Adoration of the Shepherds, Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), 1689; Louvre, Paris

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Second Sunday after Christmas (3 January)

…that you might know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.

These are the remarkable words of St Paul to the church of God in Ephesians. What is this hope and glorious inheritance that Paul speaks of? He gives us a clue earlier in the passage. Paul says that we were chosen even before the foundation of the world. The statement alone should be enough to blow our minds. Even before the world came into be being, we were already in the mind of God. Not only that, but that he had already planned and made ready the means of our salvation and union with him even before the fall of Adam. Here God holds together the beginning and end of time in a unity which is beyond our minds’ ability to fathom. It sheds greater light on the words of our Lord repeated three times in the Book of Revelation: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the One who is, who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This mystery is a profound promise of God revealed in Christ, and one that should provide us with a deep sense of reassurance!

Yet there is more! Having not only prepared a place for us in the heavenly realms, the Lord has also poured out upon us in Christ every spiritual blessing. All that heaven has to offer is ours in the Lord: forgiveness of sins; reconciliation with the Father; the gift of eternal life; the ever presence of Christ in the sacraments; the anointing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit; the witness of the saints and martyrs; the intercessions of Our Blessed Lady the Mother of God and the new heavens and earth where all things are made new where there will be no more tears, sorrows, sadness as sin and death will have been done away with.

As if participation in these elements of heavenly glory were not enough, out of an act of divine love he calls us to not just be citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven but calls us to enter into an intimate relationship with him. This new means of relating to the Almighty is revealed to us when Our Lord teaches us how to pray, beginning with the extraordinary profound words, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven.’ It is also reiterated in our Epistle from Paul “He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” Thus our relationship with God is more than just that of creature towards its creator — which should carry a utter sense of awe in itself — but the intimate relationship of a family, that we might be of his household, as his children, and he might be our heavenly Father. It is no wonder then that joy, praise and thanksgiving are the innate true characteristics of the children of God.

These mysteries are our hope and inheritance. The Blessed Virgin Mary is full of grace as she perfectly illustrates this intimacy in fulling God’s call to be the mother of the Word made flesh, to be mother of God. Like Our Lady we need to treasure these mysteries in our hearts and contemplate them in our acts of prayer and thanksgiving — and thus open ourselves to receive deeper graces.

The celebration of the Word made flesh in the Babe of Bethlehem is the promise of God made real. The Incarnation reveals that all God’s words of hope spoken through the prophets are made a concrete reality. We can rest in the continuity of the truth that God’s promise has been fulfilled, is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled in Christ our Lord.

We perhaps need reminding of such good news at this particular time so that we do not lose hope and fall into despair. This heavenly inheritance is so much bigger than any pandemic, government policy, or personal situation, all of which will pass away. Steadily fixing our gaze on Christ, who is our hope and joy, enables us to not be overwhelmed with anxiety about what tomorrow might bring but enables us to put all things into an eternal perspective, in the light of the Christ who is our Alpha and Omega, our beginning and our end.