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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Second Sunday in Advent

December 4, 2011
Isaiah 40:1-15; 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

          We are already at the Second Sunday of Advent and yet far enough away from Christmas that we can still listen to the voice of the One who calls us to slow down and offer quality time in prayer. These are the days in which we initially prepare ourselves for the Lord's arrival. Our good choices today will determine how meaningful the Advent and Christmas season will be for us.

          Amidst all the upcoming frenetic activities, the distant voice of John the Baptist is coming into range. This is the voice foretold by Isaiah 40. He stands in the desert urging people to prepare the way of the Lord, who is preceding the faithful ones on their return from exile to holy Jerusalem. In Mark, the Baptist declares the repentance for the forgiveness of sins is the fitting preparation to meet the Lord.  

          I prayed over this passage before I began a nature walk at Crane's Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts the other day. As I walked through the narrow path that meandered through the sand dunes, it was easy to imagine the people who left the towns of Judah in search of John the Baptist. I wondered what it would be like to encounter a man who was so fervent about his faith and had such a peculiar dietary practice, but I wondered more about the throngs of people who left the comfort of their homes to publicly speak their sins to this wild-eyed man. Something deep was drawn out of them, which led them to him.

          I considered what would have attracted me most to the Baptist - his eyes that penetrate deeply into human souls or the words that announce that our salvation is at hand. What about acknowledging my sins in public? This is uncomfortable and yet John was able to elicit trust in each of the penitents who sought his counsel and baptism. Coming clean about our sins leads to our liberation. Sin will no longer rule over us once we speak them to another. No greater jail exists than the silence we contain within us.

          The effect of letting another know of our sins is that we no longer pay attention primarily to our own voice that mediates judgment. We can finally hear what the Lord proclaims - for God proclaims peace. The psalmist sings, "kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss." We have to consider what we really fear in keeping our sins to ourselves, then we have to meditate on the liberation we experience when we are met with God's mercy.

          The Lord asks Isaiah to speak these words to the people. "Comfort, give comfort to my people. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her service is at an end and her guilt is expiated." This does not sound like a harsh, angry, judgmental God, but rather one who desires to welcome a long-exiled people home. This is a parent God who wants to give the returning children a big, warm, longing embrace as they return home. God desires nothing more than our presence so God can delight in us.

          Just as I walked the sandy paths of Crane's beach and the Jews crossed the desert to see John the Baptist, we journey through treacherous terrain on our quest to meet God. If we learn to listen to God's voice and heed the words of our sage guides, then the path that opens before us is simple and straight. We can walk that path any time - even in the midst of holiday busyness.

          If we truly believe we can meet God, we can respond with excitement just like the returning exiled Jews who cried out at the top of their voices, "Here is our God! Here comes with power the Lord God. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care."

          Set out on your journey with the expectation you will meet your God. Be confident that God will meet you. Learn what God wants to do for you. Feel the ways your heart wants to explode when God tells you your salvation is at hand. Let God carry you in his bosom and lead you with the tender care he wants to show you.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:  Isaiah details the ways that all of Judah will rejoice with the return of God's redeemed. All creation will burst forth to reveal the glory of the Lord. Safe passage for the purified ones is assured. God turns to the weary people to give them comfort and to speak tenderly to them for God is glad they have repented and returned. This God is the King of Glory and is mighty in all deeds. God will teach them what is for their good and will lead them on the way. The people just need to trust that God means good for them at all times. ~ The prophet Elijah appears and speaks with words as hot as a flaming furnace. His words shut up the heavens and his deeds are awesome. Here is a prophet people can hear. He will turn back the hearts of fathers towards their sons and will re-establish the tribes of Jacob.

Gospel: As Jesus was teaching, some men brought a paralyzed man to him on a stretcher so he could be healed. Jesus forgave his sins amidst the Pharisees protests. He then healed the man even though it was the Sabbath. Jesus then asks if a good shepherd would leave behind his ninety-nine sheep in search of one that is lost? He tells us that the Father would do this for you. He then tells the people to learn from him for he is gentle and humble of heart. Jesus then speaks of the fickle present generation who would not dance when the flute was played for them and will not mourn when a dirge is played for them. People begin to wonder about the origin of his extraordinary power to do good. As Jesus came down the mountain with his friends they asked about the timing of the coming of the Messiah. Their belief tells them that Elijah must come first. Jesus tells them Elijah is already present in the person of John the Baptist.

Saints of the Week

Tuesday: Nicholas, bishop (d. 350), lived in southwest Turkey and was imprisoned during the Diocletian persecution. He attended the Council of Nicaea in 324. Since there are many stories of his good deeds, generous charity, and remarkable pastoral care, his character became the foundation for the image of Santa Claus.

Wednesday: Ambrose, bishop and doctor (339-397) was a Roman governor who fairly mediated an episcopal election in Milan. He was then acclaimed their bishop even though he was not baptized. He baptized Augustine in 386 and is doctor of the church because of his preaching, teaching and influential ways of being a pastor.

Thursday: The Immaculate Conception of Mary is celebrated today, which is nine months before her birth in September. She immaculate conception prepares her to become the mother of the Lord. Scripture tells of the annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel. Mary's assent to be open to God's plan makes our salvation possible.

Friday: Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin (1474-1548) was a poor, simple, indigenous man who was visited by Mary in 1531. She instructed him to build a church at Guadalupe near Mexico City. During another visit, she told him to present flowers to the bishop. When he did, the flowers fell from his cape to reveal an image of Mary that is still revered today.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Dec. 4, 1870: The Roman College, appropriated by the Piedmontese government, was reopened as a Lyceum. The monogram of the Society over the main entrance was effaced.
·         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. 

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