December 30, 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Many of you may remember your years in Catholic school when the good sisters would place at the top of the blackboards the initials J.M.J.. This same practice was done week after week by Venerable Fulton Sheen in his television show as he wrote upon his own board to illustrate a topic for the day. The initials, of course, correspond to the persons of Jesus, Mary and Joseph--the three who comprise the Holy Family. Today we celebrate a special feast in honor of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Rightfully so, this feast falls on the Sunday directly after the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas.
The importance of families is highlighted throughout the scriptures, and the Catholic faith takes families very seriously. According to the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the family is known as the domestic church -- where individuals encounter for the first time the love, support, protection and encouragement of God. Families are units of individuals bound together by true love; a love that desires the good of the other over the self. This unconditional love shows forth in a worldly way, [through] the inner workings of the Holy Trinity. The three persons of the Holy Trinity, namely Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are one God but three persons. The Father loves the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit loves the Father and the Son. This exchange of love is the core of God’s nature and the human family is to be an image of this design.
Too often, however, many families throughout our nation are in such disrepair. They have forgotten how to love and sacrifice for one another, which leads to brokenness, discord and fracture. This new “modern family” is portrayed in almost every television sitcom as the “new normal". How sad that families, which were never perfect, have these poor examples held up before them in our culture today. This feast calls all faithful followers of Jesus to look to the Holy Family for their inspiration and example, which will not only bring families closer to God, but in a universal way, begin to cure the ills of society at large. Families are important building blocks of society; and when the family is under attack, the whole of society, the culture and even the nation begins to suffer. It is of the utmost importance for us to place our own families under the protection and guidance of the Holy Family itself.
In today’s scripture passage from the Gospel of Luke, the final line reads, “And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” This is the final phrase uttered before Jesus’ life becomes hidden. After Jesus is found in the temple at the age of twelve, we hear nothing of him until he is thirty. This bible passage is by far my most [favorite]. I often joke with my brother priests that if I’m ever named a bishop (God forbid), the motto under my episcopal shield would read, “Sapientia, Aetate, Gratia” which is "Wisdom, Stature and Grace". This phrase concerning Jesus and his growth speaks to the necessity of the Holy Family. God the Father chose to give His only begotten Son to Mary and Joseph. It was their solemn duty to bring Jesus up in the way of holiness and faith. Remember, Jesus was incarnate. Although he was fully God, He was fully human as well. His humanity needed to be formed, and it was formed in the Holy Family of Nazareth. This week and always, let us look to the Holy Family to guide and protect us. May the prayers of Jesus, Mary and Joseph descend upon us that we and our families may grow in wisdom, grace and stature before God and man.
Fr. Michael Ruffalo
December 23, 2012
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Although there are always four Sundays in Advent, there is not necessarily four full weeks. This year we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Advent only two days before the celebration of Christmas. The advent wreath is fully lit and our expectation is at its peak. We have finally reached the immediate preparation for the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord.
The readings presented to us at Mass today take a sharp shift toward the nativity account as found in the Gospel of St. Luke. In particular, we are presented with the Mystery of the Visitation of the Blessed Mother to Her Cousin Elizabeth. We are told that Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste. The purpose of this visit was to live for a while with Zechariah and Elizabeth in order to help them with their domestic work as Elizabeth entered into her final months of pregnancy.
What is the most shocking aspect of this passage is the encounter between Mary and Elizabeth when they first meet. Elizabeth says, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reaches my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” John the Baptist, still growing in the womb of his mother, knew the Lord was near in the womb of His mother and responded by leaping for joy.
This “leap for joy” is not uncommon in the scriptures and many have likened this encounter with David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. Historically, the Ark of the Convent was seen by the ancient Jews as the presence of God on earth. Inside the Ark contained the stone tablets upon which were written the Law of the Lord handed down from Mount Sinai by Moses. The Ark, for most of its existence resided in a tent and was carried by the ancient Hebrews into battle and throughout the wondering in the ancient holy land. It wasn’t until the first temple was constructed by Solomon that the Ark finally had a permanent home in the world. That temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Ark was carried off as a spoil of war. Since then, the ark has been perpetually lost to the ages,... until the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
When John the Baptist leaped for joy in the womb he was recognizing the New Ark of the New Covenant that entered into this midst. Mary, in her body had become the new 'Ark of the Covenant', containing within her the very presence of God himself. John, even before his birth could not contain the joy that all the world should experience when God makes His home among us.
We can see now why Elizabeth said of Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The new ark of God was not made of metal, gold, wood and bronze but of flesh and blood. And from this flesh and blood would come the Messiah who’s own flesh would be pierce and blood would be shed for the salvation of the world. The Joy of Christmas is the joy of the Baptist who leaps knowing that God became flesh, and dwelt among us.
Fr. Michael Ruffalo
December 16, 2012
We Catholics have a long standing tradition of naming our prayers, hymns and documents by the first word or words that are mentioned in those prayers, hymns or documents thus giving them their title. For example, unlike the Protestants who call the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, The Lord's Prayer, we Catholics call it the Our Father coming from the first words of the prayer itself. The same goes with the Hail Mary, the Confiteor (I confess), the Gloria, the Magnificat, the Memorare, the Glory Be, the Hail, Holy Queen, the Agnus Dei and so on. This practice can also be seen in documents that are issued from the Holy Father or an Ecumenical Council. Pope Leo XIII's document condemning the heresy of Modernism is known as the Pascendi Domini gregis from the first three words of the document itself. The same goes with almost all the documents from Rome throughout the centuries such as Gaudium et Spes (1965), Decet Romanum Pontificem (1521), Pastores dabo vobis (1992), Ineffabilis Deus (1854) and so on and so forth.
Today we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, known as Gaudete Sunday. The word gaudete means rejoice in Latin and comes to us from the Introit or Introductory Antiphon in today's Mass. Although you may never have heard of the Introit, it is meant to be the first part of the Mass which is often supplanted by the singing of a hymn on Sundays. If you look in the missalette, you will see on page 3 the Entrance Chant for today. It reads, "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near." Of course the Latin reads, "Gaudete in Domino simper: iterum dico, gaudete. Dominus enim prope est." And there you have the first word spoken at Mass today, "Gaudete", "Rejoice", giving today's Mass it's name.
Why is this a big deal? In reality, the season of Advent is meant to be a "mini-Lent" in preparation for the Solemnity of Christmas. Today, the similarities between Advent and Lent are less striking then they were in the past. We have retained the purple vestments and the Gloria is not sung, but before the Second Vatican Council the organ was silent and this season was marked with fasting and abstinence. (This is why traditionally Italians eat fish on Christmas Eve.)
Today you will also notice another similarly with the Lenten Season. Instead of the customary purple vestment, the Church allows the color rose. The rose vestment is only worn twice a year: today, Gaudete Sunday and the Fourth Sunday of Lent known as Laetare Sunday. These two Sundays are a break from the preparation, a respite, if you will. It is a time to see how far we have come and how little time we have until Christmas or Easter respectively is upon us. The theme of today is found in the first word of the Mass. Rejoice! Holy Mother the Church wants her faithful to never forget that even in a time of waiting, anticipation and preparation that we must be a people who rejoice because indeed, the Lord is near.
December 2, 2012
The Great Season of Advent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we begin again. The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the liturgical year for the Church. Advent is a time of preparation for the coming feast of Christmas and has been considered a "mini Lent". You can see the similarities: the purple vestments and the missing Gloria. In the past, it was also a time marked with sobriety, fasting and abstinence that also lasted 40 days. Traditionally in the Church, every major feast was preceded with a fast as a means of preparation and to accentuate the joys of the coming celebration. Sadly, in our modern culture, Christmas has already begun; and by the time December 26th arrives, we no longer want anything to do with the joyous season which does indeed last 12 days until Epiphany. We grow so tired of parties, get-togethers, Christmas songs, Christmas cookies and the like that by the time it's really Christmas, we've had our fill and we're ready for Valentine's Day.
The word Advent comes from the Latin, adventus, meaning coming. It is an acute time for us to meditate on the several comings of the Jesus Christ the Lord. But why, you ask, are the readings today speaking of the second coming of the Lord accompanied by signs and wonders? Our Divine Lord speaks of His coming in glory to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire to prepare His faithful for that time when He will descend from the heavens, not as the long-awaited Messiah, but as the Divine Judge. In this present age, we are situated between the two comings of Jesus Christ. We remember and liturgically prepare for the celebration of the Christ's birth in Bethlehem and we look forward with expectation to His second coming in glory. In essence, Advent is a time to look both ways, remembering the past and looking toward the future.
As we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christ's birth during this Advent season, let us also ready our souls for His second coming in glory. As we clean our houses and decorate them with the signs and symbols of the season, let us clean our souls with the sacrament of confession and decorate the halls of our inner life with the devotions and prayers that bring God's grace and favor. As we purchase gifts for our loved ones, let us think of the poor and support them with our charity during this season of giving. As we bake and cook festive foods for the holidays, let us be mindful of those who go without and do what is in our power to feed the poor and provide for them their basic needs. Indeed, Advent can be a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord, both in His birth and in His glory. When Christ returns may we hear from His sweet lips the words, "What you have done to the least of these brothers of Mine, you have done for Me." May this Advent season not only be a time to prepare and celebrate the birth of our Savior, but also afford us the time to prepare for the coming of the Lord at the end of time with diligence in prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor.
Fr. Michael Ruffalo