Thứ Tư, 31 tháng 12, 2014

Number of Catholics growing throughout the world

Number of Catholics growing throughout the world

(Vatican Radio)  The number of Catholics in the world has increased with growth registered across all five continents. The figures are taken by the Fides news agency from the latest edition of the Church’s Book of Statistics updated to 31 December 2012. These show that on that date the number of Catholics in the world stood at 1,228,621,000 with an overall increase of more than 15,000,000 compared to the previous year. The Americas and Africa registered the biggest increases followed by Asia, Europe and Oceania. The world percentage of Catholics stood at 17.49 %, a decrease of 0.01% compared to the end of 2011.
The total number of priests in the world increased by 895 to 414,313.  Europe once again registered the largest decrease (-1,375) followed by the Americas (-90) and Oceania (-80). In Africa the number of priests grew by 1,076 and in Asia by 1,364.
There was an overall decrease in the number of women religious worldwide, whose numbers dropped by 10,677 to 702,529. Once again Africa and Asia showed increases whilst Europe and the Americas showed the biggest decrease in the number of women religious. 
The number of lay missionaries in the world is 362,488 with an overall decrease of 19,234.
In the field of education, the Catholic Church runs 71,188 kindergartens, 95,246 primary schools and 43,783 secondary schools. Charity and healthcare centres in the world run by the Church are 115,352.  


Church recalls violent deaths of pastoral workers in 2014

Church recalls violent deaths of pastoral workers in 2014

(Vatican Radio)  2014 was a grim year for the number of Church workers around the world killed by violence or the deadly Ebola virus.  In its annual report, Fides, the news agency of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, states that 26 pastoral workers were killed – 3 more than in the previous year.
The Fides report for years has centered on religious killed around the world but recently, it has focused on all church workers “who died violently.”
According to Fides, 17 priests, one religious brother, six religious women, a seminarian and a lay person were killed in 2014 – many during robberies characterized by particular “brutality and ferociousness” indicating they stemmed from intolerance and “economic and cultural poverty.”
For the sixth year running, the majority – 14 - were killed in the Americas, followed by Africa, Asia, Oceania and Europe. Over the last ten years (2004-2013) 230 pastoral workers were killed, three of them bishops.
Of those murdered in the Americas, four priests and a seminarian were killed in Mexico; two other priests were murdered in the U.S., one in Canada, and five others and one seminarian in South America.
Many of those killed in Africa succumbed to Ebola, which has infected more than 20,000 people so far this year. As the Prior General of the Hospitallers of St. John of God, Fr. Jesus Etayo wrote, 18 of the order’s religious and lay workers at Catholic hospitals in Liberia and Sierra Leone “gave their lives for others like Christ.”
The report also recalls the unknown fate of three Assumptionist priests from Congo who were kidnapped in October 2012 and of Italian Jesuit Father Paolo Dall’Oglio who was abducted in Syria in 2013.  Nothing is known either about the fate of Indian Jesuit Father Alexis Prem Kumar, kidnapped in June 2014 in Herat.  He was the director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Afghanistan.


JANUARY 01, 2015 : The Octave Day of Christmas - SOLEMNITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD

The Octave Day of Christmas
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
Lectionary: 18

Reading 1NM 6:22-27
The LORD said to Moses: 
“Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: 
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.
Say to them:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, 
and I will bless them.”
Responsorial PsalmPS 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8.
R. (2a) May God bless us in his mercy.
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
Reading 2GAL 4:4-7
Brothers and sisters:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law, 
to ransom those under the law, 
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons, 
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, 
crying out, “Abba, Father!”
So you are no longer a slave but a son, 
and if a son then also an heir, through God.

AlleluiaHEB 1:1-2
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelLK 2:16-21
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message 
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen, 
just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.


Meditation: "He was called Jesus"
What's the significance of a name? For the Jewish people the giving of a name had great importance. When a name was given it represented what that person should be in the future. An unknown name meant that someone could not be completely known. To not acknowledge someone's name meant both denial of the person, destruction of their personality, and change in their destiny. A person's name expressed the reality of his or her being at its deepest level. A Jewish male child was named at the time of circumcision, eight days after birth. This rite was instituted by God as an outward sign to single out those who belonged to the chosen people (Genesis 17:10-12). It was a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his posterity.
Jesus - the eternal Son of God who was born of a woman to become our Savior
In fulfilment of this precept, Mary's newborn child is given the name Jesus on the eighth day according to the Jewish custom. Joseph and Mary gave the name Jesus because that is the name given by God's messenger before Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb (Luke 1:31, Matthew 1:21). This name signifies Jesus' identity and his mission. The literal Hebrew means the Lord saves. Since God alone can forgive sins and free us from death, it is God who, in Jesus his eternal Son became a man to offer up his life as the atoning sacrifice to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The son that Mary bore is both God and man - the "Word who was God" (John 1:1) and who "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). That is why Mary is not only called the mother of the Christ (the Greek word for Messiah in Hebrew) but also the mother of God or Theotokos in Greek which literally means "God bearer."
Jesus - the name above every other name
In the birth and naming of this child we see the wondrous design and plan of God in giving us a Savior who would bring us grace (the gift of God's favor), mercy, and freedom from the power of sin and the fear of death. The name Jesus signifies that the very name of God is present in the person of his Son who became man for our salvation. Peter the Apostle exclaimed that there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved (Acts 2:12). In the name of Jesus demons flee, cripples walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised. His name is exalted far above every other name (Philippians 2:9-11).
The name Jesus is at the heart of all Christian prayer. It is through and in Jesus that we pray to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Many Christians have died with one word on their lips, the name of Jesus. Do you exalt the name of Jesus and pray with confidence in his name?
"Lord Jesus Christ, I exalt your name above every other name. For in you I have pardon, mercy, grace and victory over sin and death. You humbled yourself for my sake and for the sake of all sinners by sharing in our humanity and by dying on the cross. Help me to always praise your holy name and to live for your greater glory."


Our Mother Knows the Song of the Angels
January 1, 2015. Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
Luke 2:16-21

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Introductory Prayer: Lord, you are my friend, my Father, and my protector. I come to you on this new day confident in your presence. I renew my love for you, trusting in your guiding hand.
Petition: Lord, I want to hear the angels sing. Help me learn to listen.
1. Sometimes We Need a Little Help: Would the shepherds have been impressed to find Mary, Joseph, and the child Jesus if the angels had not explained what was happening? They would have just thought it was a poor, vagabond family—unimpressive and unassuming like their own lives as shepherds. Yet the angels opened them to a reality that they would never have imagined or perceived. In my life God has also sent me angels who help me discover him: the faith of a parent or grandparent, the sweet, innocent faith of a child, the good example of a friend, a teacher, a priest or a nun, the example of our Holy Father. Mary also teaches me to discover God in her Son. Do I thank God for these angels that he has sent me? Do I follow their advice and look for Christ in the simple, ordinary circumstances of my life?
2. Hints of a New Song: In a symphony, the first movement only hints at the central theme. Mary had first heard this theme from the angel Gabriel. Now the shepherds take up this theme—the hymn of the angels—and even though the shepherds play their part with great enthusiasm, it probably makes very little noise outside the little town of Bethlehem. Yet the song had begun, and it would grow to a crescendo as Christ lived out his mission. History unfolds God’s mysterious plan of salvation. I am part of that history, of that symphony. Do I do my best to continue Mary’s song, God’s song, by living my commitments and taking part in apostolate?
3. And His Name Shall Be “God Saves”: Mary and Joseph take up the hymn. They know the secret: this child will save Israel and will save all mankind. They begin to explain to the world, using an ancient name, Joshua (Yeshua), a name that now becomes not just a promise but a person. This is God’s new name. This is Our God: God Saves. He is not merely a God who is the source of everything. Our God is intimately committed to us, and he puts himself “in the line of fire” to save us. Man had suspected that God was Creator, and the Jews had received the surprise of his friendship, but neither Gentile nor Jew dreamed that God was also this type of love. Do I dare to dream of God’s goodness? Do I let Christ give me peace and hope in the midst of this despairing world?
Conversation with Christ:  Lord, I have heard something new today. You remind me this Christmas that it is time for a new song, a song of confidence and hope. Mary teaches me this song, this good news. I want to bring this good news more deeply into my life. I know that you are helping me to discover you more each day. Help me also discover you to others.

Resolution: In Mary’s presence, I will strive to “sing this new song” (the Christian virtue I have determined to cultivate) today by making a special effort in one aspect of living this virtue.

OCTAVE OF CHRISTMAS
SOLEMNITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
THURSDAY, JANUARY 1, LUKE 2:16-21
Holy Day of Obligation

(Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7)

KEY VERSE: "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (v 19). 
READING: 
Mary and Joseph obeyed the law of Rome by going to Bethlehem to register for the census. They obeyed the religious law of Israel by having their child circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Lv 12:3). In this ceremony, the child entered into the life of the Jewish community and received his name: Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua, "Yahweh saves"). Jesus' mother Mary was the model disciple who received the Word of God with faith, and pondered its meaning in her heart (Lk 2:19). The Church regards Mary as the "new Eve," whose "offspring" Jesus Christ, the one "born of a woman" (Gal 4:4) who was destined to defeat the Evil One. 
REFLECTING: Will I follow Mary's example of prayer and service in this New Year?
PRAYING: Mary, Mother of God, teach me to ponder within my heart all that God has done for us through Jesus your son. 

NOTE: When did Mary's title "Mother of God" originate?
At the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE, the Church gave Mary the title “Theotokos meaning "God-bearer." This Marian title is really a Christological statement, which affirms that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, was born into history as fully human, and is truly 'God with us'. The tradition reaches to our own day. Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church includes Mary’s role in a chapter on the Church, referring to Mary as the “Mother of God” 12 times. Because she cooperated in our redemption by bringing forth God's Son to redeem the world, she was also proclaimed the "Mother of the Church" (Pope Paul VI, 1964). Since Mary conceived Jesus, true man and true God, she is truly the mother of the Incarnate Jesus, and therefore, the Mother of God, and the mother of all who believe in her Son.


NEW YEAR'S DAY, JANUARY 1, 2015
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850


Thursday 1 January 2015

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. 
Numbers 6:22-27 May God bless us in his mercy—Ps 66(67):2-3, 5-6, 8 Galatians 4:4-7 Luke 2:16-21.
Readings
The title Mother of God can easily make Mary appear to be more than human.
Throughout history, Mary has often been depicted as a remote figure. While acknowledging her key role in the Incarnation, we must not lose sight of her humanity. As Mother of God, she reminds us that God desired to share Godself with humanity. It was her human ‘yes’ to God’s request that made this possible.
Like the rest of us, Mary did not have all the answers or certainty. Moments of fear and bewilderment were her lot, alongside moments of encouragement and hope.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius invites retreatants to speak with Mary as they would to a friend about their desires, hopes and fears. This is not a cold, angelic-looking statue in a church but a living and loving woman who desires to place us with her Son.

MINUTE MEDITATIONS 
Solemnity of Mary
As we start this new year, let us look for ways in which our hearts are still proud, or areas where we are called to be merciful or forgive others. Today is also a day of prayer for peace in the world; perhaps there is an opportunity to evangelize by reaching out, forgiving, and reconciling with members of our family or our friends.
— from Let Us Adore Him

January 1
Mary, Mother of God

Mary’s divine motherhood broadens the Christmas spotlight. Mary has an important role to play in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. She consents to God’s invitation conveyed by the angel (Luke 1:26-38). Elizabeth proclaims: “Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43, emphasis added). Mary’s role as mother of God places her in a unique position in God’s redemptive plan.
Without naming Mary, Paul asserts that “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4). Paul’s further statement that “God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out ‘Abba, Father!’“ helps us realize that Mary is mother to all the brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Some theologians also insist that Mary’s motherhood of Jesus is an important element in God’s creative plan. God’s “first” thought in creating was Jesus. Jesus, the incarnate Word, is the one who could give God perfect love and worship on behalf of all creation. As Jesus was “first” in God’s mind, Mary was “second” insofar as she was chosen from all eternity to be his mother.
The precise title “Mother of God” goes back at least to the third or fourth century. In the Greek form Theotokos (God-bearer), it became the touchstone of the Church’s teaching about the Incarnation. The Council of Ephesus in 431 insisted that the holy Fathers were right in calling the holy virgin Theotokos. At the end of this particular session, crowds of people marched through the street shouting: “Praised be the Theotokos!” The tradition reaches to our own day. In its chapter on Mary’s role in the Church, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church calls Mary “Mother of God” 12 times.


Comment:

Other themes come together at today’s celebration. It is the Octave of Christmas: Our remembrance of Mary’s divine motherhood injects a further note of Christmas joy. It is a day of prayer for world peace: Mary is the mother of the Prince of Peace. It is the first day of a new year: Mary continues to bring new life to her children—who are also God’s children.
Quote:

“The Blessed Virgin was eternally predestined, in conjunction with the incarnation of the divine Word, to be the Mother of God. By decree of divine Providence, she served on earth as the loving mother of the divine Redeemer, an associate of unique nobility, and the Lord’s humble handmaid. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ” (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 61).

LECTIO DIVINA: SOLEMNITY OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
Lectio: 
 Thursday, January 1, 2015
Visit of the Shepherds to Jesus and his Mother
The marginalised are God’s favourites
Luke 2:16-21

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.
2. Reading
a) A key to the reading:
The reason for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem was the census imposed by Rome’s emperor (Lk 2:1-7). Periodically, the Roman authorities decreed these censuses in the various regions of their immense empire. It was a matter of registering people and knowing how many had to pay taxes. The rich paid taxes on land and goods. The poor paid for the number of children they had. Sometimes the tax was more than 50% of a person’s income.
In Luke’s Gospel we note a significant difference between the birth of Jesus and that of John the Baptist. John is born at home, in his land, in the midst of parents and neighbours and is welcomed by all (Lk 1:57-58). Jesus is born unknown, away from his surroundings of family and neighbours and far from his land. “There was no room in the inn.” He had to be left in a manger (Lk 2:7).
Let us try to place and comment on our text (Lk 2:16-21) in the wider context of the visit of the shepherds (Lk 2:8-21). As we read, let us try to pay attention to the following: What surprises do we find and what contrasts appear in this text?
b) A division of the text to help us in our reading:
Luke 2:8-9: The shepherds in the field, the first persons invited
Luke 2:10-12: The first announcement of the Good News is made to the shepherds
Luke 2:13-14: The praise of the angels
Luke 2:15-18: The shepherds go to Bethlehem and tell of their vision of the angels
Luke 2:19-20: Mary’s attitude and that of the shepherds concerning these events
Luke 2:21: The circumcision of the child Jesus
c) Text:
8 In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night. 9 An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel said, 'Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.' 13 And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: 14 Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours. 15 Now it happened that when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.' 16 So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, 18 and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds said to them. 19 As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told. 21 When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What did you like best in this text? Why?
b) What surprises and contrasts do you find in this text?
c) How does the text teach us that the little ones are great in heaven and the poorest on earth?
d) What is Mary’s attitude and that of the shepherds concerning the mystery of God just revealed to them?
e) What is the message Luke wants to communicate to us through these details?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) The context of then and of today:
The text of the feast of the Mother of God (Lk 2:16-21) is part of the broader description of the birth of Jesus (Lk 2,1-7) and of the visit of the shepherds (Lk 2:8-21). The angel had announced the birth of the Saviour and gave a sign of recognition: “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!” They were expecting the Saviour of a whole people and they were to recognise him in a newborn child, poor, who lies close to two animals! What a great surprise!
God’s plan is fulfilled in an unexpected way, full of surprise. This happens today too. A poor child is the Saviour of the people! Can you believe this?
b) A commentary on the text:

Luke 2:8-9: The first invited persons
The shepherds were marginalised people, not greatly appreciated. They lived together with the animals, separate from the rest of humanity. Because of their constant contact with animals, they were considered impure. No one would have ever invited them to visit a newly born baby. But it is precisely to these shepherds that the Angel of the Lord appears to pass on the great news of the birth of Jesus. Seeing the vision of the angels, they are full of fear.
Luke 2:10-12: The first announcement of the Good News
The first thing the angel says is: Do not be afraid! The second is: Joy to be shared by the whole people! The third is: Today! Then the angel gives three names to indicate who Jesus is: Saviour, Christ and Lord! Saviour is the one who frees all people from all ties! The authorities in those days liked to use the title Saviour. They attributed the title of Soter to themselves. Christ means anointed or messiah. In the Old Testament this was the title given to kings and prophets. It was also the title of the future Messiah who would fulfil the promises made by God to his people. This means that newly born child, who lies in a manger, has come to fulfil the hopes of the people. Lord was the name given to God himself! Here we have the three greatest titles imaginable. From this announcement of the birth of Jesus as Saviour, Christ and Lord, can you imagine anyone with a higher standing? And angel says to you: “Be careful! I give you this sign of recognition: you will meet a child in a manger, in the midst of poor people!” Would you believe him? God’s ways are not our ways!
Luke 2:13-14: The praise of the angels: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours
A multitude of angels appears descending from heaven. It is heaven that bends itself towards the earth. The parts of this verse summarise God’s project, his plan. The first part tells us what happens in the world up there: Glory to God in the highest heaven. The second part tells us what will happen in the world here below: On earth peace for those he favours! If people could experience what it means to be favoured by God, everything would be different and peace would dwell on earth. And this would be to the greater glory of God who dwells in the highest!
Luke 2:15-18: The shepherds go to Bethlehem and tell of their vision of the angels
The Word of God is no longer a sound produced by the mouth. It is above all anevent! The shepherds literally say: “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us”. In Hebrew, the expression DABAR may mean both word and thing (event)generated by the word. The word of God is a creative force. It fulfils what it says. At creation God said: “Let there be light, and there was light!” (Gen 1:3). The word of the angel to the shepherds is the event of the birth of Jesus.
Luke 2:19-20: Mary’s attitude and that of the shepherds concerning these events
Luke immediately adds that, "Mary treasured all these things (events) and pondered them in her heart". These are two ways of perceiving and welcoming the Word of God: (i) The shepherds get up to see the events and verify the sign given by the angel, and then, they go back to their flocks glorifying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard. (ii) Mary, on the other hand, carefully keeps all these events in her mind and meditates on them in her heart. To meditate on things in one’s heart means to ruminate them and throw light on them in the light of the Word of God so as to understand better their full significance for life.
Luke 2:21: The circumcision and Name of Jesus
According to the norms of the law, the child Jesus is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (cf. Gen 17:12). Circumcision was a sign of belonging to the people. It gave the person an identity. On such an occasion each child received his name (cf. Lk 1:59-63). The child receives the name of Jesus that had been given him by the angel before his conception. The angel had said to Joseph that the name of the child had to be Jesus “he is the one who is to save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The name of Jesus is the same as Joshua, and means God will save. Another name that will gradually be given to Jesus is Christ, which meansAnointed or Messiah. Jesus is the awaited Messiah. A third name is that ofEmmanuel, which means God with us (Mt 1:23). The complete name is Jesus Christ Emmanuel!
c) Further information:
Mary in Luke’s Gospel
i) The role of the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel:
These are two rather well known but less deeply understood chapters. Luke writes them in imitation of the Old Testament. It is as though these two chapters were the last of the Old Testament so as to open the door for the coming of the New Testament. In these chapters, Luke creates an atmosphere of softness and praise. From beginning to end the mercy of God is sung, God who finally comes to fulfil his promises. Luke shows us how Jesus fulfils the Old Testament and begins the New Testament. And he does so in favour of the poor, the anawim, those who knew how to wait for his coming: Elisabeth, Zachary, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna and the shepherds. That is why the first two chapters are history but not in the sense that we today give to history. They were more like a mirror where those, for whom they were written, the Christians converted from paganism, could discover who Jesus was and how he had come to fulfil the prophecies of the Old Testament, satisfying the deepest aspirations of the human heart. These chapters were also a mirror of the events that were taking place within the communities in Luke’s time. The communities originating from paganism will be born of the communities of converted Jews. But these were different. The New did not correspond to what the Old Testament imagined and expected. It was "the sign of contradiction" (Lk 2:34), and caused tensions and was the source of much suffering. In Mary’s attitude, Luke presents a model of how the communities could react to and persevere in the New.
ii) A key to the reading:
In these two chapters Luke presents Mary as model for the life of the community. The key is given to us in the episode where the woman in the crowd praises the mother of Jesus. Jesus modifies the praise and says: “More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:27-28). Herein lies the greatness of Mary. It is in the world where Mary knows how to relate to the Word of God that the communities contemplate the more correct way of relating to the Word of God: welcoming it, incarnating it, living it, deepening it, reflecting on it, giving it birth and making it grow, allowing oneself to be overpowered by it even when one does not understand it or when one suffers because of it. This is the vision underlying the two texts of chapters 1 and 2 of Luke’s Gospel, which speak of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
iii) An application of the key to the texts:
1. Luke 1:26-38:
The Annunciation: "Let it happen to me as you have said!"
Opening one’s self so that the Word of God may be welcomed and incarnated.
2. Luca 1:39-45:
The Visitation: "Blessed is she who believed!"
Recognising the Word of God in the events of life.
3. Luke 1:46-56:
The Magnificat: “The Almighty has done great things for me!”
A subversive and resistance hymn of hope.
4. Luke 2:1-20:
The Birth: "She treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
There was no room for them. The marginalised welcome the Word.
5. Luke 2:21-32:
The Presentation: "My eyes have seen the salvation!"
Years of life purify the eyes.
6. Luke 2:33-38:
Simeon and Anna: "A sword will pierce your soul"
Being a Christian means being a sign of contradiction.
7. Luke 2:39-52:
At twelve years: " Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
They did not understand the Word of God addressed to them!
iv) The contrasts that stand out in our text:
1. In the darkness of the night a light shines (2:8-9).
2. The world up there, heaven, seems to embrace our world here below (2:13).
3. The greatness of God manifests itself in the weakness of a child (2:7).
4. The glory of God is made present in a manger, close to animals (2:16).
5. Fear is generated by the sudden apparition of an angel and is changed into joy (2:9-10).
6. Those completely marginalised are the first invited (2:8).
7. The shepherds recognise God present in a child (2:20).
6. Praying with the Psalm 23 (22)
“Yahweh is my shepherd!”
Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.
You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.