|Rembrandt's John the Baptist|
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Catholics in England could not practice their faith openly. So someone, the legend goes, wrote “The Twelve Days of Christmas” with two levels of meaning:
The Partridge in a pear tree symbolizes Jesus Christ.
The two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments.
The three French hens stand for faith, hope and love.
Four calling birds are the four Gospels.
Five golden rings are the Torah: the first books of the Hebrew Bible. Etc.
When you hear “The Twelve Days of Christmas” practice your religious education!
The word of God today takes us back to the seventh century before Jesus. The author of Zephaniah proclaims "shout for joy, sing, be glad," because “God is in your midst.”
Paul, in his letter, urges an early Christian community to be joyful and generous, to pray confidently, and not to be anxious.
In the Gospel according to Luke, what caught my attention was the courage of John the Baptizer to preach the good news of the coming of Jesus. John empowered people to help each other. King Herod then imprisoned him. John the Baptist had the courage to speak truth to power, and he paid with his life. He wasn’t afraid to do the right thing.
A common phrase in the Bible is “Do not be afraid.” Or “Be not afraid.” Between the Old and New Testaments, the phrases appear more than a thousand times. It appears God is trying to get a message across to us.
Psychologists often argue that fear is a dominant emotion. Think about it. We're afraid of failure, of certain parts of town, of criticism. Fear stops more people from doing something extraordinary than lack of ability.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but the acquired ability to move beyond fear. Look through history and identify people you admire. Much can be accomplished in one moment of courage. Much can be lost in one moment of fear.
Courage is an acquired virtue. You learn to ride a bicycle by riding one. You acquire courage by practicing it. Virtues are like muscles—when you exercise them, they become stronger.
Starting a new venture, making a sacramental commitment like confirmation or marriage, coming humbly before God in prayer: they all require courage. It animates us and makes so many things possible.
We are not alone. God has given us the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the end, a life lived in accordance with an informed conscience and grounded in courage leaves us at peace within oneself: in harmony with God and with our own inner best self.
So, always seek what is right as John the Baptizer did: not what is fashionable, not what is expected by others, not what is merely acceptable, but what is right and good. And having found what is right and good: “just do it.”