Dear Brothers & Sisters,
This weekend marks the beginning of a new year, 2023. For us Christians it’s a year closer to the second coming of Christ, and a year full of graces. Precisely for this reason the first reading evokes a blessing upon us, “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!”
Three times the name of the Lord is pronounced. What better way to start the year than this?
Today is also the eighth day of the octave of Christmas. According to the tradition, it is the day, when Joseph and Mary bring Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised. There he received his name, which means God saves. It is important for us to reflect upon the role of the Virgin Mary in God’s plan. The Lord does save us, but through the agency of the Virgin Mary. We hear the words of Saint Paul, who says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). Here’s a confirmation, that Jesus is born of the Virgin Mary.
Although we will not be able to give birth to Jesus like Mary, in a spiritual sense we can. Just a few days ago we were exhorted to allow Christ to be born in our hearts, therefore in a way we can also participate in God’s plan of salvation by bringing Christ to other people. Through this mission, we are called to resemble Mary also in our attitudes in three ways. First, she believed with her whole heart, the word of God in this new year that we begin, we are also called to live by faith. Even when we live difficult days in 2023, not being able to understand or acceptance the events of our lives, or moments of sadness, we are called to trust in the Lord as Mary did. Second, we are called to be open to the mission that God calls us. Our lady of God based on her own interests. She made herself available, like a servant/handmaid. Likewise, we are called to discern what God asks of us, and without hesitation to say “Yes”, even when we are asked something difficult, stressful, or inconvenient. Third, all of this would be possible, without a careful and contemplative, listening to the voice of God. Today’s gospel says that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. She contemplated everything that happened to her in light of God’s silence presence and God’s plan of salvation. And therefore, we are also called to see/meditate upon the events of our life in order to understand that God does “great things for [us] and Holy is his name.”
Brothers and sisters, in 2023 we will laugh and cry, we will have moments of sadness and joy. However we are invited today to live all these events in light of the Christ, the light of the world, the light that shines in darkness. Only in him we shall find peace and love, and the certitude that we are not lost. Let’s entrust ourselves to Mary, our Mother and Mother of God!
God bless and Happy New Year!
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
I remember the first time that I heard the song “Last Christmas” by Mariah Carey. I didn’t pay attention to the rest of the song, but the refrain got stuck in my head. “Last Christmas I gave you my heart / But the very next day you gave it away.” We hear it every year and each year I still don’t get it, why would anyone give their heart to someone who will give it away? I believe that this year I have understood it. Actually, this story is very similar to what God has done for us.
Our heart, which often represents our love, is the representation of something beyond that, namely, our whole self or our being. Since love is an action of the will, we choose the people who we love, with a few exceptions when we fall in love. However, whether accidental or intentional, every time we fall in love, it is always a conscious willful action. Today we use the word “love” for many things, which are not even a resemblance of true love. Before we continue on the reflection of God’s love, it is important to understand what kind of love we are talking about. Aristotle defines that there are 4 types of love. The first is “eros,” which is the (carnal) love among lovers. It is often temporary and superficial, like the one from the song. The second is “philia”. It is the love among friends (brotherly love), that is among equals. The third is “storge.” It is the love of parents for their children. It carries a sense of empathy, dependency, and it has some sense of self-giving. The fourth and the deepest of love is “agape,” which is true L-O-V-E.” This love is the purest form of love, which is the one that God has for us. It is poorly described as selfless, self-giving, altruistic. I say “poorly,” because it is much more than that. Maybe the best way to describe it is the way St. Paul writes on 1Co 13 (love is kind, patient, forgives all things, bears all things…). Indeed, in Scriptures the Greek word “Agape” is used to describe God, as in “God is love.” Therefore, when we say that “God loves us,” it means that He has willfully chosen to give himself to us, out of his kindness and compassion.
In the song, the subject made a mistake to give her heart to her partner, who she assumed was the right person. Maybe we can even say that she made a mistake entrusting her feelings for the wrong guy. I always wondered why she was not more careful, or even tested the waters before jumping right into it. Well, now that we celebrate Christmas, we can say that God has done something similar to it. Indeed, He went further than that. After Adam and Eve, who were created in the image and likeness of God, who had a great life sinned, God decides willfully to forgive. He creates a plan of salvation that includes not merely giving his heart, but his whole being. He gives us himself in His Son. Looking into our lives, there are times that we also have given Him the cold shoulder, and have put other priorities before Him. Instead of “giving it away,” we refused His love or we chose creation/creatures instead of the Creator. But here comes the boom, what does God do in front of that? He willfully chooses to give us his love once again. By choosing to love us, He does not make a mistake or assume we were the wrong person, he absolutely knows that we are the right ones.
Today’s celebration of the birth of Christ is the confirmation of the continuous L-O-V-E that God has for each one of us. Regardless of what we did “last Christmas” or in our past, He chooses once again to give more than his heart, he gives himself. It is not that we have to earn His love by being good or coming to church or saying our prayers, but rather the opposite. God’s gratuitous LOVE is so awesome that we would want more of it. We come to Church to receive the graces that He has in store for us through the different sacraments. If you have not received some of the sacraments or it has been a while, let’s start again. Jesus comes on earth as a baby because it’s the most approachable form that God has to be close to us. As Jesus came more than 2,000 years ago, He also comes again on this Holy Night. As He was born in a manger, this year He wants to be born in our hearts and our lives. As Oscar Wilde once said, “the only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." By the realization of how much God has loved and loves us, then we can also love the others, and give our hearts back to Him and our neighbor. If there is something that we as a parish can do for you, please do not hesitate to contact us. May the Joy and Peace that Christ has brought into the world be yours at Christmas and throughout the coming year. Christmas Blessings from all the Staff of the Immaculate Conception Parish, Fr. Kevin and Fr. Steven.
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
Often my thoughts go along with some famous tunes. This time of the year I couldn’t decide to go with “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” or “It’s the final Countdown.” As indeed it is a great time, this week is also the final preparation for Christmas. As the lights go up, the nativity scene is put together (without baby Jesus and no 3 kings yet, please), the last-minute shopping goes around, and the other details get taken care of, it is also important to prepare our souls for Christmas.
This weekend we start the novena of Christmas and everything in our liturgy is geared towards it. Christmas is not Jesus' birthday or some kind thing that He did 2,000 years ago. It is rather the fulfillment of God’s plan of Salvation for us. We have outward signs that help us remember how it happened, the life of Christ that never fades like the evergreen that we have all around, the get together with family and friends which is only possible by the love that God bestows in our hearts. Inwardly, we can also prepare our souls for this special moment, so that Jesus can be born also in our hearts. Confession, daily rosaries, movies or documentaries, reading the Gospel of the day or the Gospel passages about the birth of Jesus, Jesse Tree, and so on. This year we will have the grace to host the Seminarians’ Christmas Concert on Thursday December 22nd at 7:30pm. I don’t know this year’s repertoire, but I’m sure that they will sing the traditional Carols, some songs from different cultures in different languages, and they always have something special for the children. So, do bring them along with your family and friends.
One other way for us to be prepared to celebrate Christmas, is also to think of other people. Not everyone will be happy, joyful this year. Some people will be separated from their loved ones for one reason or another. Just think about those in the military. After 22 years, this will be the first time that my brother and I will be together with my parents for Christmas. I’m sure that there are many other parents and children that will go for a longer period of time. Other people will not be able to be with their loved one, because they passed away. This is even more challenging for the families who will be celebrating their first Christmas without their parents, son or daughter, brother or sister, grandparent, best friend and so on. Still others are sick, suffering from other illnesses or tribulations, or struggling with addiction. I would like to invite you all to take some time this week to say a special prayer for all of them. Only when we are in their shoes can we understand how hard it can be this time of the year.
On a distinct, but not on a separate note, I suppose we still read the news about what is going on in Ukraine. Not only the war, the separation, and other hardships that we have heard now for almost a year, but now with the latest Russian attacks on the Ukrainian infrastructure, they must be tormented by all sorts of issues. Whether the lack of heating, electricity, or food, I suppose that the hardest part will be to go through this time of Christmas under these circumstances. Unfortunately, there is not much we can do, but the little that we can do, I would like to do it. The first Collection of Christmas will be all for the retired priests from the Archdiocese of Boston. I will have a second collection for Ukraine. In case you are celebrating Christmas with your family elsewhere and would like to contribute, you can drop by the office and leave your donation with Lee Ann. Please, do mark clearly your contribution for Ukraine so that we do not send it to the Archdiocese by mistake. As St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta says, “we cannot do great things, but small things with great love.” Please do consider helping these brothers and sisters who not only will not have any gifts this year, but they might not be able to celebrate Christmas at all. Let’s also pray that Jesus who comes to bring “peace to people of good will” be able to help end this war.
In case we don’t see each other this week, on behalf of all the staff, the people of the parish and Fr. Kevin, I would like to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Holy Christmas. Please do count on our daily prayers for each and every one of you.
Dear Brothers & Sisters,
This week we celebrate the Feast of our Patroness, the Immaculate Conception, and the patroness of the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe. We often have heard those titles of Mary, but without much familiarity with them.
The Dogma (an irrevocable truth contained in Divine Revelation as the Catechism defines it) of the Immaculate Conception is sometimes confused with Jesus being born without sin. It actually refers to the Blessed Virgin Mother who was conceived (Conception) without sin/original Sin (Immaculate). It is fitting, says St. Thomas Aquinas, that the mother of Jesus was completely perfect, in order to receive Jesus in her womb. Like her, we ourselves are also called to be perfect in order to receive Jesus in our souls. It is only through the immense love that God has for each of us that we can be transformed, like Mary, in this holy tabernacle to carry Jesus within us. This radical transformation can be intimidating, as we need much help to be Holy as God is Holy, to be courageous to follow the Word of God, to receive the Lord within us, just like Mary. This past Monday, we heard the Gospel from the Roman Centurion that asks Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant (Mt. 8:5-11). As Jesus wants to come at his request, the Centurion replies that he is not worthy that Jesus should enter under his roof. That is what we say at every mass right before communion. But the beauty is that Jesus DOES WANT TO DWELL IN US, in our hearts, mind, and lives, even though we are not yet perfect! As God bestowed many graces to the Blessed Mother (full of Grace), He also wants to bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens and on earth (Ephesians 1:3). At the example of the blessed Mother let us not be afraid to become the handmaid of the Lord, and accept all the blessings from God.
Additionally, the Blessed Mother herself also intercedes for us, caring for us, like a mother. When Juan Diego was in a rush to ask a priest to visit his dying uncle, he avoided the place where Our Lady of Guadalupe first appeared to him, in order to complete his task. Nonetheless, she appeared to him for a second time. After listening his concern for his uncle, she said, “Listen my little child, let nothing frighten you or disturb you. Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? … Let nothing else worry you, disturb you.” Dear brothers and sisters, let us entrust all our preoccupations, concerns, and worries to her.
On this week when we also celebrate Gaudete Sunday, there are plenty of reasons for us to Rejoice! Not only for having a Celestial Mother so close to us, but contemplating so many great things that the Lord has already done in our lives. Let’s not be distracted with the busyness of December, but rather prepare our hearts to welcome Christ. The time of Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the coming of Christ, not so much about getting the gifts and the house ready for Christmas. There is a prayer of St. Teresa of Avila that often comes to my mind which says, “Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, ALL THINGS ARE PASSING AWAY: God never changes. Patience obtains all things, Whoever has God lacks nothing; GOD ALONE SUFFICES.” We are invited to rejoice also because God has not given up on us. While all things will pass away, we know that He is eternal, and He alone is all that we need.
Let us focus in this time of Advent, with the help of our Blessed Mother, to prepare our hearts to let Jesus into our lives, just like Christmas.
Father Steven Clemence