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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ignatian Spirituality: Set the World Ablaze

Third Sunday of Advent
December 14, 2014
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Luke 1; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

The verbal interplay between John the Baptist and his questioners makes for great drama as we are drawn into the richer complexities of a story that is being slowly uncovered. John’s leading answers teaches the inquirers to seek answers that are not readily evident. It is as if he is asking them to play a game of riddles because he mixes the strapping truth with mystery. Who would not want to explore these unknown revelations more fully?

If Jesus is the Word of God and we are his disciples, then we are the words of God that bring life to benefit the world. It behooves us then to use the power of words to shape our environment to show and, at the same time, hide God’s presence. Saint Paul tells us to test everything and to retain what is good. Let us be cleverer in the ways we approach conversations because experience tells us we have less clarity in words that we believed. Words are symbols and reveal and conceal at the same time. The more articulate our vocabulary becomes, the more effective we communicate.

Some religious groups and political entities have long ago discovered that if they coin a phrase first, it will shape the discussion to their favor. For example, notice the difference between the words “feminist” and “gender equality.” Some use the word “feminist” to describe a particularly charged individual who has an edginess to her in order to dismiss her concerns, while “gender equality” strives to bring about more balanced, fair-minded systemic change to an environment embedded with injustices. More polarizing, explosive terms are in use today to describe various agendas, and we often do not think of the disguised agendas that are contained within them.

As Christians, being aware of the subtle nuances in our choice of words will help us be informed disciples. Noticing a particular style of pontificators will help us feel more relaxed about interactions. For example, last weekend a young man promoted his point of view authoritatively and firmly to his small audience and me. He was a man of impressive intellect and his style teetered on bullying force. He reasoned that the louder he spoke and with greater passion, everyone would see he was right. At the end, he concluded, “So, you agree with me, Father, right?” This was a very leading question. I simply replied, “Is it important to you that we agree?” At this point, his relatives were able to jump in and alter the conversation that was uncomfortable for them. By my simple questioning, the young man’s honor was upheld and the tension diffused. Ultimately, the content of his statement was not the central point, but his style was under review by his audience.

We are not obligated to answer the exact questions that are posed to us. The Baptist does this well. We have to see beyond the immediacy of the question and get to what is at the heart of the person posing the question. Never condemn or demolish a person in front of you, but show him or her that you can remain free of their angst. You can remain free from their drama. Our best friends are (1.) choosing an articulate vocabulary as a replacement for terms others are using, and (2.) revering, like John the Baptist, questions as a source of leading people to a more positive reality.

When we use words well, we will feel the strength of Isaiah’s words within us when he proclaims, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me.” We will feel like Mary in her song of joy when God’s words speak through us, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” We will be like the masterful teacher, John the Baptist, “I am not the one you seek, but there is one among you whom you do not recognize.” It is fine not to have the answers, but to send someone off with a quest for greater insight. We must use our words to build up and encourage, to retain our own freedom of thought, to liberate others to the possibilities of God. We must not be like the pagans who use words to lord it over others. That is not who we are as believers in the power of the Word of God.

Our masterful use of words will allow us always to rejoice and to give thanks because we are communicating God to others through our words and actions. We rejoice in the power of words and in the questions that reveal God’s power. John testified to Christ. So must we. John knew he was not the Christ. It is a good lesson for us to fully know that we are not the world’s savior. Represent Christ through your words and pray without ceasing. May the God of peace make you perfectly holy – spirit, soul, and body. Christ who calls you is faithful to you and he will accomplish much good through you. Therefore, simply rejoice today that God’s word lives within and among you.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading:
Monday: (Numbers 24) Balaam raised his eyes and saw Israel encamped, tribe by tribe, and the spirit of God came upon him. He exclaimed, “A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.”
Tuesday: (Zephaniah) Woe to the tyrannical city, rebellious and polluted. One day I will change and purify the lips of the people. A holy remnant will remain and they shall do no wrong.
Wednesday: (Genesis 49) Jacob assembled his sons and blessed them, praising Judah upon whom Jacob’s scepter shall never part.
Thursday: (Jeremiah 23) On that day, I shall raise up a righteous shoot to David. Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell in security.
Friday: (Judges 13) Zorah’s wife was barren when an angel appeared to her. No razor will touch her son’s head and he is to be consecrated to the Lord. He will be named Samson and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines.
Saturday: (Isaiah 7) The Lord tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, but he will not do it. The Lord gives him a sign anyways: The virgin shall conceive and shall name him Emmanuel.

Monday: (Matthew 21) Jesus came to the temple area and was asked, “By what authority are you doing these things? Testing the atmosphere, Jesus asked by what authority was John’s Baptism? They were stumped to declare whether it was from heaven or of human origin.
Tuesday: (Matthew 21) Jesus told a story of two sons who went to work in the vineyard at the request of their father. The first said “no” but later acquiesced; the other said “yes” but had no intention of following through. Which did his father’s will?
Wednesday: (Matthew 1) The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Thursday: (Matthew 1) Mary was betrothed to Joseph, who decided to marry her although she was already pregnant. An angel appeared to Joseph to inform him that her son was conceived from the power of the Holy Spirit.  
Friday: (Luke 1) King Herod oversaw Judea at the time Zechariah, whose wife was Elizabeth, was assigned to priestly service of the sanctuary of the Lord. Zechariah received a vision and was informed his wife would conceive a son who he is to name John.      
Saturday: (Luke 1) The angel Gabriel visits Mary to inform her God has chosen her to become the mother of Jesus, who will save Israel from their sins.

Saints of the Week

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."

No Saints are celebrated in the holy octave leading up to the Nativity of the Lord.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      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 Magdalene de' Pazzi.
·      Dec 19, 1593. At Rome, Fr. Robert Bellarmine was appointed rector of the Roman College.

·      Dec 20, 1815. A ukase of Alexander I was published banishing the Society of Jesus from St Petersburg and Moscow on the pretext that they were troubling the Russian Church.

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