus on Mary’s chest. Be with Mary as she embraces this tiny newborn. Now, ask Mary if you too can hold the firstborn son. Ask Mary if you can hold Jesus … and remember … you’re holding God.

Today's prayer


“Father, I desire to experience joy in a way I have never experienced before. I give you permission to give me a newfound awe at your birth.”

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 70
[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 477

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December 24, 2015

Christmas Homily from Christmas Eve 2013

An Encore of Christmas 2013



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Core Message

The first Christmas was messy. It's okay if yours is too.

Recorded Tuesday, December 24, 2013 at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Thibodaux, Louisiana. © Fr. Mark Toups, 2013

Christmas Homily from Christmas Eve 2014

An Encore of Christmas 2014



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Core Message

Where do you want to be in (your spiritual) life Christmas of 2015?

Recorded Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at Christ the Redeemer Catholic Church in Thibodaux, Louisiana. © Fr. Mark Toups, 2014

Theotokos: Fourth Week of Advent: Simplicity & Empty

Coming soon! Nativity: Welcome to Bethlehem. Starts Christmas day.


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SIMPLICITY


Theotokos: 4th Week of Advent


in a manger” (Luke 2:7)

Because “there was no place for them” (Luke 2:7) Mary and Joseph were led to the poorest of places, “in a manger” where the animals were. 2nd century tradition places the birth of Christ in the caves on the outskirts of Bethlehem. In Dawn of the Messiah, Edward Sri writes, “This tradition was so strong that by 325, Constantine erected a basilica over a series of Bethlehem caves to commemorate the place where Jesus was believed to have been born.”

Regardless of the exact place of Christ’s birth, this we know—it was simple. No hospital. No bed. No epidural. Nothing. Just bare simplicity. However, how fitting. With Mary lying on the naked earth, there was a sweet music that sang to her.

Empty. 

Nothing. 

Everything. 

Dependence. 

Poverty. 

These were her companions since her Annunciation, and these were her companions as she prepared for birth. It was a symphony of empty and the orchestra was led by simplicity.

If we embrace the Theotokos we must embrace simplicity.

Our lives can seem awfully busy. The faster our frenzied life becomes the more complicated it feels. Busy-ness cramps our spirit. Life gets complicated, and the simplicity of God’s design grows crowded. On the other hand, with simplicity I have nothing—nothing else except God. There, I am completely receptive to the glory of God, deep union, and my soul’s deepest desire. It is pretty simple—simplicity leads me to God.

Ask Mary to reveal the utter simplicity of “the manger.” Ask her to help you really focus on Christmas—its true meaning. So, we end where we began. Slow down. Get quiet. Listen. After all, what’s the rush? What are we really preparing for?

For your prayer


Mary and Joseph would have often prayed with Psalm 131. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Psalm 131. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:7.

"Father, I ask for the grace today to slow down. Prepare my heart so that might experience miracles this Christmas."


EMPTY


Theotokos: 4th Week of Advent


the time came for her have her child” (Luke 2:6)

For the past 27 days you have come to know Mary as the Theotokos. You have journeyed the emotional roller coaster with her and the pilgrimage has led you to Mary’s triumphant moment of physical surrender.

You have listened to her questions. You have tasted her love for God. You have savored His presence in her womb.

For the past four weeks you have come to know her true identity.

Chosen. 

Echo. 

Gaze. 

Intimacy. 

Poverty. 

Empty.

These are not simple words anymore, these are springboards that plunge you into the heart of a woman who danced with God—forever.

Now, she is in labor.

To the naked eye, one could think that Mary’s delivery will empty her womb of the child within. However, to you who have been on retreat with her, you know that the child’s birth into the world will simply be an echo of praise birthed from the perpetual emptiness that will always remain.

There, in the stillness of simplicity, Mary waits.

And, with the manger’s animals attentive in intrigue, the time comes ... Mary’s labor pushes forward ... Joseph clutches her hand ... heaven leans in ... with Mary’s soul singing her refrain of praise ... she gasps for one last breath ... your eyes widen ... your heart quickens ... the baby is seconds away .... and ...

For your prayer


Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:6.

"Father, I ask for the grace today to taste profound depth of your joy for me. Inflame my desire for you so that my Christmas may be filled with your joy."

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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2015

December 23, 2015

Theotokos: Fourth Week of Advent: Poverty & Inside

Coming soon! Nativity: Welcome to Bethlehem. Starts Christmas day.


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POVERTY


Theotokos: 4th Week of Advent


while they were there” (Luke 2:6)

As Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem the quiet silence of their journey was invaded by the frantic noise of thousands of pilgrims cramming into the Judean city. Joseph’s meager income hadn’t provided for the surprise “decree”; therefore, the simplicity of his Galilean lifestyle was strained. There was the census tax. There were obvious travel expenses. Joseph had not prepared for any of this. Plus, it was a sellers market, and the unexpected census created an unseasonable demand. Everything cost more—food, water, lodging, etc. This young couple, tired from 90 miles of exhausting travel had no one and nothing. They were utterly dependent on God. Mary and Joseph were swaddled in poverty.

God loves poverty—so much so that it was the canvas upon which He painted His birth into humanity. However, why do we not like inner poverty? Perhaps it is because it feels like we are dying—as we let go, it feels as if we have nothing to hold on to. Perhaps it is because we feel vulnerable—and vulnerability feeds panic because of a loss of security. Perhaps it is because we have nothing to offer God—and we really believe that we have to give God something in order for Him to love us. Perhaps it’s because we are afraid—and there is a lie in us that sounds something like, “I’m alone, and God won’t come through.”

Now, listen to the voice of God—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). God loves poverty. Why? Because poverty leads to emptiness ... empty leads to perfect echo ... and echo leads to perfect worship.

Mary was empty, which means she was poor. Spend some time with the Theotokos and ask her what was it was like to be utterly poor.

For your prayer


Mary and Joseph would have prayed with the Book of Zephaniah. Prep your imaginative prayer by reading Zephaniah 2 and 3. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:6.

"Father, I ask for the grace today to taste your strength in my weakness. I beg you to open my heart so that I embrace my poverty."


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INSIDE


Theotokos: 4th Week of Advent


there was no place for them” (Luke 2:7)

Poor, dependent, and exhausted, Mary and Joseph urgently search for lodging, for Mary’s contractions have started and the time has come for “her to be delivered” (Luke 2: 6). Joseph restlessly searches; however, the only thing he finds is rejection.

“There’s no room.”

“You can’t stay here.”

“I told you to leave.”

Doors close—one after another. And, as Mary sighs in contraction, all they see is rejection.

Instead of being welcomed by the arms of Bethlehem, they are rejected—cast aside to the outside.

Sometimes our commitment to discipleship challenges us. Depending on where we find ourselves, sometimes we can feel as if we’re cast aside to the outside. Because of different situations—holiday family gatherings, conversations at work, or difficult encounters in strained relationships—our commitment to Christ can cause us to feel as “we’re on the outside looking in.”

In those moments, commitment can lead to rejection, rejection can lead to dependency, and dependency can lead to intimacy. Mary was able to embrace the rejection of Bethlehem, cast outside, because she knew who she had on the inside. Instead of grasping for acceptance on the outside, Mary adjusted her gaze to the inside, finding God with her.

Spend some time with Mary. Ask her to reveal how she handled the rejection of Nazareth. Ask her to reveal to you how you handle rejection. Ask her Son to help you taste His consistent presence on the inside, even if you feel rejected on the outside.

For your prayer


Mary and Joseph would have often prayed with Psalm 31. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Psalm 31. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:7.

"Father, I long for your unconditional acceptance when I’m rejected. Help me to stand firm in your Truth, no matter the circumstance.”

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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2015





December 22, 2015

Theotokos: Fourth Week of Advent: Dependent

Coming soon! Nativity: Welcome to Bethlehem. Starts Christmas day.


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DEPENDENT


Theotokos: 4th Week of Advent


while they were there” (Luke 2:6)

The 90-mile pilgrimage from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have taken about a week and a half. With miles behind them and Bethlehem now just a few days before them, we take great interest in what is not said about their arrival.

Joseph is returning to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of his family; however, there is no mention of his family. There is no mention of a relative, no mention of a family caravan, no mention of his plans to reunite with kinsfolk.

As Mary neared delivery and Joseph led them into Bethlehem they had no idea of what they would do in Bethlehem. They were both utterly dependent on God. But, then again, considering what we have tasted during this Advent retreat, how could it be any other way?

Most of us don’t like to be dependent. In fact, our culture champions those who are independent and who go out make it own their own. However, God loves it when we are dependent because it is there that we most need God to be God.

Where are you most dependent on God? What circumstances in your life are out of your control? What situations will you face this holiday season that will make you feel utterly dependent on God? Where do you feel weak, helpless, or vulnerable?

Now, say this with me, “I can’t” ... “You can” ... “And, you promised.” That’s a great prayer. “God, I can’t, but I know you can. And you know what, you promised.” Whenever you feel dependent and God is the only thing you have, say that prayer—“I can’t, You can, and You promised.” Then, wait with Mary and watch for God to act.

For your prayer


Mary and Joseph would have often prayed with the Book of Genesis. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Genesis 15:1-6; 16:1-16; 22:1-7. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:6.

"Father, I yearn to taste your desire, fidelity, and consistency. I beg you to open my heart so that I embrace dependency."

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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2015







December 21, 2015

Theotokos: Fourth Week of Advent: Ordinary

Coming soon! Nativity: Welcome to Bethlehem. Starts Christmas day.


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ORDINARY


Theotokos: 4th Week of Advent


“Mary … was with child” (Luke 2:5)


Mary “was with child”. Thus, the Theotokos would have had quite a 90-mile pilgrimage to Bethlehem. According to basic gynecology, traveling would have created disproportionate pressure on the pelvic area creating lower back discomfort. Without a chair to support her lower back, the constant swaying from the donkey’s rhythm increased movement in her torso, further intensifying her aforementioned discomfort. As pregnancy matured, Mary’s stomach shrunk, holding less food; however, in the womb, Jesus used much of Mary’s nutrients. Holding less food, but sharing more of it with her son, Mary’s body had less energy, craving 20% more rest.

However, because of the journey—the sun, the dust, and the donkey—Mary couldn’t get the rest she desired. Mary’s journey wasn’t easy—it was anything but easy. Mary experienced ordinary discomfort like any ordinary pregnant woman would have on such a journey. Yet, Mary “was with child” and she knew who that child was. Throughout her journey, especially when the discomfort intensified, she placed her hands on her womb and was reminded that God was with her. Her discomfort may have been like the discomfort of any ordinary pregnancy; however, Mary knew God was in the ordinary.

Most of our life is ordinary—especially this time of year. We sit in traffic. We wait in long lines at department stores. We clean our house for the holidays. Most life is not flashy it is just rather ordinary. The truth is that God is with you—24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, God is with you, even in the ordinary. Take some time and ask Mary to describe the ordinary truths of her trip to Bethlehem.

For your prayer


Mary and Joseph would have often prayed with Psalm 33. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 33. Read it a few times. Consider how often Mary would have prayed this Psalm. Ask God to guide your prayer today. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:5. Be in the scene. Be with Mary and Joseph as they journey to Bethlehem. Be with Mary as she is on the donkey. What was she thinking? What was she feeling? Ask her to show you her journey to Bethlehem.

“Father, I long to taste your presence in my ordinary life. I beg you to open my heart so that I may do all things, even ordinary things, with you.”

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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2015

December 20, 2015

Theotokos: Fourth Week of Advent: Everything


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EVERYTHING


Theotokos: 4th Week of Advent


all went to be enrolled, each to his own city” (Luke 2:3)

The decree did not simply affect Mary and Joseph, it affected everyone, for “all went to be enrolled.” The news of the census sent shock waves throughout all of Galilee. Nazareth would have quickly frenzied as anxious pilgrims hastily prepared to journey “to his own city.” Again—once again—Mary found herself swaddled with questions. When was her baby due? How long would it take to get to Bethlehem? Would they make it to Bethlehem in time?  Joseph too had questions. Could Mary’s body handle the journey? Where would they stay once they arrived? Would his meager savings be enough for the census tax plus the journey there and back? The census didn’t simply present a convenient answer for Micah’s Messianic prophecy (Micah 5:2), it presented Mary and Joseph with penetrating questions demanding further trust and absolute dependency. The journey to Bethlehem demanded everything.

Sometimes Divine intimacy calls us to places we don’t want to go. Sometimes we wonder, “God, I’ve given you so much already, do you want everything?”

The answer is … yes, God does want everything. But, remember, God seeks intimacy. But, if the essentials for intimacy are complete self-donation and unbridled receptivity, then that’s a two-way street. If God requires your complete self-donation then He’s prepared to give you His complete Being. If God requires unbridled receptivity then He desires to receive all of you. God requires everything so that He can give us everything. The stretching we feel “in the everything” is so that we are more able to receive everything He wants to give us. Spend some time with Mary and Joseph. Ask them how they surrendered everything.

For your prayer


Mary and Joseph would have prayed with the Book of Genesis. Prep your imaginative prayer by slowly reading Genesis 22:1-19. Use your spiritual senses and imaginatively pray with Mary and Joseph in Luke 2:3.

“Father, I desire to taste just how much you want me. I give you permission to lead me wherever you want so that I may give you everything."

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© Fr. Mark Toups, 2015