Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today is among the Twelve Days of Christmas, a period in our society that invites us to swim upstream. During this countercultural time we can engage in the countercultural practice of pondering.
The mother of Jesus is someone who ponders. She does so in response to the arrival of the Bethlehem shepherds. They report how that they learned of the child through an appearance of angels. What they say subsequently spreads to unidentified others. “But,” Luke’s Gospel tells us, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
Something similar happens many years later. Jesus, now twelve years old, becomes separated from his parents in Jerusalem; they find him conversing with teachers in the temple; he returns home with them and is obedient to them. This episode ends in a similar way. “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)
Mary did not let these challenging episodes pass on unexamined. Here—and probably on other occasions also—she pondered, assessing what had happened around her. We also need to assess our lives.
Dare to hope. And dare to ponder.
Rev. Mary McCue
Today, we remember the Holy Innocents. Described in Matthew’s Gospel,
(Matthew 2: 16-18), it is the horrific story of Herod sending his troops to
massacre all boys aged 2 and under. Herod was infuriated by
by the Wise Men, who tricked him by leaving for their own country
without telling him where the child who would be King was.
The story may be a legend, as some later scholars have claimed.
They cite as evidence the fact that the incident appears only in
Matthew’s Gospel, though it seems to be foretold in Jeremiah:
“Rachel wept for her children and would not be consoled.”
Legend or not, it is one of the images from Scripture that has
inspired artists of all types. The Bruegels (father and son), Remi,
Rubens, Giovanni and Tintoretto all produced images of the massacre,
as did other less-well-known artists.
And it inspired one of the most beloved carols for this time of year.
In the 16 th century, The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, based on
the incident, was sponsored by the Shearmen and Tailors Guild.
It included the Coventry Carol. (In England, crafts guilds vied with each
other to stage plays based on Scripture: the Nativity, Crucifixion, Corpus
Christi, Resurrection. It was an early form of Christian education
in rural and semi-rural England.)
Rev. Mary McCue
St. Thomas, whose feast day is today, is probably most widely remembered for
being the Doubting Thomas portrayed in John’s Gospel. But Thomas was also a
missionary, and figures large in some theological legends.
One legend is that he wrote his own account of the life and times of Jesus. The Gospel
of Thomas and the Acts of Judas Thomas both circulated in those days. Neither one
was deemed sufficient to be included in the Holy Scriptures. Both make
interesting reading, though, adding insights into Thomas’ time with Jesus and into the
time of Jesus.
Another is that before the Apostles left the Holy Land to become missionaries of
the Gospel in other lands, each contributed one line to the Apostles’ Creed,
which we pray today as part of our Morning Prayer service. Thomas is supposed to
have contributed the line “On the third day he rose again.”
What is true about Thomas is that he became a highly successful missionary.
Sent to Parthia, now called India, he founded seven churches there and was esteemed
by Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches. Even today, there are St.
Thomas Christians in India, and a special cross commemorates him.
Thomas was martyred in India. His remains were interred in Chennai, India.
Later, some remains were moved to Ortona, Italy. Churches in both those locations
Rev. Mary McCue
Today, we celebrate thefeast of John of the Cross, a Spanish priest and Carmelite monk. Born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez in 1542, his parents lost their wealth while he was young. He attended a then-new Jesuit school and was ordained a priest in 1567. Thereafter, he was mentored by Teresa of Avila, who asked him to help reform the Carmelite order, conforming it to the“Primitive Rule” of devotion to the Liturgy of Hours, study, solitude and fasting. Which he did.
His efforts were controversial, and he was imprisoned by fellow monks. Despite torture and bad conditions, his creativity flowered. He began writing on his insights into Christ and the virtuous life – insights which would eventually become classic works in mysticism. It was during this time, that he wrote his Spiritual Canticle.
Eventually, John escaped from prison and formed a new monastery devoted to the Primitive Rule. There, he had a vision of Christ “from above” – a drawing that provided inspiration for Salvador Dali’s, Christ of John of the Cross. Inaddition to his Spiritual Canticle, his other writings include "Dark Night of theSoul" and "Ascent of Mount Carmel". All are based in scripture, and reveal his deeply spiritual attachment to Christ. He is often hailed as a poet for thequality and beauty of his writing. His work influenced later writers such as T.S. Eliot, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein and Thomas Merton.
Let us give thanks for the life and example of John of the Cross.
AMBROSE, THE ACCIDENTAL BISHOP
by: The Reverend Mary McCue
While serving as governor of Aemilia-Liguria in Italy, he went to quell a dispute over who should be Bishop between religious factions. A cry went up in theassembly (some legends say it was from a child), “Ambrose, Bishop, Ambrose, Bishop.” Acclaimed by all factions, he refused. After days of prayer and persuasion, though, he agreed to be baptized, ordained and installed as Bishop of Milan in 374.
He then began to study theology, aided by the excellent education he’d received that enabled him to be named governor, including the study of Greek. His knowledge of Greek stood him well as he studied theology, and began to preach. He became renowned for his preaching, and for his ability to be flexible in tolerating other religions, including Arianism (which claimed that the Son was subordinate to the Father). His ability to tolerate other customs led some to believe that he originated the philosophy of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” – an extremely flexible view for that time.
Ambrose became known for his purity, sympathy, energy and devotion to the
Word of God. An accomplished musician, he gave us the gift of the antiphon, which we have enjoyed so many times in our own church. He is one of themost influential figures in the Church of that day, styled as one of the four traditional Doctors of the Church. (The others are Augustine, Jerome and Gregory the Great.)
Devotion to God – a gift to us on this, Ambrose’s feast day.
by: The Reverend Mary McCue
When Francis Xavier was at College Saints Barbe in Paris in 1529, he got a roommate -Ignatius of Loyola.
Thus was an historic partnership formed. Ignatius persuaded Francis to a life of
Christ. The two formed the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits.
Born in Navarre, Spain in 1506, Francis’s well to do parents lost most of their
wealth in wars between Navarre and Aragon. They were still able to send him
to college, though, and he enrolled in 1526. He was ordained a priest in 1537. King John of Portugal asked the Pope for missionaries to send to his territories. Francis became one by accident. Another priest became ill.
Francis took his place and was sent to India to restart Christianity among Portuguese settlers there. He evangelized in India, and became the first Christian to venture into Japan, Borneo, the Maluka Islands and other places.
He served for 45 years in Asia, and began missionary work in China, where he died in 1552 at age 46. He was entombed in Goa, but his followers cut off his right arm – which he had used to bless the faithful - and sent it to Rome.
There, it was venerated, and toured around the world. He is credited with being one of the greatest missionaries since St. Paul. On this, his feast day, let us give thanks for the work of Francis Xavier, Apostle of Japan, Apostle of
the Indies and, with Therese of Lisieux, co-patron saint of all foreign missions.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
The Advent Season invites us to swim upstream in several respects. One way is that it summons us to wait. We wait for the final coming of Christ. We wait for a birth in a Bethlehem stable. Our society, on the other hand, does not want us to wait. It cultivates our impatience.
Some experiences of waiting are unavoidable and bring with them a blessing. In these instances we do not wait alone, whatever our circumstances. We wait with God. We wait with the saints. If God and the saints wait for the opportune time, should we expect to be exempt from doing so?
This holy waiting teaches us something. It reminds us that we are not in charge. It reminds us that God is working out God’s purposes, though we do not know how and can hardly imagine how. Waiting with God and the saints develops countercultural patience in us.
What is that? A refusal to accept whatever in the world obstructs the
purposes of God, together with an ability to welcome God’s arrival at any moment.
Dare to hope. And dare to wait.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington