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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Second Sunday in Advent

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December 5, 2010

At this stage in Advent, we focus our attention on the hidden events that are percolating in surprising ways on the biblical landscape. Isaiah is proclaiming his vision, John the Baptist is emerging from the desert like a lion, and the mountains are being leveled while the valleys are filled in. We tend not to think of the young mother and father who are awaiting the birth of their child. He grows in the comforting silence of his mother's protective womb while the world's events tempestuously swirl around him. An expectant father worries about every strained movement of his wife as they await the birth of their firstborn.

Darkness settles early into the northern hemisphere and we are reminded of the darkness of our lives. Unconsciously we seem to realize that on our own we cannot overcome the world's destructive forces. We yearn and we wait and we hope. We may always be sure of what we wait for but we settle more easily into the stillness. We grow in realization that the darkness has the potential to overwhelm us.

This is the time we hear the Baptist's tiny voice in the desert exhorting us to become more deeply aware of our sinfulness and to recognize our dependence upon God's saving actions. John is a curious man who renounced the ways of his contemporaries and exists like a hermit by living off the land. Matthew's portrait of him is as a zealot with righteous anger. He notes John's urgency in proclaiming repentance as preparation for admission into God's kingdom and he casts his fury upon the Pharisees and Sadducees. John knows he is not the anointed one but that the Messiah is coming soon. John urges potential followers to bear good fruit.

Paul in his letter to the Romans instructs people to think in harmony with one another. Isaiah's vision of the Peaceable Kingdom in the first reading describes that this good fruit must further produce harmony and is wrapped intimately with social justice. The ones who are most vulnerable in society will be the best protected and no harm will come to natural allies. As a sign that the vanquished will be exalted, a new everlasting king will sprout from Jesse's house, which has been subdued. Even the pagan Gentiles will seek out the God of the Jews.

As we prepare for Christmas, we are to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. This involves some degree of repentance. Many people have difficulty in participating in the sacrament of reconciliation and baring their souls to another human being, especially to a priest who has recognizable human failings, in a church that many experience as lacking pastoral concern for their struggles and needs.

A mature, reflective person may have a different view of one's own sinfulness as it lines up with church teachings that reflect hoped-for, unreachable ideals that fit a small percentage of the population. Many of the faithful ones are disappointed with the hierarchy that seeks to separate rather than unite and yet they yearn for a church that is repentant and willing to direct its pastoral concern back to the individual who is striving, hoping, dreaming, wishing for a reconciled, loving, compassionate understanding of their struggles. Life is a long Advent.

Many are still listening for the Baptist's voice far off in the desert preaching "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." We wait. We hope. We yearn. And Christ's life continues to develop within us.

Quote for the Week

From Isaiah 11:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.

The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox,
the baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as the water covers the sea.

On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Isaiah tells us that God himself will come and save the people. Jerusalem and all of Israel will break out in glory with this good news. God also consoles the people asking them to cry out and receive God's favor. Israel can rejoice because her God comes to liberate her. The Lord announces, "I am your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. If only Israel would listen and obey God's commandments, she will have abundant life. On Saturday, the readings shift to Sirach to tell us about Elijah as he is enveloped in a whirlwind. He is charged with turning back the hearts of the people to God and re-establish the tribes of Jacob.

Gospel: The people in Luke's Gospel are amazed at what they have experienced with Jesus: he forgives sins, speaks well, and heals a paralytic. Matthew shows Jesus as the good shepherd who gathers his flock to himself and also seeks out the one who is lost to return him to the fold. When talking about the kingdom of heaven, Jesus exalts John the Baptist as the returned prophet Elijah. Jesus is bemused by the crowds who do not dance when the flute is played or mourn during a dirge. Jesus further explains that Elijah has come again to restore all things, including the tribes of Jacob. He says that because of the people's hardness of heart, the Son of Man must suffer great things and die.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Nicolas, bishop (d. 350), was a popular figure who inspired the notion of Santa Claus because of his generosity and caring works. He was the bishop of Myra in southwestern Turkey and was jailed during Diocletian's persecution. He attended the Nicene Council in 325 and the people of God became endeared to him for his kindness.

Tuesday: Ambrose, bishop and doctor, (339-397), is known for baptizing Augustine in 386 and for being the bishop of Milan. A separate rite in the Church is named after him called the Ambrosian rite. He was made bishop by the people even before he was baptizes a Christian. One of the four great doctors of the church, he wrote on liturgy and scripture.

Wednesday: The Immaculate Conception of Mary celebrates her holiness and sinlessness that originates from her virginal birth to Ann and Joaquim. Because of her graced-state, Mary made herself worthy to become the mother of Jesus.

Thursday: Juan Diego, hermit, (1474-1548), received a visit from Mary at Guadalupe near Mexico City. She told him to build a church at the location of her appearance. When Mary later told Juan to bring flowers to the bishop, the flowers fell from his cape leaving an impression of Mary on it. Juan is very popular because he was a native Mexican.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec. 5, 1584: By his bull Omnipotentis Dei, Pope Gregory XIII gave the title of Primaria to Our Lady's Sodality established in the Roman College in 1564, and empowered it to aggregate other similar sodalities.
• Dec. 6, 1618: In Naples, the Jesuits were blamed for proposing to the Viceroy that a solemn feast should be held in honor of the Immaculate Conception and that priests should make a public pledge defend the doctrine. This was regarded as a novelty not to be encouraged.
• Dec. 7, 1649: Charles Garnier was martyred in Etarita, Canada, as a missionary to the Petun Indians, among whom he died during an Iroquois attack.
• Dec. 8, 1984: Walter Ciszek, prisoner in Russia from 1939 to 1963, died.
• Dec. 9, 1741: At Paris, Fr. Charles Poree died. He was a famous master of rhetoric. Nineteen of his pupils were admitted into the French Academy, including Voltaire, who, in spite of his impiety, always felt an affectionate regard for his old master.
• Dec 10, 1548. The general of the Dominicans wrote in defense of the Society of Jesus upon seeing it attacked in Spain by Melchior Cano and others.
• Dec 11, 1686. At Rome, Fr. Charles de Noyelle, a Belgian, died as the 12th general of the Society.

Prayer for Advent

Almighty and merciful God, the day draws near when the glory of our Messiah will make radiant the night of the world that waits in darkness. May the lure of greed not impede us from the joy which moves the hearts of those who seek to know Christ. May the darkness not blind us to the vision of wisdom that fills the minds of those who find him. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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