Second Sunday of Advent

Today’s Gospel selection on this Second Sunday of Advent introduces us to John the Baptist, a rather prominent figure in the Scriptures. John is the forerunner of Jesus and is preaching a baptism of repentance and conversion. To repent, to convert, means to make a U turn. The way you are going is the wrong way. When you repent, you turn around and go the other way. You change. Such was John’s message as the precursor of the Messiah, the expected One.

John gets a little bit ticked in today’s Gospel. “Brood of vipers!” This is what he called the Pharisees and the Sadducees. I am not sure exactly what that means, but I would imagine that if he were to say it on modern day TV, he might just get bleeped. John was angry because these two groups were coming to receive his baptism with no intention of making any repentance or conversion whatever, let alone a U turn in their lives in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

Not to change, not to repent, can bring dire consequences. John uses the image of the winnowing fan in the hand of the Holy Spirit. A winnowing fan was a flat, wooden tool, shaped like a shovel. They didn’t have combines in those days to separate the wheat from the chaff so they used the winnowing fans. With this tool they would scoop up a load of wheat and throw it up into the air and the wind. The wheat was heavier than the chaff and would fall directly down on the ground while the chaff, being lighter, would be caught up in the wind and blown away. In the same way those who choose to repent will fall at his feet and be gathered up by the Lord; those who do not will blow away with the wind and be destroyed.

John the Baptist serves to remind us of our own baptism. For most of us, this happened a long, long time ago when we were just weeks old. Sometimes when we do think of it, we picture it as a ceremony where we received our names and had water poured over our heads. But Baptism is more than that. Baptism gives us Jesus’ presence in our lives and it is he who gives us the grace of conversion, the grace and strength needed to make that U turn of repentance. We are free to accept this and go forward in growth or reject it and go backward in sin and darkness. Acceptance makes us wheat; rejection makes us chaff.

Lord, give us the strength, the grace to make that U turn in your direction.

Fr. Howard

Monday of the Second Week of Advent 

The Gospel selected to be read today always reminds me of the necessity of realizing the importance of the presence of God in our lives. “And some men brought on a stretcher a man who was paralyzed; they were trying to bring him in and set him in his presence.” Finally, to accomplish this, they took the roof off of the place where Jesus was and lowered their friend to the presence of Jesus, who then cured the man of his paralysis.

God is always present to us. God is everywhere, as the little children in religion class always were too willing to inform me, with a great deal of emphasis on the word “everywhere.” The presence I am talking about here is a conscious presence. Jesus is not only here with me, but I am aware of his presence. This idea is emphasized by the 11th of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God……. Sometimes, many times, we lose this conscious awareness and it is this that makes a huge difference in my life and, I am sure, in yours too. It is then that healing and growth take place.

Jesus, help me to remember during this Advent time that you are with me always in a real, effective presence. Please heal me and help me to grow.

Fr. Howard

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd was popular even in the very early Church as we learn from very early religious art. The image of the Shepherd is used as an image of God, of Jesus. Jesus cares for his flock as a shepherd cares for his flock of sheep. There is an old Latin axiom that applies here: “Exempla claudicant”, which means “examples limp”. They are never perfect. There will always be some imperfections in them that can be pointed out. God is not a Shepherd. We are not sheep. But we appreciate the analogy and learn from it even if it is not perfect in all ways.

The point here is: God, Jesus, cares about us. Isaiah, in the first reading for today’s Liturgy, reinforces this: “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”

The Messiah we are waiting for is coming because he cares for us. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t be coming. And we already are aware of the extent of that caring. It is unlimited, unconditional, all the way to the cross on Calvary.

Jesus, thank you so much for caring for us.

Fr. Howard

Wednesday, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today’s Feast of our Lady of Guadalupe, happening as it does during the Advent season, reinforces what we said yesterday about Jesus caring for us. He cares for us so much that he gave us all another Mother; he shares his own Mother with us.

Through the centuries, the Blessed Mother of God has appeared to us many times, offering us her help and intercession. I have been privileged in my own somewhat limited travels to have visited the location of three of these places where Mary appeared to us: Lourdes and LaSalette in France, and the Shrine of our Lady of Apparitions in Rome. I even spoke with the man who was the object of the last mentioned apparition. In visiting these places, I was deeply impressed by the love and devotion of God’s people that I witnessed at these sites and by the effect these visits had on myself. Indeed, we are well cared for by our God.

Today we celebrate Mary appearing to a poor man, Juan Diego, on a hill in Tepeyac, Mexico, in December of 1531. At that time Mary declared to Juan Diego and through him to all of us: “I am your most merciful Mother. I want to show my loving compassion to all those who call upon me in their times of sorrow.” Jesus, thank you for the gift and care of your Mother for each of us.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.

Fr. Howard

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Last Sunday’s Gospel selection brought us our first contact with John the Baptist this Advent. And today’s Gospel mentions him again. John is a prophet, we are told, a prophet who bridges the Old Testament and the New Testament. He is meant to prepare the way of the Messiah, to herald his coming. 

His message is one we can proclaim by word and action during this Advent Season of 2007. John proclaims the One who teaches us how to love our enemies, to find joy, happiness and serenity in life rather than just enduring it. He further teaches us to forgive those who do us harm and to seek the forgiveness of those whom we have hurt, to show compassion for the poor and all those who suffer in any way. This is a message contrary to the human way of doing things.

Through the Messiah, we can rise above what our nature prompts us to do. We can partake of the divinity! During this Advent Season, let us show the message of Christ to others who are still wandering around in the darkness.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come!!

Fr. Howard

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

We have commented on this particular Gospel before. In it Jesus compares his generation to children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another: “We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.” In other words, we can’t tell others how to act or change them. In fact, it is best not to TELL anyone to do anything. SUGGESTING works much better than telling. Tell me to do something and more times than not I’ll do just the opposite. I’ll do it my way. And in so doing we perpetuate our attitudes (mental habits) that we have heard so often are going to die twenty minutes after we do. The Gospel for today shows attitudes contrary to both John the Baptist and to Jesus.We can help to change others by introducing them to Jesus and letting Him do the changing. And we introduce others to Jesus by demonstrating his ways, truth and life in our own way of living as we spoke of in yesterday’s homily. Wisdom is vindicated and validated by her works, as we read at the end of today’s Gospel.

Lord, help us to manifest you and your way, truth and life to all those we meet today.

Fr. Howard

Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

In our Gospel for today, Jesus equates John the Baptist with the prophet Elijah. The Jewish people thought the Prophet Elijah would be the forerunner of Christ. Instead, it turned out to be John. By this time John had been killed by Herod (c. 14) and Jesus points out that the people had not recognized John and did to him whatever they willed, like putting him to death. Furthermore, they were going to do the same thing to Jesus!

We have prophets in our own time, too, and they too seem to be mistreated. Martin Luther King and John Kennedy come to mind. There are others today who point out the many injustices going on in our world, those who advocate change in this and that, those who rebel against tyranny, violence and terrorism of all kinds. There are those who are not afraid to stand up and shout out that this or that practice is not OK. Such people have an awareness of salvation, humankind rising above, taking the step up, to be above the ordinary.

Let us pray that during this Advent time, with all its reminders of the coming Messiah, that we may all welcome the Lord’s presence in our lives along with the many changes his values demand of us.

Fr. Howard

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