Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent
December 8, 2013
Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12

John the Baptist bursts onto the Advent scene preaching repentance as a way of acknowledging our proper attitude to enter into the kingdom of heaven. He is a striking figure who attracts the attention of many, including the Pharisees and Sadducees.  To pique the curiosity of these leading religious figures, John’s integrity and truthfulness must have been very attractive. People instinctively know and trust in one who is real and John represents the best of “the real” in religious practice and belief. Give credit to the Pharisees and Sadducees who honor the influence of John by listening to him and for publicly acknowledging their sinful condition. John was not a prescribed religious teacher, but his honesty led many people to reform their lives.

            We then have to ask ourselves about our attitude during this time of preparation. Attitude is everything. We are on the right track if we feel good about our interactions with most people. Having right relations with our neighbors means that we are acting with integrity, speaking with honesty, and dealing forthrightly and in a loving manner – even if people do not treat us with the same human courtesy, but if we are often lying, gossiping, or trying to get an advantage, we better hear the words of John the Baptist again so that we adjust our actions to mirror the good people we know we are. Get some help. Seek someone’s good counsel because your soul’s peace may depend upon it.

            John the Baptist did not make people feel guilty about their sins. He directed them to look at the more important aspects in life. He lifted their eyes from petty daily bothersome irritations so they could see the way God wants them to live peacefully with their choices. It is a much better way to go through life. Common people and religious leaders streamed to the Baptist because he made them feel good about confessing their sins. Therefore, listen to the modern day John the Baptists who urge you to examine a troublesome area of your life.

            In our Catholic Rite of Reconciliation, the church is not trying to make you dredge up bad things about yourself. They are trying to liberate you from what weighs you down so you can live better, freer, and happier. The priest is not there to record and remember the embarrassing things you say about yourself, but he is there to guide you to the salvation that comes from the heart of Jesus Christ. He never remembers any of the sins you confess, but he does remember that you are a person who desires and receives much grace from God. All he remembers is that you want God to be more present in your life and his heart is heartened when he sees that you have connected in a way that allows you to see God’s mercy. The priest, just like God, only sees your goodness.

            The church opens each Mass by recognizing that we are all sinners. This is a great equalizer because it means that no one person, despite worldly status, honor, or riches, is more important to God than another person. In the early days of the church, people would publicly declare their sins for everyone to hear and know. Thankfully, we no longer do that, but it is important that we stand before one another acknowledging we are all in the same boat. Together we declare before God as one community that we are dependent upon God’s merciful judgment that leads to our salvation.  
            In our current rituals, we miss out on the public reality of our sinfulness. The Pharisees and Sadducees streamed to the Baptist to confess their sins and yet we remain reluctant even though we know it is for our own good. We would be a very different community with a very different public attitude if we saw and celebrated each other’s humility. It would give us great hope, which Paul says is the purpose of Scripture. Knowing that together we are loved sinners would grant us, as Paul says again, to think in harmony with one another and one voice to glorify God. Nothing else would make God happier.

            Truly accepting ‘who we are’ before others and God changes our fundamental attitudes about our moral life. We radiate our goodness, integrity, and honesty because we are people who do not deal with illusions but with reality. We exude our happiness and genuine care for neighbors, even in cultures that have no problem when its members lie, cheat, and steal. Though others will try to take us down out of envy for our laudatory and noble dispositions, we are a people set apart by God and called to act with the same type of love that God has towards us. We help God create the world of Isaiah’s vision where: the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard will 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. There shall be no harm or ruin on God’s holy mountain for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord. God’s dwelling shall be glorious.

            This is more than Isaiah’s vision all those centuries ago. It is God’s dream for the kingdom today. We can make it come true – because you are already bringing it about. Let’s dream like Isaiah and all the people of God. Let peace reign – even in places that have never known peace. Every Advent I get excited when I read this line because it certainly is possible. I believe in your goodness. I believe in you.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The Immaculate Conception is moved to Monday since Sunday is the Lord’s Day. In the readings, we hear of the encounter of Adam and Eve with God after they had eaten from the forbidden tree. ~ Isaiah cries out “Comfort, give comfort to my people and proclaim to her that her service is at an end and her guilt is expiated.” Isaiah begins to describe God’s virtues and unparalleled excellence among all creation. ~ During the feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe, Zechariah announces that the Lord will come to dwell among them and the Israelites shall become the Lord’s people. ~ Isaiah declares that the Lord will teach you what is for your good and will lead you on the way you should go. Sirach, the prophet, tells us about Elijah’s ascent to heaven in a whirlwind of fire and in a chariot of fiery horses. Elijah will return again before the Day of the Lord.

Gospel: On the Immaculate Conception, we hear of the meeting between the angel Gabriel and Mary of Nazareth who gave her assent to become the mother of the One who was sent from the Most High. ~ Jesus riddles his disciples about a man who has one hundred sheep and leaves the ninety-nine to find the lost one. Jesus calls people to himself and asks them to give their heavy burdens to him. ~ During the feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe, the angel Gabriel travels to Nazareth to visit Mary, the virgin, who assents to becoming the mother of a child conceived by the Holy Spirit. ~ Jesus does not know how to describe this generation because many played a flute for them but they would not dance and then they played a dirge for them and they did not mourn. The scribes ask Jesus why Elijah must come first. He tells them Elijah will restore all things to God, but he explains that Elijah has already come, but they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.

Saints of the Week

December 8: The Immaculate Conception of Mary is celebrated today, which is nine months before her birth in September. The 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.

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. 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.
·      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.