The Third Sunday of Advent 
Dec. 12, Mt. 11: 2-11

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

In the Gospel given to us for our reflection on this Third Sunday of Advent, we see John the Baptist testing the waters. Remember, John had already met Jesus when he baptized him in the Jordan River (Mt. 3: 13-15). It would appear that John recognized Jesus for who he was at that time: “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” John knew that One was coming who was mightier than himself, and he had to be sure that Jesus was that One. And so he sent his disciples to find out for sure. John was not going to settle for anything but the real thing, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. He would not settle for less than this.

You know, when you come right down to it, we settle for the less or least quite often. Boy, I sure have, and I imagine you will agree with this too. And this idea of settling for the less or least reminds me of a story in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. We have mentioned before that during the first part of his life, from 1182 to 1204 or 1205, Francis’ life was all about Francis. He was the rich little boy who did what he wanted to do whenever he wanted to do it. Period. There wasn’t the slightest thought in his head about surrendering his life to God, of putting God in charge or control, no thought at all about loving God and his neighbor before himself and his own wants.

He was still in this mode of thought in the story I would like to tell. We have told this before, but it is good to hear it again particularly in the context of settling for the lesser of two things. Remember, Francis wanted more than anything to be a Knight. And so far he had failed in his attempts. Then he was invited by a Knight friend to go to Apulia to get into a battle that was going on there and try to win his knighthood. On the way he got sick and was forced to stop and rest.

It was while he was resting that he heard the Voice say to him, “Francis, which is it better to follow, the Master or the servant?” Francis replied, “Well, to follow the Master, of course!” Then the Voice responded, “Then why are you following the servant?” This is the same thing as saying: Why are you choosing the lesser over that which is greater? And it was then that Francis surrendered to Jesus with those beautiful words, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Note the words:What do you want me to do; not what do I want to do for myself.Francis finally caught on and he was on his way to holiness, to wholeness, in his life. Now, and for the rest of his life, it was all about God and Neighbor and not about Francis.

Every time we sin, every time we put any block in our lives between God or our Neighbor, we are choosing the servant over the Master, the lesser over the greater. We do this whenever we put anything else before God or Neighbor such as money, material things, my exaggerated goodness, gossiping, resentments and non-forgiveness, lust in the extreme, violence, rage, failure to serve others with my gifts, prejudices and hatred of others. The list goes on and on. Let us remember, the choice is ours: the Master or the servant, the greater or the lesser.

Lord, what do you want me to do?

Fr. Howard

Monday of the Third Week of Advent 
Dec. 13, Mt. 21: 23-27

We can see in today’s Gospel selection another example of what was said in yesterday’s homily about not accepting the lesser over the greater. In today’s Gospel, Jesus and the chief priests and elders get into a discussion. The chief priests ask Jesus where he gets his authority to do what he is doing and saying. Jesus tells them he will answer their question if they will first answer a question of his: “Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or human origin?” (Remember, the chief priests and elders rejected John’s baptism). Now they were in a bind. If they answered “of heavenly origin,” Jesus would ask them why, then, were they rejecting it. If they were to say, “of human origin,” then the crowd would rise against them, for the crowd regarded John as a prophet. So they replied to Jesus, “We do not know.” They were afraid to make the choice for a heavenly origin, for the greater. They were even afraid to choose the lesser! So they chose neither. Not really a choice at all.

How often do we choose the human (the lesser) over the divine (the greater)? How often do we listen to the so called false prophets of our own time, people who say things we sometimes like to hear but are contrary to the word of God? There is a lot of that going on today about homosexuality, condoms, emigrants, wars, capital punishment, and all the many other things we read about in the paper every morning.

To whom do we listen? The greater or the lesser?

Fr. Howard

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent 
Dec. 14, Mt. 21: 28-32

“Yet, even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him.”

I see the Gospel reading for today telling us that if we make a wrong choice, if we do the wrong thing and then realize that’s what is happening, it is OK to change our minds. The first son in today’s Gospel made a wrong choice in refusing to do what his father asked of him, but when he realized that he changed his mind and made the right choice. Nothing wrong with that at all – to change from the wrong to the right. The other son made the correct choice to begin with and then changed it to the wrong choice. And we all know that will not fly!

The 10th Step of the 12 Steps of Spirituality has this same idea in it. It reads: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” And with the admission presumably comes a change to the right way. This is exactly what John the Baptist is talking about when he tells us to repent. To repent is to change a bad choice into a good choice – to make that U turn we have spoken of so often.

Let today’s Gospel bring us to reflect on whether we have made any bad choices lately that need to be changed to right choices.

Fr. Howard

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent 
Dec. 15, Luke 7: 18-23

Today’s Gospel selection for our daily Advent Liturgy is St. Luke’s rendition of the Gospel from St. Matthew that we read at last Sunday’s Liturgy. Hopefully, we encouraged ourselves at that time not to settle for the lesser but to choose the greater, to serve the Master rather than the servant.

We serve the Master by doing the things of the Master. We serve Jesus by helping others, be being caring and compassionate, by helping those who are blindly going in the wrong direction to somehow choose the right direction by our example, communicating a feeling instead of a judgment, or by sharing a personal experience where we made the same mistake, by helping others to walk where they are afraid to tread (surrendering to God), by telling them what we have seen and heard and learned about how to experience a happy, joyful and peaceful life.

Let’s share the goodness we have learned with others who are still laboring in ignorance. To paraphrase the Scriptures: No greater love do we have for another than to give and share ourselves with them.

Fr. Howard

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent 
Dec. 16, Luke 7, 24-30

“All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, who were baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledged the righteousness of God; but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves.”

The Gospel passage just cited above tells us that some people listen and learn while others do not listen and go on, usually, in their own mistaken and ignorant way. Listening is one of the keys to learning. It is also one of the keys to change what we just spoke about above. It is rather self-evident that if I never let the winds of newness or new ideas come over me, I’ll never really learn anything more. I will be stuck with what I have. There will be no possibility of advance or progress. And this is a sad situation for anyone to be in.

A good illustration of what we are talking about is a closed fist. If you close your hand to make a fist, there is no light inside the fist on the palm of the hand. It is dark in there! To get the light to shine on the palm, I must open my hand and let the light shine in. This Gospel is a good one for us to reflect on about how we are with our own ideas and opinions about things. Are we closed to the ideas and opinions of others? Do we just shut them out by saying I’m right and you’re wrong? Or are we open to others and thereby open to the possibility of truth in place of error? The one is growth-filled, the other puts us on stand-still. Where do we see ourselves in this regard?

Fr. Howard

Friday of the Third Week of Advent 
Dec. 17, Mt. 1: 1-17.

Today, December 17, begins the Octave before the Feast of Christmas and these eight days are a very special time in the Liturgy of the Church. There is a special Liturgy for each day. To begin with, the Gospel for Saturday, Dec. 18, and that for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Dec. 19, are exactly the same and taken from St. Matthew. The Gospel for Friday, Dec. 17, is also from St. Matthew and gives the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to David. This also calls to mind the genealogy from the Gospel of St. Luke, somewhat different, that goes from Adam to David. These genealogies are a study in themselves and way too detailed to get into here for our purposes. I once read, I forget where, that the purpose of these genealogies is to show that the Incarnate Jesus was truly human and had a human ancestry. The particular names and order of them really doesn’t matter. Sounds like as good a reason as any.

The Octave before Christmas, from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23, also brings with the so-called ‘O Antiphons’. There are seven of them, each presenting a different title or name for the coming Messiah. They are recited by those saying the Liturgy of the Hours preceding the Magnificat or the Canticle of Mary during Vespers or Evening Prayer. They go from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23, the 24th being Christmas Eve, and Vespers for that day is from the Christmas Vigil. The history of these Antiphons, their origin, etc., is not really known. Reference has been made to them since the 3rd century, so suffice it to say that they have been a part of the Christmas Liturgy since the very early Church. The seven O Antiphons are, in English, as follows: O Wisdom, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Rising Sun, O King of the Nations, and O Emmanuel (God is with us).

This Octave before Christmas is very special. Enjoy it! Let it lift you and your spirits. Let’s try and attend daily Mass during these days to realize the fullness of the Liturgy.

Lord Jesus, Come! Come to your People!!!!

Fr. Howard

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent 
December 18, Mt. 1: 1-17

The O Antiphon for today’s Liturgy of the Hours is: “O Wisdom, O holy word of God, you govern all creatures with your tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

Let us reflect for a moment on this Antiphon. It attributes Wisdom to Jesus. We have said before that oftentimes Wisdom and Prudence are interchanged in Scripture and by spiritual writers. Prudence, as we have seen many times, is the right way of doing things. Let us pray today that God will give us the strength to realize the Wisdom of His way, truth, and life and for all of us to follow His Wisdom and not our own.

“Wonderful is His counsel and great is his Wisdom.” (Isaiah 28: 29).

Fr. Howard

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