In the first days of the Year of Faith (October 11, 2012 through November 24, 2013) over three dozen pilgrims, most from the Diocese of Norwich, journeyed with me to the Holy Land. On October 15, 2012, the strains of Christmas carols filled the Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria as I celebrated the Mass of Christmas in the town of Bethlehem. Here Christ had appeared to Saint Catherine. In the caves below this Church, the tomb of the infants slain by Herod the Great is located. In these caves, Saint Jerome had translated the Bible into Latin, and following his death, Jerome was buried there. The Church is nearby the site of Jesus’ birth. What an appropriate Church in which to celebrate Christmas Mass!
A short time before the Mass, we had gone to the same countryside where, on that first Christmas, shepherds had taken turns tending their flocks. There the Angel of the Lord appeared and proclaimed to them good news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. On this beautiful morning in Bethlehem, as we looked out over that countryside, a shepherd was tending his flock in a scene reminiscent of that first Christmas.
A short time later, during the celebration of Mass, we heard the familiar Christmas Gospel proclaimed. We listened to the message of God’s infinite love incarnate in His only begotten Son. My homiletic reflection spoke of the light of that incarnate love which overcame the darkness of the world. In the radiance of Jesus’ Nativity, and ultimately His life-giving death and resurrection, sin and death are conquered and we are born anew.
Following Mass, we entered the Church of the Nativity where we joined hundreds of pilgrims from around the world. With reverential silence, we inched our way along, reflecting on the purpose of our visit to Bethlehem. After making our way down a very narrow and steep stairway, we knelt at the place of Jesus’ Nativity and we savored the moment that has filled generation after generation with the joy of which the Angel spoke, a joy to be shared by the whole people. “For today in the City of David, a Savior has been born for you Who is Christ and Lord.”
While a replica of Jesus’ Nativity was only a few feet away, no imagery could substitute for the silver star imbedded in the stone marking the place of His birth. Nothing could replace the exhilaration that filled our hearts as we reverenced that sacred site. For, here the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes had lain in the manger nurtured and cared for by the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph. In that holy space, the presence of the Infant Jesus was as real to us as He had been to the Shepherds who found Mary and Joseph and the Infant Jesus lying in the manger on that first Christmas. Like the shepherds, we went forth glorifying and praising God for all we had heard at Mass and seen with our own eyes. It was exactly as we had been told.
In several references to Sacred Scripture in his letter initiating the Year of Faith, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI teaches, “Faith working through love becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life.” As the first event in the Year of Faith, this pilgrimage to the Holy Land bolstered our faith and changed our lives. It strengthened our belief in the Lord and it gave new zeal to our commitment to the work of the Gospel and its mandate to love. Like the shepherds, we seek to understand fully what has been told to us about this Child of Bethlehem, the Son of God and Savior of the world! With Mary, we reflect on these events that we have relived. By doing so, we reinvigorate our faith and we grasp the much deeper meaning of love, the true significance of Christmas.
Christmas will never be the same for me and I hope for you as you joined me in reliving this account of our visit to Bethlehem. It will be a much deeper experience of God’s love and mercy, His goodness and His peace. Please remember at Christmas Mass and in your daily prayers the intention of peace in our world, especially in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Middle East. May our hearts and homes be places where Jesus is born anew; may they be mangers where Jesus lives, not only for a day but for all days!
At Christmas, celebrate not the fantasies of a secular holiday but the Feast of the Nativity of the Savior and the greatest gift you will ever receive, Christ the Lord! Give your heart to the Lord and He will give you the gift of Himself.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop of Norwich
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
December 23, 2012
Fourth Sunday of Advent
On the carefully programmed Advent journey to Christmas, the Fourth Sunday belongs to Mary. This is so because Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus, necessarily involves the motherhood of Mary. However, the story of that birth is reserved for Midnight Mass, while today’s gospel tells us how Mary prepared for that wonderful event by accepting the message of an angel, which meant allowing God to determine how she could be a mother and remain a virgin.
4 Advent: The Excitement
The gifts are wrapped, hopefully. The cards are sent and received, except for those we missed. The food for tomorrow is in the fridge. The relatives have arrived, and Mom is trying to keep them out of the fridge. The children are looking up the chimney, and begging Dad not to start a fire no matter how cold it gets. With the children we are all bursting with anticipation.
On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering
The gospel has never made the claim that God is going to eradicate suffering and death in this world. On the contrary, it tells us that creation is groaning in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. It warns of wars and rumors of wars, of all sorts of terrible trials, of the rain that falls on the just and the unjust. It says that all these things are leading up to something: namely, The Final Conlfict Between Christ and Satan, the End of This World and the Dawn of the New Heaven and New Earth. Yet paradoxically, Pope John Paul II reminds us that the worst thing that could ever happen–the murder of God–has already happened–and that God has brought glory and joy out of it. The hope of the gospel is that God has conquered death itself and that therefore, as Cardinal Newman said, all who have ever lived live still.
“God is not dead, Nor doth He sleep”
On Christmas morning 1863 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow found himself in a darkened place at odds with the solemn joy of the day.
He had never recovered from the death of his second wife, Frances. She died an agonizing death two years earlier after her dress caught fire in a freak accident while Longfellow napped. He managed to snuff the fire with his own body, but she lingered in that state, succumbing the next day.
Voice, in the Wilderness
The leading speaker on Canada’s pro-life circuit is getting old. One does not ask a lady’s age, but I may reveal that she has now passed Grade X in a Toronto high school. Her speech-making career began way back in Grade VII, when she entered a public school contest, and chose “abortion” for her topic. Her position was, “Against.”
While the defense of a controversial position is, indeed, the whole point of these contests, my reader will perhaps be not entirely surprised to learn that her “pro-choice” home-room teacher discouraged her from defending that one. Lia Mills persisted, however, and her teacher was impressed with her delivery. Star material. Maybe she should be allowed that topic, just this once.
Walking to Bethlehem with the Holy Family
As Christmas approaches, we might ponder the holy that the Holy Family were making a journey, not to some shopping mall, but South to Bethlehem. In the brief reflection that follows, I take liberties and combine imagination with known facts and the cultural context of the time. But in your mind’s eye see a couple setting forth from a tiny village called Nazareth, a town so small (barely 300 souls) that there was not even a road going to it, just a foot path. Perhaps they headed south for Hazor to connect with the Via Maris. We do not know for sure the route they took.
Christmas: cure for cynicism and irony
In a sermon broadcast on the BBC on Dec. 25, 1950, Msgr. Ronald Knox observed that “we make a holiday of Christmas only if we have the strength of mind to creep up the nursery stairs again, and pretend that we never came down them.” In my case, the stairs in question led, not to a nursery, but to the children’s bedroom I shared with my brother at 1 Regester Avenue in the Baltimore suburb of Rodgers Forge. And down the stairs we slid, Christmas morning, to discover what had arrived (or, as we later learned, what had been assembled, often with the aid of my grandfather Weigel) the night before. The day that followed was one unmitigated happiness; and from the distance of more than half a century, I still remember the sweet sadness of Christmas night, brought on by the thought that it was now a full year until Christmas came ‘round again.
Coming soon to a TV near you: ‘The Bible’
It only took 2,000-plus years, but ‘The Bible” is making news.
Seriously, both USA Today and the Wall Street Journal ran features today on the epic miniseries scheduled to air next year on the History Channel.
From USA Today:
Famed television producer Mark Burnett tackles his projects with
passion, but The Bible is a special labor of love.
10 Things You Should Know About Advent
I was recently wondering about the origins of Advent and its history. So I did a little research and came up with the Top Ten Things You Need to Know about Advent:
1. The first recorded “preparation for Christmas” is found in the acts of the Synod of Saragossa, Spain in A.D. 380. This synod declared that all baptized Christians should be present in Church from December 17 till December 25. If you do the math, that comes out to the eight days before Christmas–not quite a full Advent season, but it’s a start.
Francis Pharcellus Church, the Little Girl and Santa Claus
Francis Pharcellus Church was a newspaper man to his marrow. As a young man he had covered the Civil War for the New York Times and with his brother William he founded the Army and Navy Journal which dedicated itself to reporting news about the military forces of the United States, along with historical pieces on US military history, and opinion pieces about innovations or reforms in the military. It is still being published today.
The Catechism in Brief (3 times)
In this year of faith, many people are being encouraged to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church CCC. Let me encourage you as well. I am a kind of person though that likes to step back and see the big picture in things, especially our Faith. Now you probably know the 4 parts of the CCC: The Creed (that we say at Mass and during the Rosary) the 7 sacraments, the 10 commandments, and the Our Father. If you know those then rest of the CCC is just one big awesome commentary on those 4 sections. But each of the 4 parts has an introduction.So I went through the 4 parts of the Catechism and summarized those introductions to give you 3 birds eye views of the CCC.
11 Reasons the Authority of Christianity Is Centered on St. Peter and Rome
Listers, Bl. John Henry Newman said it best: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” History paints an overwhelming picture of St. Peter’s apostolic ministry in Rome and this is confirmed by a multitude of different sources within the Early Church. Catholic Encyclopedia states,“In opposition to this distinct and unanimous testimony of early Christendom, some few Protestant historians have attempted in recent times to set aside the residence and death of Peter at Rome as legendary. These attempts have resulted in complete failure.” Protestantism as a whole seeks to divorce Christianity from history by rending Gospel message out of its historical context as captured by our Early Church Fathers. One such target of these heresies is to devalue St. Peter and to twist the authority of Rome into a historical mishap within Christianity. To wit, the belief has as its end the ultimate end of all Catholic and Protestant dialogue – who has authority in Christianity?
On the Virtue of Holy Silence Before the Mysteries of God. A Meditation on the Silence Imposed on Zechariah
The Gospel of December 19th features the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth and the conception of John the Baptist. And while there are certainly many teachings to be drawn from this passage, there is perhaps some value to focus for a moment on the imposition of silence made upon Zechariah. This aspect of the story maybe a particular value since we live in time marked By a lack of reflection and silence, and of often stridently expressed opinions and opposition to the hidden things of God.
‘The Hobbit’ and Virtue
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a publishing phenomenon.
Since its initial publication almost 60 years ago, it is estimated to have registered sales in excess of 150 million copies.
In a poll organized jointly by Waterstones and BBC Channel 4 in 1996, The Lord of the Rings topped the poll in 104 of the 105 branches of the British bookstore, receiving 20% more votes than George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, its nearest rival. Perhaps its ultimate triumph in the age of the Internet was its being voted best book of the millennium by Amazon.com customers, signaling its conquest of the final frontier of cyberspace.
An interesting claim about the followers of @pontifex
Benedict XVI has almost 2 million followers on Twitter. “The Pope has grasped the full potential of this social network. Facebook’s too personal”
VATICAN INSIDER STAFF
“Someone had to show the Pope where to press to send his tweet as he’s not very familiar with modern technology. What is important is the Pope’s willingness and openness to this new communication medium,” the President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Mgr. Carlo Maria Celli, said. Mgr. Celli commented on the launch of the Pope’s new Twitter account, in a statement to ANSA at the end of the “High Speed News” conference organised by the Rome Press Association.
The English Bible According to Msgr. Ronald Knox
Baronius Press has just brought out an attractive edition of the Knox Bible—the English translation of the Bible done single-handedly by the famous Catholic apologist Msgr. Ronald Knox between 1936 and 1945. This is a gilt-edged, leather-bound edition with two colored ribbons; its verse numbers are in the margins for greater readability. The Knox Bible will make a fine gift for any Bible collector, and because it is a very English rendering of the Sacred text, this is a Bible that is likely to be read again and again by all who call that language their mother tongue.
Top Ten Works On the Blessed Virgin Mary
C.S. Lewis once wrote that when it comes to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “there is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this”1. In many respects, it’s true – and it’s sad to me. For me, the evangelical Protestant position of today seems to denigrate the Blessed Virgin to the role of merely giving birth to Christ and very little else, a far cry from the original praises lavished on her by the Reformers.
Pope Benedict on the Mysteryof “John the Presbyter”
Recently we looked at the claim that Mark derived the information in his Gospel from St. Peter.
This claim dates to a first century source: a figure called “John the Presbyter,” who was a disciple of Jesus.
According to some in the early Church–and according to Pope Benedict–we may have already met this mysterious figure in a surprising way.
Here’s the story .
Inspiring Catholics of 2012
On the following pages, we profile nine Catholics who have been outstanding examples of leadership, service and witness in the past year. They are not all newsmakers or power brokers. In some cases, they are the priest who says Mass day by day in a parish and the layperson who unselfishly volunteers his or her time to make the parish a better place and the sister who finds time to blog while living in community and teaching faith formation at a parish. As suggested by OSV readers and staff members, these Catholics — men and women, clergy and laity, famous and anonymous — do their part in uplifting the Faith in a hectic, skeptical world.
Woman conceived in rape, ‘I did not deserve the death penalty’ for father’s crime: video
Pam Stenzel, who was conceived in rape, has said people like her do not deserve to be aborted because of the way they were conceived in a powerful new video posted online today.
With a tone of gratitude and defiance, Stenzel thanks her biological mother, who gave birth to her after being raped at age 15. The teen then placed her with an adoptive family. She was the oldest of eight, seven of them adopted, “all colors of the rainbow.”
“My biological father is a rapist,” she says. “I don’t even know my ethnicity. But I am still a human being and I still have value. My life isn’t worth any less than yours just because of the way I was conceived. And I don’t believe I deserve the death penalty, because of the crime of my biological father.”