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Pope Francis’ February 2023 Prayer Intention

Jesus calls us to be the salt and the light

Salt and light show us how to live the faith

Humility is a hallmark of the Kingdom of God

Living as disciples of the Lord

The Word of God leads us forward in faith and hope

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ)

“O Holy Night” is one of the most popular Christmas hymns. The hymn was originally composed and written in France in the mid-1800’s; an English version was produced a few years later. The opening verse reads:

O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world
In sin and error pinning
‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees; O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

The hymn poetically describes the longing of humanity for delivery from “sin and error.” The image conjures in our minds a darkness that longs to be dispelled by light. The hope for this delivery has dawned in the birth of the messiah. This “thrill of hope” lifts the world from the dreariness it faces and with the coming dawn a new light shines forth. The new Light not provided by the sun, is the Son who is born of Mary.

The celebration of Christmas is so significant that the Church provides four different Mass settings for the celebration: Vigil Mass, Mass at Night (traditionally Midnight Mass), Mass at Dawn and Mass during the Day. The Gospel passage for the Vigil Mass comes from the Gospel According to Matthew. The long-form of the reading contains the genealogy of Christ as presented by Saint Matthew along with the annunciation to Joseph and the Birth of Jesus.

The genealogy may seem like a list of long Hebrew names of fathers and sons. Some may even groan when they hear the deacon proclaim “The Book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham” (it’s a long reading). However, it is rich in meaning and significance and can still speak to us today.

The genealogy reminds us of the longings of Israel (and all humanity represented through them) – similar to those referred to in O Holy Night.

The genealogy reminds us that God, our heavenly Father has a vision for saving mankind, that goes back to the beginning.

The Father’s providential care is at work all along preparing the way.

The Father’s plan goes all the way back to creation as we see in other parts of the scriptures. Saint Matthew here focuses of the plan of salvation as it unfolds in the life of Israel, God’s chosen people.

One of the amazing things to notice as one listens to or reads the genealogy is how many times things should have gone wrong but somehow they didn’t. Take for example, David the King. David had sinned in horrifying ways. How could God work through him? Yet he did and through Bathsheba (who is one of the four women mentioned in the genealogy) his son Solomon continued the line.

God’s plan may be hindered by human sin and failings but these do not stop the plan from being fulfilled. God can work despite human weakness.

Or take for another example, the Babylonian Exile. The Babylonians had waged war on Israel. Israel was defeated. The Babylonians destroyed the Temple and the holy city of Jerusalem. All the leaders in all aspects of society, including the king, were exiled for two generations. The king died in prison and along with him the monarchy. It looked like everything was lost. Yet it was not. Fifty years later, Cyrus, King of Persia, allowed the Jews to return to the Promised Land. The city and Temple were rebuilt but there was no king, yet. There’s an old saying that may apply here: “God writes straight with crooked lines.”

Another helpful aspect of the genealogy is the role of the gentiles mentioned. Tamar, Rahab and Ruth; three of the four women mentioned were all Gentiles. Saint Matthew could easily have chosen to mention some of the more prominent Jewish women in the history of salvation – Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, or Miriam; however, he mentions these three and by doing so, once again highlights the saving work of God for all peoples, everywhere.

Although we might not understand it as it is unfolding, God has a vision – a vision of light and life for all humanity. A vision that takes flesh in His Son.

We live in trying times. So much of our social lives seem to be in a fragile state where some small event or action can break them apart. Many people of our day are filled with anxiety and fear. In other words, they feel like they are living in darkness.

Our celebration of the Lord’s nativity reminds us that the Lord is near. The Light has come into the world and still shines (John 1:5). He enters into the brokenness of humanity and takes our struggles upon Himself. As He does so, He leads us through that struggle to a victory that can never be lost. This is the “thrill of hope.”

Our hope lies in Him who was conceived, born, suffered, died and rose from the dead.

He is life and came that we might have life – and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

***

Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

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