Chapter 2

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January 2

CENTER
“behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1)

Once “the shepherds returned” to their flocks, Mary and Joseph once again enjoyed the quiet intimacy of the nativity. (Luke 2:20) There, wrapped in contemplation, Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) The atmosphere in the nativity is filled with joy. Resting in silent joy, Joseph embraces Mary as Mary cradles her infant son. Unknown to them more visitors prepare to visit. The Magi “from the east” are on their way to Bethlehem. (Matthew 2:1)

Pope Benedict XVI writes: “we have to ask what sort of people they were … Magi are understood to be members of the Persian priestly caste. In Hellenistic culture they were regarded as ‘rulers of a distinctive religion’ … they were nevertheless custodians of religious and philosophical knowledge that had developed in that area and continued to be cultivated there. …The key point is this: the wise men from the east are a new beginning. They represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ. They initiate a procession that continues throughout history. Not only do they represent the people who have found the way to Christ: they represent the inner aspiration of the human spirit, the dynamism of religions and human reason toward him.” [15] We are all searching for something. Actually, we are all searching for someone. Whether we know it or not, deep within us all is an “inner aspiration of the human spirit”. We are looking. We are longing. We are searching.

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God.” [16] “Man is in search of God. In the act of creation, God calls every being from nothingness into existence. Even after losing through his sin his likeness to God, man remains an image of his Creator, and retains the desire for the one who calls him into existence. All religions bear witness to man’s essential search for God.” [17] The Magi “represent the journeying of humanity toward Christ.” We all want something. Yes, we all want someone.The Magi know something has happened, something so profound that life will never be the same again. They set on a journey because they have to see it; they have to see Him; they have to see this person who will change their life, and guide life of every human being.

Merry Christmas. I mean that; Merry Christmas … especially today. Today is perhaps the most important day of the liturgical Christmas season. Today is perhaps the most important day of your life. Why? Today is the day we all “go back” to “real life.” The holidays are over. December 25th has past us. New Year’s Day is gone. Today, humanity “goes back” to that which seems “ordinary”. We have to go back to work. We have to go back to school. We have to go back to “real life”. The temptation is to go back to your life as it was before Christmas. The temptation is to sentimentalize the “holidays” and to leave the reality of Christmas behind. Once Christmas happened, Mary could not ever go back to “real life”. Joseph could never go back to “real life”. Even the Magi, who had not yet met Jesus, knew that their “real life” would never be the same.

Listen to me: you cannot “go back” to your life as it was before Christmas. Mary’s “real life” was forever changed by Christ. The infant was reality. Jesus was real life. The baby was now the center of Mary’s life. Joseph’s “real life” was forever changed by Christ. He was the center of Joseph’s life. The Magi are journeying. What they will find will change their life forever too. Your life is different. Your life has been changed. Christmas isn’t about a simple baby. Christmas is about “the desire for God written in the human heart.” Christmas is about your “desire for the one who calls [you] into existence.” You no longer have to be the center of your life. The exhausting pursuit of the next holiday no longer has to be the center of your life. The “world’s mangers” no longer have to be the center of your life. You are searching. But, you must search within. Today, we, like the Magi, must make the choice to stay on the pilgrimage. Today, we must make the life altering decision that we will no longer be the center of our life.

Merry Christmas. Everyday … forever … Merry Christmas. Are you ready to make Christ the center of your life?

FOR YOUR PRAYER

The Magi were more than likely familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. The Magi would have been familiar with the Old Testament prophets and prophecies. Imagine how the Magi would have reflected upon the words of the prophet Micah. Begin by slowly reading Micah 5:1-4a. Read it a few times. Imagine the Magi discussing this prophecy as they travel. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Matthew 2:1. Be in the scene. Be with the Magi as they travel. What are they discussing? Why are they traveling? What are they looking for?

Today’s Prayer: “Father, help me to not take Christmas for granted. Help you live in the nativity. I beg you, even with all my resistance, to help me make Jesus the center of my life.”

[15] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pgs. 92; 94; 97
[16] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 27
[17] Ibid., no. 2566

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.

 January 3

LEAD
“behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.” (Matthew 2:9)

The Magi “from the east arrived in Jerusalem.” Ancient protocol required an honorary visit with King Herod. Thus, after “their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star”. (Matthew 2:1&9) Much has been made of the star. What was it? What did it look like? Why is it important? Perhaps there is wisdom in knowing the right question as much as the right answer. In other words, perhaps we should ask ourselves “Why did it happen?” as much as we ask “Did it happen?” Pope Benedict XVI writes:“the star leads the wise men as far as Judea. It is quite natural that their search for the newborn king of the Jews should take them to Israel’s royal city and to the king’s palace. That, surely, is where the future king must have been born. Then they need the direction provided by Israel’s sacred Scriptures- the words of the living God- in order to find the way once and for all to David’s true heir.” [18] The Magi were looking, they too were searching. On this sacred pilgrimage they did not have to figure things out. They did not have to rely merely on science or circumstance. They did not have to rely on themselves. They were led. They were led by the star. They were led by the Jewish Scriptures. They were led by God so they could find God.

We’ve discussed how our secular culture is consumed with diversion. We long for the weekends. We can’t wait for the next holiday. We look forward to vacation. Too many of us are unhappy with nine to five, Monday through Friday; therefore, we live in a culture of escape. We feel as if we have to “get through life” until we can escape into the world of diversion. Much of our aversion to the ordinary is laden with the weight of having to get through life on our own. Outside the glitz and glamour of the Christmas tree and jingle bells, life can feel rather ordinary, empty, or heavy … especially if you’re leading yourself. My experience is that living as the center of your life is exhausting. Doing so will simply lead us to a relentless cycle of self-indulgence, searching for the next thing that will help me feel better about me. Unfortunately, just as the prodigal son came face to face with the emptiness of the “world’s manger”, we too often come face to face with the fatigue of trying to lead ourselves through life.

Merry Christmas. Again today, I mean this: Merry Christmas. ”Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” You do not have to trudge through life alone. You do not have to wake up every day and figure it out. The pressure is not on you, it’s on God. God wants to lead you. When Mary didn’t know what to do after the Annunciation, God led her to Elizabeth. When Joseph didn’t know what to do with Mary’s pregnancy, or his reaction to divorce her, God led him to freedom. When neither of them knew how to get to Bethlehem, nor where they would stay once they got there, God led them. The shepherds were led. The Magi were led. The Advent and Christmas stories are filled with many themes; however, most encouraging is this: God will lead you if you let Him. In your marriage, God will lead you. In your family, God will lead you. In your parish, God will lead you. In your dreams for the future, God will lead you. In your unsettled unrest about your past, God willlead you. In the day you have today, God will lead you. In the places where you may not know what to do, God will lead you. In the circumstances that may seem impossible, God will lead you. In sickness and in the health, in good times and in bad, God will lead you. Merry Christmas … God wants to lead you.

When the Magi let God lead them they found the very thing, the very person, they were searching for. God wants to lead us to freedom. We can be free from things or we can be free to do things. Freedom from often precedes freedom to. However, before God leads us to freedom, God wants to lead us to a person: Jesus Christ. Trust the process. Tomorrow we’ll talk about the “how” of being led. Today, simply rest with the invitation. Merry Christmas … God wants to lead you. Are you ready to be led?

FOR YOUR PRAYER

The Magi were more than likely familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. The Magi would have been familiar with the Old Testament prophets and prophecies. Imagine how the Magi would have reflected upon the words of the prophet Jeremiah. Begin by slowly reading Jeremiah 29:11-14a. Read it a few times. Imagine the Magi being led by God, by the star. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Matthew 2:9. Be in the scene. Look at them as they look at the star. Look at the star as it stops over the cave outside Bethlehem. What stirs in their hearts as the star stops? What stirs in your heart as you are being led?

Today’s Prayer: “Father, I desire freedom. Help me to let you lead me.”

[18] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pg. 101

January 4

KNOW
“They prostrated themselves and did him homage” (Matthew 2:11)

Led by God, the Magi followed until “the star … stopped over the place where the child was. … and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”(Matthew 2:9&11) The Magi have been led. They have followed the star and have found who they were searching for. As they enter the nativity there is only one response, for they know who they are in the presence of. “The wise men … throw themselves onto the ground before him. This is the homage that is offered to a divine king. The gifts brought by the wise men may be explained in similar terms. They are not practical gifts, of a kind that the holy family might have had a use for at this moment. They express the same thing as the [homage]: they acknowledge the royal dignity of him to whom they are offered. Gold and incense are also mentioned in Isaiah 60:6 as gifts of homage that the Gentiles will place before the God of Israel. … In the Church’s tradition- with certain variations- the three gifts have been thought to represent three aspects of the mystery of Christ: the gold points to Jesus’ kingship, the incense to his divine sonship, the myrrh to the mystery of his Passion”. [18] (emphasis added)

As mentioned earlier, one of the more sobering moments in my life came when I realized that my understanding of God was more influenced by Hollywood or holidays than it was influenced by the Scriptures. Therefore, it is important for us to consider that the Magi knew exactly who they were seeking from the very moment they left the east. They are not surprised. You don’t travel hundreds of miles, risking the danger of travel in foreign lands, unless you know you’re going to see the Messiah. You don’t immediately prostrate yourself before an infant child unless you know this child is the King of Kings. And, think about it, why else would they pack three very particular gifts from the very onset of their journey? They packed gold, frankincense, and myrrh before they left because they knew who they were leaving for. The Magi knew who Jesus was.

There’s a great line in the 1995 movie The American President that says something similar to, “When people are thirsty enough in the desert they’ll drink the sand when they see a mirage.” You and I are thirsty, we are searching. “The desire for God is written in the human heart”. [19] “Man is in search of God. … man remains an image of his Creator, and retains the desire for the one who calls him into existence.” [20] We want God. However, if God is not our center, if we resist being led by God, we’ll drink the sand when we see a mirage. The first step,the most important step, is getting to know the person of Jesus Christ. In all of my searching I wanted God; however, I wanted God on my terms. I searched for God wanting to tell God who I wanted Him to be rather than have Him tell me who I really am. Then something profound happened: I got to know Him. The more our relationship deepened, the more He became the center of my life. The more our relationship deepened, the more I allowed Him to lead me. The more our relationship deepened, the more I saw the “mirages” for what they really were.

Yesterday we discussed the importance of being led; that’s the “what”. Today we consider the importance of knowing Jesus in a personal relationship; that’s the “how.” Merry Christmas. Once again today, I say: Merry Christmas. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) Do you know Him? Do you really know Him? Deeper than you longing for Him is His longing for you. Merry Christmas:that’s why He came. He wants to know you. He wants a relationship with you. You no longer have to drink the sand and chase the mirages … God is chasing after you. It’s time to get to know Him.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Prayerfully imagine the scene in Matthew 2:11. Be in the scene. Be with the Magi as they enter.You are with them. You too bow … laying face down on the floor before the child. You too rise.You too want to offer Him a gift. However, He doesn’t want gold, frankincense, or myrrh. He wants something personal, something from your heart. As you approach Mary and the baby what does He want you to give Him?

Today’s Prayer: “Father, I want to know you. I want a relationship with you. Teach me how to pray. Teach me how to live. Teach me how to be in relationship with you.”

[18] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pgs. 106-107
[19] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 27
[20] Ibid., no. 2566

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.

 January 5

TIME
“they departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:12)

Wow. Let us remember all that has taken place: The strenuous pilgrimage from Nazareth; the sobering rejection of not being wanted in Bethlehem; the humble poverty of the cave; the glorious birth of the Messiah; the swaddling clothes; the feeding trough. Mary has held her tiny son on her chest. She has felt His breathing in rhythm with hers. Joseph has laid with Mary laying on his chest as Jesus rests on hers. Then, shockingly, the shepherds enter with news of profound surprise and joy. As soon as they leave, just when Mary is taking it all in and pondering these things in her heart, the Magi enter. Who are they? Why are they here? The plot thickens as they lay in homage. Then, to all our surprise, they offer gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Whew. Soon, the Magi leave, as “they departed for their country”. (Matthew 2:12)

Ahhhhhh … once again, the cave is quiet. The nativity is silent. So much has happened. So much has happened. Finally, Mary and Joseph can take it all in. They can exhale. They can reflect. They can converse. They can pray. They have time to be alone with each other. They have time to be alone with Jesus. They rest with the gift of time.

Each of us wants time. Life seems to get busier every year. Our lives are filled with gadgets and gizmos each designed to save us time. However, with all that, we feel busier and busier. When life gets faster it has an impact, sometimes a detrimental impact. We lose touch with the basics: relationships atrophy; our sense of balance is lost; we experience less joy; we feel empty and wonder “is there more to life than this?” It’s easy to lose sight of balance. We need time for Sabbath. We need time for rest. And, we need time for silence, reflection, and prayer. However, if we live life at a frenzied pace, we lose our innate ease with silence. Pope Benedict XVI urges: “today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer able to remain for long periods in silence and solitude.” [21] (emphasis added) Anthropological mutation: we are forgetting what it means to be human.

Pope Benedict XVI teaches us: “human life without prayer, which opens our existence to the mystery God, lacks sense and direction” [22] “Yet only in God who reveals himself does man’s seeking find complete fulfillment. The prayer that is openness and elevation of the heart to God, thus becomes a personal relationship with him. And even if man forgets his Creator, the living, true God does not cease to call man first to the mysterious encounter of prayer.” [23] “Each one of us needs time and space for recollection, meditation and calmness. … this need tells us that we are not made for work alone”, but also for relationship, Sabbath, and communion with God. [24] He continues: “making time for God regularly is a fundamental element for spiritual growth; it will be the Lord himself who gives us the taste for his mysteries, his words, his presence and action, for feeling how beautiful it is when God speaks with us; he will enable us to understand more deeply what he expects of me.” [25] (emphasis added)

We cannot “go back” to our lives as they were before Christmas. Christmas, the real Christmas, has forever changed our lives. The baby is now the center of our life. To be the center we must let Him lead us. If He is to lead us we must get to know Him. If we are to get to know Him we must spend time with Him. If we are to spend time with Him we must make time for Him. As the rest of the world gears into New Year’s resolutions perhaps there is an element of those resolutions that may assist us. 2013 can be the best year of our lives; however, “Each one of us needs time and space for recollection, meditation” and prayer, for “making time for God regularly is a fundamental element for spiritual growth.” If 2013 is going to be the best year in your relationship with Jesus you’ll need to commit to spending time in prayer. We can help you. We can continue to help you with meditations and reflections. We can do our part. You’ll need to commit … to make the commitment of giving God time.

FOR YOUR PRAYER

Again today, prayerfully imagine the scene in Matthew 2:11. Be in the scene. You bow in homage … laying face down on the floor before the child. You rise. You want to offer Him a gift. However, He doesn’t want gold, frankincense, or myrrh. He wants something personal, something from your heart. As you approach Mary and the baby what does He want you to give Him? Can you offer Him a commitment of time?

Today’s Prayer: “Father, I want to know you. I want a relationship with you. Teach me how to pray. Teach me how to live. Teach me how to be in relationship with you.”

[21] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, Church of the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno, October 9, 2011
[22] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, May 4, 2011
[23] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, May 11, 2011
[24] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 3, 2011
[25] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, August 17, 2011

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.

January 6

COMMUNITY
“When eight days were completed for his circumcision (Luke 2:21)

The story of the Nativity soon shifts from the intimacy of the cave to the rich customs of Israel as Joseph and Mary embrace the eighth day since Jesus’ birth. “Jewish parents customarily name their male children on the day of their circumcision, the eighth day after birth (Luke 2:21). These were events of great importance, signaling the beginning of the child’s covenant membership in Israel (Genesis 17:9-14Leviticus 12:3).” (emphasis added) [26] Thus, ”when eight days were completed” Joseph and Mary move to have their son circumcised. (Luke 2:21)The Holy Father writes: “In the Book of Leviticus it is laid down … that the boy is to be circumcised on the eighth day … The eighth day is the day of circumcision, when Jesus is formally taken up into the community of the promises extending back to Abraham: now he is legally a member of the people of Israel. Paul speaks of this event when he writes to the Galatians: ‘But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (4: 4f.).” (emphasis added) [27]

If we are going to get to know Jesus, care must be taken not to project onto Jesus who wethink Him to be or who we want Him to be. We must let Jesus reveal who He is to us. We must let the Scriptures reveal who He is to us. Joseph was Jewish. Mary was Jewish. Jesus was Jewish. The color of their hair, the complexion of their skin, and their thick Yiddish accent were all very Jewish. Their customs, their culture, and their traditions were all very Jewish. Their understanding of God, their longing for the Messiah, and their view of religion were all very Jewish. They understood covenant. They understood traditions. They understood they were a part of a larger community.

You and I live in country founded on independence. We declared it on July 4, 1776 and we have embraced it fully ever since. However, there is wisdom in knowing your shadow, for the shadow side of your greatest strength is usually your greatest weakness. The shadow side to our spirit of independence is a thinking that we are independent. There is a whisper in our American philosophy: “You can do it. If you work hard enough, you can do it. You can do it …alone.” Independent leads to individualism and individualism leads to isolation. Thus, it shouldn’t surprise us that we feel more isolated because we live more isolated. The subtle seduction of independent and individualism breeds the American trap of “me and Jesus”: “I don’t need anyone else … it’s all about me and Jesus.” However, that’s not Jesus, that’s America … and, yes, there is a distinction. “When eight days were completed” Joseph and Mary purposely chose to initiate Jesus into the Chosen People, into their community. His circumcision is not merely a random detail. It is an intentionally embraced sign that Jesus was a part of a community. Mary needed community. Joseph needed community. You and I need community.

We cannot live isolated; you cannot live isolated. We need community. We need brothers and sisters on the journey so that we can be held accountable and share our struggle. We need the Church so that we can be fed with the Her Teachings and Her Sacraments. As you continue with your New Year’s resolutions it is important that those resolutions further your resolve to get to know Jesus. Who is helping you? Who is supporting you? Who is walking with you? 2013 is the year to get back to Mass on Sunday. Or, 2013 is the year to consider daily Mass during the week. 2013 is the year to learn more about your Catholic faith. 2013 is the year to get into a Bible study with five or six of your closest friends. 2013 is the year where you identify one person who can hold you accountable to your most repetitive sin. Jesus was initiated into a community. Jesus was a part of a community. Now is the time, this is the year … how is Jesus calling you to grow in community?

FOR YOUR PRAYER

The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Joseph and Mary would have eventually taught Jesus how to sing Psalm 105. Begin by slowly reading the whole of Psalm 105. Then read Psalm 105: 1-11. Read it a few times. Imagine Joseph and Mary singing this Psalm as traveled to have Jesus circumcised. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:21. Be in the scene. Be with Joseph. Be with Mary. Be with them as they seek out the local synagogue. Be with them as they hand Jesus to the Rabbi. Imagine their delight as Jesus becomes a member of their community.

Today’s Prayer: “Father, I want to know you. I want a relationship with you. Teach me how to pray. Teach me how to live. Teach me how to be in relationship with you. Show me concretely how you’re calling me to live in community.”

[26] Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch, and Dennis Walters, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, page 111 (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 527)
|[27] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, page 81& 80

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.

January 7

RESCUED

“he was named Jesus,
the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21)

“Jewish parents customarily name their male children on the day of their circumcision, the eighth day after birth.” [28] In the Hebrew culture a name was important. It revealed something about your identity. A name revealed some characteristic about your birth, or a hope for your future. A name articulated the essence of who you were. Thus, often time because of this, names were changed by God. Abram is renamed Abraham because will become a “Father of Nations.” Jacob is renamed Israel because he “struggles with God.” Even Simon is renamed Peter because is the “rock” upon which Christ builds His Church. “In addition to the circumcision, Luke expressly mentions the naming of the child (2: 21) with the name that had been foretold- Jesus (‘God saves’)- so that from the circumcision, the reader’s gaze is opened up toward the fulfillment of the expectations that belong to the essence of the Covenant.” [29] “The Greek name Iēsous is equivalent to the Hebrew name Joshua (Yehoshua’), meaning ‘Yahweh saves’. It was a popular name among first-century Jews. Even greater than Joshua, who led Israel into the Promised Land (Sirach 46:1), Jesus leads God’s people into the eternal land of heaven (25:34; cf. Hebews 4:1-11). Greater also than David (2 Samuel 3:18), Jesus will save his people from their sins, not from their national enemies (i.e., the Romans).” [30] Merry Christmas, the baby in this Christmas story will one day become a man, and He will save us from our sin. God has come. God has come to save us; God has come to rescue us.

Paul was a great evangelist because he knew both the message of salvation as well as the heart that needs salvation. In  Romans 7:15 he writes, “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” Ever been there? Do you know how this feels? We each long for God; however, far too often we do not choose Christ. Instead we choose sin, we do the things we hate. Paul knew his inner confusion. Perhaps you know a similar confusion: you want God, you desire holiness; however, you continue to do the very things that contradict your longing for God. Perhaps we all know what it’s like to feel as if you are a slave to sin. We’ve all been there.

“Man’s freedom is limited and fallible. In fact, man failed. He freely sinned. By refusing God’s plan of love, he deceived himself and became a slave to sin.” [30] The fall in Genesis 3 affected us all. Because of the fall, we were enslaved to sin. I was enslaved; you were enslaved. Being enslaved is like being trapped. There is no way out. We can’t do it alone. We have to be rescued. Fr. George Aschenbrenner, S.J. helped me understand the difference between escape and rescue. Escape means you escape, you find your freedom. Rescued is different. You have to be rescued. You need an other. You are utterly dependent. Without the other you are trapped … forever. Merry Christmas … and I really mean that today. Merry Christmas, the child has come to rescue you. Consider the significance of Christmas … or life without Christmas: no heaven; no salvation; nothing. Without Jesus, this life, the one you have now, would be it. Our existence would be reduced to the relentless pursuit of pleasure. And, forever-forever-we would be enslaved to sin. Merry Christmas, the child has come to save us, to rescue us.

If we are going to get to know Jesus, care must be taken not to project onto Jesus who we think Him to be or who we want Him to be. We must let Jesus reveal who He is to us. We must let the Scriptures reveal who He is to us. He is not merely a baby. He is not merely a “prophet”. He is not merely a nice guy with encouragements for us to be happy or love each other. Jesus is our Savior. He loves, but His love is fierce for you. His love propels Him to do whatever it takes so that you can be with Him forever. He loves you so much that He is prepared to enter any area of your life where you are still enslaved so that He can rescue you. All you need to do is ask. All you have to do is invite Him in. Be not afraid; trust the process. Can you admit where you need to be rescued? Can you let Him into your heart so that He can rescue you?

FOR YOUR PRAYER

The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how many people Old Testament Jews prayed Psalm 51. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 51. Read it a few times. Imagine Joseph and Mary considering the significance of Psalm 51 they hand their child to the Rabbi to be circumcised. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:21. Be in the scene. Be with Joseph. Be with Mary. Be with them as the Rabbi hands them back their son. Imagine the penetrating profundity of Joseph and Mary looking each other in the eyes as the name him Jesus. Now … imagine Mary and Joseph looking at you … in your eyes … and asking you if you need a Savior. They look to you and ask you again to today to hold their son. You open your arms, knowing full well who you’re about to hold … and …

Today’s Prayer: “Father, I want to know you. I want a relationship with you. Teach me how to pray. Teach me how to receive. Teach me how to be in relationship with you and how to stay in relationship with you.”

[28] Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch, and Dennis Walters, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, pg. 111
[29] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pg. 80
[30] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, pg. 86
[31] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1739

January 8

  SECURITY

“When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses,
they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
‘Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,’
and to offer the sacrifice of ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,’
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord” (Luke 2:22-24)

“In the Book of Leviticus it is laid down that, after giving birth to a male child, a woman is impure for seven days (that is, she is excluded from taking part in worship), that the boy is to be circumcised on the eighth day, and that the woman must then remain at home a further thirty-three days for her blood to be purified (cf. Leviticus 12: 1- 4). After this she is to present a purification sacrifice.” [32] Therefore, “When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,’ and to offer the sacrifice of ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,’ in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord”. (Luke 2:22-24Poor people need bring only two turtle-doves or two young pigeons. Mary presented theoffering of the poor (cf. Luke 2: 24). Luke, whose entire Gospel is shot through with a theology of the poor and a theology of poverty, is once again making it abundantly clear that Jesus’ family belonged to the poor of Israel, and that it was among such as them that the promises would be fulfilled.” [33]

Every one of us innately longs for security; we want something or someone we can “hold on to” that will give us a sense of peace and stability. Many of us seek security in money; having enough now, or for the future, can give us a “sense” of security. Many of us seek security in physical or material possessions; having a nice home, abundant furnishings, and an adequate wardrobe can give us a “sense” of security. Many of seek security in people; having the right people: a strong husband, a dependable wife, or stable parents can give us a “sense” of security. However, when you are poor your only security comes from God. You are forced to depend, live vulnerable, and rely on someone else for everything. Most of us resist poverty because we fear that if we let go of providing security for ourselves God won’t come through with His end of the bargain. We resist poverty either because we are convinced that “this world” really can provide for our deepest meaning in life or God won’t do as good of a job as we can for ourselves.

When Mary presented her sacrifice in the Temple she offered the sacrifice of the poor. Mary was poor. Joseph was poor. Jesus was poor. Their entire being was oriented toward God for everything. They sought security only from God. What’s more important than money or wealth or your bank account is your attitude towards it. Money isn’t the issue, our hearts are. The question we must ask is, “Where do I draw my security: from the things of this world or from God?” It’s one thing to start a relationship with God and it’s another thing to stay in relationship with God. Most of us can admit that the challenge isstaying in relationship. What I’ve learned about me is this: what pulls me out of relationship is me. I often walk away from God because I feel I have to do for myself, I have to provide my own security. Now of course, we have to be responsible. After all, prudence is the foundation of the Cardinal virtues. However, if we seek to provide our own security in life then we may fall into compartmentalizing our lives. Thus, I’ll trust God with “this” but I won’t trust God with “that”. Compartmentalizing will always threaten intimacy with God.

As mentioned yesterday, Jesus’ love for you is fierce. His love propels Him to do whatever it takes so that you can be with Him forever. He loves you so much that He is prepared to provide for you where you most need it. Merry Christmas. Where you feel most vulnerableHe is ready to give you security. Where you feel most afraid He is ready to give you security. Where you feel most fatigued He is ready to give you security. Merry Christmas. Mary was poor. Joseph was poor. Jesus was poor. The entire being was oriented toward God for everything. They sought security only from God. Where are you compartmentalized? Where do you draw your security: from the things of this world or from God? What’s your attitude toward dependency? What’s your attitude towards interior poverty?

FOR YOUR PRAYER

The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have sung the Psalms as they traveled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for the Presentation. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 113. Read it a few times. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:22-24. Be in the scene. Be with Joseph. Be with Mary. Be with them as they walk to Jerusalem. Be with them as they enter the great Temple. Be with them as the priest offers their sacrifice. Notice their poverty. Notice their dependency. Pay attention to where they go for security.

Today’s Prayer: “Father, I want to know you. I want a relationship with you. Teach me how to receive. Teach me how to be in relationship with you and how to stay in relationship with you. Teach me how to seek security only from you.”

[32] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pg. 81
[33] Ibid.

 © Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication

January 9

FREE
“they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
‘Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord’” (Luke 2:22-23)

Joseph and Mary traveled to Jerusalem to “offer the sacrifice” called forth in the Book of Leviticus. Their pilgrimage to the great Temple will also require them “to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord’”. (Luke 2:22-23) The event in the Temple “begins by specifically quoting the law regarding the consecration of the first-born: ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’ (2: 23; cf. Exodus 13: 2; 13: 12f., 15).” Jesus “was personally handed over to God in the Temple, given over completely to God. The verbparistánai, here translated as ‘to present,’ also means ‘to offer,’ in the way that sacrifices in the Temple were ‘offered.’ The language of sacrificial offering and priesthood is evoked here. … the child is handed over to God, and from now on belongs to him completely.”[34]

When Joseph and Mary present Jesus in the Temple it is more than a liturgical ritual. The Holy Father told us Jesus “was personally handed over to God in the Temple, given overcompletely to God.” He said, Jesus “from now on belongs to him completely.” Joseph and Mary offer back to God the gift that was entrusted to them. In doing so they acknowledge that Jesus belongs to the Father. They will care for Jesus. They will love him. They will raise him in Nazareth. However, they will do so knowing that he belongs to the Father.Imagine the interior freedom Mary must have had to so. The child is conceived in her womb. She bonds intimately with him for nine months as her body nourishes his growth. Immediately following his birth she holds him on her chest as only a mother can. Yet, in the Temple she consecrates him to the Father and her son “from now on belongs to him completely.” Imagine the interior freedom Mary must have had to surrender her son.

Mary knew freedomreal freedom. Pope Benedict XVI prays: “Let us carry in us Mary’s same sentiments of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, her faith and her hope, her docile abandonment into the hands of divine providence.” [35] Mary’s freedom is seen in her “docile abandonment into the hands of” God. The Holy Father continues: “This is truefreedom: actually to be able to follow our desire for good, for true joy, for communion with God and to be free from the oppression of circumstances that pull us in other directions.” [36] “Authentic freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in; nothing less than letting go of self and allowing oneself to be drawn into Christ’s very being for others.” [37] Real freedom is “docile abandonment”. Real freedom is “an opting in”. Realfreedom is “communion with God”. The world we live in defines freedom as the option to do whatever you want. However, real freedom is being able to rest in what you really want: peace, joy, rest … God. Mary shows us this in the Temple. She shows us realfreedom comes from about abandoning ourselves into God. Therefore, why would we discuss “center” or “led” or “rescue” or “security” during this Christmas journey? We pray into these issues so that we can be freereally free.

What would your life look like if you were free? What would your life look like if you were free from fear? What would your life look like if you were free from anxiety? What would your life look like if you were free from pressure and stress? Is that possible? Can you be really free? You already have the “freedom” to do “whatever you want”. Does thatreally bring you freedom? Does the world and its “freedom” really make you happy? Merry Christmas. Mary reminds us all what real freedom looks like and where freedomcomes from. Christ brings freedom. Christmas brings freedomFreedom comes when we surrender our lives to a person: Jesus. Freedom comes when we are led by a person:Jesus. Freedom comes when we live in communion with a person: Jesus. Merry Christmas. Christ wants to give you freedom. Do you want to be free? What do you want? What do you really want?

FOR YOUR PRAYER

The Psalms are the sacred music of a chosen people. The Psalms were written as songs to praise God. Imagine how Mary and Joseph would have sung the Psalms as they prayed in the Temple. Begin by slowly reading Psalm 107. Now, prayerfully imagine the scene in Luke 2:22-23. Be in the scene. Be with Mary. Be with her as she enters the great Temple. Be with her as she gives her son to the priest in the Temple. Notice her freedom. Ask her today how you can be free.

Today’s Prayer: “Jesus, I want a relationship with you. Teach me how to be in relationship with you and how to stay in relationship with you. Teach me what I need to be free from so that I can be free to stay in relationship with you.”

[34] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, pg. 82
[35] Pope Benedict XVI, Address, Marking the Conclusion of May, St. Peter’s Square, June 2, 2008
[36] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, St. Peter’s Square, May 16, 2012
[37] Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Benedict in America: The Full Texts of Papal Talks Given During His Apostolic Visit to the United States, pg. 129

© Fr. Mark Toups, 2012. Expressed written permission required for duplication.