Sunday within the Octave of the
Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ—30 December AD 2007
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and English
Sunday Within the Octave of the Nativity
Dominica infra Octavam Nativitatis
“While all things were in quiet silence,
and the night was in the midst of its course,
Thine almighty Word, O Lord,
leaped down from heaven from Thy royal throne.”
Those words, taken from the Old
Testament Book of Wisdom, and adopted by the Church for use in the Introit or
Entrance Hymn of this Mass, seem both poetic and precise. The almighty
Word of God, as Saint John tells us in his Gospel, is the second Person of the
Blessed Trinity, who existed with God before all ages, and who, on one quiet
night, came down from heaven—“the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst
us”—a tiny child who would give Himself up in order to redeem the world and
offer God’s eternal friendship to all who would accept it.
In the context of this Mass. we picture the almighty Word entering the world to
form the kingdom of those who love God, and who are loved by God in return.
Paradoxically, though, if we consult the
Book of Wisdom as its original context, the phrase speaks to God’s dealings
with the Egyptians who refused to let His people leave the forced labor of the
Pharos: “Thine almighty Word leaped down from heaven from thy royal
throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction.”
It refers to the Passover night, and the slaughter of the first born of those
who defied God. In this sense, the phrase has God establishing a kingdom
of fierce justice—much more a kingdom of fear and reluctant compliance—a
kingdom of law, rather than of love.
In his epistle this morning—taken from
the fourth chapter of his letter to the Galatians, which chapter you might want
to read in its entirety—Paul explains that “when the fullness of the time
was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman, made under the law: That he
might redeem them who were under the law: that we might receive the adoption of
What Saint Paul is saying is that God has given us a choice. We can live
in His creation in one of two ways. We can choose to live in the kingdom
of fear, or we can choose to live in the kingdom of love. We cannot live
apart from God or without God, for everything around us, and even our very self,
was created by God and is kept in existence by God. But, to some degree,
we each pick the relationship we choose to have with Almighty God—a
relationship of law, or a relationship of love.
Of course, Saint Paul’s epistles are
generally addressed to Jewish people who lived under the old covenant of the
Mosaic Law. Paul was explaining to them that the Old Covenant had been
replaced with the New Covenant—one could no longer work out one’s salvation
with the “dead works of the Law” of Moses—but, indeed, that was a good
thing, for the New Covenant of Christ raises us from the status of “hired
hands and servants” to the status of “adopted sons and daughters.”
Yet, even among those who profess to be
Catholics there seem to be folks who want to live their lives by the letter of
the law, rather than in the spirit of love. There is a mentality that
seeks after worldly satisfaction—sometimes even sinful satisfaction—seeking
to do only what is absolutely required by God, and even to try to bargain
about that. One might argue that such a person might still “eek out”
graces adequate for salvation—just barely so—but what a tortured existence
it would be.
It would be tortured because the
perspective is all wrong. Since the birth of Jesus Christ, the proper
perspective—the only perspective that makes sense—is to recognize that God
is good to us; both in what He gives us and what He demands of us and from
Knowing and loving God in eternal life
should begin at Baptism, continue throughout our days on earth, and eventually
make a tranquil transition to eternity. It should be much more than just
attempting to die in the state of grace, so as to barely snatch heaven from the
jaws of the devil. The life of man with God is pleasant, fulfilling, and
certain to be rewarded with the joys of heaven. A life without God is
bound to unfulfilling, frustrating, and can only end in eternal misery. A
life calculated to include God in the bare minimum will be almost as
unfulfilling and frustrating, and may well end in the same state of eternal
In another day or two we will begin a
new year—an opportunity to open up a fresh chapter in our lives, and to set
things back on the course we know they should be taking. Before you make
any new year’s resolutions, though, let me suggest that you make a thorough
examination of conscience, in order to set proper priorities.
Consider the natural moral law. It
is not simply a list of things not to do. While the Commandments
are traditionally phrased as “thou shalt nots,” they are really a statement
of what we must do to make our lives and our civilization work with reasonable
success. They are as valid in the twenty-first century as they were three
thousand years ago. A society whose members routinely hit, steal,
kill, cheat, and lie to each other is a society that is certain to die, sooner
rather than later.
The command to “honor thy father and
mother” speaks to far more, calling for entire families (and perhaps even
nations) to work diligently for mutual understanding and shared prosperity and
The command to “not kill” extends to
any and all unnecessary violence. It mandates cooperation among people,
rather than foolish and unproductive disagreement.
To “not commit adultery” extends far
beyond minimal marital fidelity, to a world in which the procreation and
education of children is once again the primary purpose of the pleasures which
may only be enjoyed by husband and wife. To eliminate this “primary end
of matrimony” is to turn human relationships into pornography—fleeting,
damaging, and deceptive.
To “not steal” suggests a high
standard of justice in all things, both in what is material and in what is not.
To “not bear false witness” is to be
humble and truthful in all things, carefully weighing one’s words so that they
will damage no one.
Again, the moral law is not God’s
attempt to restrict our enjoyment of His creation. On the contrary, it is
His “set of instructions” for all men and women to make the most and the
best out of their efforts and time on earth. It is something for which we
are all responsible—men and women, as well as children and the elderly—no
I purposefully left the Commandments
that deal with our relationship with God until last. One can see prayer
and fasting, the Mass and the Sacraments, and any of the other things of God,
from either of the two points of view I mentioned earlier. You can choose
to be a disgruntled hired servant, or you can choose to be a child of God.
You are free to choose as you like, but
the correct choice is obvious. We are all creatures of God, capable of
knowing and loving God, men and women created for the purpose of being with God
in eternity. To leave God out of our lives, or to include Him in minimal
way, is to deny the reality of what we are and why we are.
If you like, you can think of being required
to pray occasionally, and of being compelled to abstain on Fridays.
You can grudgingly think of Sunday and holy day obligations, and an
Easter duty. You can hope that your family or your friends will
arrange to have a priest at your deathbed to undo a lifetime of requirements
not met or only barely so.
Far more pleasant and far more secure in
its outcome is to view all of these things as opportunities, rather than
as onerous and difficult requirements, obligations, and duties. Prayer is
the opportunity to speak with your loving Father about all of your
concerns. Fasting and abstinence are opportunities for being sure
that you hear Him clearly and distinctly. Holy Mass is the opportunity
to spend about an hour with Him each day. Confession is the opportunity
to repent and to be forgiven, no matter how scarlet your sins. And Holy
Communion is the opportunity for complete intimacy with the One who loves
you for the most pure and unselfish reasons.
God’s “almighty Word” did indeed
“leap down from heaven.” We can live in His kingdom of love as
Christians, or in servile fear of His destruction as did the Egyptians.
The choice is ours to make—and not really a very tough one!