Tuesday, December 15, 2015



I’ve often thought that old theologians are like old generals who don’t really die but somehow disappear. The expression of course, I think, comes from General MacArthur but I may be wrong, but, if not, I never understood what he meant. I have long been an admirer of the work Avery Dulles accomplished in the realm of theology here in our own country. He was a thoughtful and careful scholar in his many books, articles and other publications over the course of four score and ten years. He certainly was the dean of Catholic theologians here in the United States. The fact that Pope John Paul II named him a Cardinal was a tribute to Avery himself but, as he himself said, a tribute to the necessary but often hidden work of those who do the work of theology in the Church, who see their vocations as theologians as ecclesial vocations.

In this column, my interest in not to write about Dulles’ theological works but to talk about his conversion to the Catholic, faith which took place when he was a student at Harvard University. He thought of himself as an unbeliever, an atheist, when he began to study at Harvard, unlike his father John Foster Dulles, who was a leading lay voice of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. John Foster Dulles, you may remember, was Secretary of State under President Eisenhower. Several others in the Dulles’ family also served as Secretary of State in the United States which takes us back in history. After his conversion, Avery wrote his first book entitled “Testimonial to Grace”. Not every convert comes into the Church the same way. Dulles’ conversion was very much the result of an intellectual experience. I mention it at this time because it centers on several basic experiences in the world of philosophy and theology. The following observations come from America Magazine, March 5, 2001, which I have in my files, an interview that Father James Martin conducted with Father Dulles when he was made a Cardinal. He was asked the question – How did God work to move you from an appreciation of philosophical texts to embracing Catholicism? This is what he said:

“The move toward philosophy was for me the presupposition of religious faith. I don’t know that it always has to go that way, but that is the way it went with me.

The first stage was Aristotle convincing me that the mind was a faculty that penetrated reality, so that when one was thinking correctly one was entering more deeply into reality itself. He helped me see that our ideas are not merely subjective but that they reflect the structure of the world and the universe. The so-called metaphysical realism of Aristotle was a first stage for me, and it gave me a confidence in human reason.

The second stage was Plato, who basically said that there was a transcendent order of what is morally right and wrong and that one has an unconditional obligation to do that which is right, even when it seems to be against one’s self-interest. That set me thinking about where that obligation comes from. It seemed to come from something higher than humanity. We don’t impose it on ourselves. And no other human being can impose it on us or exempt us from it. So there is an absolute order to which we are subject. This seemed to imply an absolute Being—and a personal being to whom we are accountable. And this set me thinking that there is a God who is a law-giver and a judge, who knows everything that we do and who will punish or reward us duly. In this way I found a basis in natural theology.

Then after that I read the Gospels, and it seemed to me that they taught all of this, and more. The revelation given in Jesus Christ was a reaffirmation of all these principles I had learned in Greek philosophy—but the Gospels added the idea that God was loving and merciful and had redeemed us in Christ, offering us an opportunity to get back on board when we had slipped and fallen overboard. That’s a very brief sketch of what I tried to lay out in greater detail in my Testimonial to Grace.”

He was then asked the question – How did you move from those general Christian beliefs to Catholicism more specifically? This is how he replied:

“I studied quite a lot of history in connection with my work in early Renaissance studies, which was my special field. But since I had to do the patristic and medieval background for the Renaissance, I had to read something of the Greek Fathers and a good deal of Augustine and the medieval tradition, especially Bernard, Thomas Aquinas and Dante. And, in particular, for my dissertation I worked on the Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola, who had his roots deep in medieval scholasticism. So I got to know the medieval church quite well and was strongly attracted to it, particularly Thomas Aquinas. Also I studied the Reformation and so learned about the Reformers: I read Luther, Calvin and the decrees of the Council of Trent. I found my sympathies were always on the Catholic side and felt that was where I belonged.

Also, I ran into contemporary Catholicism through the books of writers such as Jacques Maritain and √Čtienne Gilson, both of whom enjoyed very high prestige at Harvard when I was studying there. My professors had great esteem for them and I myself found them extremely helpful in applying Christian principles to the modern world in many spheres, from aesthetics all the way to politics and international affairs. I found them full of light.

Finally, I was living in Cambridge, Mass., which at that time, and perhaps still today, is a very Catholic city. The Catholic Church had a hold on its people that no Protestant church seemed to have. The people were attending church services in huge numbers and going to confession, communion, Benediction and Holy Week services and things like that. And I was attracted in many ways to the liturgy, too. So it was a combination of all those factors, without much personal contact with any individual Catholics—I didn’t really have any close friends who were practicing Catholics. It was a kind of a solitary journey, and then I later discovered that others were making the same journey, though I did not realize it at the time.”

It’s interesting to think, in light of all the above, about the number of folks walking up and down beside the Charles River, not to mention all sorts of millions in the big cities of the world, who know nothing about the Good News of Christ the Savior. Why are we surprised that people do not understand our faith or are hostile to what we Catholics stand for? What these folks need, so we say, is evangelization – that is, hearing the Good News about Jesus and then comes the task of catechesis as folks learn to understand the Good News. A question – What is our role in all this?



In the liturgical calendar, January 1 has had many titles: it is the Octave Day of Christmas, the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, and the Feast of the Lord’s Circumcision. Since Vatican II the liturgy has retrieved a venerable title for January 1 which celebrates Our Lady’s divine maternity. Thus the feast day that used to be more Christological is now seemingly a Marian feast under the title of Mary – Mother of God.

In recent decades, beginning with the threats of the Cold War, January 1 has also been observed as World Peace Day. The initiation of World Peace Day was taken by Pope Paul VI and continued every year during the long reign of John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI continued this important tradition with the 2006 World Day of Peace message, under the title – “In Truth, Peace”. Speaking for himself Pope Benedict wrote as follows: “This, my first message for the World Day of Peace, is meant to follow in the path of my predecessor. With it I wish to reiterate the steadfast resolve of the Holy See to continue serving the cause of peace. The very name Benedict, which I chose on the day of my election to the Chair of Peter, is a sign of my personal commitment to peace. In taking this name, I wanted to evoke St. Benedict, a patron saint of Europe who, through the monastic movement, inspired the civilization of peace. I also wanted to evoke the memory of Pope Benedict XV who condemned World War I as ‘useless slaughter’ and worked diligently for the universal acknowledgement of the lofty demand of peace.” Pope Benedict’s 2007 World Day of Peace message was masterful. It bore the title “The Human Person, the Heart of Peace”. It made luminously clear the truth that we cannot leave the work of peace and justice to political figures only or to the so-called experts. If it is true that the heart of peace is found potentially within the human person, each of us, especially at the Eucharist, must say – “Then peace must begin with me”. As the Holy Father wrote – “A fundamental element of building peace is the recognition of the essential equality of human persons springing from their common transcendental dignity. Peace is based on the rights of all.” The Pope’s 2008 message was entitled – “The Human Family, A Community of Peace”. As is obvious in our individualistic and hedonistic society, which is so hostile to the institution of family and the institution of marriage and the non-transferable role of the family in human society, the role of the family for world peace is essential.

We come now in the past reflection to the Holy Father’s 2009 World Day of Peace message. It is entitled – “Fighting Poverty to Build Peace”. The text reads as follows: “Once again, as the new year begins, I want to extend good wishes for peace to people everywhere. With this Message I would like to propose a reflection on the theme: Fighting Poverty to Build Peace. Back in 1993, my venerable Predecessor Pope John Paul II, in his Message for the World Day of Peace that year, drew attention to the negative repercussions for peace when entire populations live in poverty. Poverty is often a contributory factor or a compounding element in conflicts, including armed ones. In turn, these conflicts fuel further tragic situations of poverty. ‘Our world’, he wrote, ‘shows increasing evidence of another grave threat to peace: many individuals and indeed whole peoples are living today in conditions of extreme poverty. The gap between rich and poor has become more marked, even in the most economically developed nations. This is a problem which the conscience of humanity cannot ignore, since the conditions in which a great number of people are living are an insult to their innate dignity and as a result are a threat to the authentic and harmonious progress of the world community’

In this context, fighting poverty requires attentive consideration of the complex phenomenon of globalization. This is important from a methodological standpoint, because it suggests drawing upon the fruits of economic and sociological research into the many different aspects of poverty. Yet the reference to globalization should also alert us to the spiritual and moral implications of the question, urging us, in our dealings with the poor, to set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan: we are called to form one family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – model their behavior according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility.

This perspective requires an understanding of poverty that is wide-ranging and well articulated. If it were a question of material poverty alone, then the social sciences, which enable us to measure phenomena on the basis of mainly quantitative data, would be sufficient to illustrate its principal characteristics. Yet we know that other, non-material forms of poverty exist which are not the direct and automatic consequence of material deprivation. For example, in advanced wealthy societies, there is evidence of marginalization, as well as affective, moral and spiritual poverty, seen in people whose interior lives are disoriented and who experience various forms of malaise despite their economic prosperity. On the one hand, I have in mind what is known as ‘moral underdevelopment’, and on the other hand the negative consequences of ‘superdevelopment’. Nor can I forget that, in so-called ‘poor’ societies, economic growth is often hampered by cultural impediments which lead to inefficient use of available resources. It remains true, however, that every form of externally imposed poverty has at its root a lack of respect for the transcendent dignity of the human person. When man is not considered within the total context of his vocation, and when the demands of a true ‘human ecology’ are not respected, the cruel forces of poverty are unleashed, as is evident in certain specific areas of the world today.” All these words of Benedict XVI certainly can be most helpful as we learn the lesson he’s teaching us, i.e., in order to build peace, we must fight poverty.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015



The season of Advent is the great good news, the amazing story of the eternal Son of God and his human-divine adventures in human time. Time, of course, is part of God’s creation. God’s necessary being is timeless. St. Augustine eloquently expresses the mystery of Christ and time when he writes – “He who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our short day of time.” Advent has a two-fold character: 1) it is a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first entrance into human history is remembered; and 2) as a season when that remembrance directs our minds and hearts to await Christ’s second coming at time’s end. Christ’s first coming belongs to the past. His second coming lies hidden in the future. In the meanwhile, in the interim (and this means our lives here and now), the risen Christ meets us and we him in sacramental mystery.

On the day of his glorious ascension into heaven, the risen Christ made two promises to his fearful, awe-struck disciples: 1) though he was leaving them, he would send them another helper, namely the Holy Spirit who would bring to their minds all that the Lord Jesus had taught them in his earthly sojourn with them; and 2) though he was leaving them in a bodily, tangible, sensible manner, he would never abandon them but would remain with them in a new presence, a real and true presence, a sacramental presence.

How remarkable is the sacramental presence of the risen Christ! It is at the heart of our Sunday worship. At the center of all that we do at the Sunday Liturgy lies the act, the action from the power of the Holy Spirit, of making the Lord Jesus, risen now in glory, really, truly, sacramentally present on the altars of the Catholic world in his life, death and resurrection. As the Second Vatican Council teaches us, to accomplish this great work of liturgy, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of his minister, but especially under the Eucharistic species. By his power he is present in the sacraments, so that when a human being baptizes, it is really Christ who baptizes. He is present in his word, since it is he himself who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present when the Church prays and sings, for he promised: “wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in their midst”.

We describe Christ’s three comings in terms of the following words: history, mystery and glory. What about this word “mystery”? When we speak, e.g., about the Agatha Christie mysteries, we think of such events as the discovery of the body of somebody who has been shot but we have no idea who did the shooting. Mystery in terms that the Church uses is very much like the word sacramental. A sacrament is an outward sign – visible, tangible, detectable – of unseen, hidden divine reality. And so we speak of the mystery of Christ. To Pilate Jesus was one of the Jews of the day, but not in favor with the Jews of authority. To us who see him in the light of faith, he is the Word of God who became flesh for our salvation. The sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice we offer at Sunday Eucharist are really one and the same sacrifice except for the manner of offering. St. Paul speaks about the mystery of God, the mystery of Christ, hidden for ages and generations past but now made manifest to God’s holy ones. To the Ephesians Paul speaks of his ministry to bring to the attention of people all over the world God’s plan hidden from the very beginning. By God’s plan he means, of course, the will of God, the purpose of God, God’s vision of things for our redemption. Throughout the liturgical year we have the opportunity to share in what we call the mysteries of Christ, those actions which St. John’s Gospel calls “signs”, outward, visible actions of Jesus but with deeper and more significant divine meaning for our salvation. In fact, a good name for the new year we call the liturgical year could be “Christ in his mysteries”, God’s plan of salvation as it unfolds at Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, during Lent, Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost. In this way, Christ’s mysteries become our own as he invites us to himself as branches on the vine, as members of his body which is the Church. He lived his mysteries for us and now involves us in his mysteries. The challenge of Advent, in fact the challenge of the entire liturgical year is this: how are we to pray our way through the new liturgical year which is upon us? The answer to this question could be to say with one writer – “the mysteries of the life of Jesus are of great importance for the believer. This is because the believer’s personal relation to the risen Christ makes no sense without the earthly history of the risen Christ. The resurrection makes eternal the earthly life Christ lived, without which the risen Lord would remain anonymous.” In praying through the mysteries of the life of Jesus, our focus is always on the contemporary Christ, that is, our risen Lord. We do not focus on the baby Jesus at Christmas, or the preaching of Jesus in his public life or the suffering Jesus on the cross; rather, we concentrate on the risen Christ who once was the baby Jesus, the preaching Jesus, the suffering Jesus. The Lord is who he is in glory in virtue of the past experience of his earthly life. By focusing on his earthly mysteries and by receiving him in Holy Communion, we grow in his likeness and find our place in the history of salvation being carried on in our day.

Let us begin a new liturgical year as we remember: “It is with Christ that we journey, and we walk with our steps in his footprints: he it is who is our guide and the burning flame which illumines our paths; pioneer of salvation, he it is who draws us towards heaven, towards the Father, and promises success to those who seek in faith. We shall one day be that which he is in glory, if by faithful imitation of his example, we become true Christians, other Christs.”



Pope Innocent VI was bishop of Rome in the mid-decades of the 14th Century. He was a good hymnologist as well. He is the author of the beautiful but very brief eucharistic hymn which for several centuries was sung in the West after the Consecration at Mass. It is known by its Latin title – "Ave Verum Corpus". In the 19th Century it was set to music by the incomparable Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This hymn celebrates the truth of things, literally the realities we associate with our Catholic faith. The first line celebrates the reality of the mystery of the Incarnation – "Hail true Body born of the Virgin Mary". The second line celebrates the mystery of the cross – "Hail true Body, truly suffered, sacrificed on the cross for mankind”. The third line continues the theme of the Passion – “Hail true Body whose pierced side flowed with water and blood”. The fourth and final line directly reflects the Eucharist – “Let it be for us, in consideration, a foretaste of death”. Jesus whom we call the Christ is no mythical figure. Neither is his heavenly Father who mysteriously identified himself to the prophet Moses in the words "I AM". Neither is his earthly mother who said to Gabriel, "I am the handmaid of the Lord." The Lord Jesus is for real – real in his birth, real in his dying and rising, real in the Eucharist we will receive this very day, foreshadowing God’s gift of eternal life. The "Ave Verum Corpus" celebrates these realities.

I would call your attention to one of the prayers that we find in the Sacramentary at this time of Christmas. We say to God our Father – "Fill our hearts with your love, and as you revealed to us the coming of your Son as man, so lead us through his suffering and death to the glory of his resurrection". Any welcoming of the Lord at Christmas carries with it the acceptance of Christ’s cross.

For a Christmas meditation, I would propose a reflection on what I shall call the law of the cross. What does this mean? In shorthand, it goes something like this – All of human history, everybody’s human history, is a story of progress and decline. Because of sin, decline, disorder, evil become the conquerors. Justice comes along to try to right the wrongs, but the enmities, the rivalries, the hostilities that come from sin continue to conquer. Just look at the front pages of our newspapers. Better still, look in the mirror and try to examine the human heart. Where justice fails, only love can prevail, only love can wipe the slate clean of sin. This is what is meant by the law of the cross. Through Christ’s life, death and resurrection, God wipes the slate clean, for Christ is the true Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. In other words, God has introduced into human history a process of reversal. The consequences of our sins become the very means of our salvation. The prime instance is Jesus. By willingly accepting the consequences of our sins, though sinless himself, he passed through suffering and death; and God’s power at work in Jesus made this the passageway to resurrection and life. S. Paul puts it this way – God showed his love for us in this that while we were yet sinners. Christ died for us. The law of the cross works something like this – Two persons have a quarrel. As long as each party returns evil for evil, the quarrel escalates, the situation worsens, no fresh start is possible. Only a process of reversal will bring peace. Only when one party is willing to love one’s enemies and to pray for one’s persecutors, only then will the decline of evil be checked, only then will redemption be effected, only then will our own human history make progress towards God’s kingdom. (A note of gratitude is needed here to Father Bernard Lonergan who directed me in my theological studies. The Law of the Cross is an important part of Lonergan’s Christology.)

This is what happened in Jesus. This is what he wills to effect in us. This is what Christmas is all about. We cooperate with God’s redeeming power by returning good for evil, thus transforming the evil that surrounds us into the cross through which alone we are saved. This was a scandal to some of the Jews of Jesus’ time. This was all folly to the Greeks. To those who believed, Jew or Greek, this was the power of God and the wisdom of God. The law of the cross is still folly for so many in our day. The philosopher Nietzsche would reject Christian humility and self-giving love as the religion of slaves who are really envious of the rich and the powerful. Karl Marx would reject Christian patience and the doctrine of the cross as ideological invention to facilitate the enriching of the rich and the enslaving of the poor who are thus deceived by Christian teaching and drugged by the empty hope of abundant life beyond the grave.

The feast of Christmas makes an affirmation and asks a question. The affirmation is this – Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners. In other words, God out of love wipes our slates clean. The question is this – Are we willing to do the same for our brothers and sisters? Only those who understand the law of the cross can truly say – Merry Christmas.



What is a problem? What is a mystery? What does the adjective “secular” mean? What does the adjective “sacral” mean? We all know what problems are. We have wrestled with mathematics, physics in our early school days. We probably have read our share of mysteries where murders have been solved. Not so with a mystery. God is a mystery. When we say that God is a mystery we’re saying that we are incapable of expressing who God really is, although we can make good progress, with thoughtful reflection, in saying what God is not. No matter what we know of God, in the end we must say that God is incomprehensible. The adjective sacral refers to something that pertains to God or the worship of God. The chalice at Mass is sacral. The twelve or so banks here in Wellesley are all quite secular. (If you visit Rome and walk down the Via del Corso you will se a huge building with the sign – Il Banco di Santo Spirito. Don’t be fooled by the name. The Holy Spirit is sacral; the bank of the Holy Spirit is purely secular.)

Obviously a column in a bulletin is not the place for a treatise on Incarnation. The purpose of this column is to make us feel more at home with the translation of the New Roman Missal which deals with the Incarnation in the second part of the Creed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of Incarnation as follows: The fact that the Son of God assumed human nature and became man in order to accomplish our salvation in that same human nature. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both true God and true man, not part God or part man. The Apostolic preaching spoke about Incarnation to Jewish hearers who were the first to hear the New Testament word of God. St. John the Evangelist opens his gospel with the words – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Incarnation literally means “becoming flesh, taking on our humanity”. As the Catechism expresses it – belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith: “By this you know the spirit of God: every spirit which professes that Jesus Christ comes in the flesh is of God.”

Preaching to the Gentiles was different that preaching to the Jews. The preachers to the Jews could cite the many passages in the Old Testament that spoke about the one who was to come, but the Gentiles had no experience with the Old Testament at all. What we profess about the Lord Jesus at Sunday Mass was the product of several early Ecumenical Councils. The first Ecumenical took place at Nicea, up near the Bosphorus near present day Istanbul. Wrong thinking about Jesus was called Arianism. Yes, the Arians would say, Jesus is rightly called Son of God but obviously, they said, he cannot be God the way God the Father is God. The question was raised at Nicea – “Was there ever a time when the Son of God was not?” What this question really meant from the Arian point of view was that Christ, though superior to us, could not be equal to the Father and thus came under the creative power of God the Father. The Church’s answers to all of this was loud and clear. Jesus in his humanity became like ourselves but never ceased to be his divine self. And as his divine self he was equal to the Father and the Spirit in divinity. That is where the adjective consubstantial comes in. The Council picked up an ordinary word in everyday Greek language to speak about a unique fact in human history, that is, what God the Father is in his divinity that is what the Lord Jesus is as born of the Father before all ages. Hence, dear reader, the two changes in the second section of the Nicene Creed instead of saying – “By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man”, we will be saying in the new translation “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015



Just as Candlemas Day means the Mass of the Candles, so Christmas means the Mass of Christ. I would like to comment on the Christmas Liturgies.

As we know, Vatican II, in terms of its liturgical renewal and reform, restored the practice of the Sunday Vigil. This means that the Sunday celebration starts with evening prayer on Saturday evening and runs through evening prayer on Sunday. Thus we have become accustomed to the 4 o’clock or 5 o’clock Vigil Mass on Saturday afternoon. In my view, the Vigil Mass has been a mixed blessing. It is wonderful for us older folks to get out in the afternoon and enjoy daylight both coming to church and going home except for December and January’s dark days. On the other hand, however, it seems that the restoration of the Sunday Vigil has not helped the Church’s efforts to restore Sundays as the Day of God, the Day of Christ, the Day of the Church, our day for prayer and family life and family recreation and the like. Of course, restoring the Easter Vigil, which was the great gift when Pius XII was Pope, was wonderful beyond all words. For centuries the great Easter Vigil, the climax of the Church’s liturgical year, lay only in the Church’s memory and not in its practice. This, of course, does not mean starting the Easter Vigil at 7 o’clock or 8 o’clock in the evening. My dream is to restore to the parish the Easter Vigil that would begin at 10:30 p.m. which would then give us time for all nine scriptural readings which summarize the mystery of salvation from creation to our own day. Then at midnight we would celebrate the Lord’s resurrection at the Eucharist. Restoring the Vigil of Christmas in no way elicits my enthusiasm, certainly not the enthusiasm I showed in the last sentence for the Easter Vigil. (Of course, the Christmas Vigil would be good for us older folks for the same reasons listed above for the Sunday Vigil.) However, the way we celebrate the Christmas Vigil is not particularly helpful for the celebration of Christmas Day. It doesn’t capture, in my view, what the Christmas Liturgy has been designed to capture.

Christmas Day is one of those rare feasts which offers three distinct liturgies. Advent is the time we watch and pray as we hope for the final coming of the divine Messiah who first came on Christmas Day and comes to his Catholic people all over the world in sacramental mystery. Our urgent prayer that the Lord come and not delay is visible at midnight Mass for the minute the day begins we are ready to celebrate his coming. Then there is the Mass at Dawn; then there is the Mass During the Day. Obviously the Church does not insist that we attend three Masses, but those who used to do so in earlier centuries experienced a wonderful sense of the integrity of the Christmas celebration.

I would like to highlight aspects of our Christmas Liturgies. At the Vigil, the entrance antiphon will say to us – “Today you will know that the Lord is coming to save us, and in the morning you will see his glory.” In our opening prayer we will say to God our Father – “Every year we rejoice as we look forward to the feast of our salvation. May we welcome Christ as our Redeemer, and meet him with confidence when he comes to be our judge.” We will then listen to readings from Isaiah, the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Matthew. At Midnight, Psalm 2 says to us – “The Lord said to me: You are my Son; this day have I begotten you.” These words are addressed to our incarnate Lord. Their scriptural use is often seen as a resurrection theme. In our opening prayer we will say to God our Father – “You make this holy night radiant with the splendor of Jesus Christ our light. We welcome him as Lord, the true light of the world.” Then we read from Isaiah, St. Paul and St. Luke. The second reading – Paul to Titus – is printed below. The Mass at Dawn, begins with this antiphon: “A light will shine on us this day, the Lord is born for us: he shall be called Wonderful God, Prince of Peace, Father of the world to come; and his kingship will never end.” Then we say to God in prayer: “We are filled with the new light by the coming of your Word among us. May the light of faith shine in our words and actions.” Then we hear from Isaiah, St. Paul and St. Luke. The second reading is printed below. Then comes the Mass During the Day. The entrance antiphon says to us: “A child is born for us, a son is given to us; dominion is laid on his shoulder, and he shall be called Wonderful-Counselor.” In our opening prayer we will say to God our Father: “We praise you for creating man, and still more for restoring him in Christ. Your Son shared our weakness: may we share his glory.”

From the Letter of St. Paul to Titus:

“The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.”

A second reading from Paul to Titus:

“When the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy, he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”



Firmly I believe and truly
God is three and God is one;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that manhood crucified;
And I love supremely, solely
Christ who for my sins has died.

And I hold in veneration,
For the love of him alone,
Holy Church as his creation
And her teachings as his own.

Praise and thanks be ever given
With and through the angel host,
To the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

The author of the above Creed is Cardinal John Henry Newman. He was a revered 19th Century scholar and churchman. We think of his early years as his Anglican years, and we think of his later years as his Catholic years. His influence on scholarship was profound in his own day. Though he died some sixty years before the Second Vatican Council, his influence on the scholars of the Council was most significant. Perhaps it can be helpful for us in this column to reflect on Newman’s Creed so that we can appreciate the great mysteries we celebrate throughout the liturgical year. Newman first points to the foundational mystery on which all the truths of faith rest, that is, the mystery of our Three-Personed God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Theologians like to call this mystery “a necessary mystery” because we say of God – He always was; he always will be; he must exist. The next mystery is the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. We can call this mystery “a free mystery”, that is, it depends upon the freedom of God, because we can say of the first Christmas – it did not have to take place. Then Newman moves on to the mystery of Redemption and all the wonderful things God has done for us and continues to do for us through his Son and the Holy Spirit. Stanza three is important for us to read and to hear. Newman tells us the reason why he accepts as true the mysteries of faith. It is because faith is a gift that first comes to us from the Church in the Sacrament of Baptism. This is why Newman writes – “And I hold in veneration for the love of Christ alone, Holy Church as God’s creation and her teachings as his own.” We have the great truths of Trinity, Incarnation and Redemption. At the Advent-Christmas Liturgies, it is the Incarnation that stands center-stage.

The English word “incarnation” means “becoming flesh”, “taking on our humanity”. And so we read in John’s Gospel – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Christ Jesus, the very Son of God from all eternity, equal in divinity to the Father and Holy Spirit, at a particular moment in human history took on our humanity without ceasing to be his divine self and became like us in all things except sin. As we reflect on this mystery of faith and seek to grow in understanding, we praise God for his love and goodness as we ask the question – Why the Incarnation? Why did God the Son take on our humanity and enter truly into our human history? The Advent-Christmas Liturgies answer this question in different ways. They speak to us about a wondrous exchange between God and ourselves. For example, listen to the following antiphon – “What wondrous exchange: our Creator, taking on body and soul, in his kindness has been born from the Virgin Mary, and coming forth as Man, He has made us sharers in his divinity.” You and I, of course, do not cease to be our human selves, but now we share in God’s life through the grace and virtues of faith, hope and love.

We can learn a lot from some of the titles we give to the Lord Jesus. We call Him Savior, for we would be lost were it not for him. Who else can take away our two great enemies which are sin and death? We call him Redeemer, but why give him that title if he cannot free us from sin and death? So, if we do not grasp the truth that we are lost apart from Christ, that we never can become what God expects us to become apart from Christ, we will never appreciate Christmas.

Once again a new liturgical season has begun. Once again we are privileged to reflect on the Lord Jesus in his mysteries, in all that he has done and in all that he continues to do for us and for our salvation. We say of the Lord Jesus – Blessed be Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. As such, he is our mediator. In fact, he is our perfect mediator. As perfectly divine, he is on God’s side of things. As perfectly human, he is on our side. As our mediator, he makes us one with the Father. As the Father’s mediator, he makes the Father one with us. As we reflect on Christ as our mediator, we think of him as truly man, truly the God-Man, and truly God. Augustine’s words can be of great help to us – “He who is God was made man, in taking that which he was not but without losing that which he was. Thus God became Man! Herein you have what is needful to your weakness. And herein you have also what is needful to your holiness of life. May Christ raise you by his ‘Being’ as man; may Christ guide you by his ‘Being’ as the God-Man; may Christ bring you to his ‘Being’ as God!”