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REFLECTIONS

SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

The story of the wedding feast of Cana is only told in John’s Gospel.  A particular characteristic of John’s Gospel is his use of symbolism.  Many times the stories in John’s Gospel are working on several different levels of meaning.

At a very basic level this is a story of Jesus accepting an invitation (a call)  to a local wedding.  His mother is also present and seems to be helping the family with hospitality.  It is a story about a family, about being a good neighbor, about human celebration.  These events are part of our experience as well.  But into this story comes an uncomfortable shortage.  Through Mary’s mediation Jesus wonderfully comes to the rescue.  The story reminds us that faith is a family affair.  It appeals to our Catholic view of Mary as intercessor for us.  But John appears to have much more in mind.

This story looks back and completes the story of the first days of Jesus ministry in John’s Gospel.  The wedding is the culmination of the first week in Jesus’ public life.  John’s Gospel begins with the words: “In the beginning was the Word . . . ”  There are echoes from the book of Genesis which begins:  “In the beginning God created . . .” Genesis then goes on to tell the story of creation in seven days.  John parallels Genesis with his structure of beginning days in Jesus’ ministry. 

The story also fulfills,  in a beginning way, the call of the disciples.  Jesus called his first disciples and now after the wedding feast of Cana we are told: “ . . . his disciples began to believe in him.” The geographic site of Cana is unique to the fourth gospel. "Jesus begins his activity not in the headquarters of the Law, not in the center of the religious world of Israel, but on the obscure margins, hidden, quiet, yet invited." Becoming Children of God, p. 78.

In a third sense this story is a fulfillment story.  There were six large water jars empty.  John creates suspense almost making the jars appear to be waiting for something to happen.  Jews were conscious of numbers and their symbolism.  Six is incomplete. "The six jars are juxtaposed with the six days of the gospel's first week: the older is being replaced by the new." Becoming, p. 79 The jars are used for religious ceremonies for washing and purification.  The jars can hold twenty to thirty gallons.  They are filled, filled to the brim.  Then the water is changed into wine, but not just ordinary wine, but wine of the highest quality.  In the Jewish scriptures the coming of the Messiah was at times described as a time when there would be an abundance of wine.  Wine was a symbol of joy.  It  still is today.  We toast special events. 

As the Gospel story continues according to John, Jesus will replace the old with the new.  But for now the incompleteness of the Jewish people, the incompleteness of the disciples, resonates with our own sense of feeling incomplete, our sense of emptiness, our longing for more.  Jesus is a promise of fulfillment, joy, and abundance.

Mary’s words to the servants were:  “Do whatever he tells you.”  Mary’s greatness lies not only in her being the Mother of Jesus but in her faithful discipleship.  In Luke, Jesus responds to the praise of his Mother with the Words, “Blest are they who hear the word of God and obey it.”  Are we not in touch here with a clear example of the ways our Mothers’ words stick with us.  Mary’s words to the servants are almost exactly the same as those Jesus speaks in Luke's Gospel of his mother.  These words have become as it were watchwords for the Christian ages.  They are the way to true Discipleship.  In our relationship with God we are many times preoccupied to present our needs to God.  We share our dreams and desires with God.  But Mary’s words point out to us the need to listen.  We must take time in prayer to listen for the Word of the Lord.

The Words of John’s Gospel in this story also find resonance in us in our sacramental life.  We have gathered for the Eucharist, we have listened to the Word of the Lord, we will have the opportunity to share changed wine and changed bread, the Blood and Body of Jesus.  Mary and Jesus wish to be part of our ordinary life.  Jesus promises fulfillment to us too.  We must listen to the Word of the Lord and then carry it out.  John ends this story with the words, “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee . . . ” The first part of John's Gospel has been titled "The book of Signs". The second part is titled "The Book of Glory". Like the disciples we have the opportunity to share in Jesus glory and to believe in him.  We must follow Jesus.  The Gospels open up to us what this following means, not just for the disciples of Jesus time, but for us. The original ending of this Gospel, the end of Ch. 20 we hear the author's purpose: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of (his) disciples that are not written in this book.  But these are written that you may (come to) believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name." We can use Ordinary time to deepen our relationship with Jesus and accept the challenge to follow the example of his words and actions.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

BAPTISM OF JESUS


Pope Francis quote:  “We are not living in an era of change, we are living in a change of era.”  This is not to deny that many changes are taking place.  One example:

Simply counting Catholics since 1972, for example, you would get the impression that its population had remained fairly static - at about 25% of adult Americans (the current number is 23.9%). But the Pew report shows that of all those raised Catholic, a third have left the church. (That means that roughly one out of every 10 people in America is a former Catholic, and that ex-Catholics are almost as numerous as the America's second biggest religious group, Southern Baptists.

What does a change of era mean for the Catholic Church? Are we willing to look at our present reality?  There seem to be many signs that we are not. What does the Baptism of Jesus mean for us today?  What does our own baptism mean for us today?  What is happening as far as baptism in our Catholic Churches?  These are questions that I believe must be looked at.

First let us explore the Baptism of Jesus. I am most struck by the first reading from Is. 42.

Reading 1: IS 42:1-4, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

When I first read this passage I thought it was the one Jesus quoted in Nazareth,   Luke 4:18,19.  But it wasn’t.

Here is the passage from Isaiah 61:1, 2 that Luke quoted Jesus as saying in the synagogue in Nazareth.   “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, 2 To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God; To comfort all who mourn;

You will notice that in the passage that Luke quotes, he has made significant changes. Luke 4:18,19: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

The footnote in the NABr expands on this passage: “ . . . more than any other gospel writer Luke is concerned with Jesus’ attitude toward the economically and socially poor.”  Our first reading chosen for this feast puts the stress on JUSTICE. Pope Paul VI made the famous saying: “If you want peace, work for justice.”

WORK FOR JUSTICE.  To me it summarizes the ministry of Jesus.  Doug Oakman in his book Jesus and the Peasants makes this provocative statement: “While Jesus’ historical resistance to imperial and colonial realities left its traces in his traditions, it is also true that the canonical gospels of the New Testament shifted Jesus’ focus from social relations to relations between human beings and God.  In this sense, the New Testament made an early contribution to obscuring the meaning of Jesus resistance.”

Another author expresses the change that took place in the interpretation of the ministry of Jesus, in these words:  The shift that Oakman discerns in the canonical gospels of the New Testament was further amplified when Christianity opted for the religion of empire under Constantine.  “This was reflected not just in accommodation to the Roman Empire after Constantine, but through the spiritualization of Jesus’ prophetic message. The combined influence of Greek philosophy and Roman imperial social structures shifted the emphasis from fostering egalitarian relationships and transforming the world to the goal of saving one’s soul.”

This quote is found on the back cover of Wes Howard-Brook’s Empire Baptized (How the Church Embraced What Jesus Rejected) 2nd-5th Centuries.

Pope Francis expresses for me a very neglected part of Catholicism.  We are concerned with a Me and Jesus relationship, almost to the exclusion of what needs to follow our prayer. 

 Pope Francis declared:  “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That is how prayer works.” Prayer without action is not sufficient, there must be action.

Is not the pope saying in different words what the Letter of James 2:14-17 is proclaiming: “ What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?i15If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,16and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?j17So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

In our Valley of Texas and elsewhere many people have made an ACTS retreat.  My exploration of the ACTS Facebook page shows me that it basically has announcements of future retreats and requests for prayers.  I posted a question asking what types of service are being engaged in.  I received a very meager response. 

In the Baptismal rite,  language is used which makes me wonder if it has much meaning for people: “Prayer of exorcism”,  “ . . . set him (her) freed from ‘Original sin’”, “Annointing with Chrism”, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King” .  Questions are asked and routinely answered: “Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?”  Never have I heard either parents or padrinos answer no. Renunciation of sin and Profession of Faith are answered in the same manner as the Creed is recited at Mass, routinely (and I feel with little meaning).

What are parents occupied with in preparing for a Baptism?  I’m afraid that for many people it is more a social event than a religious event.  In my experience Baptism preparation is often heavily involved with going through the Baptismal Rite so that people will give the “right” answers. 

So what are the effects of all of this?  (And this only begins to touch the contradiction between many words that are spoken and acts that are lacking.) Have you ever heard a sermon at Mass talking about the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church? A book on Catholic Social Teaching has as its subtitle “Our Best Kept Secret”. We must face the reality that Pew research has brought to the surface :

. . . the Pew report shows that of all those raised Catholic, a third have left the church. (That means that roughly one out of every 10 people in America is a former Catholic . . . .

Are we going to face this reality of what is happening in the Catholic Church in the United States?  Do we even talk with people who are part of the third who have left the Church to begin to find out why?  In my opinion the Bishops seem to be the most in denial about this state of things.

So I propose this reflection for our consideration as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.  What was he about? What are we “baptized Catholics” about? What can we do about it?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

EPIPHANY

Today’s First Reading says:  “Your Light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.”  The Light of the Star guided the Wise Men, the Light shone on the angels, God wants to let his light shine on us.  But in the midst of the guiding light of the Wise men there are the shadows of Herod greatly troubled and all Jerusalem with him.  We invite the light of the World into our lives into our shadows.

Matthew is writing his Gospel about the year 80 for Jewish Christians probably living in Syria.  They are living the midst of two great transitions, separation from Judaism, and adjustment to the influx of the Greco-Roman world of the Gentiles.  They are being harassed by non-Christian Jews.  They are being overwhelmed by the great influx of Gentiles.  These were turbulent years of transition and disruption.  Matthew’s Church was suffering loss of perspective and unity.

Prophets say things that name a reality clearly:  Pope Francis has said: "We are not living in an era of change, we are living in a change of Era." Matthew’s Church was suffering loss of perspective and unity. Sounds to me like an apt description of our times. 

One of the great seekers of our time a Jesuit priest-theologian, Fr. Karl Rahner, S.J. gave a talk some 16 years after the second Vatican Council.  It was his attempt to give a basic interpretation of this Council.  In it he pointed out there have been three great ages of Christianity:  “First, the short period of Jewish Christianity.  Second, the period of the Church in a distinct cultural region, namely that of Hellenism and of European culture and civilization.  Third, the period in which the sphere of the Church’s life is in fact the entire world.”  Now Christianity must meet World Religions:  Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, etc.

The Gospel of Matthew, in a special way, tells something of the separation process of Christianity from Judaism.  But it is also dealing with the second age, the spread of Jewish Christianity to the Greco-Roman World.  We call ourselves Roman Catholics.  As Roman Catholics we have our own doctrines, worship, church law, tradition.  Our present day Roman Catholicism has been profoundly shaped by the splits that took place in the history of our Church.  There have been splits with the Eastern  Churches and Protestant Churches (I like to refer to them as separated sister churches).  But all of these groups are Christian.  The predominant geographical area for these religious groups has been Europe and then North and South America.  There has been some spread to the East, but nothing compared to the expansion of the Roman Catholic Church to the West. 

Our World has changed.  Now we refer to ourselves as living in a global village.  We know of Moslems in Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.  We know of Hindus in India.  We know something of Buddhists in China.  We may have heard about other more obscure (to us) Religious traditions.  It is in this world that we must now live and operate. 

The Gospel of Matthew was written for Christians that had been Jews;  people who continued to believe that only they shared the  privileged state as the Chosen people.  St. Matthew shows them that is no longer so, that now there are no more privileges in this way.  What used to be exclusively theirs now belongs to all people.  Matthew shows it through the scene we have just heard:  some Wise Men who come from the East are looking for the new-born king of the Jews, whose star they have seen in the sky.  Anybody, any woman or man of good will, who sincerely seeks goodness, justice and peace, can see themselves in these wise men from the East.  Our Christian imagination has painted them with warm descriptive strokes.  They are no longer just the kindly figures of the manger scene with their camels and dromedaries, exotic names, luxurious garments and their retinue like a fairy tale.  They are all those who seek truth and love, and who, guided by that,  wish upon a star, and find Jesus and  offer him the best they and we have, because in Him we see God himself made human. 

The topic of religious pluralism, the encounter of World Religions, and religious dialogue will more than likely be an ever increasing topic of discussion and discernment.  Some have said it is the religious theme of the new millenium. 

This Epiphany we should reflect on the guiding lights in our lives.  Who are they? What are we reading?  Who are our companions along the way?  What do I do when I get stuck like the Wise men did?  St. Paul said that a mystery had been revealed to him.  The mystery St. Paul is talking about is this:  God considers us all equal, loves us all equally, and has a special fondness for those who are excluded, marginalized, materially poor.  Who am I forgetting in the broader Jesus family?


(Pope Francis has given global attention to a particular evil of our time, sexual abuse.  He has called all the leaders of Bishop Conferences in the world to come to Rome in February.  Much preparation is being done.  The different cultural differences of the Roman Catholic Church may have to lead to dropping the "Roman" from the description. We have spoken of Catholic meaning "Universal".  Please let us all call down the Holy Spirit on those preparing and all those who will attend.)

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH

At present I am working on a manuscript for a book. This part speaks about the HOLY FAMILY: 


"Clearly the Gospels present Jesus on the move.  I believe that Jesus family experienced some type of disaster, possibly the death of Joseph that forced them off their land.  It forced Jesus to “travel to where work was.” I also believe that Jesus “exported his labor rather than a product.”  I believe this less glamorized picture, quite different than the happy holy family living in peace and contentment, more accurately describes Jesus’ hidden life experience. Jesus lived among those who for one reason or another were forced into begging, prostitution, tax collection or other occupations not directly connected to working the land.  It is important to remember the words of Marcus Borg. He reminds us that tekton was at the lower end of the peasant class, and not a step up from a subsistence peasant farmer as we might view such skilled workers today. “So Stegemann rightly says that the popular movement “associated with the name of Jesus was a movement of the poor for the poor.” Jesus did not make an option for the poor, he lived poor and out of this experience he preached and attracted followers."



HOLY FAMILY SUNDAY

The readings today give advice for mothers, fathers, and children.  They also speak of virtues which characterize a holy family. 

Families are changing.  Less than 38% of families now consist of Mother, father and children.

About 50% of people are living in households affected by divorce.

There is an ever greater increase of single parent families. 

The families where both parents work has increased in number.

Families very seldom eat a family meal together.  That time for communication is gone.  Watching television occupies a great deal of people’s time.

The most common adjective in talking about families today isn’t holy but dysfunctional.  There is abuse: physical, emotional, sexual.  We hear of drug abuse and alcohol abuse.  Abandonment, infidelity.

What image of family do we have portrayed on television?

The telenovelas, the soap operas, “all my children.”

The talk shows: Jerry Springer, Cristina, Oprah, Geraldo, Sally and more.

The Judge Shows: Judge Judy, etc.

The evening shows.

Families have power.  Power for good and power for bad.

Family can support, tear down, criticize,

Each family has its own secrets.

In Spanish we have the word chiflado/a  “spoiled”.  It has a good meaning used in an endearing way, but it also has the terrible meaning of “spoiled” like rotten.

In family we learn some very important things:  it’s where we develop our tastes for foods, at a basic level.

But its where we begin to learn how to relate, parent to child, child to parent, child to child, man to woman, woman to man.

It is where we internalize the way we deal with feelings.  Express, not express, suppress: anger, sadness, gladness.

We are called to be holy families.

The world of entertainment and sports and politics says:  “Show your best to others, but treat one another like dirt.”

The world of holy families says, “Offer your best to your family members and give what is left over to others.”

This Sunday reminds us that whatever the condition of our family life we are called to be holy families.  What do we need to do to enable our family to grow in holiness?

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Many times I’ve heard the story of the visitation of Mary to her relative Elizabeth.  Usually I have taken it to mean that Mary had a special experience of the Good news happen to her.  She responded by going to be with her relative Elizabeth.   The message for us is clearly that if we are people that have a special experience of God that will prompt us too to be people on the move and try to bring service and goodness to other people.

Some years ago in preparing for this Sunday I was reading a study done by a group of people in South Africa.  Their study was focused on Mary and Elizabeth.  These study observations were mostly contributed by women.  They have given me some new insights  into today’s Gospel.

In looking at Elizabeth they became aware of the situation of women in the time of Jesus.  At that time women lived their lives under the control of men, mainly their fathers and their husbands.  In Jewish religious and social law, women, slaves and minors were often placed in the same category.  Bareness or infertility was a tremendously traumatic condition for the woman.  It carried immense social stigma;  the woman was often reviled and seen as being punished by God.  Women who were unable to have children were at the mercy of their husbands. Infertility was sufficient grounds for divorce and the onus for proof of fertility lay with the woman.  A husband could take another wife or concubines if his wife proved unsatisfactory.  Luke speaking of Elizabeth and Zachary states (Lk. 1: 6, 7) “Both were just in the eyes of God, blamelessly following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.  They were childless, for Elizabeth was sterile; moreover, both were advanced in years.” 

Today we know that a problem of infertility is explored for physical reasons in both the man and the woman.  Elizabeth’s experience of bareness was a great suffering.  She could be put away by Zachary.  Her own family would have been ashamed that she did not have a child.  Zachary’s family may have been very hostile toward her.  They may have encouraged him to take another wife or concubine.  In her own village she would have been an object of pity and sometimes scorn.  Society stamped her as inadequate.  When she became pregnant she is recorded to have said, “The Lord has taken away my disgrace among my people.” (Lk. 1:25) That nothing was impossible to God meant a complete change in Elizabeth’s life.  Her mourning was turned into dancing.

In looking at Mary the South African women noted the following.  When Mary became aware of being chosen to be the mother of Jesus, Luke tells us, “she was deeply troubled by his words.” The angel told her not to be afraid.  She questions:  “How can this be since I do not know man?”  Matthew records for us how Joseph first greeted the news of his betrothed being pregnant: “When¼Mary was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child¼Joseph her husband, an upright man, unwilling to expose her to the law, decided to divorce her quietly.” (Mt. 1:18ff).  In this light is it not possible to interpret the journey to her kinswoman Elizabeth in a bit of a different light.  Luke states:  “¼Mary set out, proceeding in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah.”  Mary leaves on a journey of about 80 miles.  She goes alone, something unthinkable at that time.  Is it possible that her family and that of Joseph were having difficulty with the fact that Mary was a pregnant unwed woman?  It shocks our ideas of Mary.  To see Mary as being sent off quickly to a relative, somewhat distant, is difficult for us to imagine.  But to me it seems quite possible.

For us she is the “Blessed” virgin Mary.  Why blessed?  Because she believed that God would straighten out all her difficulties.  She was a woman of great faith.  She does become the mother of Jesus.  But Luke later has Jesus praise his mother thus:  “blest are they who hear the word of God and keep it.”  She is the first among the faithful disciples. 

It has been a concern of mine for many years that some people in their devotion to Mary get all concerned about extraordinary visitations or appearances.  Our preoccupations with the extraordinary can be an escape from facing the ordinary.  Mary certainly wouldn’t want that.  The Virgin of Guadalupe offers a true vision of Mary.  She takes the form of an Indian woman.  She shows concern for the people whose life and culture is being destroyed by the invading Europeans.  She fashions a new people out of the mixture of the Indian culture and the Christian faith.  She uses an unlikely and somewhat reticent Juan Diego as her instrument.  This is the Mary of Faith, the Mary of the Gospels. 

The first reading today is from the Prophet Micah.  In his famous passage of chapter 6, verse 8, the prophet announces:  “You have been told what is good and what God requires of you.  Act justly.  Love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.”  This is the kind of person I’m sure that Mary was.  This is the kind of person we are to imitate.  For this reason she is such a help in preparing for Christmas, preparing to receive Jesus every day.

Only women know the experience of having new life move within them as did Mary and Elizabeth.  But all of us are called to know the experience of having something inside us shift and to know in our very bones that God is with us.  Christmas is the reminder and the promise.  Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  Our challenge is to live so that we too may know the blessedness of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT

Advent inspires so much in me.  I get carried away a bit in what follows. 
1)  I decided to begin with what I formally titled a P.S.  You might want to stay only with these thoughts.  
2) I then reproduce an extended homily from a Claretion community web site.
3) To end I reproduce the prayers of the faithful from the same site.

3rd Sunday of Advent P.S. 

1)Calls to REJOICE and REFORM

Rejoice:  W.C. Watkinson tells of walking with his grandson.  They met an older minister who not only looked sad and disgruntled but spoke of how bleak and awful are these days in which we live.  He complained as well that he was suffering from a touch of sunstroke.  Watkinson’s grandson stood by and listened.  After the conversation ended and they had walked a short distance, the boy looked up to his grandpa and said, “Gramps, I hope you never suffer from a sunset!”  The child got the words wrong but he got the image right.  Many people today suffer from a sunset;  they are ambassadors of gloom and despair.

Teilhard de Chardin once said that joy and laughter are the surest signs of the presence of God.  Isn’t it a shame that so few facilitate that presence, that so many display a sunset rather than a sunrise. 

Reform:  “Not long ago, I saw a bumper sticker that said, ‘Houses:  everybody should have one before anybody can have two.’  I imagine John the Baptist with that saying on his car if he were driving around in the year 2018.

As he challenged people to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, John the Baptist preached a simple but powerful message. He told people to share.  It is not right for some people to have more than they need while others do not have enough to get by.  (Reminds me of the saying of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton:  “We must all live simply, so that others may simply live.”) 

it seems that the most serious of sins, the sin that John the Baptist and Jesus condemn most forcefully is greed.  Sadly, it seems that our society has come to accept greed.”  (In the world community of nations, which nation is known as the nation of Greed?  U.S.)


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2) This sermon comes from the web site Koinonia coordinated by the Claretion Community in Panama   My title would be: What should we do?

Third Sunday of Advent CReadingsZechariah 3: 14-17: Rejoice. The Lord, your God is in your midst.Is. 12, 2-6: The Lord is my strength and my salvationPhil. 4,4-7: Rejoice. The Lord is nearLuke. 3, 10-18: The people were asking John: what should we do?  Zechariah exercises his ministry during the reign of King Josiah, a little before the reform undertaken by this king and before the ministry of Jeremiah (about 630 BCE). This book treats of a time, which is especially dramatic and turbulent both in regards to politics and religion: it is the time of Syrian expansion and one can observe in the people a certain religious indifference.  From these crises comes forth a faithful rest of the Lord, "the Rest of Israel", which resides in Jerusalem, free and holy, whose king will be Yahweh himself: this is the sentiment of the first liturgical reading of today. In this Psalm of happiness we can detect (emphasize) the presence of the Lord in person (two times in this short passage). He will be the king of the city, which is restored, and the fountain of happiness, who will expel from Jerusalem everything that can cause fear and he will treat the city like a bridegroom treats his beloved. The great happiness of the Lord, which saves, will spread to all the people. Not in vain are we in the third Sunday of Advent. The reading from the Apostle is a small fragment of the departure speech of Paul to the Community at Philippi. These phrases are a reflection of the prayer of the early Church "Marana tha", come Lord. The type of life the Christians ought to live is motivated by the closeness of the Lord ("the Lord is near", v 5) or, we might say, by a life "in the Lord". The consequences of this attitude translate into the qualities that the apostle enumerates, those that emphasize peace and happiness. The prophetic voice of John the Baptist continues resonating in the Gospel of today. Between the text of the past Sunday and today we meet verses 7-9, in which Luke has a summary of the preaching of John. As a fruit of this preaching the question comes to the fore from the people ("what should we do?") This question is motivated by a sincere desire for conversion.  John responds first in a general way and then in a specific way to the two groups. He proposes a life in the Kingdom of God, such as is proper to the preaching of Jesus. To the tax collectors and the soldiers, he proposes practical behavior which is just and humanitarian. He does not ask them to renounce their profession, even though this profession was viewed by the Jewish people of this time as despicable. By referring to these people-which is proper to Luke-the evangelist indicates to us his interest to manifest the universality of salvation, offering it to those who "officially" are sinners and on the margin. In a second moment, the evangelist presents us with an announcement typically messianic of the Baptist. This is found after an introduction which describes the psychological state of the people (they were in doubt and everyone was asking." v 15). The finality of verses 16-17 is to show the big difference between John and Jesus. The difference is both in the persons (John is unworthy to untie the strap of the sandal of Jesus), and in what they offer: John baptizes "with water" as a sign of conversion; Jesus will offer a radical transformation to people by way of a life in communion with God. To speak of "the Holy Spirit and the flame" as Luke does, already catches a glimpse of the Christian Pentecost. Finally, the last verse is an image that is directly eschatological and concerning divine judgment. The work of separating the wheat from the chaff suggests the prophetic epoch (cf. Is 27,12), the definitive judgment of God. The third Sunday of Advent has in the liturgical tradition of the Church a strong tone of happiness. Both the entrance antiphon and the second reading begin with the words: "Rejoice". At the same time, the celebration receives also the powerful imprint of John the Baptist, just like a week ago. It seems logical then, that we reflect on these two points. 1- The presence of the Lord is the reason for our happiness. There is a clear parallel in themes in the first two readings of today. The first, from the prophet Zechariah, is an invitation to joy and jubilee, which is directed to the people of Israel in one of the worst moments of their history. They are frightened and discouraged because of sufferings and tests. Paul invites the Christians of Philippi to live always content and happy, despite the difficulties of each day. In both cases, the profound motive of happiness is the same; it is the living presence of the Lord in the midst of the community. "Don't fear. Don't be people of shaky hands! The Lord your God is in your midst as a hero who saves." This is the message of Zechariah. "'The Lord is near, don't let anything disturb you," St. Paul says to the Philippians. Precisely here is the authentic motive of Christian happiness: faith in the presence of the Lord in our midst. It is an invisible presence, but real and efficacious. "While waiting for Christmas Is it possible to live in happiness and hope in Latin America in these days of hunger and misery?" Gustavo Gutierrez asked this question not many years ago. And he continued: "We cannot give a superficial response. We must not forget that human beings don't live by prayer alone. But neither can we leave aside that the fountains of happiness are deep and provide reserves of hope and transformation for human life. Happiness stubbornly persists in the midst of suffering. It hinders these sufferings from being turned into sadness, into bitterness. It hinders them from being turned in on oneself. This would be a tragedy in moments in which a great solidarity is needed among the poor themselves. In all of this, we should plant our feet in history to confront the present adversity with the conviction that Zechariah inspires in us." The first fruit which this attitude produces is peace: "Therefore, the peace of God, which is much more than you can imagine, will guard your heart and yours thoughts in Christ Jesus" (second reading). 2. - The presence of the Lord demands a constant conversion. John the Baptist, the signifying figure in the time of Advent, is presented as the preacher of conversion. This is not an abstract and non-efficacious conversion, but a change of mentality that translates into concrete acts. In just this way his listeners understand it and for this reason they ask what they must do to be converted before the immense challenge of the arrival of the Lord. John does not propose spectacular things, nor does he demand that they abandon their respective human situation. He tells them simply that they are to live without making concession to egoism or to arrogance. That they should share their goods with the poor, that they should not extort nor blackmail, should not mistreat anyone. The signs of conversion are in an elemental phase. Overcoming egoism is the basic condition of authentic conversion and supposes a constant attitude. But this is only the first step. John does not propose other steps, because authentic conversion will be preached by the One who is much more powerful than him. The demands of Jesus will surpass by far the level indicated by John. The Baptist himself expresses this in a graphic manner when he says: "I baptize with water¼ he will baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire." The perception of Jesus will be much more rigorous, and his judgment will be definitive, comparable to the separation that happens between the wheat and the chaff. The wheat will be gathered, the chaff will be burned. Just so, Jesus demands of those who would follow him, beyond the constant struggle against egoism, an attitude of total handing over in service to the poor. It is not enough to not cause bad things, but on the contrary we must give all that we have. Only Jesus can demand this because he says it and he does it. His handing over of himself to death, which we commemorate in each Eucharist, ought to be our ideal of conversion.

For personal Conversion. It's a good time, this Advent, to ask the same question that the people asked after hearing John: "and us, what ought we to do?" Ask also of conversion, what more ought I to do. In the light of this Gospel, what do I believe that the radical prophet John would say to me? What should I do? For the reunion of the community or the biblical group. In this coming Christmas we return to receive the happiness and jubilation of the birth of Christ. But, we must ask ourselves: Can we see in some place, in our world, in our country, in our society, the signs of the arrival of the Kingdom of God? Is Christmas in the world? Where is Jesus born? Really what does it mean to be Christmas? Are health, life, employment, and justice arriving for the poor? What about the Good News? What can we do so that this Christmas Jesus is born around us?

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3) The prayer of the Faithful

-That in this Advent we continue feeding our hope, examining it, making it more profound and sharing it, we pray to the Lord.  

-For all those who in these Christmas days which are near, feel sad or nostalgic, far from their families, in aloneness¼. that the power of their love overcome all these distances and make them feel the universal communion¼

-That we can prepare the celebration of Christmas with realism trying to bring about that "Jesus is born effectively" to our neighbors

-That the distance from today to the ideal situation which all dreamers are seeking, that this distance does not lead us to resignation or fatalism, but rather that this distance is overcome in constancy, in faith which doesn't give up, in the resistance and force to bring near once and again the ideal of the Kingdom¼

-That in these vespers of Christmas the austerity of John the Baptist, the precursor reminds us that sobriety in spending motivated by the desire to share with the most needy is for the poor, good news which announces the actual birth of Jesus¼

Let Us Pray: Oh God and Father-Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ: while the very affectionate feast of Christmas is coming near, we ask you that you make flower in our lives the best of our own heart, that we may share with our brothers and sisters which surround us, your tenderness, your own love, of which you have made us participants. We ask this through Jesus, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, and with us lives and walks, for ever and ever. Amen.

Source of Reflection: Dave Jackson

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

The main person, offered for our consideration, this second Sunday of Advent is John the Baptist.  He is featured next Sunday too.

The prophet Baruch and the prophet John the Baptist speak of preparations being made.  Baruch makes a person out of Jerusalem and gives her preparation guidelines.  John speaks about preparing the way of the Lord.

In the Second reading Paul reminds the Philippians that God has begun a good work in them and will bring it to completion.

This year’s Gospel readings are from Luke’s Gospel.  Luke places God’s salvation coming directly into political history and into the lives of individual people.  Only Luke tells us, “ . . . the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.” But first Luke places John in his chronological time, in political time, in religious time and in geographical space.

Luke gives more personality to John than do the other Gospel writers.   He goes into great detail to give the setting into which John comes.  He also gives John’s preaching more content than the other Gospel writers.  We hear some of it this Sunday and more of it next. 

The parallels between John and Jesus are many.  Birth announcements, and birth narratives, both thought to be prophets, both known as holy men, some of their preaching the same (Matthew puts the same words on the lips of John and Jesus:  “Reform your lives! The Reign of God is at hand.” (Mt. 3:2 John, Mt. 4:17 Jesus)  Both were arrested on flimsy grounds, both betrayed, both executed by public officials, both had disciples who after their deaths retrieved their bodies and “laid it in a tomb.”  Both had disciples.

It seems clear that some people thought that John the Baptist was the Messiah.  But though we don’t  read the fire and brimstone preaching of John during the Sunday preparation Masses for Christmas, John is a fire and brimstone preacher:  Lk 3:7-9 “He would say to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him: you brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come?  Give some evidence that you mean to reform.  Do not begin by saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree.  Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And at the end of the passage which we will read next Sunday: “His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

We are also reminded of the visual picture painted by Mark and Matthew:  “John was clothed in camel’s hair, and wore a leather belt around his waist.  His food was grasshoppers and wild honey.” (Mk. 1:6)  He is a desert wild man.  His preaching is fire and brimstone.

Even in chapter 7 of Luke’s Gospel his disciples are sent to Jesus to ask:  “Are you He who is to come or do we look for someone else?"

I believe that John had read the prophecies (particularly of Isaiah) very selectively.  John emphasized a rigorist and hard Messiah.  Jesus came and ate with sinners.  He was in the company of prostitutes.  He spent time with women.  These actions would have been difficult for John to reconcile with his idea of Messiah.

People came to Jesus and said, “John’s disciples fast frequently and offer prayers; the disciples of the Pharisees do the same.  Yours, on the contrary, eat and drink freely.”

The people of Jesus’ time, who followed even so great a person as John the Baptist had to adjust their ideas of the Messiah-God.


Our ideas of the kind of God we are preparing for this Advent are very important.  Sometimes we make God in our image and likeness.  This Advent calls us to examine our ideas of God. I recently read this quote: "Don't be preoccupied with putting Christ in  Christmas, be preoccupied with putting Christ into Christianity." Aberrant practices of Christianity abound in our time.  Some preach the Messiah as understood by John the Baptist.  Some see President Trump as the 'Chosen one', some preach the prosperity Gospel.  We need to engage the Scriptures which tell us the concerns, values and deeds of Jesus. This Advent calls us to prepare the way of the Lord. We do this by imitating the way of Jesus "who came to serve, not to be served."  What in my life needs to be straightened or leveled or changed?  Our efforts to prepare for the coming of Jesus will allow Jesus to work in our lives the wonders that only the new life in Jesus with his power and grace can bring.

Source of reflection: Dave Jackson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 


 
   

 

 

 
 
 
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