Friday, December 14, 2012

Who is in the Manger?

When I was a child I was one of the “actors” in the Christmas  pageant.  I was one of the three kings.  Now I am older and the hymn that goes along with the kings has always had a special meaning.  The verses of the hymn explain the three gifts the kings bring.  The fourth verse was mine: “Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume Breathes a life of gathering gloom; sorrowing, sighing, Bleeding, dying, Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.”  I am reminded every year of how contradictory are the details of the scene.  Contained here are great acts of faith, ready for our reflection.  The model for these “acts” is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Our expectation whenever she is introduced at Christmas time is that the appropriate focal point is the manger scene.  Whatever else we may see, the Virgin Mother with child is the most recognizable.  Perhaps the scene has lost some of its depth by becoming too familiar. 

One of the iconic places in the city of Rome is a very old church.  It is called “Our Lady of the Snow” because of a miraculous snowfall that prompted the faithful to build this church as a response.  In the crypt beneath the altar is a shrine that honors both the Blessed Mother and Pope John XXIII.  The statue of Pope John is depicted staring intently at a few pieces of a manger, the crib in which Jesus was placed at his birth.  We are tempted to forget the meaning of some these details.  Here, in only a few words one detail is restored to its proper place as the description of much more than a Christmas Card. 
And she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  (Luke 2:7 NAB)
And we busy ourselves by filling in the gaps.  The “cold winter’s night” comes from a buried detail in the Book of Wisdom:
“For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent,  Your all-powerful word from heaven's royal throne leapt into the doomed land.” (Wisdom 18:14-15 NAB)
This is the sweetness of the season and it is easily embraced as the focus of our reflection.  But the manger is also a sign of the rejection of mankind.
It was not too long ago that the Incarnation of the Son of God was reflected on in the Mass, at the end of the Mass in what was called the “last Gospel”.  The priest and the altar servers would stop in the middle of the procession out of the Church.  They would face the altar and begin the reading of the prologue of the Gospel of John: 
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.   He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2 NAB)
Then the manger would, so to speak, come into view: 
“He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:11 NAB)
The solemn reminder of the cross is uncovered.  The babe in the manger is the Lord who will give himself for the redemption of humanity.  His will be the sacrifice of a great king.  From manger to cross the child will be made ready for this destiny.  Perhaps we will be exonerated for turning away from that looming shadow.  We cannot help it even though the reminder of our sins should be enough to overcome the blindness of the reality we have constructed. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

End of the Year / New Year Giving

It is possible that you might have an opportunity to make a gift to the parish before the New Year arrives.  This would be very helpful, especially in light of the information below.  There are tax advantages in making a year-end gift.  Even more importantly we can gain a blessing from God on our efforts this year to make a difference in our world.  Please know that because of your support of the parish we have been able to make a significant impact on our community and our church.  Here are some financial highlights from 2012:


We continue to work on plans for the expansion of the Kitchen.  This is not a small effort in any sense.  It involves removing all that separates the old business office from the current kitchen: the installation of a hood (a very expensive piece) and all new commercial “type” equipment.  The kitchen is a focal point of the facility simply because so many events are supported by the all-too-small kitchen.   The current cost estimate is $180,000.


We provided assistance to Santa Clara Catholic School ($10,000.)  This school serves very poor children in south Dallas.  The assistance provided scholarship aid to one classroom for the year.
We assisted two “Title One” schools in Allen.  These schools depend on contributions to supplement their less than adequate budgets.  We have focused our attention on children who cannot afford to participate in field trips.  Many of these families are also clients of the Allen Food Pantry. 
We continue to organize in preparation for building a parochial school in Honduras.  More on that by the end of February. 


Gospel of Life, Samaritan Inn, Allen Ministerial Alliance Senior Luncheon, St. Brigid’s Needle Arts Ministry, Eucharistic Ministry to the Sick, Addiction Ministries, CSI, Food Pantry, American Heritage Girls, Venture Crew, Boy Scouts Troop 131, Cub Scouts, ESL, Collin County Juvenile Detention Center, Alzheimer’s Support Group, and Grief Support.

The list above is gleaned from the parish newcomer’s guide and includes only those efforts that we would classify as “outreach.”  There are dozens of additional fellowships, education and service organizations that would spill over on this page.  It has been an expressed goal that we increase the activity of the parish to fill the available space.  And, we encourage you to find a niche so that we are truly living the Gospel.


Included with this report of giving (“Good Steward”) is a 2013 pledge card.  If you will be giving the same amount for this coming year as you did in 2012, simply fill out a new pledge card and note that you want to stay at the amount pledged in 2012.  We do, however, want to encourage your “growth in giving.”  Working toward the tithe (10% of gross) is one of the most satisfying challenges we can undertake.  The increased strength of the parish to accomplish the goals that are provided by your giving is very important indeed.  From the brief description of some of our endeavors you can see that we are working to responsibly use your contributions to the parish.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


For good reason, Mary takes center stage in many of the accounts of Jesus infancy.  She is the one who gives her flesh to Jesus that he may be properly understood as “savior” of mankind.  We strain in a few places to understand exactly Joseph’s role.  One of the characteristics of the Gospel account is that it is the account of Jesus and only in a lesser sense a chronicle of the life of other “characters.”  While the position of Joseph in the account is obviously surrounded by tenderness and affection, it is nonetheless not about him.  It is about Jesus, the answer to the question that is put to the disciples: “Who do men say that I am.”

The caution that is associated with this understanding of Joseph is not subtle. 
In the stories about great men of ancient times there is a dramatic need to discover the influence that shaped their lives.  Military leaders, philosophers and others accounted for their lives with complex stories of their birth and of their childhood.  There are stories in the so called apocryphal New Testament which include the origin of his good character.  They are stories of later centuries that attempt to fill in the blanks that are so widespread in the New Testament when it comes to understanding what Jesus is like.  This is the motivation for these stories: to substitute imagination for more sketchy truths.

In those secular stories from ancient times you would expect to find certain stories of a required type.  What was his father like, his mother?  Did he follow in the family business?  Did he have a hobby?  He must have liked fishing and thus all the stories about fishing that fill the Gospels. 
Here are some considerations of St. Joseph:
  • He was the husband of Mary who is the Mother of God.
  • Jewish custom required marriage between 13 – 19 years old.
  • Joseph was betrothed to Mary when she was found to be pregnant; Joseph was ready to set aside the marriage contract to protect Mary from shame.  He must have loved Mary very much to risk being considered disobedient to the laws of marriage.  Indeed, out of this obedience grew a renewed sense of discipline to the Father’s plan.
  • Joseph was brave.  He made a long journey to Egypt and back to Nazareth in order to protect Mary and the child Jesus from the evil King Herod.
  • Joseph received from angels information about each step in his participation in the plan.
  • Jesus is of the lineage of King David through the patrimony of Joseph.
  • He probably died before Jesus began his public ministry, or at about fifty.
  • He was a carpenter.  He was probably moderately successful since he would have been required to return to Bethlehem from Nazareth to pay tax on his second property.  Even with this success Mary and Joseph practiced a voluntary poverty, associating themselves with the poor.
There is, of course, the very dramatically important role as father.  We usually remember this as a homiletic note on his feast day, March 25th.  It also has an importance in preparation for celebrating the Incarnation.  It might seem silly that the author of our salvation would live happily in a family amid those who have need of his instruction.  Remember that Jesus submits to the authority of his earthly parents so that he can be an example to us.  In this relationship between father and son, heaven touches the lowliness of human life and elevates it to its proper place.  It is our pitiable flesh, our simple, weak manhood that He assumes. 

Suggested Prayer to be Used During Advent

Let us begin our Advent Season with an act of personal prayer - a petition, a prayer for myself, that I may have:

A sense of purpose
To make a difference
To be appreciated
To feel God’s forgiveness
To live a clean, uncomplicated life
To be assured of your acceptance, O Lord.
To know that my family will miss me when I die.
To know that I am ready to die.
To know that I am taking good care of those who have been placed in my care.
To believe in the future and not worry about the past.
For good health.
For healing.
For spiritual gifts: generosity, courage, compassion.
And the courage to pray “Maranatha” (Come Lord)
To say it and mean it absolutely,
That we want him to come,
Come, Lord Jesus.