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January 6, 2008

Adoration of the Magi

Epiphany is the Christian feast that celebrates the Incarnation and in particular the revelation to mankind that God took on human form. It is curious then that in the West we typically associate January 6th with the three wise men. It is true that these men from the East represent man’s discovery of the Messiah, but they weren’t looking for the Son of God. In fact, the Jewish people had been waiting nearly 2000 years for their savior but they were only expecting a great king, prophet, or priest. It is somewhat ironic that the Magi traveled so great a distance on faith yet they failed to see the greatest mystery before their eyes. Simeon and the prophetess Anna also realized that the prophecies were being fulfilled and that the Messiah had been born when they saw Jesus in the temple, but the full revelation was not made known to them.

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The Twelfth Day of Christmas – Feast of St. John Neumann, Bishop

January 5, 2008

St. John Neumann

 In America it isn’t easy being Catholic. Christmas always makes this particularly obvious as we’re bombarded things we must buy, movies we must see and parties we must attend. Even the best in our culture would have us believe that the true meaning of Christmas is spending time with family. The belief in America as the land of opportunity has often been twisted into the idea that America is the place for me to live my life and further my material interests. But this was not the belief of early Americans and it was certainly not the belief of our American saints. To the American saints, providing opportunities was even more important than seeking opportunity. Not only in the Jesuit missions of the North East or the Franciscan mission of the South West, but also in the large and small cities the Gospel was spread to those who would hear it. The sick and the poor were tended to and the uneducated were educated.


Today is the feast of St. John Nepomucene Neumann. John was born March 28, 1811 in what is now the Czech Republic. Even at a young age he was a talented student and it was no surprise that he was accepted into seminary despite great competition. When it was time for John to be ordained his bishop died and all ordinations were canceled. Unwilling to give up his vocation he traveled to New York where the diocese was in dire need of priests. He was soon ordained and sent to Williamsville, NY where he tended to the spiritual needs of over a hundred German speaking families. Not satisfied with helping just local Catholics, Fr. Neumann started saying Masses in the frontier towns traveling the countryside with candles and a chalice on his back.

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The Eleventh Day of Christmas – Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

January 4, 2008

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Elizabeth Seton was born into the Bayley family in 1774, just two years before the American Revolution. She grew up in affluence among the socialites of New York City. Her mother was the daughter of an Episcopalian Rector and she died when Elizabeth was a youngster of three. Her father was a doctor and professor, and he saw to the education of the young girl. At the age of 19 she married Will Seton, and together they had five children. Along with her duties as a wife and mother, she cared for the poor and with some friends founded the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children, and was affectionately known as the “Protestant Sister of Charity.” Even though she lived in affluence, her life was not without suffering, for two of her children died of tuberculosis, and her son died while in the navy.

Her comfortable life quickly came to an end when her father-in-law died and she had to take over the raising of her husband’s seven siblings. Her husband assumed the running of the business his father had built, and it had a devastating effect on his health. The business failed and he filed for bankruptcy. He took Elizabeth and one of their daughters to Italy in search of a cure but died while there after being quarantined for weeks in a drafty house. Elizabeth, just 29 years old, remained there with her daughter and it was there that she was attracted to the Roman Catholic Faith. (Excerpts from Elizabeth Bayley Seton Papers courtesy of Archives Saint Joseph’s Provincial House, Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, (Emmitsburg, Maryland).

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The Tenth Day of Christmas – The Holy Name of Jesus

January 3, 2008

Adoration of the Holy Name of Jesus

In the New Testament, St. Paul writes that God the Father “bestowed on him (Christ Jesus) the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phillipians, 2:9)

We give honor to the Holy Name of Jesus, not because we believe in some intrinsic power hidden in the letters composing it, but because the Name of Jesus reminds us of the many blessings we receive through Our Savior, Christ the Lord. To give thanks for these blessings we revere His Holy Name, just as we honor His Passion by honoring His Holy Cross. At the Holy Name of Jesus, we uncover our heads, we bend our knees, and we offer our prayers in His Name.

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The Eighth Day of Christmas – Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

January 1, 2008

Theotokos of Vladimir Icon
On December 31st we usher in the New Year with late night champagne, half-baked resolutions and epic movies. But in the midst of this activity the Church asks us to celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God; a feast day of epic proportions and fulfilled covenants, a dogma that sheds as much light on the nature of Christ as it does on the nature of His mother.

The Church has defined four dogmas pertaining to Mary. They include Mary, the mother of God, her perpetual virginity, Immaculate Conception, and her assumption into heaven. It is because of the first Marian dogma that she has been privileged with the other three. Therefore, it is essential to understand the meaning and implications of this doctrine before attempting to explain the more complicated and controversial Marian dogmas.

This year our store started selling a Christmas card called Kissing the Face of God by Morgan Weistling. The Christmas card sold amazingly well and so it was with great surprise that on two occasions customers called to inquire as to whether or not the title of the painting was printed on the card because they didn’t want to scandalize any of their friends. We don’t know if their concern had to do with a theological misunderstanding of Jesus as God or if it was just a difference in semantic tradition but it illustrates the Catholic belief that a greater understanding of Mary ultimately leads to a greater understanding of Christ.

The doctrine of Mary as the mother of God finds its roots in the New Testament when the archangel Gabriel says to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Lk 1:35. The Gospel of Matthew also affirms the doctrine in 1:23, “Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means, God with us)”. This dogma was formally defined at the council of Ephesus in 431 when the Church gave Mary the official title Theotokos which literally means Christ-bearer.

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The Seventh Day of Christmas – The Feast of St. Sylvester, Pope

December 31, 2007

St. Sylvester Icon

Pope St. Sylvester I was born in Rome to Rufinus and Justa in the late 200’s.

He was educated by a priest named Charitius or Carinus in literature and theology and was ordained a priest by Pope St. Marcellinus.

He witnessed Constantine’s triumph in 312 and upon the death of Pope St. Melchiades was elevated to the papacy in 314. The same year he sent four legates to the Western Council held at Arles. The Donatist schism and the Quartodeciman heresy were condemned at this council and Pope Sylvester approved the canons written at the council for the whole Church.

He was responsible for the building of the original Basilica of St. Peter’s and St. John Lateran and may also have been responsible for creating the first martyrology.

In 325 the General Council of Nicea was convened to deal with the Arian Heresy. The Arians professed that Christ was not truly God and this heresy became so prevalent that for a time most of the Christian world accepted the teachings. The Pope was not able to attend the council because of his age but sent three priests, Osius, Vito and Vincentius to act in his stead. Showing the importance of the pope’s representatives, these three priests are listed ahead of the Eastern patriarchs in the list of those attending the council. The council condemned Arianism and drew up the Nicene Creed which is recited at every Mass.

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The Sixth Day of Christmas – Feast of the Holy Family

December 30, 2007

Holy Family by Goya

The Feast of the Holy Family is dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, commemorating their life together in Nazareth and calling us to focus on Catholic family life.

The feast is celebrated on the first Sunday after Christmas, unless Christmas falls on a Sunday, in which case it is celebrated on December 30. According to The Fisheaters this feast is placed where it is on the calendar “(B)ecause in Old Testament Law, a child wasn’t a son of Abraham or a true part of the family until his circumcision at 8 days of age, an event of Christ’s life that we celebrated on 1 January (from 25 December to 1 January are 8 days).” The feast was placed on the general calendar of the Roman Rite on October 26, 1921, by the Congregation of Rites under Pope Benedict XV.

The Church presents the Holy Family to us as a model for our own family life. Joseph was the head of the Holy Family and provided for Mary and Jesus with the work of his hands. He was obedient to the angel who told him to take Mary as his wife, what to name the new child and again when told to flee with them to Egypt. He taught Jesus the carpentry trade and what it was to be a man in the society in which they lived.

Mary took care of her family in the home. It was she who would have taught Jesus the Scriptures and prayers of their people when he was very young. It was through her example of managing the home that Jesus would formulate many of the examples he would later use in his teaching. Jesus saw work sanctified through the example of his earthly parents, who did all things well in the ordinary circumstances of daily life.

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The Fifth Day of Christmas – Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr

December 29, 2007

Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket

The Fifth Day of Christmas – the Feast of St. Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr.

St. Thomas Becket is the OTHER St. Thomas, martyred for the Catholic Faith in England by a king named Henry over matters of Church governance.

Thomas was born in London on the 21st of December in either 1117 or 1118 to Gilbert Becket and Matilda Roheise. His parents were buried in Old St. Paul’s Cathedral.

When Thomas was 10 he learned to read at the Merton Priory in England and then traveled to the Mainland for further studies of canon and civil law in Paris, Bologna and Auxerre.

After his studies were concluded he returned to England around 1141 where he gained the attention of Theobold, Archbishop of Canterbury who sent him on several missions to Rome and ordained him a deacon in 1154. Soon after he was named Archdeacon of Canterbury.

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The Fourth Day of Christmas – Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

December 28, 2007

Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

Herod was the king in Judea at the time Christ was born. He was an unpopular king, working as he did for the Romans, and his cruelty knew no bounds. He feared any threat to his power, and news of this newborn king troubled him. The wise men whom he had asked to report the whereabouts of the Christ Child, did not return to him. Thus, “Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time of which he had ascertained from the wise men.” RSV, Matthew 2:16 Little did he know that the new king and his parents had already escaped.

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The Third Day of Christmas – St. John the Evangelist

December 27, 2007

St. John the Evangelist at Patmos

St. John the Evangelist, frequently referred to as “the Beloved Disciple” in the Gospels, was one of the first disciples called by Christ and is considered the author of the Gospel of John, at least the first of the Epistles of John and the Book of Revelation. He was also the only apostle not to die a martyr’s death even though the emperor Dometian tried very hard to make it twelve for twelve.

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