No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for Him.
My dear brothers
and sisters in Christ:
On Sunday, December 3, we began the liturgical season of Advent in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas Day. In the first reading from Isaiah proclaimed on that day, we heard these words: “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:3). The marvelous deeds of God powerfully were witnessed in Jesus when He came among us in the gift of the Incarnation. In the Holy Gospels we read that Jesus asked His disciples to report His works to John the Baptist, who asked if indeed this was the Messiah: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Matthew 11:4-5; Luke 7:22).
In meditating upon these words, one cannot fail to wonder how is it that Jesus would end His earthly mission in crucifixion after the people had seen such marvelous deeds! What possibly could have happened? Perhaps these miraculous cures performed by Jesus were far more appealing than the challenges Jesus posed to his listeners: to take up their crosses and follow Him; to believe that the Eucharist is His Body and Blood; to live the Beatitudes; to forgive; to love others as He has first loved us! Jesus was acceptable, even wonderful, as long as He was kept at a distance, did not interfere with their lives, left them to go their own way after serving their purposes.
We must be attentive to the voice of Jesus, lest we become no different from the crowds on Palm Sunday that cried out, “Hosanna,” but just a few days later cried out, “Crucify Him” on Good Friday. As long as Jesus returns to the tabernacle and does not make any demands upon us throughout our daily lives, all is fine. But when, from that tabernacle, He expects us to proclaim His presence at home, at school, in the neighborhood, and at the workplace, then faith becomes uncomfortable, and Jesus, whether intentionally or unintentionally, can be ignored.
“For the deepest distress of men today is not due to the crisis of our material resources; the problem is that the windows that give access to God have been bricked up, and we are consequently at risk of losing the air our heart breathes, the core of human freedom and dignity” (Benedict XVI, The Blessing of Christmas, p. 94). Our silence allows others to advance agendas and cultures contrary to the Gospel. Respect for the dignity of every person is thwarted by the objectification of persons to selfishly engage in immoral actions. We can become numb to violence, indifferent to the poor, and have no interest in creating a just and moral society for future generations.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of our diocese, we come to appreciate more deeply the zeal and enthusiasm of our ancestors, who made their voices heard and their presence recognized as they built parishes, schools, hospitals and created an impressive network of charitable agencies. As the diocese grew, the presence of Jesus was felt in every initiative. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the sixth bishop of Rochester, firmly expressed this divine centerpiece of our history: “The ‘Finger of the God of Love’ is our diocesan history; and God in the history of the Diocese is not a joker in a pack of cards, to be banged down on the table for one important play. God is in our history as the soul in the body, for ‘in Him we live and move and have our being.’” (Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Foreword, The Diocese of Rochester in America 1868-1993 by Father Robert F. McNamara, second edition, 1998, p. xiii).
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, this diocesan Year of the Eucharist should renew and strengthen our belief in the continued, incarnational presence of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist. He Who became flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary remains among us, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Blessed Sacrament. As Jesus comes to us, we then must respond and our response to and for Him gives us courage to rise above indifference in service to our sisters and brothers in God’s family. Pope Francis, like Benedict XVI, reminds us that: “The current crisis is not only economic and financial, but is rooted in an ethical and anthropological crisis. Concern with the idols of power, profit, and money, rather than with the value of the human person, has become a basic norm for functioning and a crucial criterion for organization” (Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy, p. 130).
From the simplicity of that cave in Bethlehem, there came forth eternal truths that to this day, and ever more, have been the foundation of human development — truths that have protected humanity from conception until natural death, created a home for the refugee, provided for the poor, enlightened the schooled and unschooled, and carried the sick over the threshold into eternal life.
These values remain as the Savior’s gifts to us and He calls us to share them with our sisters and brothers in God’s family. And the Child in the crib at Bethlehem beckons us to renew our faith in Him every day, as each day He opens His arms to receive us just as He received the shepherds and magi. Coming from very different worlds, they both knelt in adoration of the only One who saves, and the magi and shepherds left as changed people. Holy Scripture tells us: “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20). The shepherds bring to mind that: “The glory of God is not a private matter left to the arbitrary whim of the individual; it is a matter of public concern. It is a common good, and where God is not honored among His people, the person too cannot be honored. This is why Christmas is about peace among humanity: thanks to Christmas, the glory of God has been established in a new way among people” (Benedict XVI, The Blessing of Christmas, p. 104).
As for the magi, the wise men: “They throw themselves onto the ground before Him. This is the homage that is offered to a divine king. The gifts brought by the wise men … acknowledge the royal dignity of Him to Whom they are offered. Gold and incense are also mentioned in Isaiah 60:6 as gifts of homage that the Gentiles will place before the God of Israel” (Benedict XVI, The Infancy Narratives, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 106-107).
I pray that the celebration of our Savior’s birth will find us at the crib, like the shepherds and magi, presenting the Child with the gift of our faith in Him, with all its struggles and imperfections, and the gift of our sincere desire to work for the peace of that holiest of nights, never forgetting the suffering of so many who still long to hear the angelic voices proclaiming peace. Leaving the crib a changed people, we pray that in our particular vocations we do bring some joy to these our sisters and brothers; we bring them the joy of knowing Jesus, a joy already in our own hearts.
As we go to Bethlehem, “Let us then allow the joy of this day to penetrate our souls. It is no illusion. It is the truth. For the truth — the ultimate and genuine truth — is beautiful. And it is good. When people encounter it, they become good. The truth speaks to us in the Child Who is God’s own Son” (Benedict XVI, The Blessing of Christmas, pp. 132-133).
Wishing you a blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester