Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Second Sunday in Advent


December 9, 2012
Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; 1 Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

            The shift in waiting from last Sunday is dramatic. Last week, we had a long, persevering, confident waiting as events of the end times unfolded. This week, the journey is about to begin. It is our time to prepare for our eventual return from whatever exiles us from the Lord. The prophet Baruch suggests that we must put our mourning behind us for we are going home. This type of waiting is exciting.

            In the Book of Baruch, one has to know the background of Jerusalem’s history. Babylon, the great Chaldean kingdom, burned Jerusalem to the ground around 587 B.C. and the people were brought into exile. Baruch returns to Jerusalem on the feast of Tabernacles, the most important of the three pilgrim feasts. He addresses Jerusalem as if she is a person and speaks about the return of the exiled pilgrims. Jerusalem is still in mourning and she laments for her lost people. She no longer possesses or understands the wisdom of God, but the people in Babylon have followed God’s advice in the great Wisdom literature and it is time for them to return home.

            Baruch assumes the role of Jerusalem’s comforter at a mourning ceremony and tells her to remove her mourning garment because her children are on their way home. She is to clothe herself with splendid garments. The crown placed on her head is the miter that shows the glory of the eternal name. This is Aaron’s miter upon which is written “sacred to Yahweh.” Lady Jerusalem, the city of the worship of the true God, becomes a priest. She is Aaron’s successor. She receives forever from God the symbolic titles “the peace of justice” and “the glory of God’s worship.” Jerusalem will forever be a place where peace and justice prevail because worship of the true God is conducted there. Under these circumstances, the procession of the exiled back home becomes a pilgrimage, just as in the feast of the Tabernacles. The return of the Diaspora to Jerusalem for Tabernacles begins a new age of divine favor.

Ancient Babylon has now become a code word for any powers that prevent the righteous ones from returning home. God promises to make the road home easy. People look east to see the rising sun – the presence of the abiding, creating Lord. Adversaries are vanquished. The Arabian Desert is the shortest distance home and the mountains will be leveled and the valleys filled in so that healthy and young, and old and infirm alike can make it back safely. Rains will make the desert fertile – a sign that the Feast of Tabernacles can be celebrated. The comforting cloak of justice will assure harmony, security, and prosperity that come from God’s presence.

In the Gospel, we get the good news that John the Baptist has erupted onto the scene. He recalls the words of Isaiah that Baruch espoused: “Every valley shall be filled; every mountain made low; the path has been made straight for everyone to follow. Prepare the way of the Lord.” The long-awaited time of God’s advent is coming. History has been pointing toward this special moment. Pack your bags and get ready because the journey is about to take a turn. The Baptist is no longer speaking of a return of physically exiled people; he is speaking of a return to the Lord from a spiritually and emotionally exiled people. Repentance of one’s sins is the way to return to the heart of God. This repentance is not to make one feel guilty, but is designed to let God free you from whatever separates you from receiving his love. Giving is easy; receiving is much harder. Everyone wants forgiveness and reconciliation. Receiving it is much harder. The effect of being freed relieves suffering and allows us to face the future cheerfully.

Attitude is everything. An enlightened perspective is reached and we can be hopeful and cheerful, which allows us to say “yes” to God’s many invitations. Just as Baruch tells Jerusalem to put away her mourning cloak, we have to lift up our spirits in the face of our suffering so we can examine it differently. Being cheerful is contagious. We are attracted to genuine people who smile and make positive statements; we avoid those who frown, criticize, complain, and say “no” all the time. Being realistically happy is both a life-choice and a daily choice, and good things occur to those who keep themselves open to happiness. Let’s follow the advice of Baruch so we can hear God’s words spoken through the Baptist. Repent, be liberated, and you will live in the happiness God intends for you. God cherishes you and yearns for your return to his gentle, compassionate, warm heart. Let yourself go!

In Philippians, St. Paul prays tenderly for his community. His warmth overflows through his words. He says, “How I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He continues, “And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more.” Wow! What a prayer. This is what God wants for us – to become more and more loving so that we are able to discern his ways. Keep your senses heightened. Notice the blessed events around you. Prepare the way of the Lord. God is calling you to take notice of what he is doing. Stay open and positive and say “yes” to his gentle invitations – because they contain life. God will make the road easier for you and you will see the salvation God promises. God is doing this for you. You will like this kind of waiting. You will be glad.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Isaiah explains that on the holy road that leads the redeemed back to Zion, all obstacles will be removed to assure safe passage. God has cleared the way for everyone to return in haste. God comforts his people for their sins have been forgiven. Along the way home, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. Zechariah reminds us that the Lord is coming to dwell among his people and he will become known to them for the Lord stirs forth from his holy dwelling. Through all the hunger and drought the people face, the God of Israel will not forsake them. The Lord will take care of their needs and shepherd them with great care. The Lord will also teach them what is for their own good. He is like a schoolteacher who cares for the understanding of his students. Sirach tells us about the days of Elijah, whose words were as a flaming furnace. Great power was with Elijah as he spoke on behalf of God. The church evokes Elijah’s memory as it prepares for the arrival onto the scene of the great prophet, John the Baptist.

Gospel: At the beginning of his public ministry in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was teaching people from many districts near and far. The power of the Lord was with him for healing. Some friends brought forward a paralyzed man on a stretcher and Jesus forgave his sins. The scribes and Pharisees took issue with this and Jesus decided to showcase God’s power. He told the man to rise, take up his mat, and go home. To reveal the mind of God Jesus asked his disciples if a man with 100 sheep notices that one is missing, would the man leave the sheep in search of the lost one? Jesus says that God is always seeking out the lost. ~ On the feast of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, the annunciation scene is read. An alternative reading is Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. ~ The church is setting the stage for John the Baptist. Jesus tells the crowd that John the Baptist is the greatest prophet born of a woman, but he is the least in the kingdom of God. In fact, Jesus tells them that John is Elijah incarnate. In Matthew, as Jesus experiences frustration from the crowd, he points out how fickle they are. After the transfiguration, Jesus addresses the notion that Elijah must appear again before the Messiah comes. He confirms it and then adds that Elijah has already come, but they did not recognize him in the form of John the Baptist.

Saints of the Week

December 9: 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.

December 12: The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated to remember the four apparitions to Juan Diego in 1531 near Mexico City shortly after the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. Mary appeared as a native Mexican princess and her image is imprinted on a cloak that was presented to the bishop.

December 13: Lucy, martyr (d. 304), was born into a noble Sicilian family and killed during the Diocletian persecution. In the Middle Ages, people with eye trouble invoked her aid because her name means "light." Scandinavia today still honors Lucy in a great festival of light on this day.

December 14: John of the Cross, priest and doctor (1542-1591), was a Carmelite who reformed his order with the help of Teresa of Avila. They created the Discalced (without shoes) Carmelite Order that offered a stricter interpretation of their rules. John was opposed by his community and placed in prison for a year. He wrote the classics, "Ascent of Mount Carmel," "Dark Night of the Soul," and "Living Flame of Love."

This Week in Jesuit History

·      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.
·      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.