'An evil power akin to Herod still seeks to dethrone Jesus'
‘We cannot live without Sunday’: Martyrs of Abitene, Italy, AD304. 'Without Sunday, without the Eucharist, the Christians in Iraq cannot survive': Fr Ragheed Aziz Ganni, Martyr of Iraq, 3 June 2007.
Father Ragheed Ganni
Chaldean Rite Catholic Priest
Diocese of Mosul, Iraq
Born 20 January 1972 - Ordained 13 October 2001 - Died 3 June 2007
From time to time Misyon has used material from the weekly column of Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, Oregon, USA. Here is his latest, emailed on 27 December. It is not unrelated to the introduction to SUNDAY Reflections, which I have put in red above. I have highlighted parts of Bishop Vasa's column.
BEND — The Advent season begins the Church’s liturgical year. We are already well into the fourth week of Advent, in fact, on the threshold of Christmas itself, and yet the work of the Advent season continues. I have focused my articles during this Advent season on the need to make room for Christ in our hearts and not just any room but room in the very heart of our hearts.
It is not uncommon to have some tragedy strike in life, which results in a temporary realignment of priorities. We may feel there is absolutely no possibility of us taking the time necessary to go to Mass on a particular Sunday and yet if someone in the family suddenly dies we are quite readily able to reschedule our lives to accommodate that family emergency. In other words, we can, if we choose, reorder our priorities. We set those things in priority positions that are the most important to us. Our attendance at regular Sunday Mass is an indication of how much we value faith, faith practice, Church and God. We make time for those things we value and we perceive as important. If someone makes little time for Sunday Mass this is a indication of how much it is valued.
Many more people seem to take the time necessary to attend Mass at Christmas than they do at other times of the year. This is not an entirely bad thing but it is not all that good either. For me, the practice of attending Mass only at Christmas and Easter is very confusing. It is a little like going to work only on the day after Labor Day and the day after Memorial Day and feeling like justice has been done to the employer. It is indeed good that someone chose to show up for work on those two days but no one would see that as exemplary or even adequate. Yet, it seems that there are some who take a rather lackadaisical attitude toward the serious obligation of Sunday Mass attendance. I would surmise that Christ does not reign in the throne of that heart. Something or someone else occupies the throne. Hopefully, the grace of Advent or Christmas sheds at least a little light on the usurper of the throne and provides some prospect of an overthrow of the reigning monarch so that Christ might truly reign.
Herod was on the seat of power in Bethlehem when Jesus was born in the lowly stable and laid in a manger. Yet, Herod, with all his power, was afraid of this newborn king and set out to find and destroy him. He even enlisted the help of the Magi under the pretext that he too wanted to come and worship the one who was the subject of tidings of great joy, but his motives were not pure. He wanted to make sure that his own throne was kept safe. Make no mistake, the same spirit who drove Herod to seek out the child with an intention to destroy him still works to assure that this same newborn king does not dethrone him now. That evil spirit is quite intent on retaining his share of the power of the throne and as long as things of the world or the flesh occupy the throne, he has his share of power. Only if Christ fully reigns does the spirit of evil get fully displaced. Christ, however, engages in that battle in the same way in which he engaged the battle with Herod. He does not seem to contend with Herod at all. He, in great littleness, appeals to hearts. He gently invites all to come to Bethlehem and see; to come and see him of whom angels sing. Even Herod wanted to come and see but the throne of his heart was already, and nearly irretrievably, fully occupied. Thus, he neither came nor believed. Unfortunately, even if he had come, he most likely would not have seen what both the shepherds and the Magi did see. This is the problem with only coming to see Christ at Christmas; He is not really seen at all.
This should not be surprising in our days when even physicians and nurses fail to see the humanity of a pre-born child. How can one who fails to see the humanity of a pre-born child see the divinity of the child in a manger at Bethlehem? I had a very touching conversation recently with a new grandfather. He told me of an experience he had with his, I think, 10th grandchild. He told me that he spent time really looking at the tiny, miraculous hand of that newborn. Every feature, down to the tiniest fingernail of the tiny little finger, was pure and pristine and beautifully formed. In that moment, while he was always completely pro-life, he said he became even more deeply committed to the cause of life. He came to Bethlehem anew and saw and believed. Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe. How can the purveyors of abortion fail to see what is so exquisitely clear? The people who walk in darkness have not yet seen a great light and a light has not yet shone on the people who dwell in the land of gloom (Cf. Isaiah 9:1) It is not that the light is not there for them to see. As the light was there for Herod but he failed to see so the light of human life is magnificently displayed for all to see but it is not yet seen by all. Coming to Bethlehem at Christmas, coming to Church at Christmas, coming to see the child in the manger at Christmas does not automatically guarantee that one will see Christ nor that he will be invited to shed light on one’s darkness.
The remembrance and celebration of the coming of Christ at Christmas is a renewal and a rekindling of hope, par excellence. Every child comes with, and indeed is, a message from God that he still loves his people. The child, whose birth we celebrate with such great solemnity and festivity, brings that message in supernatural and extravagant abundance. I pray that this season for all of us is a season of light, hope and exquisite joy.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest. For the yoke that burdened them, and the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed. For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace, his dominion is vast and forever peaceful.” (Isaiah 9:1-6) Make a permanent place for Christ in your hearts. May God bless you abundantly this Christmas.