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From a homily by Saint John Chrysostom , bishop

For love of Christ, Paul bore every burden

Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.


Thus, amid the traps set for him by his enemies, with exultant heart he turned their every attack into a victory for himself; constantly beaten, abused and cursed, he boasted of it as though he were celebrating a triumphal procession and taking trophies home, and offered thanks to God for it all: Thanks be to God who is always victorious in us! This is why he was far more eager for the shameful abuse that his zeal in preaching brought upon him than we are for the most pleasing honours, more eager for death than we are for life, for poverty than we are for wealth; he yearned for toil far more than others yearn for rest after toil. The one thing he feared, indeed dreaded, was to offend God; nothing else could sway him. Therefore, the only thing he really wanted was always to please God.


The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored.


To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture. So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.


Paul set no store by the things that fill our visible world, any more than a man sets value on the withered grass of the field. As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid them no more heed than gnats. Death itself and pain and whatever torments might come were but child’s play to him, provided that thereby he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.

From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop
The Voice is John, the Word is Christ


John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives forever. Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.


However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.


In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find a place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.


When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.


Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John’s baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ’s baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.


Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what is was, anxious not to give offense to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord.


The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him.”


To prepare the way means to pray well; it means thinking humbly of oneself. We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.


If he had said, “I am the Christ,” you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.


He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.

Dear Friends,

There is a story that the Missionaries of Charity tell of Mother Teresa.   The story is about a Hindu man that Mother Teresa saw lying in the streets of Calcutta and whom she took home to one of the many houses they have for people who are dying.  She cared for him for many days, feeding him, bathing him, and simply talking with him as one person to another, giving him the respect that he deserved as a child of God.  As it became clear that he was soon going to die, she would say to him often, “You have nothing to be afraid of; soon you are going to be with Jesus, soon you are going to be with Jesus.”  As the man had spent most of his life as a  Hindu, he didn’t really know a lot about Jesus and so, moments before  he died he looked at this woman who had taken him in off the streets, provided him with food and shelter and clothing and dignity and asked her, “Is this Jesus anything like you?” 

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as the Feast of the Manifestation. When Jesus made himself known to the whole world, not just to the Jewish people but to the whole gentile world as well.  In today’s Gospel there are a few key figures that we could focus on; there’s Jesus, His mother Mary, King Herod, the Magi.  And there’s the star.  It was the star that the Magi followed from some far away country.  The star led them to Jesus, God born in the flesh for the salvation of all the world.  Mother Teresa led that Hindu man to Jesus, just as the star led the Magi to Jesus.   Without the appearance of that star, presumably, the Magi would never have left their homeland, would never have met Jesus, and would have remained in ignorance not only about who God is but about the ultimate purpose of life and what it truly means to be human and how to be happy. 

As God once provided those Magi with that star so as to lead them to His son, so in every age He provides “stars” so as to help draw people to Jesus.  In his letter on “Hope” Pope Benedict wrote, “Human life is a journey.  Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route.  The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives.  They are lights of hope.”  “Certainly,” the Pope continues, “Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history.  But to reach Him we also need lights close by, people who shine with His light and so guide us along our way.”  Now as we know the greatest of all those close by stars is our Mother Mary.  But there have been countless other stars who have shown us the way, who have lived good lives, and have made Jesus known to us.  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was one of them. 

As we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, as we reflect upon the stars in our lives.  The stars that have helped us to know Jesus and how to truly live.   I think that today our Lord is offering each of us a challenge.  That challenge is to become more and more a star ourselves.   Not a popstar, not a Kardashian type star, but a star of divine light.  The baptismal call, the mission, given by God to each of us is to, in some way, be intentional about helping others come to know Jesus.  We do this by the witness of our lives and by our words.  We can’t be silent about our faith.  It can’t be hidden. 

The mission is simply this:  to know Jesus and to make Him known.  The mission is to let the light of Jesus shine through us, not for an hour once a week but in all the hours of the whole week.  The mission is to have the intention in every situation, wherever we are, to bring Jesus by the witness of our lives and the words we 0speak. This was Mother Teresa’s intention; it’s why she made such an impression on the whole world.  She was a light of Christ.  She had the aroma of Jesus as St. Paul would say. 

Hundreds of years before Mother Teresa there was another star who single-handedly, not in legend but in fact, converted all of Ireland.  St. Patrick is famous for many things and there is a prayer that he prayed at the start of each day.  It’s called the Breastplate of St. Patrick; in it he prays to be so conformed to Jesus Christ that when others see him they see only Jesus Christ.  This is the ultimate goal of Christianity; to be another Christ.  It might be a great prayer for us as we begin 2023.  It goes like this:  “Christ be in the eyes of all who see me, in the ears of all who hear me, on the lips of all who speak of me, in the minds of all who think of me, in the hearts of all who love me.  Christ be before me, behind me, above me, beneath me; Christ on my right and my left.  Christ be my all.”

May our lives, like the Star of Bethlehem, Mother Teresa, and St. Patrick, help lead others to Jesus. 

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher Ankley

Bishop Bradley released the following statement on the death of
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Vicki Cessna, vcessna@diokzoo.org; 269-929-8298

December 31, 2022 (Kalamazoo, Mich.): The Most Rev. Paul J. Bradley has released the following statement on the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

“It is with great confidence in Christ’s promises, yet with sadness of heart, that we have received the news that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, has been called from this world to the eternal life with our Heavenly Father.  At the same time, we offer our prayers for the repose of the soul of Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, who has “finished the race” here on earth, that he may enjoy at last the eternal rest and unending joy of the saints in Heaven.

“Pope Benedict’s contribution to the Church has been immeasurable: from his early days as a priest, when he was an expert for the Second Vatican Council, to his role as President of the Commission to draft the Catechism of the Catholic Church, to his tenure as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, to his election on April 19, 2005, as the 265th Roman Pontiff and Shepherd of the more than one billion Catholics world-wide.  He led the Church with courage and gentle dignity; through his writings and teaching, including his encyclicals “Deus est Caritas” (“God is Love”, 2005), “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”, 2007), and “Caritas in Veritate” (“Love in Truth”, 2009), he gave the Church greater insight and clarity into our faith.   During his papacy, Pope Benedict’s guidance, teaching, and pastoral governance moved the Church forward into a time of renewal, through the call to a New Evangelization.

“Pope Emeritus Benedict captivated our nation with his Apostolic Visit to the United States in 2008, during which he celebrated Mass at Yankee Stadium, and gave an inspiring address to the United Nations. I had the great pleasure of meeting Pope Emeritus Benedict on two separate occasions, the last of which was in 2010, when I presented him with a spiritual bouquet of prayers from the Faithful of the Diocese of Kalamazoo. He felt our prayers then and continued to receive them during his years as Pope Emeritus. He will be known for his surprising and historic resignation from the papacy on February 28, 2013.

“Let us join together in prayer, asking our Loving God to welcome Pope Emeritus Benedict into the Heavenly Kingdom. May he receive the reward for his 95 years of faithful witness to and love for Jesus Christ, as we offer our thanksgiving to the Lord for this Holy Father’s long-standing service to the Church and to the world.” 

Bishop Bradley will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving on Wednesday, January 4th, at 12:10 p.m. at St. Augustine Cathedral, Kalamazoo and has asked all 59 parishes in the Diocese of Kalamazoo to also offer Masses in the Holy Father’s eternal rest. For a list of parishes visit www.diokzoo.org.

Bishop Bradley presents Pope Benedict XVI with a spiritual bouquet from the Faithful of the Diocese of Kalamazoo during his 2012 Ad Limina visit with the pope.

Dear Friends,

Every day in my email inbox I have something from Church Pop.  Their logo is a Popsicle on a stick with a halo around it, very creative.  The article/video they send is always interesting and orthodox.  Church Pop is a subsidiary of EWTN.  A few days before Christmas I received my usual Church Pop and it was an article about Precepe.  Precepe are the Italian version of the Nativity.  Precepe are more than just Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, a few animals, shepherds, and Kings.  They are usually whole cityscapes with shops, and houses, and farms, and courtyards, and lots of people.  Lots of people doing various activities, some are working, playing, resting, and just going on about their day.  Precepe are very busy and involved, and they take up a lot of space. 

And usually it’s very hard to find the Holy Family.  They are not in the front and center; they’re usually off to the side, almost hidden.  To find the Holy Family in the Precepe is like trying to find Waldo.  It takes effort.  And that’s the point.  Hardly anyone knew when the King of Kings was born.  Except for a few shepherds and the Wise men, nobody knew of our Lord’s birth.  The rest of the world went on; business as usual. 

Now the Shepherds knew because of the Angel’s message.  The angel came to them saying,  “Today in the City of David a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you; you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a

manger.”  But what was difficult then is not difficult today.  Today it’s not hard to find Jesus; it’s not hard to find our Lord.  He can be found in every tabernacle in every Catholic Church across the world.  Under the veil of Eucharistic Bread the fullness of our Lord’s humanity and divinity is present and waiting. 

Our Lord once said this about the Eucharist to a mystic, “Come to Me in the Sacrament of My love and I will fill you with the sweetness of My friendship.  Know that there is no companionship on earth that can be compared with Mine.  For this too did I institute the Sacrament and Sacrifice of My Body and Blood:  so that souls might find Me present in My churches and, by remaining in My presence, learn from Me all that I have heard from My Father.  For this reason do I call you friends.  You are My friends because, from the tabernacle where I am present, and from the monstrance that exposes Me to your gaze, I will share with you the secrets of My Heart.” 

Our Lord also told this same mystic, that to be in the presence of the Eucharist, whether in a tabernacle or a monstrance is to sit within the loving gaze of his Eucharistic face, a privileged place to rest and be in peace.  In our first reading we are given a blessing that prays for exactly this, to be in the presence of the Face of our Lord.  We read, 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!  To sit before the Eucharist (Tabernacle or Monstrance) is to let His Face shine upon us.

In this upcoming New Year, find some time each week, put it right into your schedule, to just come and sit with our Lord, here at St. Joseph’s/St. Jerome’s. He is not hard to find and don’t worry about what you’ll pray or say, you don’t need an agenda of prayer, just come and be.   He’s always here waiting, see what happens, you will not regret it.  The world out there may go on, business as usual, but in here, with Our Lord we have rest, peace, and consolation.  He graces us so that we can make Him present out there. 

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! 

Happy New Year!

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

W. D. Boyce Award

St. Philip, St. Joseph, & St. Jerome Catholic Churches

A Scout is Reverent! A Scout does his/her duty to God! Those phrases come from the Scout Law and the Scout Oath. Each recited by Scouts across the United States at the opening of their troop meetings.

Beginning in 1923 the Scouts of Troop 325 (previously Troop 25) and later the Cub Scouts in Pack 325 have called St. Philip home. As St. Joseph and St. Jerome’s were built in 1942 and 1957 respectively, the Catholic Churches of Battle Creek became home to a vibrant and active Troops and Packs. Through the years the Scouts have done numerous service projects and assisted the Churches and Schools in many activities. Hundreds of boys (and now girls) have learned lifelong lessons and skills from their time in the Troop and Pack. As of today, Troop 325 has seen 169 scouts reach the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest rank in scouting. Many of these Eagle Scouts owe a great big thank you to the Priests, staff and parishioners of St. Philip, St. Joseph, and St. Jerome, who generously supported their Eagle Scout projects with their time, talent, treasure, and prayers.

Scouting is not the only way that the Battle Creek Area Catholic Churches serve youth. For more than 100 years St. Philip Catholic Central has been educating the youth of your community. Now through the Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, children attend St. Joseph Elementary, St. Joseph Middle School, and St. Philip Catholic Central. This combined with each church’s religious education programs, means that hundreds of children every year are learning what it means to be Reverent, how to serve others, how to serve their community and how to do their duty to God.

 

On Tuesday  December 13th, the Boy Scouts of America recognized all three Battle Parish’s (St. Jerome, St. Joseph, and St. Philip) with the W.D. Boyce Leadership Award.  The recognition was for demonstrated leadership in service to the youth of Calhoun County in three ways:  1)  Exhibiting leadership that impacts area youth in a positive way, 2)  Exhibiting leadership in a positive fashion for the good in Society, and 3)  Creative leadership.  Rev.  Ankley  was present to represent St. Joseph and St. Jerome Parishes.  Rev. Richardson was present to represent St. Philip Parish.

Additionally an individual W.D. Boyce Award was presented to Hon. John Hallacy.  He is a member of St. Joseph Parish.  He serves on the Committees for both Cub Scout Pack #325, and Scout Troop #325, both of which are sponsored by all three churches.  Judge Hallacy has also served on the Diocese of Kalamazoo Catholic Committee on Scouting for many years.

W.D. Boyce is the Chicago businessman who formally organized the Scouting movement in the United States in 1910.

 

 

Dear Friends,

On this final Sunday of Advent we are presented with two men, Ahaz of the Old Testament and Joseph of the New Testament.  One trusted in God the other did not.

Our first reading from Isaiah is one of the most descriptive prophesies foretelling of the future messianic king, the Christ.  Ahaz is a descendent of King David and he is the king of Judah; he’s  young and inexperienced.  And he’s expecting his country to be attacked from the combined forces of Israel and Syria.   Ahaz is not in a good spot and he’s wondering whether to trust in God or to maybe depend upon the neighboring army of Assyria, who he’s asked to help him in defense of his country.  God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refuses.  He’d rather decide his own fate and that of his kingdom rather than trusting in God.  He says, “I will not ask!  I will not tempt the Lord!”

Now Ahaz might appear to be holy and pious when he says, “I will not tempt God,”  but actually what he’s saying is that he doesn’t want anyone telling him what to do; he wasn’t going to allow this prophet of God to determine his plans.

God was inviting him to ask for anything no matter how big or how grand, but Ahaz was afraid to trust God, and so he refused.  Isaiah, frustrated responds, “Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God!”

Sometimes I think we react a lot like Ahaz.  We’d rather put our trust in ourselves and in those around us who we can see rather than to trust in God, whom we can’t see.  Maybe God seems too out of reach for us, and in our weakness or fear, we just push Him aside and put our trust in our self or in  others.

As we know we are sometimes tempted like Ahaz to trust in our own ability to solve problems and find happiness.  We do this rather than being vulnerable by trusting in God. We do this because God might lead us down a path that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable.  We are not ready to reject the so-called happiness that the world offers.  Fr. Cantalamessa, the papal preacher, points out that the problem with this age (those who don’t follow Christ, and often even many who do), is that they’ve turned upside-down the manner of finding happiness.  Instead of making God their happiness, they’ve made happiness their “god.”  When you make God your happiness, God gives you happiness.  You find both God and happiness.  But when you make happiness your “god,” that is, when you seek happiness in money, power, pleasure, or honor rather than God, you lose both.  You lose both happiness and God.

There is a story of a young man who had avoided going to Church because he knew that if he started taking his faith seriously, he’d have to change his life.  It took him years to realize that his immoral lifestyle did not bring him happiness.  When he finally took the step to return to the Lord, everything changes.  Others told him that he wasn’t the same guy.  He agreed, “That’s right,” he said, “I’m happy now.”  Perhaps there are times that we think that embracing God in our lives would cost too much.  And, consequently we end up avoiding happiness.  There is a temptation in all of us to act like Ahaz.

Even after Ahaz rejects God, God tells him – I will give you a sign; the virgin will conceive and bear a son.  She will name him Emmanuel: Emmanuel meaning God is with us.  God is telling Ahaz, just as he’s telling us:  do not be afraid; trust me, I am with you.

In our Gospel from Matthew we have our second Advent man, Joseph.  And Joseph like Ahaz is also a descendant of David and he is told by an angel, “Do not be afraid to take Mary, your wife, into your home.”  What might he be afraid of?  There was the fear of what others might think.  Perhaps Joseph was fearful and worried about what this Mary was really like.  He knew he wasn’t the father of the child she carried.  Perhaps he was fearful of the religious authorities.  What if he was caught protecting Mary and she was viewed as violating the Law of Moses. Her pregnancy could be viewed as an offense punishable by stoning.  Or maybe he was afraid that he couldn’t love this child as a father.

 

But the angel told him- do not be afraid.

Trust God, for this child is special and so is his mother. It is the work of the Holy Spirit.  Do not be afraid, trust in God.  And so, unlike Ahaz, Joseph puts his complete trust in God.  God would figure out how to deal with the gossip, God would figure out how to deal with the Law of Moses, and God would figure out how to deal with his concerns about the child.

So: Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. In His earthly life, Jesus truly showed Himself to be God-with-us. As He healed the sick, and raised the dead, He visibly brought about salvation.

But what about now? Is He still today “Emmanuel, God with us” in so great a way? Yes! Just as He is announced as “Emmanuel” at the beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 1:23), so His final words at the end of Matthew are: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus comes to live even more intimately in you than He did during the whole of His time on earth. And He wants each of you to know Him just as intimately.

In the Eucharist, He comes to you now in a way even more intimate than the way He was present, in the flesh, on earth. He comes to you now, not only from the outside, as He did when He walked the earth; He comes to you now also on the inside, when you take Him in, “God-with-us” becomes “God-in-you.”  And that is something we can trust.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

MONTH 9 – Developing Baby

 

“Here I am!”
Our spiritual babies, whom we have been praying for the last nine months will be arriving this week! Thank you to the parishioners who have been praying every day since the Annunciation in March for our adopted babies. Your prayers do make a difference. Just as we are welcoming Jesus at Christmas, we will also be welcoming these babies into His world. The “birth” of these babies will be celebrated in January and we invite all parishioners to take part in a collection of items that serves pregnant women and their families in the Kalamazoo Diocese. Please watch the bulletin for more details

Dear Friends,

Today the color of my chasuble has changed.  I don’t wear violet, today I wear roseThis rose color is a visual symbol that Christmas is getting closer. Just as the dark night sky begins to glow with a pale, rose-colored light as the sun starts to rise, so too the color of my vestments goes from dark to lightThe true light of the world is coming.

In our hearts too the color should be changing. For the first weeks of Advent, we’ve meditated on our need for God; we’ve meditated on our sinfulness, and on our helplessness in achieving salvation on our own.  Today we switch gears. Without forgetting our need for a Savior, we focus our attention more on that Savior himself.

Christ came on the first Christmas into a stable in order to lift up this fallen world.  And he wants to come again into our hearts this Christmas and every day for the same reason, to raise our fallen hearts.  When Jesus came to earth, he met the blind, and gave them sight; he met the poor, and gave them hope; and he met the lame, giving them strength.

He’s begun the very same work in us, and he’s eager to continue it. We are sometimes blinded by ignorance and selfishness, and so he offers us light in the teachings of his Church. We are sometimes poor in virtue, and so he fills us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are sometimes lame and unable to pray as we should, or to bear witness as we should, or to love as we should, and so he heals and strengthens us in the sacrament of reconciliation and nourishes us with His very self in the Eucharist.

Today is Gaudete Sunday, and this word Gaudete means rejoice.   And we rejoice because we know that Jesus came to open a path from earth into heaven. Even in the midst of pain and sorrow the joy of the Christian is the joy of a hope guaranteed by God himself.  The joy of hope is a true joy, and Christ is its source.

This past Thursday was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  And for many years it’s been a tradition for families to set up their nativities right after this Solemnity.  We do it to relive with Mary those days full of trepidation that preceded the birth of Christ.  Now St. Francis set up the first live nativity in the year 1223.  In that year at Christmas St. Francis found himself in the small town of Grecchio.  This was a small Italian town built on the side of a mountain.  And St. Francis wanted Midnight Mass to be celebrated in a place large enough so that all of the people in town could attend.  Their Franciscan chapel was much too small.  So St. Francis went looking for a larger place to celebrate Mass.  And he found the spot.  He found a cave like niche in the side of the mountain near the town square.  “Perfect” he thought, so in this niche within the rock of the mountain he placed an altar.   And then he was inspired, this cave like niche reminded him of the very first Christmas where our Lord was born in similar circumstance.  He said to his brothers, “I want to make a memorial of that Child who was born in Bethlehem and in some sort behold with our eyes the hardships of His infant state, lying on hay in a manger with the ox and donkey standing by.”  And that’s what they did.  He found a manger for a crib and filled it with hay.  He then found both a donkey and an ox and tied them up next to the crib.  There were probably even a few sheep running around.  And that’s where the people of Grecchio celebrated Midnight Mass in the year 1223.  They celebrated Mass in a stable with a manger in their midst and with the townspeople crowding in and around animals.  At that Christmas in a very profound way the townspeople of Grecchio mediated on the hardships and humility of our infant Lord born into a stable.  They also meditated on his infinite love for us to be born in such a way just for us.  This custom of making a Christmas crib was probably not unknown before this time, but this use of it by St. Francis is said to have begun its subsequent popularity.  So we can thank St. Francis for this custom of setting up the Christmas crib.  I can tell you I have three of them set up in the rectory.

I’d like to end with a poem that was sent to me last week.  It’s about a woman named Bilfina, who was too busy for Jesus.

Bilfina, the Housewife, scrubbing her pane

Saw three old sages ride down the lane,

Saw three gray travelers pass her door—

Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior.

“Where journey you, sirs?” she asked of them.

Balthazar answered, “To Bethlehem,

For we have news of a marvelous thing,

Born in a stable is Christ the King.”

 

“Give Him my welcome!” she said

Then Gaspar smiled,

 

“Come with us, mistress, to greet the child.”

 

“Oh, happily, happily would I fare,

Were my dusting through and I’d polished the stair.”

Old Melchior leaned on his saddle horn,

 

“Then send but a gift to the small Newborn.’

 

“Oh, gladly, gladly, I’d send him one,

Were the hearthstone swept

and my weaving done.

 

As soon as I’ve baked my bread,

I’ll fetch him a pillow for his head,

And a coverlet too,” Bilfina said.

 

“When the rooms are aired and the linen dry,

I’ll look at the Babe,”

But the three rode by.

 

She worked for a day, and a night and a day,

Then gifts in her hands, took up her way.

But she never found where the Christ child lay.

 

And she still wanders at Christmastide,

Houseless whose house was all her pride.

 

Whose heart was tardy, whose gifts were late;

Wanders and knocks at every gate.

 

Crying, “Good people, the bells begin!

Put off your toiling and let love in.”

 

In these remaining days of Advent, don’t let busyness get in the way of  meditating upon Christ in the crib, don’t hide Jesus until the 25th,  keep him out in plain sight.    Using the image of Christ in the crib to lift your heart and mind to the heights of heaven.  Put off toiling and let love and joy in.

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher Ankley