A Homily – The Second Sunday of Christmas (Year A)

First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 24:1-2, 8-12 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20 ©
Second Reading – Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ©
Gospel Acclamation – 1 Timothy 3:16
The Gospel According to John 1:1 – 18 ©

(NJB)

The Second Sunday of Christmas (Year A)
Be mindful!

There is truth in the sage’s reflection, and much that is false.

God has given us the Spirit of Wisdom, Sophia, who from eternity has issued from the creator like God’s own breath.

The Spirit of Wisdom is God’s own spirit and that spirit animates all that live, all who ever lived, and all who ever will be.

Now Listen!

God’s spirit is not a gift that belongs to a specific people, in a specific place at a specific time.

The Spirit of Wisdom is not property that can be transmitted like an inheritance.

It does not belong in Jacob’s tent, on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem or the house of Israel.

There are no people on the face of the Earth, or anywhere in the universe, who occupy a privileged place in relation to God.

God loves all of God’s children equally.

The creator establishes the material conditions for all things. In God’s wisdom God has established the cycles of life and death. Material power is of no concern to God, ignore the Psalmist when he dwells on these topics, they are not instructive.

God does not seek power, God seeks to be honored by God’s creatures, and we honor God through the service we provide one another.

We honor God when we emulate God’s love for creation, through ministries of healing, taking care of the hurt and the sick, feeding the hungry and welcoming the exile.

Do not follow the Psalmist into error.

The Psalmist fails to recognize that God is truly the God of all people; not merely the God of Jerusalem, of Zion, of Judah and Israel.

God does not favor one people over another, one tribe or one nation.

God does not the fill the belly of one person while allowing another to starve.

God does not favor one army over another, one city over another in time of war.

God does not favor war at all.

The season of winter, of summer, of spring and fall; they do not reflect the judgement of God, they are cyclical, and the weather is wild, it expresses the freedom and chaos of the natural order. In relation to human behavior it only reflects the laws of consequence and causation.

Be mindful!

A good winter is not evidence of God’s grace, neither is a bad summer evidence of God’s judgement.

Love God, and show that love by the love you exhibit to your enemies, to the stranger and to the less fortunate among you.

Remember the life of Jesus, and God; whom he called Father

Consider this:

If you are caught up in the consideration of God’s glory, ask yourself this: What is glory?

God is the creator of the universe. God’s greatest place is in relationship to us, God has said so, and we are God’s children, and God is our loving parent.

Pray this:

May each and every one of us come to the full knowledge of God.

There is hope in the knowledge of God, and remember that the hopes you have for yourself and those you love is to be extended to everyone, even those you do not love, for that is the way that leads to the knowledge of God, and our understanding of our relationship with the divine.

If you think that God has promised riches and glories as the inheritance of the saints, remember this, the first will be last and the last will be first. Know that spiritual riches are not counted in gold and silver, and precious things, but in love, companionship and friendship with God, which we experience primarily through our friendship with one another.

We all need each other.

Good governance requires good people. Know them, understand who they are before you appoint your leaders, put them through a process of discernment.

Choose well.

Be mindful.

Christian faith is not about who Jesus was and how the world saw him, our faith means trust in God, and trust can only be based on our understanding of the creator as a loving and caring being.

Let us reflect for a moment on the Gospel for today.

John’s Gospel is unlike the others. Its authors were the farthest removed from the life of Jesus. They wrote their narrative of his life between 120 and 150 years after his death.

John’s Gospel is also the furthest removed from the actual ministry of Jesus, it is more concerned with the cosmic identity of Christ, with Jesus as the Word of God, more than with the lives of actual people or the ministry of healing, mercy, and justice that was Jesus’ actual occupation.

The gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew are commonly referred to as the synoptic gospels. The events that they narrate are closely linked to each other and follow the same basic pattern; even though there are differences.

Luke and Matthew rely largely on Mark for their structure; Mark having been written first.

Luke came second and took a little step farther back in time than Mark. Whereas Mark begins with the baptism of Jesus, Luke begins with the story of his birth.

Matthew, coming third in the sequence goes a little farther back in time than Luke. Matthew opens with the story Jesus’ descent from Abraham. While John, coming last, takes the reader all the way back to the beginning of time.

John narrates some of the same events as the other gospels do, but with a markedly different character, all designed to tell us who Jesus is, God’s own self.

The historian in me objects to this treatment of the life of Jesus, but it is what it is, and this fiction, having taken hold of the Christian imagination represents a historical reality all of its own.

John’s prolog, which we are given today, tells us very little about the persons of Jesus, or John the Baptist, but a great deal about what Christians believed about God, the creator of the Universe, and about creation itself.

Even though it was a common view in the ancient world that our material condition was essentially corrupt; as evidenced by our experience of pain, sickness, and death. The Christian community of John was articulating faith in its essential goodness.

It affirms the unity and oneness of all creation; having been brought into being through the Word of God, the Logos; God’s reason, or rational will. This tell us that life itself has purpose, it is not random, it not the product of chaotic forces. Creation comes from the goodness and light of the eternal God, it informs that not one thing or being exists apart from God.

The Gospel encourages us in the hope that no matter how bad things are for us as we experience the drama of creation, the darkness will not overcome the light. Also, that the world and humanity itself are worthy of the love of God, so much so that God becomes a human being, living and suffering with us in the spirit of compassion and solidarity.

This teaching is also remarkably esoteric and deeply personal. While encouraging the believer to have hope, it also reminds the reader that they must also persevere in the face of rejection and violence.

Many people to not want to hear the truth. They prefer their own cozy view of the world, they prefer their tribal and national gods, their totems and taboos, their neat philosophies and mores, their magical-realities and superstitions to the sober understanding of what it means to be a child of God.
First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 24:1-2, 8-12 ©

From Eternity, in the Beginning, God Created Wisdom

Wisdom speaks her own praises, in the midst of her people she glories in herself.

She opens her mouth in the assembly of the Most High, she glories in herself in the presence of the Mighty One; ‘Then the creator of all things instructed me, and he who created me fixed a place for my tent.

He said, “Pitch your tent in Jacob, make Israel your inheritance.”

From eternity, in the beginning, he created me, and for eternity I shall remain.

I ministered before him in the holy tabernacle, and thus was I established on Zion.

In the beloved city he has given me rest, and in Jerusalem I wield my authority.

I have taken root in a privileged people, in the Lord’s property, in his inheritance.’
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 147:12-15, 19-20 ©

The Word was made flesh, and lived among us.

O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
Zion, praise your God!
He has strengthened the bars of your gates
he has blessed the children within you.

The Word was made flesh, and lived among us.

He established peace on your borders,
he feeds you with finest wheat.
He sends out his word to the earth
and swiftly runs his command.

The Word was made flesh, and lived among us.

He makes his word known to Jacob,
to Israel his laws and decrees.
He has not dealt thus with other nations;
he has not taught them his decrees.

The Word was made flesh, and lived among us.

Alleluia!
Second Reading – Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18 ©

Before the World Was Made, God Chose Us in Christ

Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.

Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ for his own kind purposes, to make us praise the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved.

That will explain why I, having once heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus, and the love that you show towards all the saints, have never failed to remember you in my prayers and to thank God for you. May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of him. May he enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope his call holds for you, what rich glories he has promised the saints will inherit.
Gospel Acclamation – 1 Timothy 3:16

Alleluia, alleluia!

Glory be to you, O Christ, proclaimed to the pagans.
Glory be to you, O Christ, believed in by the world.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to John 1:1-18 ©

The Word Was Made Flesh, and Lived Among Us

In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him.

All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God.

His name was John.

He came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him.

He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light.

The Word was the true light that enlightens all men; and he was coming into the world.

He was in the world that had its being through him, and the world did not know him.

He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him.

But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to all who believe in the name of him who was born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John appears as his witness. He proclaims:

‘This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me ranks before me because he existed before me.’

Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received – yes, grace in return for grace, since, though the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The Second Sunday of Christmas (Year A)

A Homily – The 8th Day of Christmas, The Solemnity of Mary, A Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)

First Reading – Numbers 6:22-27 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 66(67):2-3, 5, 6, 8 ©
Second Reading – Galatians 4:4-7 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Hebrews 1:1-2
The Gospel According to Luke 2:16 – 21 ©

(NJB)

The 8th Day of Christmas, The Solemnity of Mary, A Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)
Listen, hear is the formula of blessing:

Only remember this; God, who created the universe, God is not a lord, free God from that earthly title, and free yourself as well.

Know this, the blessing of God rests on all of God’s children, feel God’s presence (it is always with you), and keep yourself in the way of God.

Be mindful.

See God in the face of everyone you encounter, treat them as if they were God themselves; for they are, god dwells within in them.

Peace comes through understanding, God is utterly transcendent, God is not a god of tribes, of nations, or even worlds.

God is the God of all creation.

Listen!

The psalmist is right to ask God to bless all peoples and all nations; to have pity and to be merciful. We are right to seek this fulfillment for it is the promise of God.

Be mindful.
God is not confined to one place, neither to one time, nor does God belong to one people.

God, who created the universe, God is the God of everyone, whether they know it or not.

Seek God’s blessing; seek it not just four yourself, but seek it for everyone.

Listen!

Comsider the teaching of the Apostle:

The death of Jesus was a political murder. It was a sacrifice, but not a sacrifice of redemption. Jesus was not purchasing anything for himself, or for us when he was killed on the cross, he was not paying a debt.

Jesus was showing us the way.

Jesus was acting out of love, taking the wrath of the Sanhedrin and the Romans on himself, rather than have that anger visited on his broader group of followers; his family, the disciples and their families.

His sacrifice was not magic, it is not mystical, or supernatural. Jesus was a faithful son of God, exercising ordinary compassion in extraordinary circumstances.

He was acting as a champion of justice.

Jesus demonstrated his faith every day in his ministry of healing, through his loving service, and finally in his death on the cross, he believed in what he taught and he went to his death trusting God.

Be mindful of this.

God’s spirit is with us; the spirit is with us in the memory of Jesus that we hold on to, it is demonstrated in the loving service we provide each other.

God’s spirit animates all of us. We are all God’s children, and all of us are God’s heirs; Christian and non-Christian, alike.

Listen!

God speaks to everyone. God speaks in the secret chamber of your heart.

Listen!

God calls us to justice, to goodness, and to humility.

God call us to service.

Consider the Gospel for today:

There is a lot packed into this short passage.

Before we begin to explicate its meaning we must understand that, Luke, the Apostle, he never met Jesus. Luke was not one of the disciples. Luke was a protégé of Paul, and Paul had never met Jesus either.

Luke and Paul, travelled broadly and met many of those that followed Jesus during his life. Paul met with James, who was Jesus’ brother, but they never met Jesus, and everything they knew about Jesus was hearsay.

It is important to note, that while the Gospel of Luke bears Luke’s name, it was not written by Luke. None of the Gospels were written by individuals, all of them were exercises in collective development, and the writing of them took place over generations, as the communities who authored them did their best to narrate their understanding of the life and mission of Jesus in terms their audience would understand.

The Gospel of Luke says that Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus were visited by three shepherds. This is presented in distinction to Matthews Gospel which says that they holy family was visited by three Magi, who were “wise men” and Kings.

The Gospel of John, the earliest Gospel, and that of Mark, neither of those Gospels treat the subject at all.

Matthew’s community and Luke’s community were writing to very different audiences. As such, they tailored the narrative of the birth of Jesus to their audience. They each in their own way created a fiction that was pleasing to the people to whom they were preaching.

This is the essence of propaganda.

To understand the Gospels, this must be understood first of all. The Gospels contain some legitimate historical data, but the facts are difficult to sift out. They are the product of artifice, they are fictions. The Gospels speak to some truths that are universal, and relate some true events, but they cannot be relied on as a true account.

They speak to us of historical realities but they are not historical narratives.

The Gospels are propaganda, and that is not to say that they are bad, but it is to say that they must be seen for what they are.

Because the gospels are propaganda they are less reliable as a tool to teach us about Jesus, or his mother Mary, more appropriately used to teach us about the diverse Near Eastern and Mediterranean communities that formed the early church.
First Reading – Numbers 6:22-27 ©

They Are to Call Down My Name on the Sons of Israel, and I Will Bless Them

The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘Say this to Aaron and his sons: “This is how you are to bless the sons of Israel. You shall say to them:

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

This is how they are to call down my name on the sons of Israel, and I will bless them.’
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 66(67):2-3, 5, 6, 8 ©

O God, be gracious and bless us.

O God, be gracious and bless us
and let your face shed its light upon us.
So will your ways be known upon earth
and all nations learn your saving help.

O God, be gracious and bless us.

Let the nations be glad and exult
for you rule the world with justice.
With fairness you rule the peoples,
you guide the nations on earth.

O God, be gracious and bless us.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.
May God still give us his blessing
till the ends of the earth revere him.

O God, be gracious and bless us.
Second Reading – Galatians 4:4-7 ©

God Sent His Son, Born of a Woman

When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons. The proof that you are sons is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’, and it is this that makes you a son, you are not a slave any more; and if God has made you son, then he has made you heir.
Gospel Acclamation – Hebrews 1:1-2

Alleluia, alleluia!

At various times in the past
and in various different ways,
God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets;
but in our own time, the last days,
he has spoken to us through his Son.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to Luke 2:16 – 21 ©

The Shepherds Hurried to Bethlehem and Found the Baby Lying in the Manger

The shepherds hurried away to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.

When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception

The 8th Day of Christmas, The Solemnity of Mary, A Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)

A Homily – The First Sunday of Christmas (Year A)

First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 127(128):1-5 ©
Second Reading – Colossians 3:12-21 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Colossians 3:15, 16
The Gospel According to Matthew 2:13 -15, 19 – 23 ©

(NJB)

The First Sunday of Christmas (Year A)
Be mindful.

There is wisdom in the writings of Ecclisasticus and also falsehood, they are presented as binary readings of the same precept:

Honor your father and mother.

Honor them, but do not expect a reward for it, neither from heaven or even from them, for there are no guarantees in this life.

Honor you mother and father, your sisters and brothers, your cousins, your aunts and uncles, your nieces and nephews, honor them all. Honor your teachers and your classmates, your co-workers and your employers, honor the stranger who comes into your midst, honor them all.

Honoring people is good in its own right. You honor yourself in doing so, and through the service you give to anyone, whether they be near or far from you, through that service you also honor God.

Live a life of honor, do it without the thought of reward to yourself.

Do not fear God. There is no blessing in it. Fear is not a blessing, rather fear is the path to sin and darkness.

Trust God, have faith in confidence in God’s love.

Remember God’s servant, Job. Remember that the Sun will burn you, in the same way that it will warm you; the sun will scorch the earth in the same way that it pours its energy in to the crops.

God sends the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.

Be mindful of this wisdom.

God, the creator of the universe, God is loving, compassionate, and wise.

God created all of us with the capacity for each of those qualities, but God also created us in freedom, and we are capable of much more.

We are capable of the opposite.

God has chosen you, as God has chosen everyone. We are all of us, God’s children.

Be loving and compassionate, pour your good will out on all of your sisters and brothers. Do not just mimic the expression of love you are most fond of finding in the world, do the hard work, love even those you do not wish to love.

Let your love for God unify everything you do as God’s servant, volunteer to be of service to the whole of humanity.

Listen!

A life of faith requires support and nourishment, we need it from those near to us. It is not absolutely necessary, but it is most helpful. You may practice your faith in isolation, but it is more difficult. The life of faith is not meant to be lived in a vacuum, it comes to full fruition through our relationships and in community.

Live a life of prayer; yes, but the Apostle is wrong to ask you to do all things in the name of God.

Do what you do in your own name. Take responsibility for your actions, both good and bad, whether they were well intentioned or ill, whether you succeed or fail.

Strive to live a life of prayer.

If you are living and working for God; in whatever industry, in whatever capacity, at whatever calling has come to you through the world, you will be doing it on behalf of your neighbor, your sisters and brothers, your fellow human beings.

You will be working for the benefit of all people, now and in all generations yet to come.

If your work does not allow to you to do this…abandon it.

Be mindful!

There is nothing instructive in the Gospel for today. There is nothing at all in the reading that concerns the way that Jesus instructed us to follow.

What we are given is propaganda and myth, the scriptures are replete with them.

The story cannot be taken for history, it represents an effort by the gospel writers to make Jesus’ life into something analogous to the birth narrative of Moses, to set Jesus in that same tradition, which they succeeded in doing because the narrative of Moses’ birth is also a myth.

It continues the anti-royalist, anti-Herodian tradition of both the Jews of the diaspora and the early Christians.

It qualifies as propaganda insofar as the authors state their motive in connecting the travel and adventures of the holy family to specific prophecies in scripture, they believe that by doing this they are successfully bolstering Jesus’ credentials.

Jesus did not need his credentials bolstered in this way.

Passages such as these teach us little.
First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:2-6, 12-14 ©

He Who Fears the Lord Respects His Parents
The Lord honours the father in his children, and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.

Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins, he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.

Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own, he shall be heard on the day when he prays.

Long life comes to him who honours his father, he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.

My son, support your father in his old age, do not grieve him during his life.

Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy, do not despise him in your health and strength; for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten but will serve as reparation for your sins.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 127(128):1-5 ©

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
around your table.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!
Second Reading – Colossians 3:12-21 ©

Family Life in the Lord

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.
Gospel Acclamation – Colossians 3:15, 16

Alleluia, alleluia!

May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts;
let the message of Christ find a home with you.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to Matthew 2:13 -15, 19 – 23 ©

The Flight into Egypt and the Return to Nazareth

After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:

I called my son out of Egypt.

After Herod’s death, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you and go back to the land of Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, went back to the land of Israel. But when he learnt that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as ruler of Judaea he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he left for the region of Galilee. There he settled in a town called Nazareth. In this way the words spoken through the prophets were to be fulfilled:

‘He will be called a Nazarene.’
The First Sunday of Christmas (Year A)

A Homily – Christmas at Dawn, a Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)

First Reading – Isaiah 62:11-12 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 96(97):1, 6, 11-12 ©
Second Reading – Titus 3:4-7 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 2:14
The Gospel According to Luke 2:15-20 ©

(NJB)

Christmas at Dawn, a Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)
Listen and be joyful!

What Isaiah says concerning Zion is intended for all the children of God, this means everyone.

The savior does not come as a conqueror, but as a healer, the victory is not over hostile forces, but over death and the trophy is life.

We are the sought after. Wherever we are, in whatever city we dwell, there in that place you will not be forsaken.

The creator comes with blessing for all.

Listen!

It is human beings who are obsessed with questions of kingship, set aside such fetishes.

God is Abba, father; Jesus is brother, teacher and friend.

God is the keeper of a garden, not a palace.

Let Earth rejoice and all people in it. Let us understand that God is a mystery. Let us know that all people are God’s children, and that God has no enemies.

God is the creator of all things, and all things obey the will God, what is in God’s will is justice, and mercy and love.

In the presence of God there will be no dismay. God will wipe away the tears from everyone’s face, all will be invited to the table. The feast will not commence until all of the invited have arrived.

If you have never worshipped a carved image, do not think you are superior to any who have, because idolatry can be found in more than the worship of objects, it is most insidious in the form of ideas and beliefs, doctrines and dogmas and decretals.

Be mindful.

God, the creator of the universe; God loves us.

God offers salvation to all people, and provides for it. Salvation is wellbeing, both in this world and the next. Salvation does not require rituals or rites, nor the magical of mechanism of justification. The salvation God has promised does not happen here in this world, though we can create a facsimile of it if we try happens, salvation takes place in the next world because God wills it. Our salvation does not depend on us at all.

But we are saved in this world simply by trusting in the word of God, by believing in what we hope for, goodness and justice and love.

Do not boast.

Be mindful of how the praise of God can lead a person astray.

God is not in the highest heaven, God is everywhere and in the hearts of all people.

All of God’s children are beloved by God.

God finds favor in all.

Do not let your faith circumscribe God’s love.

Consider the gospel reading for the day:

There is a lot packed into this short passage. Before we begin to explicate its meaning we must understand that Luke the Apostle, he never met Jesus. Luke was not one of the disciples, rather, he was a protégé of Paul, and Paul never met Jesus either.

Luke and Paul travelled broadly and met many of those that followed Jesus during his life. They met with James, who was Jesus’ brother, and Peter, and others, but they never met Jesus, everything they knew about Jesus was hearsay.

It important to note that while the Gospel of Luke bears Luke’s name, it was not written by Luke. None of the Gospels were written by individuals, each of them were exercises in collective development, and the writing of them took place over generations, as the communities who authored them did their best to narrate their understanding of the life and mission of Jesus in terms their audience would understand.

The Gospel of Luke says that Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus were visited by three shepherds. This is presented in distinction to Matthew’s Gospel which says that they holy family was visited by three Magi, who were “wise men” and Kings.

The magi were priests in the tradition of Persian Zoroastrianism.

The Gospel of John, which was the last to be written, and that of Mark, which was the earliest, those Gospels do not treat the subject at all.

The communities of Matthew and Luke were writing to very different audiences. As such, they tailored the narrative of the birth of Jesus in very different ways. Each in their own way created a fiction that was pleasing to the people to whom they were preaching.

This is the essence of propaganda.

Be mindful!

In order to understand the Gospels, this must be understood first of all: the Gospels contain some legitimate historical data but the facts are difficult to sift through. They are the product of artifice, they are fictions, at best they are allegories, analogies and metaphors dressed in myth.

The Gospels speak to some truths that are universal and relate some true events, but they cannot be relied on as a true account of anything.

This is not to say that they are bad, it is to say that they must be seen for what they are.

Because the Gospels are propaganda, they are less reliable as a tool to teach us about Jesus and more appropriately used to teach us about the diverse Near Eastern and Mediterranean communities that formed the early church.

Remember this at Christmas, the saturnalia, and the birth of Mithra.
First Reading – Isaiah 62:11-12 ©

Look, Your Saviour Comes.

This the Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Look, your saviour comes, the prize of his victory with him, his trophies before him.’

They shall be called ‘The Holy People’, ‘The Lord’s Redeemed.’

And you shall be called ‘The-sought-after’, ‘City-not-forsaken.’
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 96(97):1, 6, 11-12 ©

This day new light will shine upon the earth: the Lord is born for us.

The Lord is king, let earth rejoice,
let all the coastlands be glad.
The skies proclaim his justice;
all peoples see his glory.

This day new light will shine upon the earth: the Lord is born for us.

Light shines forth for the just
and joy for the upright of heart.
Rejoice, you just, in the Lord;
give glory to his holy name.

This day new light will shine upon the earth: the Lord is born for us.
Second Reading – Titus 3:4-7 ©

It Was No Reason Except His Own Compassion that He Saved Us

When the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 2:14

Alleluia, alleluia!

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace to men who enjoy his favour.

Alleluia!
The Gospel According to Luke 2:15-20 ©

The Shepherds Hurried to Bethlehem and Found the Baby Lying in the Manger

Now when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told.
Christmas at Dawn, a Holy Day of Obligation (Year A)

On Jesus and Mithra et al…A Holiday Reflection

Everything we know about Jesus is tangled in myth. The narrative of his birth and childhood are a complete fiction. Even the narrative of his adult ministry, beginning around the year 30 CE, is imbued with metaphor and allegory, so much so that none of it is reliable as history.

The narrative that we have received from the tradition is so thoroughly syncretized to the broader cultural context of the Near East that we do not even refer to him by his given name; Joshua son of Joseph, instead we call him by a Greek variant that ignores his genealogy, calling him Jesus of Nazareth instead.

If we desire to understand this story (as we should), if we desire to understand how it came to be in the form we have received it in, then we must engage that broader narrative. We must engage the complete societal and theological context from which the Christian myth emerged. We must journey beyond the Palestinian crossroads that was ancient Judea, we must go beyond the Greco-Roman world, the great Pan-Hellenic civilization, and we must go to Persia. That is where the story begins, with the hero Mithra.

The “Cult of Mithras” is understudied by historians. It is commonly regarded by scholars as merely one of many religious movements that competed with the early Christian Church for the devotion of the masses.

The Cult of Mithras was much more than that.

Mithraic worship, as it was practiced by the Romans, (principally by members of the Roman army) in the first four centuries of the common era, has its roots in ancient Persia. It is an offshoot of Zoroastrianism (c. 700 BCE), evolving through the centuries until it reached its final form as a “mystery cult” within the Roman army.

Throughout its evolution, and propelled by the extensive influence of the Persian Empire, Mithraism had a significant impact on every society it encountered, and on every form of worship in the Mediterranean region, the Near East and Southwest Asia.

This essay is an attempt to communicate the multiple ways by which Mithraism has influenced the development of other faith traditions, but most importantly the Judea-Christian tradition, and most significantly our beliefs about Jesus, including the mystery of his birth.

Scholarship on Mithraism is scant. Most research tends to downplay the connection between the form of Mithraism that was practiced by the Roman army, and the ancient form of Mithraism that was practiced in the heart of Persia. To justify this, scholars will site some obvious iconographic and liturgical differences between the two forms of worship, as if to say that the presence of a few notable, but nevertheless subtle differences is enough evidence to argue for a complete separation and distinction between the traditions. These conclusions are commonly drawn despite the greater number of obvious similarities between them.

The following paragraph from David Ulansey’s book The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries illustrates this point clearly. He says:

“The Western mystery cult of Mithraism as it appeared in the Roman Empire derived its very identity from a number of characteristics which were completely absent from the Iranian worship of Mithra: a series of initiations into ever higher levels of the cult accompanied by strict secrecy about the cult’s doctrines; the distinctive cave like temples in which the cult’s devotees met; and, most important, the iconography of the cult, in particular the tauroctony. None of these essential characteristics of Western Mithraism were to be found in the Iranian worship of Mithra. ”

Some of Ulansey’s predecessors have suggested that the differences between the Persian-Iranian form of Mithraism and that of the Roman army are the product of natural transformations that occur in all belief systems as they move from one culture to another across great expanses of geography and time.

They are correct.

Ulansey’s particular criticisms have to do with extrinsic matters of form and ritual activity, the types of structures that we would expect to change over time and distance, as they incorporate the experiences of descending generations of their adherents in them.

The seven stages of initiation, the tauroctony (slaying of the bull), the codes of secrecy, and the type of temple worship have little to do with the central tenets of Mithraism, the closely held beliefs that had existed within the doctrine from the earliest times in Persia, through its final incarnation as a Roman mystery cult. The central teaching remains the same, the most significant of which are; a belief in the immortality of the soul, and the notion of personal salvation.

In the ancient Persian form Mithraism; Mithra is a demi-god. He is viewed as the incarnated scion of Ahura-Mahzda, and Ahura-Mahzda is believed to be the source of all goodness, creator of the Universe, a God of light and source of all-life.

Some scholars believe that in its original form; Mithraism was strictly monotheistic (perhaps the first truly monotheistic belief system), holding that Ahura-Mahzda was the only deity, and that there were no others.

However, if Mithraism was originally monotheistic, at some point in its early evolution the belief system devolved into dualism. Mithraic doctrine established the existence of another deity, as a counterpart to Ahura-Mahzda, and together they formed a pantheon of sorts.

This secondary deity was given the name Angra-Mainyu (from whose name we have derived the term anger). Angra-Mainyu was believed to be the “uncreated” source of evil in the world, whose agency was cast n diametric opposition to the light and life of Ahura-Mahzda.

This dualistic view of reality suggested that the drama of our lives on Earth is a reflection of the struggle between these two cosmic powers. This clearly defined dualism would be of great relevance to both Judaism and Christianity in the centuries to come.

In the later form of Mithraism, that of the Roman Empire, the demi-god Mithra is depicted in that same relationship to the high God as in the Persian form. In this cultural context, the high God is given the name Sol Invictus and is iconographically represented as the sun. Mithra is the hero, demi-god and the offspring of Sol, incarnated son.

While this form of Mithraic worship is best understood as belonging to Rome, it should be noted that the cult of Sol Invictus, was also prevalent in Gaul prior to the Roman conquest of the Celts.

In both the ancient Persian form of Mithraism and the Roman form of Mithraism, the demi-god Mithra is seen as being sent to Earth by the deity responsible for the creation of the universe. In the former tradition this is Ahura-Mahzda, in the latter tradition this is Sol Invictus.

In the Roman form of Mithraism the purpose of sending Mithra to Earth is for him to slay the “Primal Bull.” Upon slaying the bull, Mithra and Sol Invictus feast together from its flesh. This feast has the effect that Mithra and Sol become con-joinedbecause they have dined together, they are now “one.”

Sol and Mithra are joined together as one being with coextensive attributes, each sharing the title Invictus, meaning unconquered. In Roman Mithraism this meal was considered to be the effective means of salvation for all human beings, and that by participating in a recreation of the sacred meal, properly sequenced through the rites of initiation, the individual would become one with Mithra and therefore one with Sol Invictus, thereby gaining access to the heavenly worlds of the afterlife. This is nearly identical to the Christian theology underpinning the sacrament of Communion.

As I indicated earlier in my reference to Ulansey’s work, Persian Mithraism did not depict Mithra as the “bull-slayer.” The narrative from Persia is as follows:

Mithra does not kill the primal-bull, rather Mithra and the bull are sent to Earth by Ahura-Mahzda, where they are assailed by the “evil-one,” Angra-Mainyu, who himself slays Mithra and the bull together in an act of violence.

Then Angra-Mainyu attempts to destroy Mithra and the bull utterly, but his efforts are frustrated by Ahura-Mazda. Through Ahura-Mazda’s power, stalks of wheat and the grape vine spring from the carcass of the bull. All manner of good things and good creatures flow from the god of light, through the bull to fill and populate the created world, so that those good things and creatures may be used for the benefit of human beings.

Ahura-Mahzda trasforms the violence of Angra-Mainyu into a new creation. New life springs from the bull, and Mithra is restored, returning to Ahura-Mahzda in the heavens.

There is no significant discrepancy between these two forms of the myth.

In both versions of the myth, Mithra is sent to Earth by a god of greater authority than himself.

In both versions of the myth, the bull is slain and its death is productive; both of new life, and of all good things on the Earth.

In the Roman version of the myth, the slaying of the bull is an explicit sacrifice.

In the Persian version of the myth, the intentionality of the sacrifice is implicit.

The Roman version is not etiological, it does not address the origins of life on Earth, the Persian version is.

The Roman version is primarily a teleological myth having to do with human destiny, salvation, and the life of the immortal soul, it is teleological and eschatological, insofar as it address the final resolution of evil in the world, and the end to conflict. The Persian version balances these two concerns.

In the Persian account, Mithra and the Bull are sent to Earth by the creator deity; their death is a vehicle by which the drama of life on Earth begins, making it a cosmogonic myth of origins.

The death of Mithra and the primal-bull, while being the result of violence perpetrated by the “evil-one” does not serve the interest of Angra-Mainyu, but serves the interest of Ahura-Mahzda instead.

Mithra does not die. His soul is immortal, and he returns to the heavens.

From the body of the bull comes an abundance of life, demonstrating that Ahura-Mahzda is greater than Angra-Mainyu, greater because the god of light not only has the power to create goodness sui generous (in itself), but also has the power to bring good out of evil; making the fruit of the labor of Angra-Mainyu effectively nothing. This profound hope is apparent within the structure of myth itself.

In both the Roman and the Persian versions of the myth, the death of the primal bull is emblematic of life for the world.

It is the creation of life itself, and it is life restored.

The principal actor in both versions of the myth is the creator god, figured as either Ahura-Mahzda, or Sol Invictus in their respective cultures.

Whether it is Mithra who kills the bull, or Angra-Mainyu, this does not matter. The slaying of the bull serves the purpose of the principal actor, Ahura-Mahzda/Sol Invictus, god of life, god of light, god of good.

Having articulated some of the principle differences between the Persian and Roman forms of Mithraism, let us now turn to what is most consistent and significant in the worship of Mithra in both cultures, from c. 700 BCE through c. 400 CE, from Rome to Persia.

This is the belief in the immortality of the soul and the notion of personal salvation.

In Mithraism, this theology underwent a profound development that would have a lasting and significant impact on other faith traditions in the Near East and broader Mediterranean world

There are several clues that we can follow to give us this story. These clues will help us understand the significance of Mithraism in relation to other Mediterranean religions; especially Judaism and Christianity, we do not have to go any farther than the Hebrew and Christian scriptures to see and understand this influence.

A close study of the Hebrew scriptures reveals that the Jewish people did not always have (and do not now have) a strong belief in either the immortality of the soul, or the afterlife. However, there was a period of time in which these beliefs did flourish, and in that time Christianity emerged.

After the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 BCE, these beliefs enter the Hebrew tradition, and over the next few centuries they become more clearly developed, especially among those Jewish communities remaining in the diaspora, living outside of Palestine, the former kingdoms of Israel and Judea.

Jews living in the diaspora made up the majority of the Jewish people living in the world at that time. At the time of Jesus, throughout Rome and its provinces it is believed that Jews made up as much as ten percent of the total population of free people, making the Jews of the diaspora a majority among their people.

When the Jewish people were released from captivity in Babylon, it was the Persians who had recently conquered that Babylonians, who granted them their freedom. It happened during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus.

Cyrus is depicted by the Jewish people in the Hebrew scriptures, as a servant of their God, Yahweh:

“22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia—to fulfil the word of Yahweh through Jeremiah—Yahweh roused the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia to issue a proclamation and to have it publicly displayed throughout his kingdom. 23 ‘Cyrus king of Persia says this, “Yahweh, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all his people, may his God be with him! Let him go up.”’ ”

This passage does not shed any light on what Cyrus’s theological disposition might have actually been, or what his personal beliefs were. Whatever that theology was (or was perceived to be), we can surmise that his beliefs and the beliefs of the Persian court did not present a significant conflict with Hebrew theology at that time.

At this time, the Persian court had been in full adherence to the principles and teaching of Zoroastrianism for at one hundred and fifty years, which is to say that they were Mithraites.

What this passage indicates is that there was no essential antagonism between the theological claims of the two cultures. Furthermore, it is likely that Cyrus or his priests, or both, saw a considerable amount of compatibility between the faiths of the two cultures and their systems of belief.

At this time, Persian Mithraism and Judaism were both essentially monotheistic, though neither of them were perfectly so. They were monotheistic faith systems which held as a basic tenet of belief that creation was good, created by a good god, for a good purpose, redounding to the benefit of humanity.

Mithraism had a strongly held belief in the immortality of the soul. At this time Judaism did not, but immediately following this period a movement within Judaism would develop its belief in the immortality of the soul in profoundly consequential ways. The adherents of this new movement within the Hebrew culture became known as the Pharisees.

The designation Pharisee, is derived from the name of the Persian priests of Zoroaster who were called the Parsees. This serves as etymological evidence that clearly shows the intimate connection between Pharisaic Judaism and the religious traditions of the Persian Empire.

This is not a causal relationship, but a relationship of influence.

Even in Jesus’ time, 500 years after the Babylonian exile; belief in the immortality of the soul had not fully entered the mainstream of Jewish life, especially inside the borders of Palestine, in Samaria and Judea. This belief system was primarily taught by the Pharisees, and the Essenes in the remote desert community of Qumran (a pharisaic sect).

Belief in the immortality of the soul was popular among Jewish people for whom the synagogue was the center of their faith life, and not the temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish Qabalah was also born in this popular tradition, the Pharisaic Judaism of the diaspora.

In addition to belief in the immortality of the soul, the Pharisees and the Essenes of Qumran, also had significantly developed angelologies. This belief in the existence of angels (divine messengers) was another matter that took a long time to develop in Judaism, but which was already present in Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian exile.

In fact, our word “angel,” meaning divine messenger, comes to English, from the Greek angelos, which is itself derived from the Persian word, angaros, meaning courier.

Many scholars say that it is impossible to state with certainty that the Pharisees received these teachings directly from the Parsees when they were exposed to Mithraism at the time of the Babylonian captivity.

I will tell you this, certitude may not be possible, but it is also impossible to rule it out.

What we can say for certain, is that the Pharisees came into existence just after the Babylonian exile, and it is beyond reasonable probability to suggests that Pharisaic beliefs developed independently of Mithraism, I do not believe in that type of coincidence. Therefore we conclude that the Pharisaic movement within Judaism is an example of pure theological syncretism, the cultural purchase by the Hebrews of an earlier Persian theology.

The Babylonian exile and the subsequent release of the Jewish people by the Persian king Cyrus were the first of many major streams of influence that Mithraism would have on the Judeo-Christian tradition. We will move slowly through a discussion of the others.

Prior to the Babylonian exile; a belief in angels and the immortality of the soul did not exist as fully developed doctrines, but they did exist in germ, in a latent form, insofar as they were the generalized beliefs permeating the Mediterranean region and the Near East at that time.

It should be noted that in most Mediterranean and Near Eastern traditions, the concept of a blessed afterlife, to the extent that such ideas existed, included the idea that those blessed places were reserved for people of notable and heroic stature.

Because common people, and slaves did not have the ability to lead a heroic or notable life, they had no hope of enjoying a blessed state in the hereafter.

Mithraism, and in more significant ways Christianity changed all of that; they changed this basic paradigm by promising the hope of salvation to anyone, regardless of gender and class, rank or status. Through these religions, common people and outcasts were able to entertain hopes of a blessed afterlife if, and only if they sought to align themselves with the god of creation, the god of light, and the god goodness, through an initiation into their mysteries.

In the first century BCE, the most important center for Mithraic worship in the Hellenistic world was in the region of Cilicia, in the city of Tarsus. The patron deity of this city was the Greek demi-god Perseus, officially. but as Ulansey points out, Perseus, as he was worshipped in Tarsus, was identical to the Persian Mithra in almost every way.

In his journals, the Roman general Pompey points out the fact that the people of Tarsus worship Mithra and this is the point of origin for the spread of the Cult of Mithra (from the East) into the Roman world.

I want to preface my discussion of the relationship between Mithra and Perseus with an acknowledgement of the profuse pluralism at work in the Greco-Roman, Pan-Hellenic world at this time. Parallels to Mithra and Perseus can be found in the stories of many other heroes. Not all of the adventures attributed to Perseus should be attributed to Mithra, and vice versa. In the Greco-Roman world, the gods and heroes were regarded differently, in different cities, and different regions, at different times. The heroes and gods in Greco-Roman mythology are extremely malleable and blend with one another quite extensively. However, in Tarsus the parallels between Mithra and Perseus go deep, and they are important; as I will demonstrate:

“According to Plutarch, Mithraism began among the pirates of Cilicia, the province bordering on the southern coast of Asia Minor. These pirates, whose ships ‘numbered more than a thousand, and the cities captured by them four hundred,’ and whom Pompey was sent to subdue in 67 BCE, ‘offered strange rites of there own at Olympus, and celebrated there certain secret rites among which those of Mithras continue to the present time having been first instituted by them.’…For our purposes, the most important aspect of Plutarch’s evidence tracing the origins of Mithraism to the region of Cilicia is the fact that Cilicia—and in particular its capitol city of Tarsus—was the home of a deeply rooted cult of the hero Perseus. ”

Among the Greeks Perseus was considered to be the founder of the city of Tarsus, a city bearing the name of the “Primal-Bull,” Taurus.

Let us note that Perseus, like Mithra, is intimately linked to the sun, referred to in the Greco-Roman myths as either: Apollo, Helios or Sol.

Sometimes Apollo is depicted as making oblations before Perseus, just as Sol is sometimes depicted as kneeling before Mithra. The order is reversed at other times, with Mithra or Perseus kneeling before the deity representing the sun, this is done in keeping with the themes of mutuality, and co-extensive identity between the god-hero, the hero and the god. The two are one.

In Greek mythology Perseus is strongly connected with the Persian Empire.

The Greeks believed that Perses, the son of Perseus and Andromeda, was the founder of the Persian Empire. Furthermore, Perseus is always depicted as wearing a Phrygian cap indicating his Asiatic (read Persian) origins.

“The evidence for a connection between the figures of Mithras and Perseus is of three kinds: first, there is the astronomical evidence consisting of the fact that the constellation Perseus occupies a position in the sky exactly analogous to that occupied by Mithras in the tauroctony; second, there are a number of striking iconographical and mythological parallels between the two figures, such as Perseus’ Phrygian cap, his connection with Persia, and the fact that like Perseus, Mithras always looks away from his victim; third there is the historical-geographical evidence linking the origins of Mithraism with Cilicia, the site of an important Perseus cult. ”

The astronomical evidence cited above concerns the fact that the constellation Mithra-Perseus is located directly above the constellation of Taurus the bull, making it so that if the two constellations are viewed together the figure of Mithra-Perseus is seen kneeling on the back of the bull, sword in hand, ready to make the ritual cut while looking away from the sacrificial victim, just as Mithra is always depicted in Mithraic artwork depicting the Tauroctony in Mithraic temples.

These similarities are too many to ignore.

The Cults of Mithra, and Perseus were the dominant cults of the city. Each of these Gods are depicted time and time again on Tarsian coins. Perseus is the patron deity of the city, and the city itself is named after the “Primal Bull” of Mithraic worship.

In the city of Tarsus, Mithra is Perseus, at least insofar as the way in which they were worshipped. The city of Tarsus also figures prominently in the syncretism between Mithraism and Christianity.

Tarsus is an old town, it originated as a Hittite city in the second millennium BCE. The Greek historian and geographer Strabo notes that by the first century BCE, it was a significant intellectual center “surpassing Athens and Alexandria.” It was known for its astronomers and produced the renowned philosophers Athenodorus and Nestor. More significant to our thesis is this, it was the birthplace, and home of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, a Jew and a Pharisee, and the most prominent writer of the early Christian Church.

There is no research explicitly stating that Paul was aware of, or was influenced by Mithraism, but to suggest that Paul would not have been aware of the basic tenets of belief promoted by the major Cult of the city he called home, that would be improbable in the extreme.

Paul was a learned man, and a figure of authority. In addition, Paul was a Pharisee. As I have already indicated in my introduction to the origins of the Pharisaic sect; the beliefs that Pharisees and Mithraites shared included beliefs about the immortality of the soul, the notion of personal salvation and the ministry of angels.

If Paul was not directly influenced by Mithraism he was indirectly influenced by Mithraic ideas, a conclusion we may draw simply by virtue of the fact that Paul was a Pharisee.

Furthermore, the prominence of his ministry, and its influence on Christian doctrine, constitutes a second infusion of Persian cosmology and theology, and of Persian soterieology into the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first being located within the timeframe of the Babylonian exile, and subsequent diaspora.

I do not contend that through Mithraism anything substantially “new” was imparted to the burgeoning Christian movement, but that the prevailing ideas of the “Persian-Mithraic worldview” were syncretized and concretized by the early church in a way which made it compatible with the form of Mithraism that had been spreading in the Roman Empire.

By the fourth century CE Mithraism had spread both through the travel of merchants, and through the Roman army, spreading as far North as Hadrian’s wall in Bremenium, and as far West as Olisipo on the Western coast of Spain; it had permeated the Roman provinces of North Africa and Egypt, and it was thriving in its home land of Persia; stretching its influence all the way across the Persian Empire to India.

As much as two percent of the population of the Roman Empire may have been initiated into the mysteries of the Cult of Mithra.

The traditional date to celebrate the birth of Mithra, going back as far as 750 BCE, is a date significant in the Roman calendar also, known as the Saturnalius, December 25th. This date is also the celebrated birthday of such notable people as Julius Caesar, his son by adoption Caesar Augustus, as well as the first Christian emperor, Constantine; and most famously Jesus of Nazareth.

The fact that all of these people shared the same birthday does not constitute proof of anything regarding the relationship between Mithraism and Christianity. The Romans used a different calendar in those days, and in that time December 25th was the date of the winter solstice. The solstice was celebrated in nearly every culture in the Northern hemisphere, because it is that point in the yearly cycle that the light returns, the days get longer, and the deepest dark of winter recedes.

Among the Romans, the Cult of Mithra was a “mystery religion,” meaning that it was secretive, it was closed to anyone that did not go through a significant ritual of initiation, and like other mystery religions, it purported to disclose to its initiates the mysteries of the universe.

Outside of Persia, the main adherents of the Cult of Mithra were members of the Roman army. There is no evidence that Mithraites were ever persecuted as Christians were, but like a number of other closed societies in ancient Rome, they had to keep to themselves and guard their secrets out of concern for the paranoid mindset of the Roman emperors. All manner of private groups, trade guilds, and burial societies, were periodically outlawed by one emperor or another, on account of the fact that most of the emperors were insecure in their power, and were constantly suspicious of treason.

The fact that the Cult of Mithra recruited many of its members from the Roman army probably spared it from persecution because the emperors always ruled by fragile alliances, and loose coalitions with the army insofar as they were always dependent on its power. If the emperors were to alienate large groups of their supporters (the army) through a persecution of their faith, it was guaranteed that they would be unable to hold onto their rule.

As I noted earlier, Ulansey saw the secrecy of the cult of Mithra, as practiced in the Roman Empire, as something distinct from the Persian form of Mithraism. There are differences between the two systems of belief, but not so great as to merit the claim that they are distinct from one another. A close look at the structure of these religious systems; their icons, rituals and beliefs will reveal crucial things about that relationship and how close it was, as well as the close relationship between Mithraism and Christianity.

AS I have noted already, in the Persian form of Mithraism (also referred to as Zoarastrianism), the priests were called Parsees, while outside of Persia they were known as the Magi. It is from the Magi that we have derived the term magic.

The Magi are of historical significance to the history of Christianity.

The Magi are present in the infancy narrative of Matthew. They give witness to the birth of Jesus. In the Gospels they were presented as wise men, and astronomers, just as the priests of Mithras and Zoroaster were in actuality.

Because the infancy narrative of Matthew is myth, which is to say that it is not an accurate retelling of history, rather it is a composed and tightly controlled theological statement, allowing us to conclude that the presence of the Magi in this narrative is not accidental. It is purposeful and therefore indicative of the sympathetic relationship between early Christians, and first century CE Mithraites.

Why would a sympathetic relationship exist?

Both Christians and Mithraites believed in the immortality of the soul, the reality of personal salvation, the ministry of the angelic host, a god of goodness and light, as well as the expectation of a final battle with the cosmic forces of darkness, sin and evil.

In the Roman world, by the first century CE, Mithra had taken on the aspect of the incarnate son, Sol Invictus. Furthermore, in his exalted state, after the feast he prepared from the flesh of the “Primal Bull,” Mithra is seen as being identical to Sol.

Mithra like Christ is seen as being a mediator between Heaven and Earth, responsible for guiding the souls of the elect to paradise. The iconographic similarities explain the sympatico between the two faiths.

Ulansey stated that the worship of Mithra in caves, as it was done among the Romans, was markedly distinct from the Persian form of worship, saying that we cannot explain this as something that occurred by way of a natural syncretic transformation. However, to dispute Ulansey’s claim, we can easily identify a path of transformation through the cult of Perseus, the patron deity of Tarsus.

Note well, as stated earlier, in the iconography of the city of Tarsus, Perseus and Mithra are one and the same entity.

Perseus is the son of the Titan Zeus, king of the Olympians and the human Danae. The symbolism in their union is profound. When Zeus impregnates Danae he comes to her in the form of a shower of gold; not in the form of a human being, or any other type of animal (as was often the case with Zeus). The impregnation of Danae by a shower of gold is the only scene like this depicted in all of the Greek mythologies. This is to say that Zeus impregnates Danae in his spirit form, through the exalted and ephemeral medium of a “golden-mist.” This is the most idealized and spiritual form Zeus could take.

The impregnation of Danae in this manner, and the subsequent birth of Perseus, is the closest thing in all of the Greek mythologies to a “virgin birth.” It is a conception narrative analogous to that of Mary conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Danae subsequently gives birth to Perseus in an underground cavern, she remains a virgin, never having been touched by the hands of men.

In astronomy the figure of Taurus (the Primal Bull) is the primary symbol of earth. Insofar as Mithra is transformed and exalted through the death and “new-life” of the bull, Mithra is also born of the earth.

As a result, the iconographic narratives of the births of both Perseus and Mithra, often depict them as emerging from a rock, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that the underground worship of Mithra served to highlight these features.

Symbolically, the earth is the womb wherein we are nurtured, from which we are born, like Mithra and like Perseus, from the womb of the earth we are born into new life.

Practically, the worship of Mithra in underground caverns had the effect of limiting Mithraic circles to small groups of people. The worship of Mithra is thought to have been exclusively male, though some scholars believe that in some regions women had their own form of Mithraic devotion.

In army outposts on the fringes of the Empire, the worship chambers were often very small, consisting of a narrow room with rows of benches, and not necessarily undeground.

In urban centers the size and splendor of the temples varied with the demographics of the cities they were in, from simple to ostentatious. However, it remains the case that most Mithraic worship places were small, and intimate. The intimacy of these temples bears a close similarity to the “house churches” of the early Christians. Many of the Mithraic temples found in Roman cities, such as Ostia, were converted to Christian worship after the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity.

As noted, among the Romans, Mithraism, like Christianity was centered in the “house church.” The practice was carried out among people who were intimate with one another. Individual practitioners believed that initiation into the mysteries allowed them to receive immortality through Mithra, but also as a part of a community.

Mithraism, like Christianity promoted the notion that its teachings would transform the individual spiritually, while leaving them in the same social position. The transformation of the individual was interior. It took place in the heart. It manifested itself in their position in the life of the Mithraic temple or Mithraic shrine as they advanced through the stages of initiation, but that did not mean that their status, or rank outside of the Mithraic community would change. A slave would remain a slave, a plebian would remain a plebian.

The activities of the cult were closed to the general society, they were secret and mysterious, and therefore not a cause for disturbance in the social order outside of the community.
In Roman Mithraism there were seven stages of initiation; the Crow, the Griffin, the Soldier, the Lion, the Persian, the Helio-Dromus (or Sun-Runner), and finally the Father. The symbolism of the number seven should not be lost on us, as in Christianity, there are seven sacraments, seven virtues, seven deadly sins etc…

The Order of Initiates were grouped in two classes; those in the first four stages counted as one class, and the last three stages counted as another class. An initiate would move through the stages of initiation until he became one with the Father, in so doing the initiate would become the Father himself.

At each stage of initiation, the initiate would learn a secret code that later, after death, would be used to get him into the heavenly realm appropriate to his rank. This belief in ranked heavenly planes and secret passwords that would allow the individual through the gates of paradise, was widely believed among practitioners of the Hebrew Qabalah (coming out of the Pharisaic Sect), as well as among groups of Christians who had fallen into the heretical errors of Gnosticism.

A ceremony of initiation was called a Telete, from the Greek word telos, meaning goal or end. In the ceremony of initiation, the initiate would first kneel before the Father. The Father would then perform a “laying on of hands,” followed by a rite similar to baptism, wherein the Father would pour water over the head of the initiate from the horn of a bull. Sometimes the rite of water would be done through full immersion.

In cases where the ceremony of initiation was accompanied by an actual animal sacrifice, the initiate would be splattered with the blood of the sacrificial animal or slapped in the face with a shank of meat. In other cases the blood would be replaced by wine.

This rite of blood, wine, or water is referred to as the purgation. This was a ritual cleansing of the individual from the corruption of sin. Sometimes the ceremony of purgation would be completed by passing a torch over the head of the individual, or even touching the individual with the torch in order to symbolize a baptism of both fire and water.

The purgation would be followed by the consecration or coronation, in which a golden crown would be placed on the head of the initiate; this crown was called the “solar crown.” Iconographically the solar crown was analogous to the Christian halo, which term is derived from the Greek; meaning disk of the sun.

There is much in this symbolism that recalls Christian rituals of initiation; so much that I will not even make an argument for how intimately linked the two systems of ritual initiation are. I will simply let the record speak for itself…

It is the same ritual system.

In Roman Mithraism, the initiation ceremony would be followed by a feast meant to symbolize the feast shared by Mithra and Sol.

Ideally, the sacred feast would come from the sacrifice of a bull, but this was not required. While the sacrifice of a bull was central to Mithraic worship, as the cult spread through the empire, and as worship became confined to house churches, it is thought the sacrifice of the bull was replaced with a symbolic alternative. Any sacrificial animal could serve for the feat, or even a meal of bread and wine could be sufficient.

Such compromises were theologically sound because the death of the “Primal Bull” was productive of all “good things” on the Earth; any of those “good things” that come from the bull were suitable to be used in the sacred meal. This meal itself, much like the Christian Eucharist, was thought to be an effective means of salvation for the worshippers of Mithra.

In Conclusion

Among the Romans, the first Christian emperor was Saint Constantine, Constantine the Great, who, prior to his death-bed conversion to Christianity, was also a devotee of Mithras-Sol Invictus. When Saint Constantine was made emperor, the first coins struck in his honor depicted his face with the inscription Sol Invictus.

This is evidence that Saint Constantine thought that he was himself, an incarnation of Sol Invictus. This may seem somewhat confusing considering that it is a matter of historical record that Saint Constantine attributed his victory over his enemies to Jesus Christ, it is understood that Saint Constantine’s famous vision of the Christian symbol, the Chi-Ro (Px), at the battle of the Milvian bridge (312 CE), enabled his victory when his army was at the gates of Rome.

However, in the minds of many practitioners of Mithraism, Jesus and Mithra may have been considered to have been the same person; believing that Jesus was an incarnation of Mithra.

If this is true, it begs the question; if Constantine thought he was Mithra-Sol Invictus, and if Jesus was also believed to be an incarnation of Mithra, did Saint Constantine the Great, think that he was an incarnation of Christ, Christ returned, the Second Coming?

I recommend that you look to the annals of Saint Eusebius his biographer in order to answer that question. What you find may surprise you.

There is one thing that I know for certain, Christianity and Mithraism, both as religious systems and spiritual philosophies, they are both filled with hope: Hope for the life of the individual; hope that the individual will ultimately experience justice. Belief that God is good, and that God has given a light to humankind that will guide us along the way to paradise.

Mithraism was less accessible to the average person than Christianity. Its adherents wanted to keep to its secret ways at a time when Christianity was opening itself to the world, defining the terms of its orthodoxy and rooting out those groups of heretics, the Gnostics, who had those same tendencies that Mithraites did toward secrecy and exclusivism.
Bibliography

Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, by Leroy A. Campbell, published by E. J. Brill, 1968

Mithraic Studies, edited by John R. Hinnells, published by Manchester University Press, 1975

Mithraism in Ostia, edited by Samuel Laeuchli, published by Northwestern University Press, 1967

The Mithras Liturgy, edited and translated by Marvin W. Meyer, published by Scholars Press, 1976

Mysteries of Mithras, by Franz Cumont, translated by Thomas J. McCormack, published by The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903

The New Jerusalem Bible, Standard Edition, published by Doubleday, 1989

The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, published by Oxford University Press, 1989

The New Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, published by Oxford University Press, 1993

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, published by Oxford University Press, 1997

[1] By 700 BCE the Royal court of Persia had fully converted to the religion of Zoroastrianism and its demi-god Mithra. However, Zoroastrianism likely emerged sometime between 2500 – 1200 BCE.

[2] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 8, par. 4

[3] The New Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, pg.72, par. 3

[4] The New Jerusalem Bible, standard edition, Doubleday, 2 Chronicles 36: 22-23, pg. 448, col. 2, par. 2

[5] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 40, par. 1

[6] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 40, par. 1 and pg. 41, par. 3

[7] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 44, par. 1

[8] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 45, par. 2

[9] Strabo 64 B.C.E. – 21 C.E.

[10] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 68

[11] The Origins of the Mithraic Mysteries, by David Ulansey, pg. 34-36

[12] Mithraic Iconography and Ideology, by Leroy A. Campbell, pgs. 291-305

Halloween – A Holiday Reflection

When I was young I imagined that Halloween was for children.

It was costumes and candy and imaginary play.

Halloween was an escape from reality, it was a chance to take a glance into another world, to pierce the veil of what is real and true.

We use to go block to block in our costumes, we called it Trick or Treating, we carried pillow cases slung over our shoulders, taking candies at nearly every door we knocked on, with nearly every bell we rang.

We scoffed at the people who only handed out little bibles or toothpaste, or some home-made fare, thinking they were doing something good.

We would rather have nothing at all than have those things, which quickly found their way into the trash.

I remember the drill of searching through our candy piles at the end of the night, looking for suspicious things, open packages, pins and needles and razor blades.

We understood that some people hated children and would slip these into the candies.

I never found anything dangerous, never once in all of those years.

Halloween is not all fun and games, though, it has a deeper meaning, than we were taught as children, a long history

Halloween is was not just about ghosts and goblins and friendly witches.

In the celebration of Halloween an ages old conflict is present, between the Christian Church, and the “Old Time Religion,” the customs of the pagans, paganus, pagani, the country folk and their persistent traditions lurking just beneath the surface of the Christian rites.

On the Christian Calendar; Halloween is All Hallows Eve, a celebration of the honored dead, of all the saints who had passed before, who have gone already to meet the maker.

For the old pagans; whose traditions are tightly interwoven with the church, Halloween is a celebration of the dead, plain and simple, of all of the dead, of the saints and sinners who have passed from this world together.

Halloween is an acknowledgment of the dead whose spirits live among us still; good and bad, honored or not; more often than not Halloween celebrates the dangerous, the macabre, the frightening and the weird, those qualities and characteristics that every person hides within themselves, because they are in fear of the world.

I was fourteen the last time I went Trick or Treating, and really, I was only chaperoning my younger brother, I was not dressed up, but I took some candy nonetheless.

In that same year I remember the Pastor at my church lamenting the popularity of the pagan festival. Believing that the Christian feast should be honored above it instead, or better yet, to the exclusion of anything else.

There was no fun in that, there was no fun in him. He was just an old man watching his tradition fade away, usurped by those of another generation, less committed to the Church.

In the years that followed, the number of children who go out in costumes seeking candy has declined by 25%, so the media outlets say.

Halloween is no longer considered safe or wholesome. It has yielded to the real dangers of the real world.

For me it is just another day, Halloween, I do not believe the dead walk with us. I have never seen a ghost, or any evidence of magic.

There are real horrors in the world, package bombers and angry middle-aged white guys with guns.

We have a pumpkin colored demagogue for a president, spreading fear, night and day at every turn.

We should all be thankful that we have the time to luxuriate in the fantastic and the surreal.

2019.10.31

Given 1st – 2016.10.31

A Homily – The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year C)

First Reading – Joshua 5:9-12 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 33(34):2-7 ©
Second Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 15:18
The Gospel According to Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 ©
(NJB)
Consider the reading for today

Let us set aside for a moment the notion that the events reported in the book of Joshua refer to actual historical realities.

They do not.

These writings are fragments of oral history woven together with allegories, using metaphors to transform the narratives into myths that could inspire a struggling people.

These stories began to be collected and written down in the 10th and 11th centuries BCE. They reflect the point of view of the Davidic Monarchy, and that of David’s heirs. They do not reflect that actual history of the people of Israel or Judea.

Know this:

God did not deliver the people from Egypt, they saved themselves. They had nothing to be ashamed of for having dwelt among the Egyptians for so long. The children of Israel entered into the service of the Egyptians during a time of famine and as a means of self-preservation. They remained in service for several hundred years and while there, they grew into a strong people.

This is the story that the tradition has preserved.

There was conflict when they left Egypt, but when they left they did so under their own power.

They became nomads again, returning to their roots, wandering around the Levant until they settled in the land of Cannan, where again there was conflict.

What is hidden in the reading is this:

The People must rely on themselves for what they do in this world. The people must produce their own food, protect themselves and grow their own tribes. They are responsible for this and cannot wait upon God to provide them, if they do they will starve.

God will handle the rest.

The tasks that belong to God will be done by God, the work and the work of God is not of this world.

We are called to have faith in this, and to trust in what we hope for.

Be mindful of what the psalmist says.

If you intend to seek God, look only in your heart. You will find God in loving, and in loving you will be blessed.

Praise God through works of love.

Look for no other glory than service.

God is great because God compassionate.

God has no name, you cannot lift-up God’s name in praise, therefore exalt God’s loving work in creation.

Listen to your neighbors, rescue them from fear. Reassure them with you faith, God’s light will shine on you, in hope and through love.

Be mindful of this, God is merciful, with God there is no need for shame.

God is no respecter of station, class or wealth. God loves everyone the same.

Do not look for God to save you from your troubles, we are each of us another Job, each in our unique way.

Our tribulations are not tests, but we persevere through faith. Trust God and you will understand how transient they are.

Do not look to God to rescue you from anything, look to your neighbor instead. Be that person for your neighbor, for the stranger, rescue them if you can.

All pain is temporary, but love lasts forever.

Do not fear.

Speak the truth.

Avoid evil.

Do good.

God see all, hears all, knows all, even your innermost thoughts, your secrets and desires, your hidden motivations.

Keep your mind in the present and do not focus on the good things that may or may not come as a result of the work you do.

Love, and do good, without the thought of reward for yourself. Love as God does, we experience it in the here and now.

Only hearken to those who teach hope…ignore the fear-mongers. The way is not found in fear.

Listen to the peace of the Apostle.

Our salvation is the God’s work, not ours.

God has done the work already. It began as Saint John said, in the first moment of creation.

The fall, such as it was, happened subsequent to and in the context of God’s saving work.

The work of salvation begins in eternity, the product of sin is a function of time and space.

Listen to the Apostle!

God has done the work already, we are saved. Jesus revealed the truth of it and has entrusted all futures followers of the way with the task of sharing that God news with the world. This is the mission of the Church.

You are reconciled to God. There is no debt to pay. Allow the burden of sin, allow the fear of it to fall away from you.

Be glad.

It was always God’s plan that we fall and rise together. We fall and rise as one, as the Apostle teaches. We fall and rise as one, because we were created as one in the goodness of God.

Consider the Gospel for today.

People change.

Appearances are not everything.

There is good in everyone, and in everyone there is cause to be disappointed.

The degree of judgement levelled by the Pharisees in this narrative; that is not something we should aspire to emulate, neither is the jealousy expressed in this parable by the loyal son.

Beneath any veneer of piety there is often a degree of bitterness and resentment; making the pretense of piety a mere façade.

The parable is about justice.

Jesus presents a story from his vantage, he teaches from the perspective of divine justice.

Few of us are able to do this.

The more common discussion of justice is the superimposition of human values, contemporary social mores over what we think or fear God would desire.

It is a rare matter to be able to set aside the prejudices of the day and be able to express divine justice, but this is the role of the prophet; to express justice characterized by love and mercy, by compassion and forgiveness, and to demand that we reform our human traditions in light of those.

This parable is often analyzed as a narrative on the power of repentance; repentance, which is the turning around of the sinner toward God. It is told as a story of conversion and the power of transformation that ensues, and that is fine because those motifs are clearly present.

The characters in the parable are the father and his children.

Read; God and humanity.

Humanity is presented in two different lights; the self-indulgent, and the disciplined.

The self-indulgent child is like most of us, greedy and heedless of the future. The journey he makes, takes him for from his father, far from God.

It is a long journey, it takes years to complete and it leaves him destitute.

The disciplined child represents a much smaller number of us (though most people fall somewhere in between). He stays home, remains obedient and asks for nothing from his father, expecting to get it all.

He is pious and resolute, but in his heart he is resentful and bitter. Because he asks for nothing for himself, he receives nothing for himself, and in his heart he is covetous.

Between the sin of self-indulgence and the sin of covetousness; which is greater?

I think it is impossible to say; sin is sin..

There is perhaps a broader degree of danger in self-indulgence, but there is deep spiritual danger in the covetous heart.

This is a story of repentance. The younger son repents and returns home. The long journey away from home, is a short journey back, and what the narrative reveals is that while he was away from home, the eyes of his loving father; the eyes of God, were always on him.

I believe this is the point of the narrative.

The purpose of this narrative is not to remind us that repentance is possible, or that God rejoices in the repentant. The point is to say that God is with us, always with us.

We are never out of God sight, and we are never far from God’s love. The parable is about God, God’s mercy, God’s Love, God’s compassion, God’s forgiving heart. It is about what God and Jesus, ask each of us to emulate everyday insofar as we have chosen to be followers of the way.
First Reading – Joshua 5:9-12 ©

The Israelites Celebrate Their First Passover in the Promised Land

The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you.’

The Israelites pitched their camp at Gilgal and kept the Passover there on the fourteenth day of the month, at evening in the plain of Jericho. On the morrow of the Passover they tasted the produce of that country, unleavened bread and roasted ears of corn, that same day. From that time, from their first eating of the produce of that country, the manna stopped falling. And having manna no longer, the Israelites fed from that year onwards on what the land of Canaan yielded.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 33(34):2-7 ©

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

I will bless the Lord at all times,
his praise always on my lips;
in the Lord my soul shall make its boast.
The humble shall hear and be glad.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Glorify the Lord with me.
Together let us praise his name.
I sought the Lord and he answered me;
from all my terrors he set me free.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Look towards him and be radiant;
let your faces not be abashed.
This poor man called, the Lord heard him
and rescued him from all his distress.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Second Reading – 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 ©

God Reconciled Himself to us Through Christ

For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them, and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God.
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 15:18

Praise and honour to you, Lord Jesus!

I will leave this place and go to my father and say:
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.’

Praise and honour to you, Lord Jesus!
The Gospel According to Luke 15:1-3,11-32 ©

The Prodigal Son

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’
4th Sunday of Lent (Year C)

A Homily – The First Sunday of Ordinary Time, The Baptism of Jesus

First Reading – Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11 ©
Alternative First Reading – Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 103(104):1-4,24-25,27-30 ©
Alternative Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 28(29):1-4,9-10 ©
Second Reading – Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7 ©
Alternative Second Reading – Acts 10:34-38 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 3:16
The Gospel of the Day – Luke 3:15-16, 21-22 ©
(NJB)
Here the words of the prophet:

There is great hope expressed in Isaiah, a profound hope for the future wellness of all people, and our common destiny as children of God, the creator of the universe.

Listen to them.

The prophet expresses certainty in regard to the expectation of atonement, not just for the people of Israel, the children of Judah, but for all people in all times and all places. He is certain of our common destiny.

Be mindful.

The teaching of Isaiah serves as the principle foundation for the early church, and the whole of Christian faith accordingly.

John the Baptist, stood in the tradition of Isaiah, his was a voice crying out in the wilderness, calling the faithful to action, telling us to prepare a way for the savior. John’s was the hope of Isaiah, the expectation that the entire creation will bend to the will of God; every valley, every mountain, from the cliffs to the plains, everything last thing from te firmament to the heavens will yield to God.

Nothing and no-one will be excluded.
The faith of Isaiah, of John and of Jesus instructs us to believe that despite all the power of God, the infinite might, we are on better ground when we regard the creator as a figure like a shepherd feeding the flock, like a mother ewe among her children.

Listen.

Isaiah also speaks of God as the punisher, reminding the people of Judah of the punishment they have suffered for their crimes.

Remember this, their crimes were crimes against the people, their crimes took place in the world. They made enemies among foreign powers and they suffered doubly on account of their wickedness and vanity and broken promises, but they were not punished by God.

Their punishment, if you can call it that, their suffering, the injustice and the justice which they encountered was the doing of human beings. It was harsh, it was painful, it was cruel. Many of the people were slaughtered, many more were taken into captivity, but this was not the will of God. It was done by human beings, for human motivations.

God does not intervene in the affairs of the world.

Isaiah came in the midst of all those tragedies, as a voice crying out in the wilderness, as John came in later years, and then Jesus, to remind the people that God is with them, and that in the end all things will be resolved in love.

Be mindful.

God, the creator of the universe wants nothing more from us than this; that we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.

This is the way Jesus taught us, listen to Isaiah, who made straight the way before him. Listen to John who led us to the savior. The savior is the person who brings justice to the nations, you will not hear him shouting for his vanity in the streets, you will see her cutting people off from their potential.

The savior is a healer, and a teacher.

The savior teaches us that justice is expressed through mercy, and that the law must be a servant to both.

This is what Jesus taught in his own day; he taught us that we should love God with all our strength and all our heart and all our mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

He preached on the Shema, he taught us that all the teaching of Moses and the prophets was contained therein.

Be kind to the stranger, be of service to your neighbor, love and forgive even your enemies. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, and do not do to them what you would not want done to you.

This is the whole of the law, this is the sum of Isaiah’s teaching.

Keep to this law as a covenant, hold to it as promise between yourself and God. Preach it until the blind see, and all those who are captive to sin have been freed.

Know this.

God is the creator of the universe, the eternal God is the first source and center of all things.

The infinite God engenders all potentialities, and yet interferes with none of them.

The universe that God created, God created free from coercion. God does not coerce creation. And yet the entirety of what is, moves according to God’s eternal purpose.

The scope of this mystery is the content of our faith.

It wise to believe in the God of creation. God’s power is infinite and it undergirds everything that exists. God’s power is present in all times and places. Truly God is everywhere, and God knows all things. But it is not God’s voice we here in the wind above the waves. We do not hear God in the thunder. God does not splinter trees. God is not active in the affairs of human beings, rather God has made creations, and us in it free.

God is not a king.

Be mindful.
The salvific work that Jesus wrought did not begin with his birth, or his death, it began in the mysterious place outside of time, at the beginning of all things.
The Church teaches that our salvation begins with the Word of God, the Logos, the second person of the trinity in whom all things were made. The salvation of all people, of all creation, that work began then, in the divine person.
It was built into the foundation of all that is. God is the foundation of al that is.
Listen to the teaching of the apostle.
Living a good and restrained life does not purchase salvation, we do not earn it, and no one earned it for us.

Living a good and restrained life, a life of justice and mercy, a life of love and humility, is to live a life that manifests the reality of God’s salvific will, the will of God that is already present in us.

Those qualities, those spiritual characteristics are like flags we raise in our own time and place, we raise them to display them for all to see. We raise them to show others the beauty and peace of the kingdom of God, the expectation of it which we hold in faith while we sojourn here on Earth.

Remember this:

God, the creator of the universe; the eternal and infinite God knows us and loves us.

God is the savior of all people, providing for it from the moment we come into being.

Salvation is wellbeing, both in this world and the next. The reception of it does not require rituals or rites, or a magical mechanism of justification.

It is given, and it is free.

There are no secret codes that grant us access to heaven.

We are saved in the next world because God wills it.

We are saved in this world through our faith in its promise, by a simple trust in God, expressed as hope, manifested as love in our relationships with our fellow human beings.

I say this with confidence, as imperfect a messenger as I am.

Listen:

We must always bear in mind that God does not intervene in creation, or the free choices of human beings.

God does not intervene anywhere.

God did not so much anoint Jesus, as did Jesus accept the mantle of sonship to God, and the full burden that this entailed, even to the extent that he went to his death and suffered on the cross in fidelity to his mission.

Jesus was free to reject the ministry that was before him, but he did not. He was faithful to the end. Setting an example to us all.

Few people will be called to serve in the capacity that Jesus served; to be tortured and executed for doing what is right and good; for healing the sick and feeding the hungry, for giving hope to the hopeless, for protecting the widow and the orphan.

Few of us have the capacity to love justice so much that they could humbly endure what Jesus endured, and that is why we call him the Christ.

Follow Jesus.

Do good.

Love justice.

Be merciful; be a source of healing in the world.

This is the way of Christ, do the best you can, not for the sake of your salvation, God has that in hand. Do good for your sisters and brothers, for all women and men.

Let us reflect on what these teachings mean, as they pertain to the Gospel reading for today.

In the calendar of observances today is a feast day. It is the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus.

We have just concluded our celebration of his coming and his birth. Now we celebrate the beginning of his public ministry; the journey that led to his death on Golgotha.

In Judea, and in the broader Palestinian world the average person felt displaced.

On the one hand they were a client state of Rome, and on the other hand they were subject to the corruption of their own royal dynasty; the Herodians.

The average person had no representation at the Temple in Jerusalem, because of the laws of ritual purity they could not even approach the temple grounds, which both the spiritual and economic center of their world.

The average person ardently hoped for and expected deliverance. Their messianic faith focused the attention of the people forward, to the “anointed one,” the, the messiah, in Greek the Kyrios, in English the Christ.

They hoped for deliverance from both the political corruption of the Romans and the Herodians, as well as the sectarian corruption at the temple, the corruption of the temple scribes, the Sadducees and the Pharisees (returning from the diaspora).

In the person of John the Baptist the people saw a figure who might represent part of this deliverance. He was stern and outspoken, uncompromising and mysterious. He was an aesthetic, and while he preached repentance, he promised the reality of God’s love; he pointed to its presence in the lives of the baptized, the reality of God’s forgiveness, present to the people without intermediary, apart from the cult of sacrifice.

This narrative tells us that John eschewed the title and office that some of the people might have thrust on him. It tells us that John himself had the same hopes and expectations as the common man or woman, but that John also had the knowledge of who the Christ was.

He knew Jesus of Nazareth, and he knew he was coming. When John says; “I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals.” John is saying that compared to Jesus, he is lower than the lowest servant, and he means it in his heart.

John accepts the role of a servant, as jesus did and as Jesus taught.

Had John lived, the history of Christianity would have been very different, but John was arrested and killed shortly after he baptized Jesus.

The disciples of Jesus, and the Gospel writers who followed them would spend the next one hundred and fifty years writing their narratives and telling their stories in a manner intended to keep the followers of John in their movement.

This required a great deal of effort. This effort served to shape the Christian story in a way which ultimately undermined the significance and uniqueness of the ministry of Christ.

It perpetuated questions like:

“Who is greater John or Jesus?”

And it prompted the followers of Jesus, long after his death to amplify that narrative, making it so that Jesus did not merely receive his baptism from John, but the heavens broke open, and the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and a voice came out of nowhere proclaiming that Jesus was the favored and beloved Son of God.

Such myths, while they are fantastic and entertaining, represent a departure from the tradition that John and Jesus followed, the tradition of Isaiah, and the prophets who sought justice for the people.

The entirety of Luke’s narrative is the interpolation of myth into the ordinary story of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. It introduced categories of ownership and inheritance, and of dominion, which, it may be argued, that Jesus himself did not speak to or concern himself with, even though his followers, even those closest to him were very much concerned with it.

The Christian story is best told without artifice, without the fabrication of myth, and without resorting to fables, and magic. It is a story of love and service, of hope and healing, and the celebration of our common humanity.

The good news eclipses the differences between the sexes, it eclipses tribalism, sectarianism, and nationalism. In doing so it shows us the only path to peace, and justice, the path of the faithful, one we are called to make straight and follow.
First Reading – Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11 ©

The glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it

‘Console my people, console them’ says your God.

‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem and call to her that her time of service is ended, that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double punishment for all her crimes.’

A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord.

Make a straight highway for our God across the desert.

Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low.

Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges a valley; then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all mankind shall see it; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

Go up on a high mountain, joyful messenger to Zion.

Shout with a loud voice, joyful messenger to Jerusalem.

Shout without fear, say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God.’

Here is the Lord coming with power, his arm subduing all things to him.

The prize of his victory is with him, his trophies all go before him.

He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast and leading to their rest the mother ewes.
Alternative First Reading – Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7 ©

Here is my servant, in whom my soul delights

Thus says the Lord:

Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights.

I have endowed him with my spirit that he may bring true justice to the nations.

He does not cry out or shout aloud, or make his voice heard in the streets.

He does not break the crushed reed, nor quench the wavering flame.

Faithfully he brings true justice; he will neither waver, nor be crushed until true justice is established on earth, for the islands are awaiting his law.

I, the Lord, have called you to serve the cause of right; I have taken you by the hand and formed you; I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 103(104):1-4,24-25,27-30 ©

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

Lord God, how great you are,
clothed in majesty and glory,
wrapped in light as in a robe!
You stretch out the heavens like a tent.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

Above the rains you build your dwelling.
You make the clouds your chariot,
you walk on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers
and flashing fire your servant.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your riches.
There is the sea, vast and wide,
with its moving swarms past counting,
living things great and small.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

All of these look to you
to give them their food in due season.
You give it, they gather it up:
you open your hand, they have their fill.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.

You hide your face, they are dismayed;
you take back your spirit, they die.
You send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the earth.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are.
Alternative Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 28(29):1-4,9-10 ©

The Lord will bless his people with peace.

O give the Lord, you sons of God,
give the Lord glory and power;
give the Lord the glory of his name.
Adore the Lord in his holy court.

The Lord will bless his people with peace.

The Lord’s voice resounding on the waters,
the Lord on the immensity of waters;
the voice of the Lord, full of power,
the voice of the Lord, full of splendour.

The Lord will bless his people with peace.

The God of glory thunders.
In his temple they all cry: ‘Glory!’
The Lord sat enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits as king for ever.

The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Second Reading – Titus 2:11-14,3:4-7 ©

He Saved Us by Means of the Cleansing Water of Rebirth

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.

But when the kindness and love of God our saviour for mankind were revealed, it was not because he was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own compassion that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which he has so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our saviour. He did this so that we should be justified by his grace, to become heirs looking forward to inheriting eternal life.
Alternative Second Reading – Acts 10:34-38 ©

God Had Anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit

Peter addressed Cornelius and his household: ‘The truth I have now come to realise’ he said ‘is that God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.

‘It is true, God sent his word to the people of Israel, and it was to them that the good news of peace was brought by Jesus Christ – but Jesus Christ is Lord of all men. You must have heard about the recent happenings in Judaea; about Jesus of Nazareth and how he began in Galilee, after John had been preaching baptism. God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and because God was with him, Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil.’
Gospel Acclamation – Luke 3:16

Alleluia, alleluia!

Someone is coming, said John, someone greater than I.
He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.

Alleluia!
Gospel Reading – Luke 3:15-16,21-22 ©

‘Someone is coming who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’

A feeling of expectancy had grown among the people, who were beginning to think that John might be the Christ, so John declared before them all, ‘I baptise you with water, but someone is coming, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to undo the strap of his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Now when all the people had been baptised and while Jesus after his own baptism was at prayer, heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily shape, like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.’
The Third Sunday of Christmas
Feast of the Baptism of Jesus

A Homily – The Second Sunday of Christmas, The Epiphany

First Reading – Isaiah 60:1-6 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,10-13 ©
Second Reading – Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 ©
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 2:2
The Gospel of the Day – Matthew 2:1-12 ©
(NJB)
The words of the Prophet must be understood in metaphorical terms. There is no other way to read them.

Isaiah is speaking to us about inclusiveness, he is projecting his understanding that the God of the Hebrew people is the God of all people. The one and only God, the creator of the universe is God over everyone, and that we are united in this, ven though we cannot see it clearly in the present world.

Isaiah expresses the hope that at the end of time, all people will be united in actuality, there will be no division among us, no war, no enmity, everyone will have been brought to the table by God and we will share a common feast.

This is not an expectation of hope for this world. It is an expectation of hope for the world to come.

Isaiah understands that God will not affect these changes in the lives of the people today, he takes the long view. He is looking to the eschaton.

Remember this when you are reading Isaiah, or any other passage from scripture; God does not intervene in the affairs of human beings, God does not appoint rulers and kings.

God; creator of the universe, God will not rescue you in this world.

God has made you, and us, God has made the world itself absolutely free, God will not exercise any form of divine coercion, God does not intervene in our lives, whether to our benefit or to our detriment. God will not intervene.

Note well: God is not a king. God has no desire for us to pay homage to God as if God were.

Be mindful of this; human beings are obsessed with mysteries, conspiracies. God, the creator of the universe, God has no such obsession.

God has made the truth plain and easy for us to know.

The only mystery is why human beings have such a hard time understanding it, once they have heard it.

The secret to the good life is written in our hearts, we all possess, it is not kept from as at all. The secret is an open secret, and if we receive it, believe in it, we can have in the small measure of our lives the realization of the hope that Isaiah spoke to. We can have the blessing of unity, through the mutual recognition of one another’s dignity, and through love.

Jesus and all of the prophets speak to this: Love God with all of your strength, all of your heart, all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Do unto other as you would have them do unto you.

Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you.

This is the sum of the revelation God gave us in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus himself give us this formula and tells us that it contains the entire teaching of the law and the prophets.

Saint Paul elaborates, he tells us this, between faith, hope and love; the greatest is love. He says that if he speak in the tongues of angels, and of men, but does not speak lovingly, then the words are nonsense, they are so much noise.

Remember this, carry it forward and have it present with you at all times, but especially when you are at prayer or reading scripture.

If we are not interpreting the scripture through that lens we are not understanding it all.

The words of the Prophet must be understood in metaphorical terms. There is no other way to read them.

Consider the Gospel for today, the message here has nothing to do with the core values of the faith. The reading is the beginning of an argument meant to influence our perception and understanding of who Jesus of Nazareth was, not what he came to do. This is an important distinction for the faith.

Mark’s gospel, the earliest, has no reference to these events presented in the reading from Matthew for today, no reference at all, and John’s gospel, the latest skips over them completely.

Luke’s gospel relates a similar set of events, but in his narrative Jesus is visited by three shepherds, not the Magi.

Apologists for the gospel tradition claim that Luke and Matthew were relating separate events, and they encourage us not to conflate them.

Let us proceed with the understanding that no such events actually took place, what we have in both gospels, is a work of narrative fiction, they are a myths, as such they are packed with metaphorical and allegorical meanings.

They are not to be taken literally.

Let us proceed with Matthew’s gospel. He tells us that three wise men, the Magi, come to Jesus and Mary after his birth and do him homage. They present him with gifts of gold and other offerings befitting a royal person, treasures of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

This is real wealth, enough to set Mary and Joseph and the Holy family up for life. If we accept this story as fact we can no longer believe that Jesus was the son of a humble carpenter.

The image is intended to establish the image of Jesus as a royal person, as the heir to David’s throne, like Herod feared, it is intended to show Jesus as a contender.

The popular interpretation of this reading is to view the Magi themselves as not just wise men, but as kings in their own right, putting their encounter with Jesus on the level of a diplomatic mission, they are of the same class, and they present gifts of the type that the laws of hospitality would demand royal powers share with each other.

The reading not only builds on the foundation of Jesus’ kingship, which the writers of Matthew begin in the presentation of Jesus’ genealogy. It also connects him to the priestly class of ancient Persia, the astronomers and priests of Zoroaster, to which Pharisaic Judaism owes a significant theological debt. This is the Judaism of the diaspora, otherwise known as Rabbinical Judaism, the sect of Judaism to which Jesus and the disciples, and Paul of Taursus belonged.

The myth is intended to convey these points and those points only, that Jesus is the heir to David, and that he is connected to mysteries of the ancient and influential Persian tradition. The same Persian tradition that was practiced by the emperor Cyrus when he released the Jews from their captivity in Babylon, so that they could return to Judea and rebuild the temple. The same Cyrus who viewed the God of the Persians, Ahura- Mazda, as one and the same with the God of the Hebrews.

The Herodian intrigue is of secondary importance to these messages. It complements the message concerning Jesus’ identity, and sets up the Herodian dynasty as a group of villains that the disciples, along with John the Baptist and Jesus will have to contend with throughout their lives. In addition the drama with Herod at Jesus’ birth topologically connects the birth of Jesus to the birth of Moses, and while these are important cues, they are not nearly as important as the main theme, which I have articulated above.
First Reading – Isaiah 60:1-6 ©

Above you the glory of the Lord appears

Arise, shine out, Jerusalem, for your light has come, the glory of the Lord is rising on you, though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples.
Above you the Lord now rises and above you his glory appears.
The nations come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness.
Lift up your eyes and look round: all are assembling and coming towards you, your sons from far away and your daughters being tenderly carried.
At this sight you will grow radiant, your heart throbbing and full; since the riches of the sea will flow to you, the wealth of the nations come to you; camels in throngs will cover you, and dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; everyone in Sheba will come, bringing gold and incense and singing the praise of the Lord.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 71(72):1-2,7-8,10-13 ©

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

O God, give your judgement to the king,
to a king’s son your justice,
that he may judge your people in justice
and your poor in right judgement.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

In his days justice shall flourish
and peace till the moon fails.
He shall rule from sea to sea,
from the Great River to earth’s bounds.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

The kings of Tarshish and the sea coasts
shall pay him tribute.
The kings of Sheba and Seba
shall bring him gifts.
Before him all kings shall fall prostrate,
all nations shall serve him.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.

For he shall save the poor when they cry
and the needy who are helpless.
He will have pity on the weak
and save the lives of the poor.

All nations shall fall prostrate before you, O Lord.
Second Reading – Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6 ©

It Has Now Been Revealed that Pagans Share the Same Inheritance

You have probably heard how I have been entrusted by God with the grace he meant for you, and that it was by a revelation that I was given the knowledge of the mystery. This mystery that has now been revealed through the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets was unknown to any men in past generations; it means that pagans now share the same inheritance, that they are parts of the same body, and that the same promise has been made to them, in Jesus Christ, through the gospel.
Gospel Acclamation – Matthew 2:2

Alleluia, alleluia!

We saw his star as it rose
and have come to do the Lord homage.

Alleluia!
Gospel – Matthew 2:1-12 ©

The Visit of the Magi

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this he was perturbed, and so was the whole of Jerusalem. He called together all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, and enquired of them where the Christ was to be born. ‘At Bethlehem in Judaea,’ they told him ‘for this is what the prophet wrote:

And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you will come a leader who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared, and sent them on to Bethlehem. ‘Go and find out all about the child,’ he said ‘and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.’ Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And there in front of them was the star they had seen rising; it went forward, and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.

The Second Sunday of Christmas
And the Epiphany of the Lord

A Homily – The First Sunday of Christmas

First Reading – 1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28 ©
Alternative First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7,14-17 ©
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 127(128):1-5 ©
Alternative Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 83(84):2-3,5-6,9-10 ©
Second Reading – Colossians 3:12-21 ©
Alternative Second Reading – 1 John 3:1-2,21-24 ©
Gospel Acclamation – cf. Ac 16:14
The Gospel of the Day – Luke 2:41-52 ©
(NJB)
If you were to take the reading from Samuel and regard it only as narrative extoling the virtue of giving thanks to God, the creator of the universe, giving thanks for the good things we receive in this life, if you were to go no further than to accept the piety of Hannah as a woman intent on keeping her promises then you would be reading this passage well.

If you go further, and you sink into the notion that God actually granted her prayer when she became pregnant with Samuel, then you would be mistaken. God does not intervene in the lives of human beings. God does not work miracles like magic in the wombs of barren women.

If you were to accept the piety of the sacrifices she rendered at the temple as a thanksgiving for what she perceived was God’s direct hand moving over her in answer to her prayers than you would be compounding your mistakes. There is nothing pious in the act of an animal sacrifice, God does not desire it, and unless the food you offer is distributed to the poor, then nothing good comes from it.

Listen:

There is wisdom in the writings of Ecclisasticus and there is also falsehood, they present themselves as binary messages in the same reading.

Honor your father and mother, but do not expect a reward for it, neither from heaven or even from them, for there are no guarantees in this life.

Honor you mother and father, your sister and brothers, your cousins, your aunts and uncles, your nieces and nephews, honor them all. Honor your teachers, and your classmates, your co-workers and your employers, honor the stranger who comes into your midst, honor them.

To honor people is good in its own right. You honor yourself in doing so, and through the service you give to everyone, near and far from you, through that service you also serve and honor God.

Do it without the thought of reward to yourself, because you will not be rewarded.

Remember:

Do not fear God. There is no blessing in it. Fear is not a blessing but rather the path to sin and darkness.

Trust in God, have faith and confidence in God’s love and in God’s word.

Remember God’s servant; Job. Remember that the Sun will burn you, as readily as it will warm you; scorch the earth as easily as it will feed the crops.

God sends the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.

If you find yourself asking: Where is the house of the God? Know this, it is not a palace, or a temple. God, creator of the universe does not dwell in Zion; Israel, God is not a king, not a lord, and not a god among gods or the ruler of many gods.

God is infinite and beyond our comprehension, God is in all places at all times and in the hearts of each and every one of God’s children.

God dwells in the human heart, the heart is the temple of God, and that is where we true worship takes place.

Look into your own heart, and into the heart of your neighbor, you will see the face of God peering back at you.

Happy are they who dwell in the place of God.

God, the creator of the universe, is loving, compassionate, and wise. God created all of us with the capacity for each of these qualities, but God also created us in freedom and we are capable of much more. We are capable of their opposite and find it far to easy to fall into their darkness/

God has chosen you as God has chosen everyone. We are all of us, God’s children, it is for each of us now to choose God.

Be loving and compassionate, show genuine good will toward all of your sisters and brothers. Do not just mimc the expression of love you are most fond of finding in the world, this is the way to proceed in life, let it unify everything that you do as a servant of God, in the service of humanity.

A life of faith requires support and nourishment, we need it from those near to us. It is not absolutely necessary, but it is most helpful. You may practice your faith in isolation, but it is more difficult. The life of faith is not meant to be lived in a vacuum, it is meant to be lived through relationships and in community.

Be aware:

Live a life of prayer; yes, but the Apostle is wrong to ask you to do all things in the name of God.

Do what you do in your own name. Take responsibility for your actions, both good and bad, whether they were well intentioned or ill, whether you have succeeded or failed.

Strive to live a life of prayer.

If you are living and working for God. In whatever industry, in whatever capacity, at whatever calling has come to you through the world, you will be doing it on behalf of your neighbor, your sisters and brothers, your fellow human beings.

You will be working for the benefit of all people, now and in all generations yet to come.

If your work does not allow to you to do this…abandon it. Remember this always and hold it close to your heart.

When you are preaching and speaking to others about the faith, you are speaking to the children of God, the creator of the universe.

There is nothing you can do to affect their salvation. There salvation, as yours, has already been accomplished by God.

Love is its own reward, do not seek anything else in return for love, accept it as you find it in the spirit with which it is given.

Nothing good at all comes from believing in a name, it is only in loving, and in the act of caring that good things come through us and to us.

God is alive in all people, no one is excluded from the love of God. There is no proof of this, it is only faith that informs us that it is true.

Faith is not belief in a particular doctrine, or article of dogma, faith is trust in God. Faith is trust.

Trust and yet be discerning:

Beware of false prophets, go, look to everyone around you, especially those who claim to be “true believers.” Look to yourself. We are all imperfect, and we all have false understandings of who God is.

Each of us in our own way confounds our knowledge of the truth with our hopes and desires for ourselves.

Trust God, and be mindful God is beyond the propositions we generate about God.

The purpose of the church is to foster belief in God, which means to nurture faith, and faith is trust.

Trust God, trust the image of God that was present in Jesus. That same image that is present in you.

Trust God and forgive.

Accept forgiveness.

Allow yourself to love, and be loved.

You are worthy of it, as is everyone, and you no-more than anyone.

God lives in the obedient and the disobedient, the faithful and the unfaithful alike. Remember this, God lives in all people, God knows you and God knows them, God knows us, even as we know ourselves.

God knows us better.

God will hear you, God is with you.
Take the things we have been preaching on and apply them to the Gospel for today:

The narrative is a myth. It does not give us any reliable information about who Jesus was, or about his relationship with his parents; even though it purports to do so.

This is unfortunate but it is the normative experience of reading the gospels.

The reading for today does tell us something about what the author of Luke wanted us to believe about Jesus. That his parents were faithful and observant Jews. He wants us to believe that they obediently went to Jerusalem for the Passover as required of them by the law, where they were counted and made their offerings to the temple.

The authors of Luke were also trying to tell us that Jesus was wise beyond his years, that he was capable of self-direction, that he had a sense of mission and purpose for his life, even as a child. The authors of Luke also want us to believe that Jesus understood at this early age, long before his adult ministry began, that he was, in a unique way, a child of God. Finally, Luke wants us to understand that his submission to the authority of his parents was voluntary.

What is unfortunate about this narrative is this; instead of informing us about who Jesus is, it muddies our understanding by mythologizing him, and instead the reading only tells us what the authors of Luke wanted us to believe, what their followers hoped was true.

Though the authors of Luke could not foresee this, these writings would come divide the Christian community, to divide it from itself and precipitate centuries of bloody conflict over the question of Jesus’ divinity, his humanity and the relationship between the two.

I contend that the man who was Jesus of Nazareth, Joshua son of Joseph, would have been aghast at those developments. Jesus, the man spent his life and went to his death as a champion of justice, an advocate for mercy, as a healer, as an advocate for the poor, for the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the widow and the orphan.

Luke’s narrative is therefore a cautionary tale, reminding us of the necessity to cleave to the truth at all times, to separate our hopes, our desires, and most importantly our fears, from values we wish to convey.

Then and only then do we honor God, then and only then do we show the reality of our faith.
First Reading – 1 Samuel 1:20-22,24-28 ©

This is the Child I Prayed For: He is Made Over to the Lord.

Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son, and called him Samuel ‘since’ she said ‘I asked the Lord for him.’

When a year had gone by, the husband Elkanah went up again with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfil his vow. Hannah, however, did not go up, having said to her husband, ‘Not before the child is weaned. Then I will bring him and present him before the Lord and he shall stay there for ever.’

When she had weaned him, she took him up with her together with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and she brought him to the temple of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was with them. They slaughtered the bull and the child’s mother came to Eli. She said, ‘If you please, my lord. As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.’
Alternative First Reading – Ecclesiasticus 3:3-7,14-17 ©

He who fears the Lord respects his parents

The Lord honours the father in his children, and upholds the rights of a mother over her sons.

Whoever respects his father is atoning for his sins, he who honours his mother is like someone amassing a fortune.

Whoever respects his father will be happy with children of his own, he shall be heard on the day when he prays.

Long life comes to him who honours his father, he who sets his mother at ease is showing obedience to the Lord.

My son, support your father in his old age, do not grieve him during his life.

Even if his mind should fail, show him sympathy, do not despise him in your health and strength; for kindness to a father shall not be forgotten but will serve as reparation for your sins.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 127(128):1-5 ©

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord
and walk in his ways!
By the labour of your hands you shall eat.
You will be happy and prosper.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
in the heart of your house;
your children like shoots of the olive,
around your table.

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!

Indeed thus shall be blessed
the man who fears the Lord.
May the Lord bless you from Zion
all the days of your life!

O blessed are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways!
Alternative Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 83(84):2-3,5-6,9-10 ©

They are happy who dwell in your house, O Lord.

How lovely is your dwelling place,
Lord, God of hosts.
My soul is longing and yearning,
is yearning for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul ring out their joy
to God, the living God.

They are happy who dwell in your house, O Lord.

They are happy, who dwell in your house,
for ever singing your praise.
They are happy, whose strength is in you,
in whose hearts are the roads to Zion.

They are happy who dwell in your house, O Lord.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer,
give ear, O God of Jacob.
Turn your eyes, O God, our shield,
look on the face of your anointed.

They are happy who dwell in your house, O Lord.
Second Reading – Colossians 3:12-21 ©

Family life in the Lord

You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. Over all these clothes, to keep them together and complete them, put on love. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, because it is for this that you were called together as parts of one body. Always be thankful.

Let the message of Christ, in all its richness, find a home with you. Teach each other, and advise each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms and hymns and inspired songs to God; and never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated.
Alternative Second reading

1 John 3:1-2,21-24 ©

We are Called God’s children, and That is What We Are

Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are.

Because the world refused to acknowledge him, therefore it does not acknowledge us.

My dear people, we are already the children of God but what we are to be in the future has not yet been revealed; all we know is, that when it is revealed we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.

My dear people, if we cannot be condemned by our own conscience, we need not be afraid in God’s presence, and whatever we ask him, we shall receive, because we keep his commandments and live the kind of life that he wants.

His commandments are these: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and that we love one another as he told us to.

Whoever keeps his commandments lives in God and God lives in him.

We know that he lives in us by the Spirit that he has given us.
Gospel Acclamation – cf. Ac 16:14

Alleluia, alleluia!

Open our heart, O Lord,
to accept the words of your Son.

Alleluia!
Gospel – Luke 2:41-52 ©

Mary Stored Up All These Things in Her Heart

Every year the parents of Jesus used to go to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up for the feast as usual. When they were on their way home after the feast, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem without his parents knowing it. They assumed he was with the caravan, and it was only after a day’s journey that they went to look for him among their relations and acquaintances. When they failed to find him they went back to Jerusalem looking for him everywhere.

Three days later, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the doctors, listening to them, and asking them questions; and all those who heard him were astounded at his intelligence and his replies. They were overcome when they saw him, and his mother said to him, ‘My child, why have, you done this to us? See how worried your father and I have been, looking for you.’ ‘Why were you looking for me?’ he replied ‘Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father’s affairs?’ But they did not understand what he meant.

He then went down with them and came to Nazareth and lived under their authority. His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favour with God and men.

The First Sunday of Christmas
Feast of the Holy Family