Several weeks ago a news story carried a medical warning that people, young and old, are beginning to experience chronic back and neck pain earlier and earlier in life, due to the amount of time spent on their phone. Another article described increased reports of carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the hands, wrists, and arms, due to the repetitive nature of phone use, like texting. When I was having trouble sleeping earlier this year, someone suggested to me using a special app which plays natural sounds to produce a calming effect and help send you off to sleep. Many of us, I am sure, wake up to a radio alarm clock, or sit in the car on the way to work with music playing, or even have the television or radio on in the background at home, even when we are nowhere near it. If you go on the train or the bus, almost everyone will have headphones on, listening away in their own little world whilst the scenery passes them.
O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: grant that as we joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come again to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
We are left in no doubt that, though this Collect comes at the Vigil Mass for the feast of the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas now has come. The yearly remembrance of the birth of the Christ for whom we have so longed over the past days and weeks, has arrived. The one whom we joyfully receive as our Redeemer is the Word made Flesh; the Second Person of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity, who has condescended to us, to commingle the supernatural with the natural, our humanity with his divinity. The “radiant dawn” for which we have prayed has now come to shed its light upon us, to scatter the darkness of this fallen world, and to bring his warmth and health and life.
For many over the last few days the celebration of Christmas has been an opportunity for families to come together, often after some significant time apart, and, in each other’s company, to rejoice at the divine relationship of God and Man by recognizing the importance of the relationships that we enjoy with each other, whether by blood, or by the supernatural bond which is formed in us by virtue of our baptism into the life of Christ and the Church.
The feast of the Holy Family is a particular reminder of this, continuing this emphasis by presenting us with the example of the Lord’s earthly family, that we might imitate more closely his heavenly family. The Holy Family of Nazareth is given to us in the light of Lord’s nativity as a model of living for us to imitate, and a type of the fullness of life itself, which is the life of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity; the relationship of God the Father with God the Son, in and through God the Holy Spirit. That relationship, which is of the essence of our life in Christ and our hope of eternal life in him, is one begun in us by our sacramental washing in the waters of the sacred font, in baptism, and seen most particularly in the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Holy Mass. In baptism we are grafted to Christ, incorporated into his mystical body, the Church, and so necessarily caught up in his divine life and in the eternal offering of his perfect sacrifice of praise to his Eternal Father. By virtue of our death to self, and our subsequent regeneration into new life in Christ, we too are intimately one with him: one with him in this life, we will be one with him in the next if we resist the poison and sickness of sin, which seeks to kill the mutual relationship he has established.
This homily was given at Saint Thomas Apostle, Woodley Park, Washington, D.C., on the feast of the Holy Family.
Meeting to prepare a wedding with a young couple, it is rather easy for a priest to get a cheap laugh – at least from the groom – if he simply suggests having today’s reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians at the wedding. ‘Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord’, says the apostle. What often (and equally swiftly) wipes the smile from the young man’s face – if his bride-to-be hasn’t done so herself – is the next line: ‘Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them’. The groom has his responsibilities too. He is to be a strong, characterful, moral family leader, and he is to accept the great and serious burden of protecting and caring for his wife, whatever that might bring on him. Just as in the old English wedding vows where the bride promises to love, honour, and obey, her husband, ‘be subordinate to your husbands’ is not a call to a master-servant relationship, but one of mutuality. We might say, in fact, that the bride is permitting herself to be looked after and cared for, above the husband’s own concerns and well-being.
This was given at Saint Mary, Mother of God, Washington, D.C.
Over the past four weeks of Advent, the Church has meditated on the coming of her Messiah. Tonight, in the beauty and majesty of her sacred liturgy, she celebrates that coming in the birth of Our Lord in the Bethlehem stable, and seeks to do him homage by her worship and praise and adoration. We, who have longed for the coming of the Christ child, receive now our reward in the babe in the manger. God is made Man to redeem us and bring us back to himself. Our Advent prayer – Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! – is answered; God has taken on our flesh and nature, and come amongst us. He who is above all things has condescended to our lowly state to save us from ourselves and bring us back to the fullness of our human nature: eternal life in him.
Certain that I am not alone in having certain pieces of music that I listen to each Advent and Christmas – and which really mark this time of year – I thought I’d share with you some of my favourites, in the hope that these beautiful examples of sacred music draw you deeper into the mystery of the Lord’s coming, as they have for me.
As far as Advent is concerned, I can’t recommend anything better than Veni Emmanuel sung by the King’s Singers on their Christmas album. The arrangement is by Philip Lawson, who sang with them until recently and at whose final concert in Salisbury Cathedral I was privileged to be. I’d also edge you toward the very beautiful Magnificat Quinti Toni by Praetorius, interspersed with verses from Joseph lieber, Joseph mein, on a wonderful recording of his settings of the Magnificat and various motets, by the Cardinall’s Musick directed by Andrew Carwood.