Bath of Re-birth

baptism

He saved us through the bath of re-birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, Whom He richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:5)

The bath of re-birth. Here in Martinsville and Rocky Mount, Virginia, some adults among us have expressed their desire to receive Holy Baptism, and the other sacraments of Christian initiation, at Easter. [Spanish]

Whenever anyone is washed in any way with water, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, with the intention to baptize, then a Holy Baptism occurs. Someone becomes a Christian and begins the life of grace.

Holy Baptism involves re-birth, the beginning of a new and different kind of life. It’s still a human life, lived in this fallible flesh. But now it is human life “renewed by the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, the holiness of God dwells in a baptized Christian in distinct way. All human beings bear the image of God, in our spiritual nature—our capacity for knowledge, insight, and love. But the Holy Spirit purifies and elevates the human spiritual soul, making a Christian capable of living as another Christ.

That’s the renewal brought about by Holy Baptism. Now we partake not just of human life, but of the human life of Christ. The mysteries of His life become the mysteries of our lives, too.

Holy Spirit dove sun

Baptism seals a person’s soul with the name of Jesus. That seal gets strengthened and completed by another sacrament, in which we share in the “Christness” of Christ… Confirmation.

Baptism and Confirmation make us anointed ones, like the Messiah, the Christ. Both of these words mean: “the Anointed One;” Messiah means “the anointed one” in Hebrew; Christ means “the anointed one” in Greek. And as we know from Sunday’s gospel reading: the Father anointed Jesus with… the Holy Spirit.

In the reading from the letter to Titus, we hear St. Paul refer to the “blessed hope” that awaits all those who believe. We pray about this blessed hope at every Mass. “Father, keep us free from sin, and protect us from all distress, as we await the blessed hope.”

Christians, with souls lifted heavenward by the renewal of the Holy Spirit, “live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this world,” having “rejected godless ways and worldly desires.” Christ sacrificing Himself for us has delivered us from “all lawlessness” and has cleansed us to be His people, “a people eager to do what is good.”

Most of us have already been baptized. Baptism can only happen once in any individual life. But in our weakness, we can and do fall away from the grace of Christ, from the renewal of the Holy Spirit.

devilAt that point, should we just give up? We had our chance at the cleansing waters of baptism, but we fell back into lawlessness anyway. So: Too bad, guess I’m going to hell?

Hold on. Maybe a baptized sinner can find a way back? Holy Baptism only happens once in any individual human life, but has the Lord given us a kind of “second baptism?” And a third, fourth, fifth, fiftieth, hundredth, umpteenth baptism?

Correct. Confession to a priest. It’s never too late. The waters of baptism lay open perpetually to any humble heart that trusts God’s mercy and tells the truth in the confessional. The renewal of the Holy Spirit comes not just with Holy Baptism, but with confession and absolution, also.

Okay. So far, so good. But how many “sacraments of Christian initiation” are there? Two—just Baptism and Confirmation? No, actually: three. What’s the third?

Good answer. But isn’t it: The Cross? Or The Resurrection? Or The Heavenly Banquet? Isn’t it: Christian love, uniting together the family of mankind, that sin had left broken and separated? Or The Peace that Surpasses All Understanding?

Yes. Because the Holy Mass involves all these things–and more, of course. The mystery of intimate, interior communion with Jesus. With coffee and donuts to follow. A place to rest our souls, an invigorating Sabbath for our weary hearts. Laying all our cares and attachments down at the altar, so we can follow Jesus anywhere.

God, in His mercy, by His power, according to His infinitely wise design, has made us Christians. He has made us His anointed ones, united with The Anointed One. He had made us heirs to the blessed hope of eternal life.

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Donald Wuerl: Shameless Liar

mccarrick wuerl

We read: the Spirit is truth. The Spirit that consecrated the Christ, giving His human soul a prelapsarian integrity. Total engagement with unadulterated reality, unswerving communion with the heavenly Father, faultless courage and selflessness. Man in full. The new Adam, free of sin and deceit.

The integrity of the Christ became our integrity, too–by the Spirit of truth which He breathed forth on His Holy Apostles. We will discuss this further on Sunday. For now, let’s just put it like this: The ministry of Christ’s Holy Church involves human integrity, honesty, open humility before the God—all flowing from the spotless integrity of the Christ.

A year ago, we welcomed our new bishop here in our cathedral in Richmond. Pope Francis’ ambassador handed him the pastoral staff. Everyone cheered. Two Cardinals sat in choir, cheering. Theodore McCarrick, former Archbishop of Washington. And Donald Wuerl, sitting Archbishop.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The truth is: I wouldn’t have trusted either of those men any farther than I could have thrown them, even then. We worker bees in the clergy have known for years: Honest Christians do not become bishops. At least not in this day and age, in this particular province of Holy Church. Attaining such an office requires a long initiation phase of flattering sycophancy. Honest men naturally run in the other direction.

Synod of Bishops Pope Francis

But we had no idea, a year ago, of the depths of Theodore McCarrick’s dishonesty. We learned a lot about it, last summer and fall.

Nor did we have any idea about the depths of Donald Wuerl’s dishonesty. At the end of last August, Archbishop Viganó called Donald Wuerl a shameless liar. The pope defended Wuerl, writing that Wuerl has “the heart of a shepherd, nobility, and docility to the Holy Spirit.”

But yesterday the Washington Post published proof that Wuerl is every bit the shameless liar that Viganó said he is.

My dearly beloved: This is not the way it’s supposed to be. When we go to the cathedral and see our leaders, we should think: I want to have the integrity these men have. I want their scrupulous obedience to divine law. God, give me the grace!

Instead, we see a rogues’ gallery of childish liars. We see grown men who have more trouble telling the truth than eight-year-old children. Liars who spew falsehoods not out of malice, but simply because they have never developed the competence to manage the inconvenient facts of this toilsome life on the Planet Earth.

My dear ones, what can I say? “Welcome to our world?” The world of those who have had close dealings with these men for decades, and have known them all along as the frauds they are?

But I can’t put it that way, because it all breaks my heart too much. You don’t deserve this, any more than I do.

We must carry on. Our leaders are incompetent frauds, compulsive liars, defensive little boys who mom just caught having broken the garage window.

But God is no liar. His Christ is no liar. And He still has a Church. And we proudly belong to Her.

Fear and Judgment

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Do not be afraid,” He said, as the wind whipped across the sea, and the boat tossed back and forth in the waves. “Take courage.”

We believe that the man who walked on the Sea of Galilee will judge everyone with divine justice. So Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid,” sounds like St. John exhorting us: “Have confidence on the day of judgment.”

Now, I think it’s fair to say: The disciples in that boat feared drowning. Because they feared the Day of Judgment. The full revelation of the truth convicts the guilty. Sinners legitimately fear that.

As we read, those disciples did not understand the miracle of the loaves and fishes. They did not understand the miracle of divine love. They feared, because they had sinned.

“Perfect love casts out fear.” This does not mean: presuming on God’s mercy, as if God will pretend that my sins haven’t happened, or that they aren’t sins. “Perfect love casts out fear” does not mean: Forget about God’s punishments for the real sins we have actually done.

But, by the same token: The greatest sin involves despairing. Despairing of God’s omnipotent loving kindness.

He got in the boat, and the waves calmed. The moment came for the disciples in that boat to begin to live in the truth. They had not understood before. But now they did. This is God, this man. God loving us, offering us infinite mercy and refreshment.

So we can honestly, fearlessly accuse ourselves. Yes, I have done this. Yes, I have failed to do that. A little Day of Judgment, conducted by my own conscience, which finally has a quiet moment to speak to me.

And I face it with confidence. Perfect love casts out fear. God knows the truth better than I do. He does not pretend that my sins never happened, or that my sins aren’t sins. But: He forgives me for them.

525 Years Old, But Still Young

christopher_columbusFirst Mass celebrated in America. Said by a priest who traveled with Christopher Columbus, the second time Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Five hundred twenty-five years ago, on the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Celebrated in what is now the Dominican Republic. [Spanish]

Pope St. John Paul II traveled there for the 500th anniversary, twenty-five years ago. He preached on a verse from the first reading for Epiphany, “Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem! Your light has come.”

Pope said:

The light has shone from Jerusalem, and its brightness extends to all the nations of the earth. We give thanks to God that the light of life and hope has illuminated the paths of the peoples of America, who were born into the Christian faith five centuries ago.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, the redeeming work of Christ has been present here, through the missionaries who obeyed Christ’s command to preach the Gospel to every creature and crossed the ocean to announce the message of salvation.

Actually, Epiphany 1494 was the first Mass in America for which we have a written record.. During the thousand years before that, a seafaring Irish priest, or a Christian Norseman, may very well have said Mass in Greenland or Newfoundland, Canada. In fact, in 1925, archaeologists found the ancient ruins of a cathedral near the southern tip of Greenland.

Anyway: New year. AD 2019. We always start a new year by coming to the manger to adore the baby Jesus, like the wise men did. And what do we find? The newness of God.

Rubens Melchior.jpg
Rubens “Melchior the Assyrian”

We may have been celebrating Mass in this hemisphere for 525 years, or more, but it doesn’t get old. 2018 may have been a tough year, a terrible year. But 2019 starts fresh anyway. Because God gives the grace of the newborn Christ to us. God shines the light, clarifies everything, and inspires us with this:

‘Here is my Son, given to you! An innocent Lamb, Who speaks divine wisdom. A humble child, Who will lead you forward as your invincible champion. He is pure God and a son of Adam, like you.

‘The human race is old, tired, and confused. But He is not. You are older, more tired, and more confused than you were a year ago. But He is not!’

Villalpando MagiWe can start fresh here, at the crib, with the magi. We can lay everything down. We can take a little rest in the bottomless quiet and peace of Jesus in the manger. Then we can stand up and march fearlessly forward into 2019.

He’s got the plan. He’s got the necessary holiness. He’s got the right goal for us, and the right means to the goal. This world belongs to Him. We belong to Him. He is the heaven, the beauty, the goodness of life. He is God giving us that heaven, that beauty, that goodness. He is God giving us His own godliness, as a pure gift. A gift to us old, tired sinners.

‘Here, old, tired sinners. Here you go; all yours: My gift to you! My only-begotten, born of the Virgin. He is mine; He is Me, the image of the invisible God. And He is yours now, too! All yours.’

We do not begin this new year alone. God help us if we did. We have every reason to imagine that 2019 will bring even more pain and confusion than 2018 did. This isn’t some Fantasy Land speech I’m giving.

But, whatever 2019 brings, we face it as members of Jesus’ body. We face it with Him. With the new, ever-young Adam. The passing of the years takes no toll on Him. Which means it takes no toll on us, either; no toll on the redeemed Christians we truly are. We can safely fall in love with 2019 right here and now, fearing nothing. Because this year belongs to Christ, and so do we.

True and False Reform

Something moved Elizabeth Ann Seton to explore Catholicism. At one point, as she sat in her Protestant church in New York City, she made an act of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus. In the tabernacle of the Catholic church around the corner.

MonstranceHe is with us. He called Simon, gave him the name Peter, and founded the holy Church upon him.

The visible, organized Church, governed by Peter and his successors in office. She, and she alone, has preserved the original Christian faith, has continued the sacred ministry throughout the centuries, and offers us the Real Presence of Christ in the blessed sacrament of the world’s Catholic altars.

There’s a very significant theological book called True and False Reform in the Church, originally published almost seventy years ago. It makes an absolutely crucial distinction.

One extreme that cannot be right: Total enthusiasm for the institution of the Church. Christianity as nothing but rituals and rules. Pope and bishops, right or wrong!

The other extreme, equally wrong: Christianity as pure interior experience. Just me and my Jesus! I am a true believer, and that makes me a holy law unto myself. Who cares what the pope says or does? Jesus has made me my own holy pope.

We can only find communion with God somewhere between these two incorrect extremes. That is: in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Which can and does deeply criticize Herself, in order to find God’s path of purification and reform of life.

Outside the Church, our informed friends and neighbors in this world–those that prize the integrity of institutions–have reached a conclusion: the pope and bishops of the Catholic Church are dangerously incompetent. At best. The truth might actually be: they are much worse than just dangerously incompetent.

We have no evidence at our disposal with which we can disagree. We cannot credibly argue with these informed friends and neighbors of ours.

And yet we know that Jesus lives. He gives us Himself, and His divine, ever-living grace, through the sacraments of the Church. Using the very flawed sacred ministers that we have.

We have to find a way to live here. A strange place to live. We have to trust that God will provide.

Pro-Life, Anti-Wall

jerusalem-sunrise

We can find a familiar word in Sunday’s gospel reading. The news and political debate of the last election made this word very popular on cable news and Twitter. A sizable group of immigrants, traveling north together. [Spanish]

Just like: Jesus’ parents, on the way home from Jerusalem, thought He was in the caravan.

Blessed Mother gave birth to Jesus in the city of… Is that a long way from Jerusalem? Hardly. Six miles. You’d think that would mean just a quick trip between them.

But what lies between Jerusalem and Bethlehem now? It wasn’t there when the Lord Jesus was born. If it had been, the wise men couldn’t have followed the star to the stable.

There’s a wall. A border wall.

Do I look like I’m making this up? The state of Israel built a wall between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. A wall that divides Israeli territory from Palestinian territory.

The Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem wrote about the wall one Christmas a few years ago, as the Israeli government was completing the construction. The Patriarch wrote:

In this Christmas feast, we pray for the towns, cities, and villages of the Holy Land, because they are isolated from each other. With pain and deep sadness, we observe civilians being blockaded by the erection of walls and barriers. These contribute to violence and humiliation, generating grudges and hatred, whereas what we need is mutual trust, friendly co-operation, and a quiet, serene life.

As we gaze at the manger, we realize: the very mysteries of Christmas make demands on us. Demands that turn politics in contemporary America into a seriously painful and difficult business, for a Christian.

bethlehem-wall1
Israel border wall

On the one hand: baby Jesus, with His quiet cooing, loudly insists: you must be pro-life. The true hope of the world turns on reverence for life in the womb. Only dark despair could ever even try to justify killing an unborn child in an elective abortion.

Nowhere in any of the true sources of human wisdom can we find anything that establishes a “right” to destroy a child. The idea that a “right” to abortion can exist in an enlightened civilization—that is an absolute lie. As we gaze at the newborn Christ, we know we have a duty to call it a lie, and to stand up for the truth.

Like the Jerusalem Patriarch put is: “Mutual trust. Friendly co-operation. Serenity of life.” This does not include abortion. As long as abortions, occur, we do not have peace on earth.

But what else? The Holy Family migrated. As a Latino congressman pointed out in a congressional hearing ten days ago: If Egypt had built a wall at their border with Herod’s kingdom, baby Jesus would have died in the slaughter of the newborns.

Jesus never obtained citizenship papers in the Roman Empire. If He had, our Redemption would not have occurred. Christianity as we know it would not exist. The Romans did not crucify their citizens; they only crucified non-citizens. Our Savior died on the cross as an undocumented non-citizen.

A barrier wall at our border, to keep people out? Have we not read our Bibles? The prophets celebrate one ultimate reality: All people, all nations, streaming toward Jerusalem, from the four corners of the earth. Throw open the gates! They come from Ethiopia and Cush, from Phoenicia and Tarshish, from Chaldea and Persia!

Some people say: Father, you have fallen prey to the typically naïve false compassion of the liberal clergyman. The Scriptures are about spiritual things. But we need secure borders.

How about this? It is naïve, totally naïve, to imagine that a nation turned in on itself, paranoid of enemies and fearful of immigrants, can prosper. Nations do not prosper when whole classes of people live in the shadows, because the reigning authority denies them the rights of citizenship.

Let’s start 2019 by acknowledging that this supposedly Christian nation has fallen far away from the truly Christian path. We have for the most part stood silently by, while one-fifth of the people who should have been our friends and neighbors got killed in the womb.

And we have stood silently by, while a path to citizenship for our law-abiding, undocumented-immigrant neighbors got taken off the political negotiating table. Then the path to citizenship for immigrants who came as children got taken off the political negotiating table. Now federal government workers have at least one paycheck in jeopardy—all because of someone’s fantasy of an impractical and pointless border wall.

Everyone says, “Yes, it’s a mess, our government is a mess”–without admitting: We made this mess, we who have the right to vote. We live in a representative democracy. If our government is dysfunctional, it’s because we dysfunctionally elected the people who make it up.

May the caravan Lady, Mary of Nazareth, and the divine fruit of her womb, help us find a way to clean up this unholy mess.

Simple Light

El Greco Nativity

God became one of us, so that we might become His children.

We know that a mysterious light will illuminates the night tonight and will shine tomorrow morning. A light emanates from the baby in the manger, from the stable, from the city of Bethlehem.

Not the kind of light you get from a light bulb. Baby Jesus is not a human flashlight. The mysterious inner light of the newborn Christ illuminates not just one place, but every place. Not just one night or one day, but every night and every day.

The light of communion with God, of true religion, of divine adoption. Christ shines the inner light that unites us with our Creator, with the One Who governs all things for the sake of eternal love.

The other day I was watching a debate between an atheist and a Christian. The atheist said something interesting.

The question is: How did it all begin? And the atheist argued: A reasonable person seeks the simplest possible explanation for everything, including the beginning of the universe. Saying that an “intelligent God” created everything adds complexity. It brings something complicated into an explanation that we ought to try to keep as simple as possible.

Now, there’s something to this. If he thinks that “faith” or “religion” automatically means something impossibly complicated, some kind of lumpy, super-heavy backpack that you have to put on and carry around everywhere, with no hope of ever opening it to see what all the heavy stuff inside is. If “God” is really a complicated web of human ideas.

After all, this little baby grew up to say things like, “Woe to you, Pharisees, you frauds! You abandon the law of God and hold onto human traditions.”

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_Angelico
Sermon on the Mount by Fra Angelico

So we sympathize with the atheist’s idea about keeping things simple. Then we point out to him that he missed the mark, in his attack on our faith in the Creator.

We say: Man, we do not propose to explain How It All Began by some complicated theory of God. Totally the opposite. The light that shines from baby Jesus shows us, by its enchanting simplicity, just how impossibly complicated we are, by comparison. We’re the complicated ones.

God became one of us, so that we could become like Him.

Is Catholicism complicated? I’ll speak for myself and say: This past year, it became a whole lot more complicated than it ever was before! We Catholics have to live in the trackless no-man’s land where we owe our first allegiance to an institution that is compromised to the core. But our faith has not been compromised at all. Rather, the solid truth of the Catholic faith—the light of Christ working in the souls of sex-abuse victims, giving them courage and clarity–has exposed the hidden weakness and dishonesty of the Catholic hierarchy.

Catholicism at the end of 2018:True faith; compromised high priests of the faith. Not an easy place for us to live, at least not for me. But let’s leave the complexities of Catholicism to the side for one moment. After all, Planet Earth is complicated. Human nature: complicated. You’re complicated; I’m complicated.

But not God. Not the mysterious divine light that shines from the crib.

The mystery of our religion, the religion of Jesus; the mystery of being a child of God: it is neither vague nor complicated.

Because He Himself lived that mystery, before the eyes of witnesses. From the moment of His conception in the Virgin’s womb, to the carpenter’s bench and the synagogue, to the Temple, to the cross, to the garden outside the tomb, to the mount from which He ascended into heaven: He Himself, the Creator, showed us human creatures, by His human life, The Way. The way of the child of God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, the merciful, the peacemakers, and the pure of heart. Love your enemies, and do good to those who wrong you. When you pray, say: Our Father, Who art in heaven. Do not worry, because your heavenly Father clothes the lilies of the field who neither toil nor spin, and you are worth more than many sparrows. Take up your cross, and follow Me. Eat My flesh and drink My blood. Baptize all nations. Love one another as I have loved you. Store up treasure in heaven.

Planet Earth is a complicated place. But uncomplicated Jesus has changed the earth from a trackless no-man’s land into a pilgrim road to the Father’s house. And the amazingly simple thing is: When we love Jesus in the manger, we’re already there.

Was Jesus Born on December 25?

annunciation

Three days till Christmas. Now, was Jesus actually born on December 25? Is Christmas His real birthday? [Spanish]

The Israelites did not use the Roman calendar that we use. And the gospels don’t give a birth date anyway, using either the Roman or the Jewish calendar—or the Chinese calendar, for that matter.

But the Scriptures do, in fact, offer us a great deal of pertinent information. We read at Sunday Mass: Mary set out in haste for the hill country of Judah. Right before that—right before Mary set out in haste–an angel had visited her. Which angel? Archangel…  Gabriel! What did the angel say to Mary? You will have a son.

In other words, Lord Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary right before she went to visit her cousin. Mary set out in haste. Why?  Because the angel also told her something else. Gabriel told Mary that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant. In fact, he was more precise. He said, ‘Your cousin Elizabeth is now in her…  sixth month!”

Upon Mary’s arrival, the infant in Elizabeth’s womb leaped for joy. Which infant is that, that leaped for joy in the womb? Yes, St. John the Baptist, son of Elizabeth and…  Zechariah.

st-john-baptist-grecoSo far, it’s all here in black and white. Baby Jesus was conceived when Elizabeth was six months pregnant with St. John the Baptist. Question is: Was that approximately March 25? Did the Annunciation–when Mary became pregnant with Jesus–occur on March 25? That’s the day when The Incarnation—God becoming man–occurred, in Mary’s womb. Was it March 25?

Here’s where ancient traditions start to corroborate the idea that we have the correct date for Christmas. For many centuries, people observed March 25th as New Year’s Day.  The first Mass said by an English-speaking priest in what is now the United States: March 25, 1634–New Year’s Day. (January 1 did not become New Year’s Day in the English Colonies until 1751). By the way: Who said that Mass?  That is correct: Fr. White. (Fr. Andrew White.)

Anyway, in ancient times, people believed that the world was created on March 25, that the Israelites marched out of slavery on March 25, and that Jesus was crucified on March 25.

Be all that as it may, though, it doesn’t prove anything. We need to try and figure out, if we can, when Elizabeth became pregnant.

Anyone remember what happened? The archangel Gabriel had visited someone else, besides Mary…  Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband! The angel visited Zechariah at home, while he was sitting and watching t.v., correct? No, the angel came to Zechariah in the Temple, while Zechariah was performing his duty as a member of one of the priestly clans.

Elizabeth became pregnant with John the Baptist right after Zechariah saw the angel in the Temple. Therefore, if we could figure out when it was that Zechariah ministered in the temple in the preceding year, we could add six months, and we would know more or less when the Annunciation took place. Then we add nine months, and we know the real date of or the original Christmas.

Do the Scriptures provide an answer? Yes. In the Old Covenant, the priests ministered in the Temple in Jerusalem according to a yearly cycle, depending on your priestly division. They didn’t use sign-up sheets for Eucharistic Ministers, like we do now. They followed a cycle established by King David, as we read in I Chronicles.

king davidZechariah belonged to the priestly division of…  Anyone? Abijah. The clan of Abijah came eighth in the annual cycle.

Now, yes: By Zechariah’s time, a thousand years had passed since King David established the cycle.  The Temple had been destroyed twice.  So the routine certainly had broken down, somewhere along the line.  But a Jewish writer from the time of Christ documented some facts about the cycle of priestly service, and it turns out: King David’s routine still operated, as he had instituted it a thousand years before. When they rebuilt the Temple, they restored the original yearly cycle of priestly service.

So, the next question: Was Jerusalem crowded when the angel visited Zechariah in the Temple?  St. Luke reports that the “whole multitude” of Israel awaited him out in the Temple courtyard. So: When would the priestly clan of Abijah have served during a large festival?  On the Day of Atonement, in mid-September, or during the Feast of Tabernacles, which followed two weeks later.

We could do all the math. But we don’t have to. If St. John the Baptist was conceived near the end of September or the beginning of October, then Lord Jesus was conceived in late March or early April of the following year, and born in late December, or early January. And, as we note this, let’s not forget: in Church, the feast of Christmas extends twelve nights, until January 6.

All very exciting, but let’s pause. We really cannot say for sure when Zechariah served in the Temple during the year before St. John was born. An honest historian would say: We do not know Jesus’ exact date of birth just from deductions and inductions from the Scriptures.

But the same honest historian would acknowledge: We have an ancient tradition identifying a particular date. Christians have been celebrating Jesus’ birth on December 25 since long before the Romans established a winter holiday around the same time of year. And the information we have in the Scriptures not only does not contradict that traditional date, it confirms it.

December 25. Jesus’ birthday. The date is solid. Merry Christmas.

What Does Christmas Really Mean?

VisitationGuess what? We read the exact same gospel passage at Holy Mass today and on Sunday.

What do we call it, when the Blessed Mother came to her cousin in the Judean hill country? The Visitation. Two women and two… babies, unborn infants.

What time of year was it? Hmm… We keep the Feast of the Visitation on… May 31. So Mary arrived at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house on May 31?

We can’t say that for sure. The Church chose the date of May 31 just fifty years ago. Not because we know the exact date when it happened, but because May 31 falls between two Solemnities, namely… Annunciation and Nativity of John the Baptist. (Like the account goes in St. Luke’s gospel, right?)

How about this: How long did Our Lady stay with Elizabeth? Correct! Three months.

How pregnant was Elizabeth when Mary arrived? Right again! Six months.

So one thing we can say for sure is: Our Lady stayed until the time of St. John’s birth. She left either right before or right after Elizabeth gave birth.

We don’t have dates, but we have a clear, reliable time frame: Mary conceived baby Jesus six months after Elizabeth conceived St. John. Then Our Lady traveled south to Judah, and stayed three months. Mary gave birth to Jesus how many months later? This math is not hard. Six.

dec25Now, you probably think: Blah blah blah, Father. We didn’t come here to do math! What’s your point?

Ok. Some people think to themselves: Christmas is all about good feelings and tolerance and world peace. The details don’t matter. Maybe Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem; maybe He wasn’t. Maybe He was born on December 25; maybe He was born some other day. Maybe the Bible is true; maybe it’s all just a lovely story. Doesn’t matter. Christmas simply means: feel good and be a good person.

I DON’T THINK WE COUNT OURSELVES AMONG THE PEOPLE WHO THINK THIS WAY.

I, for one, care. About whether or not December 25 is Jesus’ correct birthday. I don’t want to sing a whole bunch of Masses next Monday night and Tuesday morning–if Jesus actually got born on a different day. I want to sing the Masses on the correct day.

Feel me? So, listen: We will solve this. We will.

It is going to involve an elaborate Bible quiz. So hard that you couldn’t possibly study hard enough. But study hard anyway.

Our Lady’s Holiness, and Our Lord’s

El Greco Virgin Mary

The Blessed Virgin longed for salvation. She longed for the completion, the fulfillment of God’s loving plan. Her total consecration to God from the moment of her own conception in her mother’s womb did not make her less eager for the redemption of the sin-soaked world; it made her all the more eager for it.

The idea that Jesus and Mary could ever “compete” for our admiration or devotion; the idea that they could have a “holiness contest?” No.

The perfectly holy Blessed Mother longed to conceive the Christ more than any human being ever long for anything. Because she longed like no one else ever has for the salvation of the world.

Once she had conceived Jesus, Mary longed to give birth to Him, to gaze upon Him–more than any mother has ever longed to give birth. Not because Mary experienced extraordinary physical strain during pregnancy, but because her matchless purity as a human being made her long more than anyone else to see God.

Holiness as a human being doesn’t make you long for the holiness of God less. It makes you long for God more.

So maybe we could put it like this: Human holiness during this pilgrim life = emptiness. The spiritual life involves emptying ourselves, as much as we can, of all the folderol that distracts us from the one, true thing—God. We strain throughout our lives to have the emptiness that our Lady had from Day One.

On the other hand, divine holiness is fullness. Divine holiness fulfills the fundamental emptiness of us lowly creatures made of dust and ashes.

Mary is a mother. Not just any mother–she was empty enough to conceive a son by believing in God’s love for His creation.

Jesus is a son.  Not just any son. The Creator.