Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Homily: Fr. Andersen

A homily by Fr. Eric M. Andersen, Sacred Heart-St. Louis in Gervais, Oregon
December 25th, 2012 In Nativitatis Domini

“In the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus,  the whole world being at peace…”

On the Ides of March, in the year 44 BC, Julius Caesar was murdered. His grand-nephew and principal heir, Octavian, came to Rome to claim his inheritance. The young Octavian allied himself with Marc Antony to secure the Roman Empire and take revenge on Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of his uncle. Octavian obtained great victories in battle and won his troops over to his side securing himself the title of Pontifex Maximus in Rome.

The vast Roman Empire was then split between Marc Antony in the East and Octavian in the West. Marc Antony married the sister of Octavian, but the marriage was not to last. He soon put away his wife having become infatuated with a woman named Cleopatra who brought about his downfall. Octavian declared war against Cleopatra and, upon his victory, Marc Antony and Cleopatra both committed suicide. Octavian ended up with the entire Empire at his command––East and West.

“In the year 27 B.C., three years after his assumption of office, the Roman Senate had already awarded him the title Augustus…meaning ‘one worthy of adoration.’” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives, p. 60). He was hailed as Saviour and Redeemer (cf. 60) because he ushered in the Pax Romana, or Roman Peace. This was an era of so-called “universal peace” that lasted for about 207 years. It was a time of great prosperity in the vast Roman Empire. Caesar Octavian Augustus “was a patron of art, letters, and science, and devoted large sums of money to the embellishment and enlargement of Rome. It was his well-known boast that he ‘found it of brick and left it of marble.’” (Healy, “Augustus”, The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. II. 1913. p. 107).

During this time, “the Romans built a Temple of Peace and placed a statue of Romulus in it.” The Roman god Apollo was invoked for an oracle and asked how long the temple would stand, and the answer was that it would be until a virgin bore a child. Hearing this, the people said that the temple was eternal, for they thought it impossible that such a thing could happen; and an inscription TEMPLUM PACIS AETERNUM, was carved over the doors” ( Voragine,  The Golden Legend, Vol. I, p. 37).

And then, “In the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, JESUS CHRIST, eternal God and Son of the Eternal Father, …was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man” (Roman Martyrology for December 25th. Roman Missal. 3rd Ed. Appendix I). On that “very night when Mary bore Christ, the temple crumbled to the ground”(Voragine, 37). The Temple of Peace Forever, which crumbled on the day of Christ’s birth, was replaced by the Church of Santa Maria Nuova which stands upon that very site today.

So who is the true Prince of Peace? At that time, the world claimed it to be Caesar Octavian Augustus. He was hailed as a Savior. But the Pax Romana was only a relative peace. “Romans regarded peace not as an absence of war, but the rare situation that existed when all opponents had been beaten down and lost the ability to resist” (Wikipedia, “Pax Romana”). So the Roman Peace was maintained by worldly means and by force.

But true peace cannot be obtained by man. The United Nations will never achieve world peace because peace cannot be regulated. It must first dwell in the heart of every man. The United Nations cannot bestow that gift. In fact, peace is not a gift at all. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Peace requires man’s cooperation, but it does not originate from man, nor can man achieve such a thing. True peace can only come from God. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. He sends His Holy Spirit to fill us with His gifts. Peace then is a fruit which is borne from one cultivating the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Peace “is the tranquility which follows upon joy arising from charity” (Ripperger, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health. p. 422). “When one’s heart is made perfectly peaceful in one thing…he is not able to be…disturbed, for he thinks of other things as nothing. As a result, as one’s heart comes to rest in God alone through charity, then peace arises as the …fruit of the Holy Spirit of peace” (422). St. Augustine defined peace “as the tranquility of order. When various parts within a society or a person are rightly ordered among themselves, then tranquility arises” (footnote 38, p. 422).

Contrary to peace is idolatry: “Anything which goes contrary to the teachings of revelation, resulting in man committing idolatry by having something other than God as his good, goes contrary to peace” (422). This is why the Fathers of the Church stressed detachment from worldly things and love for God alone. St. Augustine taught that one should use and enjoy those things of creation that God has given, but one should not love such created things. One should love God alone above all things. This protects one from idolatry.

Peace in itself became an idol to the Romans during the time of the Pax Romana. They wanted to achieve peace at all costs. It was preserved by means of might, and therefore it was not true peace. True peace is not obtained overnight, even by the most fervent of souls. The spiritual life is a lifelong commitment. If we cooperate with God, we grow ever so gradually towards perfect union with Him. Peace is a fruit which means that it must be ripe before it can be enjoyed. The soul must be cared for, watered, fertilized, and pruned. Fruit comes at harvest time. We cannot be in too much of a hurry to harvest, or else we may end up with unripe and bitter fruit.

Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, has come to us in such a gentle way at Christmas, as a baby. He is so lovable. We can approach Him as a baby and immediately feel His peace. This Christmas let us put away any idols that have crept into our lives, especially the idol which promises a false peace at any cost. Let us demolish the false Temple of Peace Forever in our own lives in favor of the true God who gives us real peace in our souls. In other words, let us clean up our lives, put things in order, live by the laws of Christian morality, make holy the Lord’s day every Sunday, and give true worship to Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, here in this Temple of God. Let us pray that our bodies will be worthy temples of God, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that be cultivating that gift, we may bear the ripe fruit of peace in our souls forever.

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