Biden inflicted untold damage on the free world by his catastrophic surrender in Afghanistan, demonstrating to America’s enemies and friends alike that, under his administration, the US was no longer willing to stand by its allies nor to protect its own
On New Year’s Day, Pope Francis encouraged people to place their lives under the protection of Mary, the Mother of God.
“The new year begins under the sign of the Holy Mother of God, under the sign of the Mother. A mother’s gaze is the path to rebirth and growth. We need mothers, women who look at the world not to exploit it, but so that it can have life,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica on January 1.
“At the beginning of the New Year, then, let us place ourselves under the protection of this woman, the Mother of God, who is also our mother. May she help us to keep and ponder all things, unafraid of trials and with the joyful certainty that the Lord is faithful and can transform every cross into a resurrection,” the pope said.
Pope Francis’ first public act of 2022 was to offer Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God.
Orthodox Catholic teaching has held together the mystery of “one person/two natures” from the beginning.
As a Catholic feast day, Jan. 1 has historically brought various strands together. For a long time, it was called the “Circumcision of the Lord” because, on the octave day of Christmas and in accordance with Jewish law (Genesis 17:12; Luke 2:21) Jesus was circumcised. From the time of Abraham forward, circumcision was the sign of inclusion in God’s Covenant with Israel.
Starting on Jan. 1, 1968, Pope St. Paul VI also designated Jan. 1 as “World Day of Peace,” eventually even introducing an optional Votive Mass for the observance.
What the Church has not observed on Jan. 1 is the beginning of the civil new year. The ecclesiastical new year begins on the First Sunday of Advent (i.e., Nov. 28, 2021), when the Church year returns to the beginning of the life of Christ by marking preparation for his birth. Historically, the civil new year began on various days, including March 25 (the Solemnity of the Annunciation, marking Jesus’ conception and nine months before Christmas). While many European countries switched to Jan. 1 in the 16th century, Britain and the 13 colonies kept the Marian-focused New Year correlated to Jesus’ conception until 1752.
Since the Roman Calendar Reform of 1969, the Church observes Jan. 1 as the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is not, however, an observance pulled out of whole cloth. Honoring Mary as the Mother of God on Jan. 1 is, in fact, the earliest celebration of this date in the Roman Church.
Speaking of Mary as Theotokos, the “Bearer” or “Mother of God,” is not just simply a nice way of stating the obvious. The title was tied up with the early Church’s Christological disputes.
Nestorius was a fifth-century heretic. He rejected the title “Theotokos” because of his underlying (and deficient) Christology. Orthodox Catholic theology teaches that Jesus Christ is one person, who has two natures, Divine and human. Jesus is completely God and completely man by virtue of two, complete natures. But Jesus is not two people. Jesus is one person.
Nestorius rejected that teaching. According to him, Mary is “Mother of Jesus” the man, but not “Mother of God.”
But Nestorius’ position is schizophrenic, truly a “split person-ality.” It would turn Jesus into two persons, one divine, one human. The early heretics who held these various positions basically adopted positions akin to the ancient Gnostics who, regarding the body as evil, sought to escape it. The almost universal common thread running through the early heresies in Christianity was an effort to deny some aspect of Jesus’ humanity, making that humanity in some way incomplete or inoperative. Put simply, all those visions founder on the clear teaching of Scripture that Jesus was “a man like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 2:17).
Because Mary’s Boy Child is truly one Person, “true God and true man” as the Council of Chalcedon would later teach, the Person to whom Mary gave birth was both fully human and fully divine. And because he is both, she is “Mother of God.”
“Nature” is, after all, something of an abstract concept. Because we all have human “nature,” we share common characteristics of humanity, e.g., being subject to space and time, being flesh and spirit and, since the Fall, being weakened as a result of sin. But we do not encounter abstract “natures” running down the street. We only meet real persons with human natures (because there are no nature-less persons). So why would we think Mary gave birth to an abstraction?
If Jesus is not true God, he cannot save us. He’s a wise teacher, a gentle model, and maybe an all-round-nice-guy, but he’s not God and, if he’s not, he’s as impotent as every other human being to save us.
If Jesus is not true man, he cannot save us. He may be the Almighty God, but he cannot stand in for, represent, or do anything in our name. God’s relation to us would be wholly extrinsic. But God wants us involved in the work of our Redemption.
Either the person Jesus is “true God and true man” — and Mary is the Mother of that person, or Christmas was a lie.
Now, orthodox Catholic teaching has held together the mystery of “one person/two natures” from the beginning. That is why, already at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, the Council Fathers called Our Lady what we celebrate today: “Theotokos, Mother of God.”
These are not just ancient debates. What we say about Christology also expresses what we believe about human anthropology, who we are. Our modern culture is increasingly dividing the human person from human nature, reducing our natural — which is an integral part of our humanity—to something thought to be “subpersonal,” instrumental, subject to manipulation. Catholic theology resists this because what our quasi-Gnostic mentality calls “subpersonal” is actually quite personal, and since persons should be loved and not used, attacks on human nature are hardly “loving.” They are attacks on the human person, integrally considered. St. John Paul II worked tirelessly to emphasize that truth.
Today’s feast is represented in the 15th-century icon, “The Nativity,” prayed by Andrei Rublev. I say “prayed” because, in the Orthodox tradition, sacred images of icons are not “painted,” “made” or “created.” They are “prayed,” trusting that God’s inspiration guide the earthly hand. Rublev prayed this icon for the Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow.
Like medieval Western art, icons do not adhere to the simple canons of space and time that “realistic art” does. Because an icon speaks of spiritual realities, its depictions gather multiple symbols, concepts, and events together to express the spiritual truth the icon represents. Icons are, after all, a glimpse at heavenly realities, and our human understanding of heaven is limited. Because it is a glimpse of heaven, this is typically why icons are golden and limited to spiritual realities, without added “extras” like landscapes or temporal scenes.
In this icon, the “Theotokos,” the Mother of God, is front and center. She is the largest person in this icon, on her birthing bed. Her Son, wrapped in swaddling clothes, is in the adjacent manger, animals closest to him, angels above him. The manger is in a cave, symbolizing the darkness of human sinfulness that, in entering this world, Jesus comes to save us from. The shepherds approach on the right, passing by a plant that Orthodox commentators say is a “Jesse Tree,” affirming Jesus’ Davidic lineage. In the upper left, the Three Wise Men are also approaching. Help and assistance is also found on the right: in the upper right, angels adore and wait to minister, in the lower right, Orthodox commentators say are human midwives. Where that notion would come from, given the abandonment of Mary and Joseph in overbooked Bethlehem, I cannot say. Furthermore, since tradition holds that Mary’s giving birth was painless (since pain in childbirth is presented in Scripture (Genesis 3:16) as part of the punishment of sin, i.e., that nature and even one’s body rebels against and resists the person), one further wonders where this Orthodox notion may have come from. In the bottom left is Joseph, somewhat isolated since his role is that of foster father, not father. Again, some Orthodox commentators say that the figure adjacent to him is a devil, tempting his pride about his limited role in these events.
Rublev is honored by art historians for being the start of a new and distinctive style into Russian icons, one softer and less severe, particularly in color. Perhaps his best-known icon in the Western world is the “Icon of the Holy Trinity,” in which the Three Persons are represented by the three angels mentioned (Genesis 18:1-13) as visitors in Abraham’s tent who promise that, within a year, Sara and Abraham would have a son.
Holy Mother Church calls her sons and daughters at this beginning of the new year to honor the Mother of God — who is also our Mother (see John 19:27). The Redemption of humanity began with Mary, who agreed to be Mother of God. There is no better person for good beginnings …
At a time when it appears that young men seem to be running away from the Priesthood, Kafanchan Diocese in Southern Kaduna State, Nigeria continues to have candidates as Vocation to priesthood is booming.
The more the people are being persecuted, the more willing they’re in serving God among their people. The Young men are not afraid of being ordained and sent back to their villages and towns where attacks by the “unknown Gun men” is an everyday experience.
On the feast of Epiphany 2nd January 2022, the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan ordained 13 Deacons. The number is the highest by Bishop Kundi since he became Bishop of the Diocese 2 years ago. Within the two years, the bishop has ordained almost 20 Priests and now 13 Deacons.
In his homily, the Bishop admonished the newly ordained to be steadfast in preaching the good news of Christ. He reminded them of the two vows taken by Deacons – the vow of Obedience and that of celibacy. He challenged them to take those two vows seriously and never relent.
Sunday, Jan. 2, is the Epiphany of the Lord. Mass Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-11, 12-13; Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12.
In today’s Gospel we can observe how the Magi journey in stages from the light of a star to the bright and glorious Light of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at the stages of their journey from being mere magi to becoming, by God’s grace, wise men.
Stage 1: Call
The text says, “Behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’”
The term “magi” speaks of learned men; perhaps they are ancient astronomers. But their key identity is that they are Gentiles. Up until this point in the Christmas story, only Jews had been called to Bethlehem. It is clear that the Gospel is going out to all the world. This call completes the Church, which needs both Jews and Gentiles.
Notice that God calls them through something in the natural world: a star. What is the “star” that God used (and uses) to call you? Perhaps it was Scripture, a magnificent church or an inspirational song. But more typically God uses someone in our life in order to reach us: a parent, a family member, a friend, a priest, a religious sister, or a devoted layperson. Who are the stars in your life through whom God called you?
Stage 2: Constancy
Upon arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi find a rather confusing and discouraging situation. Herod, knows nothing of the birth of this new King. Even more puzzling, the summoned religious leaders seem unenthusiastic about the newborn King. After providing the location of his birth, there is no rejoicing, no summoning of the people to tell them that a longed-for Messiah has finally been born, not even further inquiry! But the Magi persevered in their search; they did not give up! Many today have found their way to Christ despite the fact that parents, clergy and others who should have led them to Jesus were either asleep, ignorant or sinful.
Stage 3: Confession
The text says, “After their audience with the king, they set out. The star that they had seen at its rising preceded them. … On entering the house they saw the Child with Mary, his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”
The Magi set out and continue to follow the call of God through the star. Notice, too, that they “prostrate” themselves before Jesus. The Greek word used is prosekunēsan, which means “to fall down in worship.” This is a confession of faith. But is their faith a real faith or just a perfunctory observance? Let’s look for the effects of a real and saving faith.
Stage 4: Cost
The Magi are moved to give three symbolic gifts that show some of what true faith includes. They are costly gifts. Gold symbolizes all of our possessions. Frankincense symbolizes the gift of worship. Myrrh, a burial ointment, prefigures Jesus’ death. These three gifts are highly symbolic. The Magi are showing forth the fruits of saving faith. Are we willing to meet the cost of discipleship?
Stage 5: Conversion
The text says, “Having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.” Here is essential evidence for faith: conversion. These Wise Men are walking differently now and not going home by the same way they came. They’ve turned around (conversio). They are walking the straight and narrow path that leads to life rather than the wide road that leads to damnation. No longer mere magi, now they are wise men!
The last two years have seen an unprecedented escalation in a decades-long war on the American past. But there are lots of logical flaws in attacking prior generations in U.S. history.
Critics assume their own judgmental generation is morally superior to those of the past. So, they use their own standards to condemn the mute dead who supposedly do not measure up to them.
Yet 21st-century critics rarely acknowledge their own present affluence and leisure owe much to history’s prior generations whose toil helped create their current comfort.
And what may future scolds say of the modern generation that saw over 60 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, even as fetal viability outside the womb continued to progress to ever earlier ages?
What will our grandchildren say of us who dumped on them over $30 trillion in national debt—much of it as borrowing for entitlements for ourselves?
What sort of society snoozes as record numbers of murders continue in 12 of its major cities? What is so civilized about defunding the police, endemic smash-and-grab thefts, and car jackings?
Was our media more responsible, professional, and learned in 1965 or 2021? Did Hollywood make more sophisticated and enjoyable films in 1954 or 2021? Was there less or more sportsmanship among professional athletes in 1990 or 2021?
Was it actually moral to discard the “content of our character” and “equal opportunity” principles of the prior Civil Rights movement of 60 years ago? Are their replacement fixations on the “color of our skin” and “equality of result” superior?
Would America have won World War II with the current labor participation rate of only six in 10 Americans working? Would our generation have brought all American troops home and quit World War I in fear of the deadly 1918 Spanish flu pandemic?
Are we proud that most standardized tests of student knowledge and achievement continue to decline, despite record investments in education?
Do we ever pause to consider that we enjoy our modern standard of living and security because we were once a meritocracy that quit judging our workforce by tribal affinities and ancient prejudices?
Our generation talks of infrastructure nonstop. But when was the last time it built anything comparable to the Hoover Dam, the interstate highway system, or the California Water Project—much less sent a man back to the moon or beyond?
If prior generations were so toxic, why do we continue to take for granted the moral and material world they bequeathed to us, from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to our airports, freeways, and power plants? Did we ever defeat anything comparable to the Axis powers or Soviet communism?
We know the symptoms of the current epidemic of hating the past.
One is Orwellian renaming and statue-toppling. Historical revision often responds to puritanical mob frenzies rather than to democratic discussion and votes of relevant elected officials.
Where is the pantheon of woke heroes who will replace the toppled or defaced Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt?
Whose morality and achievement should instead be immortalized? Were the public and private lives of Che Guevara, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Margaret Sanger, and Franklin D. Roosevelt without sin?
In the ancient Church and up until rather recently, one genuflected at the two references to the Incarnation during the Mass: during the Creed and in the Last Gospel (John 1). Why was this done? It was explained to me that the mystery of the Incarnation is so deep, one can only fall in silent reverence.
There are many paradoxes and seeming impossibilities in the Incarnation. They cannot be fully solved, so they claim our reverence. We genuflected in the past, and today we bow at the mention of the Incarnation in the Creed, for it is a deep mystery.
As we continue to celebrate Christmas, I would like to list some of the paradoxes of Christmas. I want to say as little about them as possible—just enough to make the paradox clear. This paucity of words (not common with me) is in reverence for the mystery and also to invite your reflection.
- The Infinite One becomes an infant.
- An antiphon for the Christmas season says, How can we find words to praise your dignity O Virgin Mary, for he whom the very heavens cannot contain, you carried in your womb.
- An old Latin carol (in Dulci Jublio) says, Alpha et O, Matris in Gremio(Alpha and Omega, sitting in Mommy’s lap).
- He who looks down on all creation looks up to see His Mother. The most high looks up from a cradle. Of this moment, even the pagans wrote with longing and tenderness: Incipe, parve puer, risu cognoscere matrem … ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores, occidet et serpens, et fallax herba veneni occidet (Begin, little boy, to recognize the face of your mother with a smile … for you, your own cradle will bear delightful flowers; the serpent will die and the plant that hides its venom) – Virgil 4th Eclogue.
- He who indwells all creation is born in homelessness, no place to dwell.
- He, to whom all things in Heaven and on earth belong, is born in poverty and neediness.
- He is the mighty Word through whom all things were made. He is the very utterance of God, the Voice which summons all creation into existence. Of this Word, this Utterance, this Voice, Scripture says, The voice of the LORD is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, upon many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful, the voice of the LORD is full of majesty … The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness … The voice of the LORD makes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare; and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” (Ps. 29) Yet this voice is now heard as the cooing and crying of an infant.
- His infant hand squeezes His mother’s finger. From that infant hand, the universe tumbled into existence. That same hand is steering the stars in their courses.
- He who holds all creation together in Himself (Col 1:17) is now held by His Mother.
- He who is the Bread of Life is born in Bethlehem (House of Bread) and lies in a feeding trough (manger).
- He who is our sustainer and our food is now hungry and fed by His Mother.
- Angels and Archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and Seraphim thronged the air! But only his mother in her maiden bliss, could worship the beloved with a kiss (Christina Rosetti “In the Bleak Midwinter”).
Each of these is meant to be a meditation on the great mystery of the Incarnation. Please chime in with your additions to this list!
A paradox is something that defies intuition or challenges the common way of thinking. It unsettles us or startles us into thinking more deeply. The word paradox comes from the Greek para (beside, off to the side, or above) and dokein (to think or to seem). Hence a paradox is something “off to the side” of the usual way of seeing or thinking about things. If you’re going to relate to God you’re going to deal with a lot of paradox, because God’s ways and His thinking often defy those of humans. God is not irrational but He often acts in ways that do not conform to worldly expectations.
This Christmas, consider these paradoxes and learn from them. Remember, though, that mysteries are to be lived more so than solved. Reverence is a more proper response to mystery than is excessive curiosity. More is learned in silence than by many words