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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Third Sunday in Advent

December 12, 2010

The closer we get to Christmas, the more we feel like John the Baptist who is imprisoned at the end of his life. He examines his life and wonders whether he placed his hope in the right person. All that he worked towards will be vindicated by this answer. He will either die with integrity or in despair. He sits in his prison cell and wonders. He sends out his disciples to Jesus to ask if he is the Messiah.

For sure Jesus was sad for John because of his fate, but I wonder if Jesus is passing his delight onto John through his disciples when he answers cryptically: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor know the good news is preached to them. Jesus realizes John will be filled with a joyous gladness because these in-breaking events tell him that Scripture is being fulfilled. John can rest in peace that he has seen the beginning of the salvation of the world. John's lifework has been completed and he prepared the next generation for the miraculous events that are to come. Though apart, Jesus and John are able to delight in God's saving actions.

Surely, John's disciples heard Jesus praise him to the others. It is always nice to hear someone receive affirmation, especially a close friend. John is upheld as a great prophet and a necessary forerunner to Jesus. Scripture testified to John's role in salvation history and he is honored for his greatness. Though John's death saddens the day's tone, it cannot erase the elation and completion he must feel for abiding God's will.

Isaiah's reading finds the Jewish people in a desolate space while in exile but they are encouraged to see the signs that will lead to their joy and gladness. In this they can rejoice. The letter of James asks us to be patient with our deep yearnings because this patience calls us to be active and to make our hearts ready to receive God's kingdom. It places us again in John the Baptist's state who can sense his liberation while in bondage.

Paradoxically, as we near Christmas we become more aware of the ways we need liberation from imprisoning bonds. We realize our abject brokenness and we can do nothing to repair it. Relationships are messy and most times we cannot effect the reconciliation we crave. Like the Jews in exile, we feel doomed.

Ironically, God has to come in through the back door for us. We can accept the image of an infant who will become the Messiah more easily than we can accept the grown up Messiah. The image of an adult Messiah is too confronting. Our irrational fears get kicked up, resistances shut doors, our self-esteem loses its pretend mask, and we turn away from looking more deeply into our insufficiencies. The image of a newborn infant unlocks our hearts and gives us great possibilities and hopes. He does not demand anything of us except to love him and this is the essential starting point. His presence teaches us to allow our love to grow. Each year we can accept him more lovingly into our heart and we become more familiar with him. Someplace deep within us rejoices because he is lovable and we know one day we will depend on him and he will remember the way we loved him when he was first given to us.

Quote for the Week

From Isaiah 35:

Here is your God, he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: We go far back into Scripture to the Book of Numbers when we read the oracle of Balaam that foretells a star shall advance from Jacob and a staff shall rise from Israel. The minor prophet Zephaniah foretells that messianic salvation will come to the poor. The tyrant will fall and the humble and lowly ones will take refuge in the Lord. Isaiah relays the words of the Creator God who sustains the world. Israel will find vindication in the Lord. The Lord has not forgotten you for he calls you back and will greet you with tenderness. As we enter the "O" Antiphon days, the readings hasten to the nativity story. Genesis tells the story of Jacob declaring the scepter shall never depart from Judah. Jeremiah tells us the Lord will raise up a righteous shoot to David.

Gospel: The chief priests question the origin of Jesus and find themselves in a bind. They cannot publicly decide whether John the Baptist's origin in divine or human either. Jesus continues to talk about the kingdom of heaven as a place where sinners like tax collectors and prostitutes are entering before the religious leaders. As people try to figure out if Jesus is the Messiah, he sends a message back to the Baptist that reveals that Scripture is being fulfilled in this instance. Jesus upholds John as the greatest one born of humanity, but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John. With the "O" Antiphon days, the readings hasten to the nativity story beginning with Matthews genealogy of Joseph who becomes the adoptive father of Jesus. Joseph dreams that the Lord has told him that his wife's conception of a son is of divine origin and that he is to accept her as his own wife.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Lucy, martyr (d. 304), was a Sicilian noble who was martyred in the Diocletian persecution. Since her name is translated as "light," many festivals of light are held in her honor, especially in Scandinavia. A Middle Age custom developed to pray to Lucy to remedy blindness and sight abnormalities.

Tuesday: John of the Cross, priest and doctor, (1542-1591), was a Carmelite priest who is known for his association with Teresa of Avila. As her spiritual director, he helped her reform the order and create the reformed Discalced (without shoes) Carmelites. His Order imprisoned him because of his reforms. In imprisonment, he wrote on spirituality, some of which became classics. Some of his books are: The Dark Night of the Soul, The Living Flame of Love, The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and the Spiritual Canticles.

Friday: The "O" Antiphon Days begin on Friday, December 17th and continue until Christmas Eve. These days represent the titles given to Jesus, the Messiah, and hasten our attention toward the wondrous events of Christmas. The song "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" has developed from the O Antiphon titles.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Dec 12, 1661. In the College of Clermont, Paris, Fr. James Caret publicly defended the doctrine of papal infallibility, causing great excitement among the Gallicans and Jansenists.
• Dec 13, 1545. The opening of the Council of Trent to which Frs. Laynez and Salmeron were sent as papal theologians and Fr. Claude LeJay as theologian of Cardinal Otho Truchses.
• Dec 14, 1979. The death of Riccardo Lombardi, founder of the Better World Movement.
• Dec 15, 1631. At Naples, during an earthquake and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the Jesuits worked to help all classes of people.
• Dec 16, 1544. Francis Xavier entered Cochin.
• Dec 17, 1588. At Paris, Fr. Henry Walpole was ordained.
• Dec 18, 1594. At Florence, the apparition of St Ignatius to St Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi.

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Since Our Lady of Guadalupe falls on a Sunday in Advent, it is superseded by the Lord's Day. Many communities will celebrate her on Saturday, as Saturdays are dedicate to the mom of Jesus. Let us pray for the people of Mexico (and for all) who gain strength through Guadalupe's intercession. Mary's appearance to the native Mexican Juan Diego was the first known visitation in the New World. Let us pray for Mary's continued care of the poor and for all those who seek her protection.

Gaudete Sunday (Rejoice)

Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means Rejoice. It means we are halfway through Advent and we can begin to look for the signs of our Savior's birth. God's plan for redemption is unfolding and we are more attentive to the signs and symbols of the season. In fact, the "O" Antiphon Days begin on Friday, December 17th when our Scriptures hasten to tell the narrative of Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem.

The traditional purple/dark blue of Advent is interrupted with a rose pink color to signify that some profound action is occurring. The increasing amount of light from the third Advent candle is illuminating our darkness. Our expectation can build and our patient waiting is filled with greater anticipation. We rejoice because the tangible story of the nativity is coming to life once again. Our salvation is at hand and God's glory is to be revealed.

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