Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 22, 2013
Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24

We enter the mysterious last days of Advent that lead up to the birth of Jesus. We watch all the signs given in Scripture becoming fulfilled: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel. Everything is tumbling into place so orderly despite the disorder of our lives. All becomes quiet, just like the mood that is evoked in the carol “Silent Night.” All is calm; all is bright. God has chosen to be with us, Emmanuel, and the name of the boy will be Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Approach these days with patient stillness. It is as if we are collectively pacing back and forth in a hospital’s maternity ward’s waiting room. Forces of nature control the outcome and all we can do is wait, hope, and pray while we remain powerless to effect the outcome. We hold our breath and hope for the best. The quality of time slows for us, while the miraculous events of childbirth quicken. All will unfold on its own time, and we all want to glimpse the infant child when he does come.

We can hear in Isaiah’s scripture passage God’s frustration with our ways. God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz adheres so closely to a religious teaching that he will not ask for it. Isaiah detects God’s weariness because God is trying to help us and we keep pushing him away – by our own religious instruction. It is as if God breaks one of his rules because of our closed-mindedness when he says: I will give you this sign regardless, even though it will be far outside of your religious imagination to understand. It will be a sign nonetheless.

I have always enjoyed Teresa of Avila’s quote, “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.” When we read the nativity scriptures, it is helpful for us always to see God’s motivation behind these events because it is God’s love alone that is bringing all things into fulfillment. God sends us someone to save us from our sins and to let us know, as hardheaded as we are, that God is with us.

Pope Francis is a fine instrument of God’s love for the church and he is being recognized by the secular world as a truly revolutionary man. He is TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year.” The religious right calls him a radical, a leftist like Obama, and even a Marxist because of his economic views and his concern for the poor. The Washington Post reports that he is enjoying 92 percent favorability rating among Catholics compared to 76 percent for Benedict XVI. In the non-Catholic world, 62 percent approve his policies compared to Benedict’s 49 percent. Francis is creating new perceptions of the church and is returning us to Gospel values that defined the early church. Many believe in the integrity of his motives.

As I have heard many faith-filled stories over the years, many wonder whether God is with us at all. Tragedies, injustice, and hardship plague our lives and we feel the lack of kindness from many neighbors who are more concerned with their own interests than the common good. We find God to be remote and distant and for the most part unconcerned unless we pray our magical rosaries in the right way or for the right intentions. God only makes his presence known if we do things right. Thankfully, that thinking is wrong.

God knows of our hardships, which is the reason God sent Jesus into our lives. Emmanuel means “God is with us,” not God is above us or around us or just down the street who will appear magically. No, God is much, much closer than that. God is among us, with us to stay, along the road that each of us is traveling, with us now and forever. Whenever we feel love, we know God is with us. God is not the cause of misfortune, but if we look deep enough inside, we will come to know that God is compassionately present. God is not the cause of good fortune, but with faith-filled examination, we will find God’s presence once more. Let’s pay attention to the feelings and emotions of God – as an indication of God’s motivations, which remain constant. God’s love can always be found – and it gives worth to each of our experiences. Each day, we must ask to see God’s love. We will find it in abundance and then God’s love dwells within us. God is waiting to be found, waiting for us to ask for a sign. Let God surprise you with his care.

Advent lasts a few more days. Sit back, relax, and enjoy these mystical times because God will bring you freshness of new life into your world. Treasure the tiny details and you will find more goodness and love than you anticipate. Spend some time this week just showing up in prayer to tell God, “I am here to be with you,” and then just sit there. Accept the signs God personally gives you. Today, more than ever, God wants to dwell in your life and just be by your side.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Malachi, the messenger of the Lord will be sent forth to purify the sons of Levi in order to present the most perfect sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem and to turn the hearts of fathers to their children and children to their fathers. In 2 Samuel when David settled into his house of cedar and the Lord rested in a tent, David declared he would build a great house for the Lord, but the Lord told him that he would make a great house of David. (The Nativity of Our Lord.) In Acts, Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Filled with jealous, his adversaries killed him. He cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” The Letter of John restates the Prologue of the Fourth Gospel and declares, “What was from the beginning; what we have heard; what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of Life – for the life was made visible.” John proclaims the message that God is light and in him there is no darkness.

Gospel: Elizabeth gave birth to a son. When it was time to name and circumcise him, Elizabeth declared, “He will be called John.” Just then, Zechariah’s mouth was loosened and he was able to speak once again. Zechariah began his famed canticle saying, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people to set them free….” (The Nativity of Our Lord.) Jesus reminds his followers that adversaries will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues, but the Spirit of the Lord will be with you to speak for you. Whoever endures to the end will be saved. On the Feast of John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene runs from the run to Simon Peter to tell him that the Lord was taken from the tomb. Peter and the Beloved Disciple ran to the tomb; they came to believe. On the feast of the Holy Innocents, the magi departed and did not return to Herod. When Herod realized he had been deceived, he became furious and ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.

Saints of the Week

Saints are not celebrated during the octave leading up to Christmas.

December 22 - O King of all nations and keystone of the church: come and save us, whom you formed from the dust.

December 23 - O Emmanuel, our king and giver of the Law: come to save us, Lord our God.

December 26: Stephen, the first Martyr (d. 35), was one of the seven original deacons chose to minister to the Greek-speaking Christians. The Jews accused him of blasphemy. Though he was eloquent in his defense, Saul of Tarsus condoned his death sentence.

December 27: John, Apostle and Evangelist (d. 100), was the brother of James and one of the three disciples to be in the inner circle. He left fishing to follow Jesus and was with him at the major events: the transfiguration, raising of Jairus' daughter, and the agony in the garden. He is also thought to be the author of the fourth gospel, three letters, and the Book of Revelation.

December 28: The Holy Innocents (d. 2), were the boys of Bethlehem who were under two years old to be killed by King Herod in an attempt to eliminate the rise of the newborn king as foretold by the astronomers from the east. This event is similar to the rescue of Moses from the Nile by the slaughter of the infant boys by the pharaoh.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      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.
·      Dec 26, 1978. The assassination of Gerhard Pieper, a librarian, who was shot to death in Zimbabwe.
·      Dec 27, 1618. Henry Morse entered the English College at Rome.
·      Dec 28, 1802. Pope Pius VII allowed Father General Gruber to affiliate the English Jesuits to the Society of Jesus in Russia.