Friday, January 03, 2014

Christmas Mass at Dawn–St. Joseph and the Shepherds

To those this with us this morning who are new to Holy Trinity/Holy Rosary, friends and family of parishioners, I welcome you to The Burg/Manton and wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas! I hope that you will find our Church and our parishioners to be warm and inviting and feel welcome to pray with us any time. We are available to you and want to help you maintain and grow in your faith. We also want to help you get reacquainted with your faith if you haven’t been to Mass in a while. Let us try our hand at helping you answer a question or solve a problem that may have been an obstacle to you. We have a parish with prayerful and resourceful people with many helpful gifts and talents all at your service… starting with this very Mass, the greatest help of all.

One of the most helpful parts of our Gospel reading this morning is the strong example of St. Joseph that is almost taken for granted. He is mentioned almost in passing as being in Bethlehem with Mary and the infant Jesus But remember that it is Joseph who took Mary, pregnant with the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, to Bethlehem in order to register in the census; it is Joseph who, in doing this, fulfilled the prophecy of Micah that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; it is Joseph who worked to provide for and protect his family by finding shelter in a nearby cave when there was no room in the inn (Navarre Lk 1:1-2:23). St. Bernadine of Siena explains that it was Joseph, our Holy Patriarch, who was “a father to our Lord Jesus Christ and a faithful spouse to the Queen of the Universe, our Lady of the Angels. The eternal Father chose Joseph to be the guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, his Son and his Spouse, and Joseph fulfilled his calling with perfect fidelity. If the Church is indebted to the Blessed Virgin for having given Christ to us, then, after Mary, great gratitude and veneration is also owed to St. Joseph.” (ibid)

Sometimes we can forget to turn to St. Joseph for help in our own lives. He has such a humble witness in Scripture, but his role in the early life of Jesus Christ and his closeness to Him, makes him a powerful intercessor for us. We should turn to him and ask him for his prayers any time we are in need.

One of the lessons that St. Joseph teaches us, is how to properly line up our priorities. Let us not treat him as all the others who neglected him. Our Lord’s poverty at his birth rings throughout the Scriptures. Remember, Mary laid him in a manger, “because there was no room for them in the inn.” John’s Gospel opens with the words, “he came to his own home, and his own people received him not.” Matthew’s gospel reminds us that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Benedict XVI, Infancy Narratives, p. 66)

This stark reality should cause us to reexamine the priorities we live by. Joseph knew that his highest priority was tending to his Holy Family. From the moment of Jesus’ birth, Jesus is outside of what is important and powerful in the eyes of the world. Yet he will prove to be the truly powerful one. Part of what it means to be Christian is to leave behind what everyone else thinks and wants, the prevailing standards, in order to know Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (p. 67)

There are many other inspiring details from our Gospel that can provide much fruit for prayer this Christmas Season. Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his book on Jesus’ infancy, highlights for example the fact that the shepherds went “in haste” and found Mary, Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. Mary had done the same thing on receiving the angel’s message about her cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy. She went “with haste” to the town in Judea where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. The shepherds made haste, partly 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 then it is the things of God (p. 79).

The Holy Father also describes a beautiful insight into the manger from St. Augustine. The manger is the place where animals find their food. But now, lying in the manger, is he who called himself the true bead 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. (p. 68)

Finally, the shepherds themselves, the first ones to receive the message of the newborn King, carry great meaning and purpose. Being outside of the city, Jesus was born close to their fields. They were physically close to him and so they teach us to be inwardly close to him too. And they were poor, showing us the great love God has for the poor and challenging us to resist being tied down by too many things so that we can be freed by the profound mysteries that only those who are humble have access to (71).

We receive then, this morning, a great gift and a great challenge. For Christ to not only be born at a specific time and place in human history but also in each of our hearts, we need the help that our faith gives us; we cannot receive such a precious gift by our own power. We turn to St. Joseph as the patron saint of those seeking to re-align our priorities around Jesus Christ. With the aid of Joseph’s prayers we can see that Jesus’ whole life, from beginning to end, is offered for our salvation. We can see that allowing him generously into our lives is not simply a challenge but a great gift. He is still giving his entire Life to us. With the humility and poverty of the shepherds, we can allow Jesus to enrich us with his blessings.

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