Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 7
Mark 1: 1-8
On this Second Sunday of Advent, the readings from Isaiah and the beginning of the Gospel of St. Mark speak of preparing the way of the Lord Jesus, the One who is to come, Emmanuel, God-is-with-us. In John the Baptist’s time, Jesus had already come. For us, too, in 2008 the Lord is here, salvation has come, the Kingdom of God is among us. And in our own time, the purpose of John the Baptist becomes our purpose: to announce to our world that the Christ, the Anointed One of God, has come. John the Baptist made a difference in his time. And we are to make a difference in our own times. We must be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
We do not make a difference in the world around us by being indifferent. To make a difference is to care, to be concerned, involved, and to work at being what our beliefs lead us to be. We cannot be indifferent to the fact that we are Christians, followers of the One who is to come into the world to make a radical difference, who came to raise human nature to the fullness of what it can be.
We look around our world today and we see that indifference to God and to our neighbor is all around us and is accomplishing nothing. The world has become a place where many people think they are going forward but in reality they are going in reverse at full speed. The human race has made great gains in many ways and the quality of life has improved over the centuries. We are capable of great things, but as long as we continue to be indifferent towards God all will come to naught because with indifference to God, shutting him out of our lives, we are headed in the wrong direction and will not find happiness, joy and peace.
Jesus taught us to love one another, to be compassionate, forgiving, and serving. And this, quite simply, is what leads us to the happiness we seek. But we seem to persist in being selfish, greedy, resentful and serving only ourselves. Our lives are all about me and mine and not about you and yours. And as long as we remain indifferent to the values of Jesus, we will not make a difference.
A good question to ask ourselves during this Advent Season is whether or not I am contributing to this indifference in the world toward God and neighbor. And if so, what do I need to do to begin to go in the right direction?
Monday of the Second Week of Advent, Dec. 8
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, falls on a Monday this year. In accord with the USCCB decision in November 1991, and confirmed by the Holy See in July 1992, the precept to attend Mass on this Solemnity is maintained, even when it falls on a Saturday or Monday. Therefore, Monday, Dec. 8, 2008, will be a Holy Day of Obligation for the faithful in the United States.
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother is the patronal feast of the United States. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, bringing to a close a long and detailed history of the feast. Details of this history may be found on the net. The dogma states: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the foreseen merit of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”
This is one of the privileges given to Mary, an ordinary human being like you and me, a gift that was most fitting, as she was to be “theotokos,” the Bearer, the Mother of God. The “fullness of grace” spoken of by the Angel Gabriel gave rise to this idea; if Mary is “full of grace,” there can be no place in her for sin of any kind. The Fathers of the Church from the Second Century on hold Mary to be free from all sin.
As we remarked above, this doctrine had a long history. The Franciscans played a big part in resolving the many questions that arose, arguing in favor of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It was a great Franciscan theologian, John Duns Scotus (d.1308) who in response to the objection that Mary, as a human being, needed redeeming like all other human beings, stated that Mary was indeed redeemed by Jesus but redeemed by being preserved from sin before it happened rather than after. It was a preventative redemption.
On this day, I always remember an argument in theology from reason for the Immaculate Conception and attributed to Duns Scotus, that is reputed to be the shortest syllogistic argument in all of theology. It consists of three little words in Latin: Potuit, Decuit, Fecit. (God was able to do it, it was fitting that he do it, therefore he did it.)
What is this feast for you and for me? First of all, I look at myself and see that I have a long, long way to go before I am even in the ball park of being “filled with grace.” This feast is one of inspiration for me to keep on doing things better and better in my spiritual life and in my relationship with Jesus. I can always make progress in being a better priest and Franciscan Friar. I must not become complacent. And this applies to all of us. We are never going to be perfect and, with God’s grace, we can always make progress, always make things better.
Lord, help me to be the best I can be for you and for my neighbor. Amen.
Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent, Dec. 9
Matthew 18: 12-14
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of these goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?”
This Scripture quote from the Gospel for today always reminds me of Francis Thompson’s (1859-1907) beautiful poem The Hound of Heaven. Allow me to quote the first few verses:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated.
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed,
I firmly believe, along with many others, that when we leave the ways of God, he chases after us in many different ways. And he will catch us! But at the moment he does so, I must accept his pursuit or reject it. I know he chased me in the person of a little old lady who pointed out to me my shame in fleeing from God. Thanks be to God, I accepted his pursuit and again turned toward him and went to him.
God indeed does leave the ninety-nine for the one stray – always. Can you think of a time when God chased you “down the labyrinthine ways?” Why should you be surprised? Our God is a caring God who will never abandon us.
Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent, Dec. 10
Matthew 11: 28-30
“Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit.”
In today’s Gospel message, Jesus tells us that he is gentle. In my online dictionary, there are 16 different descriptions of gentle. It also tells me the word gentle comes from the Middle English gentle or gentil meaning highborn or noble, and from the Latin gentilis meaning belonging to the same family. The Latin root for the word, gens, means people, family, country. In general it means kindly, amiable, not severe, rough, or violent, polite, refined, soft.
I read a story about Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk. One day he was sitting outside, probably meditating, when a moth settled on his hand. It wouldn’t go away until Thomas blew it lightly with his breath and then it fluttered away. That is gentle! I probably would have given the moth a mighty whack and that would have been all she wrote. I have never been accused of being gentle. And that is not good. It must be wonderful to be able to be called a gentle person. I did find myself able to be gentle when caring for my mentally handicapped brother. But he kind of inspired that in others. It is easy to be gentle with the gentle. I was also able to be gentle with my Dad when he was ill. But too many times I am rather violent and rough.
Jesus was gentle. The first instance of Jesus’ gentleness that comes to mind is the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery in John 7: 53-8: 1-11. We all know that story. The Jews were going to stone her to death for her crime and Jesus told them that the one without sin could cast the first stone. They all left, of course, and then Jesus turned to the poor woman and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, Sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Wow! How kind, understanding and gentle! Along with my lack of tolerance, gentleness is another thing for me to work on during Advent. How about you?
Thursday of the Second Week of Advent, Dec. 11
Matthew 11: 11-15
Jesus said to the crowds: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of woman there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Jesus is saying in the above quote, if I am reading it correctly, that the least person belonging to the Kingdom is greater than John the Baptist. Belonging to the Kingdom of God means walking in the footsteps of Jesus, being his disciple, and carrying his message in our little corner of the world. It means being involved and not being indifferent to what is going on around me. It means I have to change what I see really needs changing to make myself a better person in hopes that others will notice my change and want to change themselves too.
Being a disciple means making a difference in my corner of the world; it means being caring, compassionate, forgiving, serving, persevering, gentle, accepting and having the other virtues of Jesus. With the name goes the responsibility. Am I living up to my reputation as a follower of Jesus?
Friday of the Second Week of Advent, Dec. 12
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
In 1531 a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to a humble Native American at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City. His name was Juan Diego. The Lady identified herself to him as the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the Lord Jesus. She requested that a church be built on the hill and told Juan to go and make this request known to the Bishop. But the Bishop wanted a sign that all this was for real and the Lady complied with the Bishop’s wish. She sent Juan to the top of the hill in the middle of December to gather a bouquet of roses for the Bishop. Her message was one of love and compassion and she promised help and protection for the people.
A great number of cures and miracles are attributed to our Lady of Guadalupe. Every year between 18 and 20 million people visit the Basilica, making Guadalupe Christianity’s most visited shrine. Altogether, 25 Popes have officially honored Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pope John Paul II visited her shrine four times. The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on Dec. 12th. In 1999, Pope John Paul II declared this date a Holy Day for the whole continent.
Today, let us join in the prayer of Pope John Paul II: “Virgin of Guadalupe, intercede with the Lord that he may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole people of God.” Amen.
Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.
Saturday of the Second Week of Advent, Dec. 13
Matthew 17: 9-13
Today’s Gospel selection is a little difficult to understand. In response to the disciples’ question about the expected return of the prophet Elijah, Jesus interprets the mission of John the Baptist as having already fulfilled that expectation. But that was not suspected by those who opposed John and finally killed him. And Jesus then predicts a similar fate for himself.
Jesus is telling us that he must suffer just as John the Baptist suffered. And so must we! Jesus suffered to accomplish the Father’s will for him, and so it is with us. We all suffer in one way or another. Our suffering may be physical, emotional or spiritual. No one likes to suffer and we all wonder why this is necessary, knowing that we are not going to have the answer for all of life’s riddles. Personally, I try to take the sufferings I have had and try to grow from them, learn from them. But I, too, manage to complain about the suffering I must endure.
I think all of us realize that suffering is a part of life over which we are powerless. Let us pray during this Advent that we may be able to accept God’s ways for us and thereby grow closer to him and be stronger in his service to others.