Tuesday in the Octave of Christmas
ST SYLVESTER-NEW YEARS EVE
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 9, Verse 2
Everything is the same for everybody: the same lot for the just and the wicked, for the good, for the clean and the unclean, for the one who offers sacrifice and the one who does not. As it is for the good, so it is for the sinner; as it is for the one who takes an oath, so it is for the one who fears an oath.
God seems to bestow divine favor or disfavor (love or hatred) indiscriminately on the just and wicked alike. More ominously, the arbitrariness and inevitability of death and adversity confront every human being, whether good or bad. Human reason and experience ends at death with its finality and annihilating power often cruelly negates the supreme value—life, and with it, all possibilities. Faith in eternal life has its foundation only in hope and trust in God’s promise and in God’s love. The author confesses his inability to imprison God in a fixed and predictable way of acting. Thus, he ponders a practical and pragmatic solution: Seize whatever opportunity one has to find joy, if God grants it.
Be joyful in the Present
If you want to win friends and influence people, don’t mention the cross. It is an unlikely enticement to attract us to someone, and yet, it is precisely what Jesus Christ offered us. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself” (Luke 9:23). Although the prospect of self-denial and suffering is repellent, the attraction to unite ourselves with Christ helps us to overcome our reluctance and even choose to deny ourselves in order to draw nearer to Him. Fr. Wayne Sattler, Missionaries of Charity; points out that we must put our spiritual lives in perspective by facing that our bodies will one day die but our souls live on for eternity. Thus, it is important to take good care of our soul by strengthening our internal spiritual muscles. He identified three ways in which we can do this: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
· “Prayer is to the soul as food is to the body,” “If you don’t pray every day, your soul will get weaker and weaker.” But prayer is only part of what is needed to take proper care of our soul.
· Fasting is not just for Lent but something that should be done at least once a week in order to develop our interior muscles for doing God’s will. It is through self-denial that we strengthen our spiritual muscles, which serve to subdue our passions–much like the taming of a wild horse. As with the wild horse, taming happens gradually and through persistent work. “But we don’t want to kill the horse, we just want to tame him,” And so it is with our passions. We are called to be the master of our passions and self-denial gives us the discipline to do so, but be cautioned in overdoing with severe penances because it is like being so harsh that the horse bucks back. So, begin where we are by simply increasing whatever we are doing now rather than striving for a drastic life change that our passions buck back. Acts of self-denial—which can include simply not eating in-between meals, giving up smoking or abstaining from any pleasure—can often tempt one to be irritable. In such a case, “If you can’t to do it for love, then don’t do it. If the fast is making you grumpy, then eat something and be kind.” Don’t give up fasting altogether, but work up to it and use it as a vehicle to holiness rather than endure with resentment and irritability. “It’s not the sack cloth and ashes and being miserable that is pleasing to God,” fasting is about healing our will to conform to God’s will, for in God’s will is our greatest happiness. Fasting ultimately brings us to a fuller enjoyment of life. Over-indulging in pleasures actually inhibits us from truly enjoying what our passions desire and we become slaves to them. Self-denial, however, opens a space for God in our lives, builds discipline, and increases our enjoyment of life’s pleasures. “By voluntarily denying ourselves pleasures, we also strengthen ourselves for resisting illegitimate ones, and, through sacrifice and self-denial, we begin to trust more in God’s Providence, that He will provide what we need.”
· Almsgiving should not be considered optional. “We need to be a good steward of God’s gifts”; the early Christians understood how “Everything is from God and is given for the good of all.” “If we neglect alms, we will not be able to enter into the rest from our work that God invites us into, and will exhaust ourselves with financial worries.” Fr. Sattler cautions us against giving God our leftovers and suggested instead, to give him our first 10% and to trust he will take care of us. Sattler reminded everyone of the story of Cain and Abel. Both offered sacrifices to God, but Abel gave God his first and best while Cain gave his leftovers. God accepted the gift of Abel and rejected Cain’s. Sattler pointed out that ironically, it’s often the case that the more God gives us, and the harder it is for us to be equally as generous. The larger our income, the larger our 10% becomes, and if God has decided to entrust to us more, shouldn’t we be just as eager to return the favor?
“We forget we are not here to stay,” Fr. Sattler said. “The temptation is to turn outward to the world and only trust what we see but we need to turn inward and trust the voice that is trying to speak from within.” Trusting that voice involves clearing space in our lives so that God can speak to us and we will take the time and be spiritually connected enough to hear his voice. Through our crosses—both those given to us and those we freely choose—we can remain with Christ by freely embracing them. For this reason, Sattler said, in spite of feeling repelled by suffering, we choose to deny our self, take up our cross daily and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).
Read: The Christmas season carries on into the New Year and ends with the Baptism of the Lord. Take time to read about how you can carry the joy of Christmas with you into the New Year.
Reflect: "For me, the important thing is to open my heart in each moment, to remember that my own inadequacy is where God will meet me, always beginning again." Reflect on a Catholic News Service columnist's ideas for her New Year's resolutions as you begin to plan your own.
Pray: It's New Year's Eve! Say this Prayer for the New Year today.
Act: Make a list of faith-based New Year's resolutions for 2020 and pray about them at Mass tomorrow.
Seventh Day of Christmas Seven Swans a-Swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
- fear of the Lord
Also, the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith [Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony]
Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas - Day Seven
The last day of the year is also the feast of St. Sylvester — bishop of Rome in 314. Constantine gave him the Lateran Palace, which became the cathedral church of Rome. Many legends exist about Sylvester. He supposedly cured Constantine from leprosy and later baptized him on his deathbed. New Year's Eve, along with its innocent gaiety, is really a day for serious reflection. On the eve of the civil New Year the children may join their parents in a holy hour, in prayer and thanksgiving for the gifts and benefits which God has given them in the past year, and to pray for necessary graces in the forthcoming civil year.
Saint Sylvester/New Year’s Eve
The night of the Holy Saint Sylvester, the last night of the year, has always been the night of fun. Every year Berlin hosts one of the largest New Year's Eve celebrations in all of Europe, attended by over a million people. The focal point is the Brandenburg Gate, where midnight fireworks are centered. Germans toast the New Year with a glass of Sekt (German sparkling wine) or champagne. The saint of this day, Pope Sylvester I, according to legend is the man who healed from leprosy and baptized the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great.
Sylvester I and Constantine
Sylvester was a Roman, the son of Rufinus. He was ordained a priest by Marcellinus. Chosen Pope in 314, he continued the work of organizing the peacetime Church so well begun by St. Miltiades. Sylvester saw the building of famous churches, notably the Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. John Lateran, built near the former imperial palace of that name. It is quite probable too that the first martyrology or list of Roman martyrs was drawn up in his reign. St. Sylvester died in 335. He was buried in a church which he himself had built over the Catacomb of Priscilla on the Via Salaria. His feast is kept on December 31.
Bleigiessen ("Lead pouring") an old German New Year tradition
In many of the German-speaking areas the change of the year is celebrated noisily and merrily. Guests are invited, and groups attend a "Sylvester Ball." There is eating, drinking, dancing and singing. It may be accompanied by the popular "Sylvester" custom of Bleigiessen. A small piece of lead will be melted over a flame in an old spoon and dropped into a bowl of cold water. From the shape you can supposedly tell your fortune for the coming year. For instance, if the lead forms a ball (der Ball), that means luck will roll your way. The shape of an anchor (der Anker) means help in need. But a cross (das Kreuz) signifies death. At midnight, when the old year is almost gone, and the New Year is about to start, glasses are filled with champagne or wine, and toasts and hugs go with wishing each other "ein gutes neues Jahr". Some go out into the streets and listen to the bells ringing throughout the land. Others participate in shooting in the New Year or put on their private fireworks.
St. Sylvester's Day Celebrations
The day that celebrates the first pope to enjoy civic peace is appropriately marked by family customs petitioning peace for the New Year. On New Year's Eve it was traditional in France and other countries for the father to bless all members of the family, and for the children to thank their parents for all of their love and care. In Spain, it was considered good luck to eat twelve grapes at the twelve strokes of midnight. Services thanking God for the blessings of the year and seeking blessings for the new one were not uncommon, and neither were special Sylvester treats.
Last 10 Things
Today would be a good day to review the 10 Last things in preparation for the New Year. The Four Last Things refer to death, judgment, heaven and hell. The 10 Last Things as a phrase does not exist, but all are found in Scripture and Tradition.
So, when is Jesus coming back to earth? The answer: At the end of the world. When is the end of the world? Jesus said, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”—Mt 25:13. A theologian of Scripture here in the USA said he believes one reason why so many men have left the Catholic faith for Protestantism is because the Catholic pulpit is silent on the apocalypse. It’s sad, especially since we have the clearest and richest tradition. Although we’ll be discussing no specific dates, the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) both name the ten things that must come at the end of the world:
1. The Gospel must first be preached to the whole world. The extent of the level of the orthodoxy of the proclaimer is not clear, nor is it clear if every person or simply every nation will have heard the truth of Christ and His Church before the end of the world. At least every land will have heard the basics by the second coming of Christ.
2. The Jews will return to the Holy Land and ultimately enter the Catholic Faith. Obviously, the first of these has happened (1948) and the second has not yet happened. I had thought that the first was only a vestage of Protestant dispensationalism, but I recently discovered in Yves Dupont’s Catholic Prophesy that Saints like Alphonsus Liguori had taught that the Jews must return to Israel before Christ’s second return.
3. The Great Tribulation and Apostasy. Before the end of the world, CCC 675 speaks of “the Church’s ultimate trial” which will be both “apostasy from the truth” and “persecution.” Perhaps this one has been fulfilled. Indeed, many Catholics have apostatized, formally or informally. However, many Catholics and other Christians are being persecuted for following Christ. Since Christ’s birth, there have been 70 million Christian martyrs. Of these, the past hundred years have witnessed the majority— 45,500,000 of all 70,000,000 martyrdoms! Granted, most of these were Orthodox at the hands of communists; it’s still persecution of Christians. Jesus said this tribulation would also be accompanied by an increase in earthquakes (Mt 24:7.) Even CNN admits a marked increase in earthquakes the past 100 years.
4. The Anti-Christ or the man of lawlessness. Although there have been many anti-Christs (1 John 2:18) we’re going to have to experience the big one, “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.”—2 Thess 2:3-4. See CCC 676–680.
5. The Restrainer. Mercy is defined as the divine limit to evil. The anti-Christ will deceive so many people that God will send someone to limit evil. His name in the Bible is “The Restrainer.” (I know “the Restrainer” sounds like the coolest Marvel Comic book hero. But he’s right in the Bible, which might explain why our Protestant brothers and sisters speculate about him more than Catholics.) Anyway, this mysterious good guy will come along at the end of the world as an agent of Divine Mercy so that the man of lawlessness doesn’t win. “Only he who now restrains it will do so until [the man of lawlessness] is out of the way.”—2 Thess 2:7. Some Catholic theologians speculate the Restrainer will be St. John the Baptist or St. Michael the Archangel. But he is unknown at this point.
6. Widespread disturbances in nature. “Immediately after the distress of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky and the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.”—Mt 24:29-30
7. Second Coming of Jesus Christ. There’s an actual “day and hour” (Mt 24:36) to Christ’s return to earth. This day has definitely not yet come. “As the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”—Mt 24:27. Once, at a lunch, a priest with several impressive degrees snickered at me for taking these words literally. Then, I have to wonder: If Jesus doesn’t return with power, maybe he’ll return on a My Little Pony Cutie Mark Magic Princess Twilight Sparkle Charm Carriage Playset? (That’s an actual toy at Target! I have to wonder who named that…An 8-year-old girl in love with a cutie named Mark who was allowed to combine her eleven favorite words randomly?) Anyway, my point isn’t to rally tough-guy fundamentalism. I just can’t imagine a fitting middle ground between Christ coming as a baby and then coming in glory. Unless…Jesus comes strolling into Seattle with corduroy pants and a Dockers short sleeve at His awful second coming. For my part, I’ll believe the Apostle’s description of the last day: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.”—1 Thess 4:16. See CCC 681 and the 13th century hymn Dies Irae, “Day of wrath and doom impending…heaven and earth in ashes ending.” Google it. The rest of it gets even more terrible, in the ancient Latin sense of the word.
8. Final Judgment. The Church teaches that every one of us on earth will be judged by Christ at the end of life, be it our particular judgment or the general judgment. The particular judgment is what you will experience if you die before Jesus returns in glory. It’s simply your judgment when you come before God a bit after cardiac arrest. A great Spanish priest described that moment as a 2-dimensional instantaneous download of your entire life, replete with Christ’s judgment of you (heaven or hell). The general judgment, or the Last Judgment, however, is what everyone will experience when Christ returns to earth. This will also affect those who have already died. For everyone, it will be like a 3-dimensional instantaneous download of every good and evil action committed by every person on the planet (Luke 8:17) and how it affected you and vice-versa. In short, during your death and/or Christ’s return, your chance for mercy will be done. That’s what the confessional is for. On judgment day, you will answer for any unconfessed sins, and you will see how every one of your actions affected the whole world, for better or for worse. I’m not trying to scare you. This is Our Faith: You matter. See CCC 1021 and CCC 1038–1041.
9. Resurrection of the Body. Simultaneous to #5, everyone will get their body back. It will be physical, spiritual and hopefully glorified. I write “hopefully” because even those even in hell will get a body back for eternal torture (John 5:29.) Happily, 100% of those in purgatory will go to heaven and also get their glorified body back. But most adult Catholics think of heaven as an amorphous reality for the soul…kind of like a nursing home hot tub where billions of doped-up soul’s stare in a smiley bliss. Rather, let’s consider Jesus’ resurrection: He could eat fish but walk through walls; He shined with glory, but He had wounds. In fact, the four Catholic doctrinal points of the resurrection is that your new body will be: 1) Glorified (like Jesus at the Transfiguration), 2) Agile (not subject to gravity. I promise I’m not making this up.), 3) Subtle (from the Latin, meaning the body will obey the soul as the essential form of the body…meaning you won’t accidentally burp in your new body.) and 4) Impassible (unable to suffer.) Does this all sound just a little fantastic? CCC 996 says: “From the beginning, Christian faith in the resurrection has met with incomprehension and opposition. On no point does the Christian faith encounter more opposition than on the resurrection of the body.” Wait. No other point met with more opposition. What about contraception and same-sex marriage? You see, the resurrection of the body is the foundation of all other Catholic morality since “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”—2 Cor 5:10. Apparently, man’s notion of once-saved always-saved doesn’t fool God. See CCC 988–1019.
10. New Heavens and a New Earth. First, this earth will burn (2 Pt 3:10.) Then God will make a New Heavens and a New Earth (Is 65:17.) Where else did you expect to use your new body? Notice that the physical reality of eternity is already found in the Old Testament. For the Jews, the “age to come” will not be any more nebulous than this age. But it will be an era of peace. That era of the Messiah’s peace will permeate so deeply into creation that even the lion will lie down with the calf. (Show off that Bible trick at parties since 99% of you thought I should have written “lamb.” You’re wrong! See Isaiah 11:6.) There’s a solid section on the New Heavens and the New Earth in CCC 1042–1060. Finally, since I made fun of a goofy notion of heaven in #5, I really should highlight all of Christian history’s most beautiful description of heaven. It’s composed by the Holy Spirit through the Apostle John. This description of heaven spans from Revelation 21 to 22 (the last two chapters of the Bible) but here’s my favorite, the beginning of the end, literally and eschatologically: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. —Rev 21:1-4a