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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 19, 2010

It is a worthwhile practice to read Nativity accounts in the four Gospels as we approach Christmas. Mark's Gospel takes no time at all as there is no account. He plainly was not concerned with the origin of Jesus because the words and deeds of Jesus testified that he was the Son of God. That was all Mark needed. Matthew, the second Gospel written, answered questions his Jewish audience asked about the identity of Jesus. It was important for Jews to know that their Scripture was accurate and reliable. Therefore, Matthew placed the birth of the Messiah within the Davidic line. Luke's Gentile audience had even more questions about the nature of Jesus and wanted to know how his birth came about. Was he of divine or human origin? Luke provides the greatest detail of the nativity story. John's concern was to show an otherworldly Jesus as the eternal Word and Wisdom of God.

Paul, whose writings precede any of the Gospels, tells about the coming of Christ Jesus from the Scriptures. In it he writes that Jesus descended from David's line and has been established as the Son of God through his holiness and the resurrection. Through Christ we receive grace to become apostles who are instructed to bring about the obedience of faith. We are to become holy as Christ was holy and to mirror his obedience to God's will.

Matthew capitalized on the obedience of faith when he told the story of Joseph becoming the adoptive father of Jesus. Because he was a law-abiding, upstanding man, he chose not to bring dishonor upon Mary even though her child was not his own. His choice to do so remains a mystery.

Reconstructing biblical times of Jesus is useful so that we can get a glimpse of the society, customs, and traditions that shaped the actions of Jesus and the historical forces of the world around him. We get a better comprehension of the world in which he lived and the religious life that defined his contemporaries. Through this research, we arrive at meaning and new insights.

Many assign pious motives to Joseph for taking the pregnant Mary into his house. As much as we can reconstruct the honor-shame society of biblical Palestine, we will never know Joseph's motives for accepting Mary as his bride. We cannot assign motives for an individual's actions even if we reconstruct societal forces. We are only left with the fact that Joseph took the pregnant Mary as his wife through his own free will.

It is clear that Joseph's actions were good. He was a decent, honorable, loving man. His goodness brought him far beyond what his culture and religious observance asked him to do. His dream further impelled him to do what is good and right. After all, he admired Mary enough to want her for his bride in the first place.

The unseen force is God working through Joseph's goodness. In all our human frailties, God graces us to do good works and creates something new and beyond belief. God's desire to be with us was enough for Joseph to take a leap of faith - to be obedient to his call to fulfill the law by adding his loving, freely-made decision to it. God's loving presence affected Joseph's ability to love more fully. God was already with him before his decision and would have remained steadfast for him. God's presence helps us do what is good and right. Look where it led Joseph and look at what it did for us.

Quote for the Week

From Matthew 18:

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means "God is with us."

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The Lord tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but he will not do it. The Lord finally declares: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel. The anticipation of the Lord's coming is captured in the Song of Songs who arrives like a lover springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. In 1 Samuel, Samuel's birth foreshadows the birth of Jesus. Hannah like Mary sings a song of praise. Malachi claims that the Lord will send you Elijah, the prophet, who comes before the day of the Lord. In 2 Samuel, the author tells us that the Kingdom of David shall endure forever in the sight of the Lord.

Gospel: Luke's account of the Annunciation begins the week as the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to request her participation in God's saving plan for all. She consented. A few months later, Mary set out to visit Elizabeth in Zechariah's house to tend to her needs in Elizabeth's last days of pregnancy. Elizabeth recognizes Mary's special pregnancy and the two rejoice. Mary sings her song of praise for God's miraculous powers. As John is born, Elizabeth is to name him. She tells her relatives that she will name him John, but they are surprised that he is not named after his father. Zechariah, who has been dumbstruck throughout her pregnancy, utters the words, "His name is John" and he is given his speech back. The precursor has been born; now the Word of God is to be born. Zechariah offers his song of praise (the Benedictus) that tells of God's promise of saving his beloved people.

Saints of the Week

Tuesday: Peter Canisius, priest and doctor, (1522-1597), was a Dutch Jesuit who brought the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola to the leaders and people of Germany, Austria, Bohemia, and Switzerland. The Exercises converted people to have a deeper faith in Christ and many kingdoms returned to Catholicism. He became known as a Catholic Counter-Reformer. He wrote catechisms for both children and adults.

Thursday: John of Kanty, priest, (1390-1473) was a beloved teacher at Krakow University in Poland. He is Poland's patron because of the simple life he lived and taught and because he was concerned for the poor's welfare.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec 19, 1593. At Rome, Fr. Robert Bellarmine was appointed rector of the Roman College.
• Dec 20, 1815. A ukase of Alexander I was published banishing the Society of Jesus from St Petersburg and Moscow on the pretext that they were troubling the Russian Church.
• Dec 21, 1577. In Rome, Fr. Juan de Polanco, secretary to the Society and very dear to Ignatius, died.
• Dec 22, 1649. At Cork, Fr. David Glawey, a missionary in the Inner and Lower Hebrides, Islay, Oronsay, Colonsay, and Arran, died.
• Dec 23, 1549. Francis Xavier was appointed provincial of the newly-erected Indian Province.
• Dec 24, 1587. Fr. Claude Matthe died at Ancona. He was a Frenchman of humble birth, highly esteemed by King Henry III and the Duke of Guise. He foretold that Fr. Acquaviva would be General and hold that office for a long period.
• Dec 25, 1545. Isabel Roser pronounced her vows as a Jesuit together with Lucrezia di Brandine and Francisca Cruyllas in the presence of Ignatius at the church of Sta. Maria della Strada in Rome.

Happy Winter

Winter begins in the Northern Hemisphere (summer in the Southern Hemisphere) on Tuesday, December 21st. Christmas is seen as the victory of light (Christ) over darkness (evil and death.)

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