From the Father Mike Steber's Desk

You have nothing to fear"


Fr. Mike Steber

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As you read this issue of our Newsletter, we may be in the final days of Advent or the beauty of the Christmas Season.   With that in view, we’ve been drawn to focus articles in this newsletter around the gift of Christ Jesus in His birth among us!   May His light and love be anointing your heart and life in a fresh way these days…

For this article, I’d like to focus on the passage from Luke 2:8-20  in which we see the shepherds around Bethlehem being the first to be given the wonderful news of our Savior’s birth.   It describes the scene: “There were shepherds in that locality, living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flocks.”  The image of shepherds often brings to my mind the call of shepherding entrusted to our Pope, our Bishops, all of us priests and pastors.  The description of “night watch” gives me a sense of the “night” of faith, where we walk by faith, not by sight, and the darkness of the world, awaiting the One Who is the Light of the World.  Into this “night” comes an angelic messenger, telling them:

“You have nothing to fear!  I come to proclaim good news to you – tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole people.  This day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord.  Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.”

Right in the midst of the “night” comes the encouragement, “You have nothing to fear”!  The Light has come!   How many times we need this good news and the encouragement to “be not afraid!” 

How many times, Our Lord spoke those same words to His disciples and now to us…  Isn’t it striking that the sign Our Lord chose to give us of His coming is not a fearful appearance, but the presence of “an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes”?   A baby is so innocent, defenseless, so humble and approachable.   Our Lord comes to us so humbly because He  knows how afraid we are…

When I read this passage, it often brings me back to a powerful time of grace in my life as a ‘shepherd’ when I made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in the form of the 30 day silent retreat in Guelph, Ontario.  It was 1992, and I had the great privilege to make this retreat (actually a 40 day institute) while I was pastor out in Goetzville, Hessel, DeTour and Drummond Island.  A wonderful Franciscan priest was able to cover the parishes for me so that I could make this retreat...

This very passage from Luke was one of the many meditations in the Exercises in which we are invited to ‘contemplate’ or imaginatively enter into the scene asking for the grace to be with Jesus, to know and love Him more.  When I was praying with this passage, in my mind’s eye, the shepherds became priests who I’ve known and been strengthened by – former pastors, spiritual directors, wonderful shepherds whom I admired.  I was brought to deeper gratitude for the brother priests in my Fraternity of Priests group, and how the Lord was strengthening me in the task of “keeping night watch over the flocks”.   I remembered how often being with these brother priests had helped me to not be afraid, but to press on in faith.  How much this continues today with my good brothers in the priesthood…

In the passage, the shepherds go over to Bethlehem: “They went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw, they understood  what had been told them concerning this child.”  I still remember vividly the joy, the awe and wonder, the peace of seeing Jesus with Mary and Joseph as I prayed into this scene, and love to go back there in prayer at times.  In my contemplation, at one point, Mary lifted Jesus up and offered Him to me so that I could hold him close to my heart.  What an amazing privilege!  How much trust Mary and Joseph gave to me to be able to hold the Savior of the world!  I recall the joy and love burning in my heart to gaze upon the infant face of Jesus, Our Lord, so humbly gazing at me.

I was reminded in a deep way of how really privileged all of us priests are to do just this in every Mass that we celebrate – to hold Jesus in our hands!  What trust the Lord puts in us, what trust Mary gives to us!  How humbly the Lord comes to us!   How amazing that the Lord allows any of us who can receive Him in Holy Communion to hold him in our hands, to receive Him into our bodies!  It continues to be a mystery beyond words day after day…  In the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

“Every day Jesus humbles Himself just as He did when He came from His heavenly throne into the Virgin’s womb.  Every day He comes to us in humility when He descends from the bosom of the Father into the hands of the minister of the altar.”

Remember that the manger was a feeding trough for the animals…  What a divine mystery that the One Who is the Bread of Life would arrange to be placed in a vessel that held food for the sheep… that the Lamb of God would be laid in a manger – He Who would offer His Body and Blood as food for our souls…

One of my favorite ‘shepherds’ who appeared in my prayer was Pope John Paul II, who so often echoed Jesus’ words: “Be not afraid.”  In his encyclical  Ecclesia de Eucharistia, he reflected the beauty of this same passage in meditation for us:

“Is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion?”   (#55)

 As we celebrate Christmas, as we treasure the gift of our Lord Jesus and thank Him for His humble birth, we can treasure the gift of His coming to us humbly in every Eucharist.  We can come with the shepherds to the ‘Bethlehem’ of the simplest church and be with Jesus present in the tabernacle.  We can adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament, gazing on His face in contemplation with Mary…

I want to ask your prayers for all of us priests, for our wonderful Bishop, for all our Bishops and for our great Holy Father.  Without priests we cannot have the Eucharist, and without the Eucharist, we do not have the fullness of the Catholic Church.  Please pray for us that we may be good ‘shepherds keeping night watch over the flocks.’  Please pray for our seminarians and for many more young men to hear and respond to the Lord’s call to become His shepherds.

Lastly, it is a joy to tell you that we are nearing the long hoped-for beginning of Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration in our Escanaba area.  Our Bishop has allowed the possibility of using the chapel at St. Francis Hospital there for this, and the hospital administrator has been very supportive.  We’ve been gathering people who are interested in this endeavor for some months again, and after Christmas will be enlisting adorers from the area parishes to gain enough to begin.  Our hope is to start perpetual adoration at the chapel by Feb. 17, 2008.  Please keep this endeavor in your prayers, my dear brothers and sisters, and may the Lord continue to encourage your hearts as you follow Him.   Blessed Christmas to you and yours and may the New Year draw you ever deeper into His peace!

in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,

From the Diocese of Marquette Michigan, U.P. Catholic Charismatic Newsletter (Fall/Winter, 2007)