FORT WAYNE — “We gather to honor and to worship the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, the One announced by the angel as the Savior, who is Christ and Lord,” Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades said in his homily as he celebrated Midnight Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.
“We worship Him who gives meaning to our lives, who offers us eternal life and salvation,” Bishop Rhoades said. “In becoming man, He has brought eternity to us and so we live as a people of hope. This virtue of hope is truly a virtue of Christmas, a virtue that should distinguish our lives as followers of Jesus. In the midst of so much anxiety and despair in our world, may we be witnesses of Christian hope!”
From up in the cathedral’s choir loft, a prelude to the Mass included an organ concert featuring the works of Haydn. Then a collection of arias and choruses from Händel’s “Messiah” followed, showcasing the Cathedral Choir and soloists Stephanie Johnson, Fernando Tarango and Mark Stachofsky.
Hundreds of people arrived before midnight to completely fill the cathedral’s pews. The Mass was also broadcasted and streamed live on Redeemer Radio — Catholic Radio 1450 AM, beginning at 11:30 p.m. Dr. Matthew Bunson and Father Jason Freiburger anchored the coverage.
At the opening of Mass, Bishop Rhoades incensed and knelt to pray before the Christmas crèche, using incense imported from Bethlehem. The crèche is a custom that traces its roots to St. Francis of Assisi. The Baby Jesus figure had previously been installed in the crèche’s manger at the 5 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass, which had been celebrated by Father Freiburger.
During the Gloria, two servers walked up and down the cathedral’s aisles, ringing hand bells to add to the joyful praise. Msgr. Robert Schulte, rector of the cathedral, concelebrated the Mass, and Deacon Ben Muhlenkamp assisted, singing the Gospel reading.
In the homily, Bishop Rhoades contrasted the great emperor Caesar Augustus, the most powerful man of that age and ruler of the vast Roman Empire, with Mary and Joseph, a couple from the obscure village of Nazareth in Galilee. In the eyes of the world, the unknown couple would seem trivial compared to the great Roman emperor.
“Mary and Joseph obeyed the imperial command and set out to enroll in the tax registers of Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem. They were quite insignificant — not only was there no imperial palace at their disposal; there was not even room for them in the local inn. They had to make due with a stable for Mary to give birth.”
“But notice,” he said, “tonight, all over the world, people gather like we do here in Immaculate Conception Cathedral, not to celebrate the emperor Augustus Caesar. We gather to celebrate that birth of an infant in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem.”
Bishop Rhoades noted, “The names of the Roman emperors, like those of other great men of this world, have long passed away and are little remembered. Yet, everywhere on earth, the birth of this child is remembered with joy.”
In contemplating Christmas, Bishop Rhoades said, “… The mystery of Christmas, that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to redeem it, that He who was in the form of God emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, that the eternal Word who was with God, who was God, became flesh and dwelt among us, we cannot help but be filled with wonder and awe. We become like the shepherds and the Magi: all we can do is approach the mystery in adoration.”
Bishop Rhoades spoke of St. Thomas when he wrote, “Of all the works of God, this surpasses reason more than any other, since one cannot conceive of God doing anything more wonderful than that (the) true God, the Son of God, should be made true man.”
“Do we not express our reverence for this great mystery every time we recite the Nicene Creed?” asked Bishop Rhoades, referring to the lines, “by the power of the Holy Spirit, He was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.”
“By becoming man,” Bishop Rhoades explained, “God has in a certain way united Himself with every human person. He has revealed to us the truth about who He is — He is Love. He has revealed to us also that every human being has dignity, including the unborn child, the poor, the outcast, the suffering and the dying.”
He added, “By becoming man, God came to earth to deliver us from sin and death. He came to make all things new — to bring about the new creation. He took on our human nature so that we might become partakers of His divine nature, that we become sharers in the life of the Blessed Trinity.”
Bishop Rhoades spoke of how St. Francis of Assisi was so moved by the mystery of Christmas that he began the custom of the Christmas crèche with live figures.
The bishop said, “His love for poverty led him to this special appreciation for the wonder of that first Christmas.”
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