After all the preparations of the season – the cooking and baking and wrapping and shopping and hosting and decorating and cleaning, Christmas is upon us! What a joyful day! And not only a joyful day but an entire liturgical season – the Christmas Season – in which to enjoy the great gift of the birth of the Redeemer. I thought I would include some words from St. Alphonsus Liguori on this great day and season of rejoicing, from his Discourse for Christmas Night:
“Arise, all ye nobles and peasants; Mary invites all, rich and poor, just and sinners, to enter the cave of Bethlehem, to adore and to kiss the feet of her new-born Son. Go in, then, all ye devout souls; go and see the Creator of heaven and earth on a little hay, under the form of a little Infant; but so beautiful that he sheds all around rays of light. Now that he is born and is lying on the straw, the cave is no longer horrible, but it is become a paradise. Let us enter; let us not be afraid.
Let every soul, then, enter. Behold and see that tender Infant, who is weeping as he lies in the manger on that miserable straw. See how beautiful he is; look at the light when he sends forth, and the love which he breathes; those eyes send out arrows which wound the hearts that desire him; the very stable, the very straw, cry out, says St. Bernard, and tell you to love him who loves you; to love God, who is infinite love; and who came down from heaven, and made himself a little child, and became poor, to make you understand the love he bears you, and to gain your love by his sufferings.
Now then, O all ye devout souls, does Jesus invite you to come and kiss his feet this night. The shepherds who came to visit him in the stable of Bethlehem brought their gifts; you must also bring your gifts. What will you bring him? Listen to me; the most acceptable present you can bring him is that of a contrite and loving hart.”
On behalf of myself and the entire parish staff, a joyful and blessed Christmas to you!
We find ourselves on the threshold of Christmas – this is one of those delightful years when we have an Advent of four full weeks which means we have had the time to fully enter into Advent and, hopefully, prepare ourselves well for the coming celebration of Christmas. Just a few notes, with Christmas falling on a Sunday, we will have our normal Christmas Mass times rather than the usual weekend Mass times. So Masses will be celebrated on Christmas Eve at 4:00 PM and at 10:30 PM with a Christmas concert beginning at 10:00 PM. Masses for Christmas morning will be celebrated at 7:30 AM, 9:00 AM, and 11:00 AM. I know that every year we have large crowds, most especially at the 4:00 PM Christmas Eve Mass, and so we will have the Atrium system up and running for those who are in the overflow in the Atrium.
A few other notes to pass along, the first is in reference to Christmas falling on a Sunday this year. Did you know that 18% of our general stewardship offerings are received during the month of December? It is a very important month for the parish financially, unfortunately with Christmas falling on a Sunday that means we will have one less weekend of collections this year. May I ask you to consider helping to support the parish in making up for this loss of a collection with your Christmas donation? People at St. Mary’s are so generous and, on behalf of myself, the Parish Trustees and Finance Council I want to thank you.
I wanted to bring you up to date on the continued efforts of the Archdiocese to address the declining number of priests through effective parish planning. I am sure we are all familiar with the fact that St. Mary’s is one of what has been known as the Quad Parishes of St. Mary’s, St. Dominic, St. John Vianney and St. Joseph. In particular, St. Mary’s and St. Joseph have been clustered together. With the continued unfolding of the diocesan planning process things change based on circumstances and that has happened once again. As the diocesan planning process has unfolded it was deemed worthwhile for the cluster of St. Mary’s and St. Joseph to draw to a close and for St. Joseph to cluster, instead, with St. Agnes Parish in Butler. This means that St. Mary’s will now be considered a “stand alone” parish without a clustering partner. We will, however, continue to collaborate on various efforts with St. John Vianney and St. Dominic and what was known in the past as the “Quad Parishes” will now be the “Tri Parishes” of three separate “stand alone” parishes. We are grateful to have such wonderful neighbors and wish many blessings on St. Joseph and St. Agnes as they begin their new cluster relationship. Please pray for vocations – our seminary has more young men studying for the priesthood than it has in thirty years – this is an important trend, but one we must continually reinforce through prayer and encouraging vocations!
Finally, as we gear up for Christmas, I hope that you will be able to find some time for rest and most especially for prayer. I am convinced that the joy of Christmas is affected by the time we spend in preparation for the celebration on a spiritual level. So if wrapping and baking and shopping are fraying your nerves, perhaps it is a sign from the Holy Spirit to stop what you are doing and to pray!
I wanted to end our examination of the Sacrament of Marriage with a substantial quote from the Second Vatican Council which sums up so nicely the various aspects of marriage that we have been looking at. It comes from the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes, 48):
“The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes. All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love "are no longer two, but one flesh" (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.
Christ the Lord abundantly blessed this many-faceted love, welling up as it does from the fountain of divine love and structured as it is on the model of His union with His Church. For as God of old made Himself present to His people through a covenant of love and fidelity, so now the Savior of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony. He abides with them thereafter so that just as He loved the Church and handed Himself over on her behalf, the spouses may love each other with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal.
Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ's redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in sublime office of being a father or a mother. For this reason Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state. By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses fulfil their conjugal and family obligation, they are penetrated with the spirit of Christ, which suffuses their whole lives with faith, hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance the perfection of their own personalities, as well as their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God.”
We have now taken a look at six of the seven sacraments over the past year and a half. In the new year we will be examining the final one, the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
(This article is part of a series of articles on The Sacraments which will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)