Epiphany and the End of the Christmas Season. Today we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord, commemorating the visit and adoration of the Magi to the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The Orthodox Church and many of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches also effectively celebrate the Epiphany as the commemoration of the birth of Our Lord, i.e., Christmas.
Epiphany has historically been celebrated on January 6th since at least the 3rd century, but the U.S. Bishops long ago moved the celebration to the Sunday falling between January 2nd and January 8th (inclusive), in order that more Catholics would be able to attend and celebrate Mass on this great day.
The visit of the Magi is rich in symbolic meanings for Christians, first of which is as the revealing (“epiphany”) of the Christ to the gentile world, as even foreign wise men travel great distances to adore their new heaven-sent King. As we draw near to the end of the Christmas season, which comes tomorrow (Monday, January 9) on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Epiphany reminds us that the Savior came not just for us to celebrate His birth but for us to reveal Him to the nations.
Virgin Mother. Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Mother of God. While this feast commemorates Mary’s Motherhood, it also reminds us that she was a “Virgin Mother.” The Church teaches that Mary was a perpetual virgin, i.e., she was a virgin all her life: “ante-partu, in-partu, et post-partu”. Most practicing Christians understand that she was a virgin before the birth of Jesus (“ante-partu”) so that Jesus was conceived by the singularly miraculous act of the Holy Spirit and no act of man, i.e., St. Joseph. And I hope most practicing Catholics understand that she remained a virgin after His birth (“post-partu”) until the end of her life on earth.
But I’m afraid not every Catholic understands that Mary was a virgin also during the birth of Jesus (“in-partu”), or if they do, they don’t understand what this fully entails. Proceeding with careful delicacy, out of respect for the topic in general and reverence for the Blessed Mother in particular, we can say that most people think that virginity means never having sexual intercourse. It does mean that, but in the history of the Church the term also means something more: that the “bodily integrity” of the female remains intact. In short, this means that the actual physical act of giving birth to Jesus did not occur in the same way as every other human birth. He did not pass from the Mary’s womb physically in the same way all other babies pass from their mothers’ womb, so that Mary’s body was not damaged, altered or “defiled” in any way, and she incurred no birthing pains whatsoever, so that the birth itself, the “delivery,” was somehow miraculous.
This is the dogma of the Church, and we must believe it as a matter of faith. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (quoting Vatican II): “The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary’s real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ’s birth ‘did not diminish his mother’s virginal integrity but sanctified it.’” (CCC 499, Lumen Gentium 57).
However, as you notice how I delicately approach the physical aspects of the subject, so too the Church has always discouraged unnecessary speculation or discussion of the physical aspects of this, out of devotion and respect for the modesty the Blessed Mother. But we do have recourse to quoting St. Thomas Aquinas (ST III, 28, 2) quoting St. Augustine (Sup. Joan. Tract. 121): “To the substance of a body in which was the Godhead closed doors were no obstacle. For truly He had power to enter in by doors not open, in Whose Birth His Mother’s virginity remained inviolate.” Or there is the most frequently quoted ancient saying, “By His power as God, the Savior passed through the closed womb of the Virgin Mary as light passing through glass.”
Donor Wall. Our church and rectory were built and opened just over 10 years ago, at a cost of about $18 million dollars. That was funded with three loans totaling $11.5, million, but also with an amazing $6.5 million contributed upfront in cash by our parishioners. What makes that “down payment” even more remarkable is that before the church was built the parish only had about 865 families/households, compared to the 1,900 we have today.
I am very happy to announce that we have, at long last, dedicated a wall honoring these folks (we did our best to include any particular gift). If you haven’t seen it yet, please visit it inside the main entrance of the church basement leading to the parish hall. It is a large impressive oak plaque covered with 1,249 brass plates with names or remembrances. I think it is a beautiful and fitting tribute to their generosity. Thanks to Bob Brickner and Tom Browne for spearheading the effort to finally make this happen.
Short Note on Christmas and “New Year’s” Collections. As I thought might happen, since Christmas and New Year’s both fell on Sundays this year our combined collections were down by over $20,000 from last year. This is entirely understandable, and it was not as bad as I feared, but that’s still a big hit to our budget. I’m not scolding anyone, I know how generous you are. But if you forgot to give (or if you were out of town) those weekends perhaps you might consider making an extra donation in the coming weeks.
Office Construction. As we announced a few weeks ago, this Monday we will start an 8-week construction project remodeling our parish offices. This is not to make them more opulent, but to provide for more efficient and effective use of space for our staff and additional privacy for our priests (for meeting with parishioners, etc.). During the construction, the offices will be moved into the living area of the priests’ residence (adjacent to the regular office space). I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. Please pray for the staff and the priests during this challenging time, and also pray the construction goes well and as planned. St. Joseph the Carpenter, pray for us.
A Belated Thanks. Thank you 2nd grader Fatima Mutumanje for carrying the Baby Jesus into the church during the procession for the blessing of the Manger before Midnight Mass on Christmas.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles