Tag Archives: Temple

Hanukkah and Christmas

Hanukkah, an eight day Jewish celebration, which can occur in late November to late December, and Christmas, the Christian celebration on December 25th, are celebrated close together in time, but are they connected beyond that?

The quick answer usually given is no, but think about it a little. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 167 BC.

After conquering Judea, the Syrian leader plundered the temple, ended Jewish services and erected an altar to Zeus in it. Leading a Jewish revolt, Judas Maccabeus reconquered the city, cleansed the temple and initiated an eight day celebration in memory of the event. Eight lights lit successively call people to God’s holy place.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ approximately 167 years later.

Both of these feasts are about the Presence of God. For the Jews God was in the temple as Creator and their Savior through time. For Christians God reveals his presence in Jesus Christ, who proclaimed himself God’s Son, “the light of the world” as he celebrated the Jewish feasts in the temple. (John 7-10)

All the gospels report that Jesus cleansed the temple  and spoke of himself replacing it. Luke’s gospel  begins in the temple with the promise to Zechariah of the birth of John the Baptist and ends as the Child Jesus enters his “Father’s house.” (Luke 1-2) Our readings today link the restoration of the temple by Judas Maccabeus and the Jesus cleansing the temple: 1 Mc 4:36-37, 52-59/Lk 19:45-48

Far from being separate, Hanukkah and Christmas are connected in their celebration of God’s presence. Hanukkah reminds us of the temple, the place of God’s provisional presence. The Christmas mystery reminds us of the abiding presence of God with us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, the Light that never fails, who gives life to all nations.

Holding on to the Past


We’re reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews these days at Mass. Raymond Brown calls the work “a conundrum”  in his “Introduction to the New Testament”. Who wrote it, where and when it was written, to whom, why?  Hard to figure out.

Indications are the letter was written after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD to Jewish-Christians, perhaps in Rome, who wanted to reconstruct the temple and renew worship there.  Martin Goodman’s “Rome and Jerusalem” (New York 2008)  offers an interesting picture of the longing Jews and Jewish Christians had afterwards to rebuild the temple and  revive its rites.

Our letter sees Christ as fulfilling the Jewish past and creating something new. Without dismissing the past, he completes it.

Do we face something like this today as our world and our church face change, drastic change?  We hang on to the past, not knowing the future and afraid of what it will bring, yet we can’t recreate what has been, something new lies before us.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us to face the future bravely, and keep before us the One who holds the key to what is to come. Remember his struggle. It’s ours.

“Keep your eye fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith, For the sake of the joy put before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has taken his place at the right hand of the Father. Consider how he faced such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

December 19: Zechariah in the Temple

“In the days of King Herod” Luke’s gospel begins his story of the birth of John the Baptist. Ominous days. The priest Zechariah goes into the temple bearing incense to worship the Lord. An angel appears next to the altar of incense, where we expect an angel to be. “Your prayer has been heard,” the angel says to the old priest. “Your wife will bear you a son.”

Surely, the old priest was no longer praying for a son. Childbearing was over for his wife and him. The promise of new life was long gone and there’s no hope for a child.

But the angel promises a child “great in the eyes of the Lord” to be called John, who would more than fulfill their hopes, turning “many of the children of Israel to their God.”

The old priest doubts and is punished with silence. He won’t speak until after the child is born. Then he speaks again,  as he announces to those at his birth that “his name is John.”

You lose your voice when you lose hope in God’s promises. You get it back  when you believe.When John is born, Zechariah sings a song of praise at God’s unexpected  gift.

The Communion Prayer for today’s Mass says: “As we give thanks, almighty God, for these gifts you have bestowed, graciously arouse in us, we pray, the desire for those yet to come.”

Never doubt the gifts God wants to give, Zechariah tells us. Doubt silences us. God’s gifts give us a voice.

O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!

Readings here.

Praying with Mary and Ann

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Western Wall, Jerusalem

Yesterday’s  Feast of Saints Ann and Joachim, the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, July 26, reminds us of the role parents and grandparents play in raising children.  A few years ago I visited the ancient ruins of the temple in Jerusalem from the time of Jesus and  Jewish women were fervently praying with their daughters before the temple’s western wall. They were probably praying the psalms.

Ann and her daughter Mary must have prayed here too.


The picture above is a model of the temple from Jesus’ time at the Israel Museum. Tradition says Ann and Joachim were closely connected to the temple and may have lived nearby.  A church honoring St. Ann stands today near the Pool of Bethesda, where  a paralyzed man was healed by Jesus. (John 5, 1-18) The church (below) and the remains of the pool are to the right of the temple.

st.ann basilica

Church of St. Ann, Jerusalem

A statue of Ann and her daughter Mary, common in many Catholic churches,  can be found in the Jerusalem church. Ann is teaching her daughter at her side.


What is she teaching her? Some statues I’ve seen show her teaching Mary the scriptures. I’ve seen a statue showing Ann teaching her the ABCs and numbers. (below)That’s what parents and grandparents do: they teach children life’s basics: how to live and how to pray.


Cathedral, Tegucigalpa, Honduras

It’s still the same today. Parents and grandparents, the next generation is at your side. Ann and Joachim pray for us; show us the way.

Jesus and the Elderly

Jesus drew all people to himself, men and women, rich and poor, old and young. The gospels show that even at his birth he gave life to all.

In our readings these days at Mass, St. Luke tells of two old people, Simeon and Anna, who recognize the Child Jesus when he’s brought by Mary and Joseph into the temple after his birth. They give thanks to God and speak about him to those “waiting for the redemption of Israel.” (Luke 2, 36-38

The artist  describes their meeting in the portrait above. The two elderly people are transformed with wonder as they meet Jesus and Mary and Joseph.

We are living in an aging society; our elderly population is increasing. The temptation is to see old age as a stage in life when all is over, but this gospel story gives us pause. The Lord comes at every moment of life. He draws us to himself our whole life long.Not only did Simeon and Anna wonder at the child they saw and held in their arms, but they spoke about him to those “waiting for the redemption of Israel.”

The old have an important role in the Christmas story.

Readings here. .

Monday, 5th Week of Lent

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The story of the woman accused of adultery takes place in the temple area during the Feast of the Tabernacles when Jesus proclaimed himself the light of the world and living water bringing life. His enemies fiercely disputed his claims. Did they introduce the woman to discredit him? Earlier, he said “As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just…” (John 5, 30) Here was a test.

Moses, according to the woman’s accusers, commanded she be stoned. What is his judgment?

From our perspective today adultery–which is still wrong–is not the only issue here.
Gender injustice is also at stake. The woman was treated badly by men. Where is the man in the case?

Then, Jewish religious law said that if a woman were caught in the act of adultery and two men witnessed it, she could be stoned to death or strangled. The system led to abuse, historians say; two witnesses paid by a vengeful husband or a husband who wanted to get rid of his wife, might give false testimony and have her stoned to death.

The Word made flesh brings a lens of justice and mercy to every age and in the temple that day, the woman received life and light from him. Her accusers also were struck by the judgment of Jesus. We believe he offers that same light for knowing what is right and just today to all of us.

From the time of his spiritual conversion as a young man, Paul of the Cross was particularly conscious of God’s grace enabling him to know himself. It made him see himself, his motives, his weaknesses. He called himself “a miracle of God’s infinite mercy.”

“During the day I had a special knowledge of myself. I know that I told my Divine Savior that I could call myself nothing other than a miracle of his infinite mercy.” (Diary, December 28)

let me judge others with your eyes, your heart and your mind.
Help me work for a world that is right and just.
Give me the grace to know myself.

The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple


The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord is the last of the feasts of Christmas, even though most Christmas decorations have disappeared awhile ago.

The Feast is based mainly on Luke’s Infancy narrative which begins in the temple with the announcement to the priest Zacharias of the birth of John the Baptist and ends with the presentation of Jesus in the temple by Mary and Joseph. The two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna represent the faithful generations that have been waiting for the Messiah.

Previously, Luke tells of the poor shepherds, the outcasts waiting in the dark, who are greeted by the angels. In Matthew, the gentiles are invited in the coming of the magi. Now the long wait of the Jewish people is rewarded as old Simeon takes the child in his arms and utters a prophecy that he will bring light to his people.

We bless candles today to symbolize our acceptance of the light of Christ.

God was present in the Temple of Jerusalem, the Jews believed. They prayed there and offered sacrifices to the Lord. Luke would have us see that God’s Son is one with his Father as he is presented in the temple. He becomes the new temple, God present in our midst in a unique way.  He is our new High Priest who unites us to the Father by the sacrifice of himself.

Jesus later claims that role as he teaches in the temple and prays there.

From simple places, Bethlehem and Nazareth, Jesus was taken by his parents to the splendid temple of Jerusalem. From an everyday world where he’s hardly noticed, he’s carried to the glorious place where heaven and earth meet. From a town hidden on a mountain and a cave cut into a hill, he’s brought and placed as Light for the world.

The presentation of Jesus in the  temple is a highly symbolic feast. Here are the readings for Mass.  Here’s how St. Sophronius, an early bishop of Jerusalem, describes it:

“The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we come in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves…   By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem.

Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel.

Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honor.”