As Christians and Catholics, we cannot celebrate Christmas without contemplating the Child Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph, along with an ox, an ass, shepherds, etc. More than likely you have a crib in your home along with the Christmas tree, wreaths, etc. But it wasn’t always that way. I’d like to remind you of the first crib scene as told by Murray Bodo, O.F.M. in the December 2018 issue of St. Anthony Messenger.
“What makes Greccio unique in the life of St. Francis is what happened there at Christmastime in 1223, three years before he died. He came there wanting to celebrate Christmas in a new way, a midnight Mass with a real ox and donkey and with townspeople gathered around witnessing this live Christmas crèche. Christmas was the dearest of fests because it revealed the profound humility of God in choosing to become a little baby, helpless and in need of us, just as we were when we were newborn babies.
“For St. Francis, Christmas was linked inseparably to the Passion as well, because to become a human being means suffering and death. And there is already suffering in God’s becoming human, leaving behind the trappings of divinity, emptying himself, as St. Paul says in his Letter to the Philippians, ‘becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross’ (2:8).
“And all of this sprang from profound love. St Francis’ first biographer, Brother Thomas of Celano, said of Francis, ‘Indeed, so thoroughly did the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion occupy his memory that he scarcely wanted to think of anything else.’
“Jesus embraced both ‘the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion’ because he came to love us by becoming one of us. Love was the reason for the Incarnation. And love is what Francis wanted to celebrate at Greccio by telling the people of the village and the surrounding countryside that he was going to celebrate Christmas by reenacting the first Christmas at midnight Mass at the friary.
“In doing so, St. Francis hoped that people would see themselves in the Christmas scene. It would not only be about something that happened 1,200 years ago in Bethlehem, but it would be something that was happening then and there to them.
“Their ox and donkey would be in the crèche, their children would see Christmas happening in Greccio, and everyone would see that the Christ Child comes to us in our own place and time at Christmas.
“And, in fact, a knight of Greccio by the name of John of Velita said that at one point in the Mass the baby Jesus appeared in the crib and Francis took the baby in his arms and seemed to wake him up.
“The Mass was being celebrated by one of the Franciscan priests because Francis himself was not a priest but a deacon. He would therefore not preside at the Mass though he could proclaim the Gospel and preach, which he did at Greccio with charming words about the Poor King and the little town of Bethlehem. St. Bonaventure says that he called Jesus ‘the Child of Bethlehem, aglow with overflowing love for him; and in speaking the word Bethlehem, his voice was more like the bleating of a sheep. His mouth was filled more with sweet affection than with words.’
“At that first Christmas crèche at Greccio, St. Francis wanted to show everyone there how close God was to them, how humble God is, how like a child is God who loves us unconditionally. God is not removed in some faraway, mystical place; God is with us, and we can love him with affection and overflowing love, as God has first loved us and continues to love us. For St. Francis, a personal love of Jesus is the heart of Christian spirituality. And he himself was in constant conversation with Jesus.
“Brother Thomas of Celano says, ‘Jesus he bore in his heart, Jesus in his mouth, Jesus in his ears, Jesus in his eyes, Jesus in his hands, Jesus in the rest of his members.’ And gradually St. Francis became transformed into the Jesus he loved and adored. He was Christlike in his words and in his actions. Two years before he died, he became a living image of the crucified Christ, bearing in his own body the wounds of Christ. The humility of the Incarnation became the charity of the Passion.”
We all are recipients of this tradition of having a crib, albeit without live animals, in our homes at Christmastime. We look forward to seeing a large crib in our churches when we come to church during the Christmas Season. Our beautiful crèche at St. Peter’s was made in Italy by a famous Italian sculptor and stands in a prominent place where all may see. I hope you will spend some time in the next two weeks to stop by the crib to reflect and contemplate what it depicts.
God loves us now just as much as He did when He sent His only-begotten Son as a child to be our Savior. May this Christmas Season be one of great joy and happiness for you and your family. Let the many lights of Christmas remind us of Jesus, who is the Light of the world and let the gift-giving of Christmas remind us of the greatest gift that God has given to us: Jesus, the Son of God made man. Have a Blessed Christmas and enjoy all the wonder of the holidays!
THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD
Today we celebrate in joy the incarnate Word of God. The First Reading provides a backdrop in three parts: 1) a voice that announces a messenger coming over the mountains, bringing the Good News of God’s enthronement as king of Zion (Jerusalem); 2) the guards responsible for watching over the ruins of Jerusalem see God returning to Jerusalem with the people who had been exiled many years before; and 3) a song of thanksgiving, which celebrates the way God has redeemed Jerusalem’s inhabitants. In summation, this reading is a reversal of the story of the Babylonian exile.
Today’s Gospel reading is the prologue of the fourth Gospel, in which Jesus is portrayed as the Word that comes forth from God’s mouth, revealing God to the world. This Word was with God in the beginning, and creation came into being through him. Yet when he came into the world among his own, his own rejected him. Pay attention to the central part of this poem, in which God declares those who accept the Word and believe in him to be children of God by God’s will alone.
This Word came to dwell (literally, “pitched his tent”) among us, and we—the believers—have seen his glory as the Father’s only Son. Likewise, the Second Reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, depicts the Son as the climax and fullness of God’s revelatory words to the world. Some of the descriptors, such as “refulgence of God’s glory” and “imprint of his being” are reminiscent of personified Wisdom. The phrase “accomplished purification from sins” refers to Jesus’ Crucifixion.
The reading from Isaiah tells of sentinels announcing the Lord, and the Gospel relates the testimony that John gave. Announcing the works of the Lord is for every time and place. Our Hearts Were Burning within Us directs that each person is to share their experience of Christ. The US Bishops’ document states, “Every disciple of the Lord Jesus shares in this mission. To do their part, adult Catholics must be mature in faith and well equipped to share the Gospel, promoting it in every family circle, in every church gathering, in every place of work, and in every public forum. They must be women and men of prayer whose faith is alive and vital, grounded in a deep commitment to the person and message of Jesus” (#2).
In the reading from John, we hear that Jesus came into this world as “the light of the human race.” With Baptism, Christians are changed. With the new life Baptism offers, they have a duty to shed the light of Christ on others. Go and Make Disciples states: “You have received the Spirit of Christ Jesus, which brings salvation and hope; your lives are a witness of faith” (#6).
For Your Reflection: How do you experience the light of God’s love differently this Christmas than last year? What does being a child of God mean to you? Moses brought the Law and Jesus brings grace and truth. How are grace and truth a gift for you this Christmas?
- PETER’S CHRISTMAS SCHEDULE
We invite you to join us either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day for a joyful celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. On Monday, December 24, the church will be closed all day until 4:00 P.M. so that we can finish up any remaining work on our Christmas decorations. On Christmas Eve, the Christmas Vigil Mass will be celebrated at 5:00 P.M. The church will then close shortly after the end of that Mass and will reopen at 9:00 P.M. The choir will begin carols at 9:30, and the Mass at Night will begin at 10:00 P.M. with choir and brass.
On Christmas Day, Tuesday, December 25, Masses will be celebrated at 9:00 and 11:00 A.M. The church will be closed at 12:30 for the remainder of the day in order to allow the friar community to relax and have a leisurely meal together. We hope all of you will have a wonderful day as well with family and friends.
I want to thank the members of the liturgy committee and several of their helpers who have worked long and hard on our Christmas decorations this year. It takes a lot of planning and much time to make our church come alive with the Christmas spirit fitting for the celebration of so great a feast. The fact that we want to keep the Advent environment as long as possible also means that so much of the decorating must be done in a relatively short amount of time.
We invite you to help us defray the cost of our beautiful Christmas decorations by making a specific donation for this purpose. We have some envelopes to do so near the back of church. Put your gift into one of these envelopes (or you can deposit cash or check without an envelope) and drop it in the box provided. We appreciate this assistance and thank you accordingly.
IRA CHARITABLE ROLLOVER
Don’t miss this opportunity to make a difference with a tax-free gift from your IRA to St. Peter’s Church by year’s end. If you are 70 1/2 or older, you can contribute up to $100,000 directly from your IRA to St. Peter’s, without including the amount in gross income. For your gift to qualify this year, the gift needs to come directly from whoever holds your IRA and must arrive by December 31, 2018.
For stocks held more than one year that have increased in value, you will avoid capital-gains taxes by gifting all or a portion of the stock to St. Peter’s. If you would like to get more information about a stock transfer, please contact either your tax professional or Mr. Peter Wells at St. Peter’s regarding the tax savings.
For individuals who do not qualify in either of the above categories, we invite you to make a special end-of-the-year donation to St. Peter’s which would both help us and you toward your charitable gifts that you may use toward deductions for your taxes (at least I assume that this still the case under the new tax laws passed by Congress. I have to admit that I am not as aware as you since I do not have to file a tax return on income due to the fact that as a religious any monies we receive are not ours personally but it belongs to the community with our vow of poverty).
We would appreciate you thinking of either of these possibilities as the end of the year approaches. We are dependent upon this kind of charitable remembrance as well as a mention of St. Peter’s in your will or estate since it costs c. $25,000 a week to keep our doors open, yet our regular weekly contributions seldom reach even $10,000.
RETROUVAILLE—A LIFELINE FOR MARRIAGES
The word Retrouvaille (re-tro-vi with a long i) is a French word meaning rediscovery. This program helps couples heal and renew their marriages and offers tools needed to rediscover a loving marriage relationship. Do you feel lost, alone or bored in your marriage? Are you frustrated, hurt or angry with your spouse? Are you constantly fighting? Have you thought about separation or divorce? Does talking about it only make it worse? Thousands of couples headed for cold, unloving relationships have successfully overcome their marriage problems by attending this program. Some couples come during the initial signs of a marriage problem and others are in a state of despair. The Retrouvaille Program consists of a weekend experience combined with a series of 6 post-weekend sessions. The tools learned here will help put your marriage in order again. The main emphasis of the program is on communication in marriage between husband and wife. It will give you the opportunity to rediscover each other and examine your lives together in a new and positive way.
You can go to www.retrouvaille.org for general information about the program. The program really accomplishes what it sets out to do. A recent survey of 5,236 couples who made a weekend gave the following results: Over 76% are still married to the same spouse at the five-year anniversary of their attending a Retrouvaille weekend; over 95% are likely to recommend the Retrouvaille Program to a struggling couple; over 95% felt heard, respected, and cared for during the registration process; over 97% consider the Retrouvaille Program to be affordable, and over 96% consider the weekend experience as time well utilized.
Couples state that the top ranking benefits from participating in the Retrouvaille Program as 1) improved communication; 2) learned more about my spouse; 3) learned more about myself; 4) grew closer together as a couple; 5) improved conflict management and 6) improved relationship with faith. Don’t delay; do it today.
A CHRISTMAS CHUCKLE
Three psychiatrists who are attending a convention decide to take a walk. “People are always coming to us with their guilt and fears,” one says, “but we have no one to go to with our problems. Since we’re all professionals, why don’t we hear each other out right now?”
They agree that this is a good idea. The first psychiatrist confesses, “I’m a compulsive shopper and deeply in debt, so I over-bill patients as often as I can.”
The second admits, “I have a drug problem that’s out of control, and I frequently pressure my patients into buying illegal drugs for me.”
The third psychiatrist sheepishly says, “I know it’s wrong, but no matter how hard I try, I just can’t keep a secret.”