Third Sunday of Advent

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Reading:  John 1:6-8, 19-28

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests
and Levites to him
to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”
He said:
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,'”

as Isaiah the prophet said.”
Some Pharisees were also sent.
They asked him,
“Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them,
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
This happened in Bethany across the Jordan,
where John was baptizing.

Reflection:

Whoa!   Wait a minute! I’ve just about gotten used to the constant itching and scratching from wearing burlap undergarments and the digestive malaise brought about by a diet of locusts and wild honey. So much so that I could even author a locust and wild honey cookbook!

I sneaked a peak at tomorrow’s Gospel and the first sentences are— “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” That sounds a lot like Christmas to me.

What is going on here? Is today the last day of Advent? Is it over? No, not at all. Today is Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word which best translated means “Rejoicing.” Today we will light the rose-colored candle on our Advent Wreath and, if your parish has rose colored vestments, you priest may choose to wear them today. They are a symbol of the great joy in our realization that the Messiah has already come.   Today is the last day of Advent that we will participate in the Old Testament yearning and pining for the coming of a Messiah which John proclaimed would soon come to an end. Why? Because Christ has already come in our midst.

Today is a pivotal point in our Advent journey. The light goes on in our heads! Up until now, we have focused on that distant, future coming of a Messiah. In our 21st Century setting in time, we have translated it as our yearning for the fulfillment of God’s Plan with the second coming of Christ in glory to gather all to God’s Reign. Yes, the second coming. Beginning tomorrow, our readings set into motion the recollection of the story of the first coming of Christ at Christmas. Today is a turning point in our Advent journey. It truly is a joyful Sunday.

If we thought that our focus on John the Baptist these past 3 Sundays was to emulate his diet and wardrobe as mainstays of our Advent penitence, we missed the mark.   We need to remember that Advent is two-fold. It is a walk down memory lane as we remember, reflect and reinterpret. We have remembered the Old Testament sense of spiritual wandering while grasping on to the prophetic promise that we are not abandoned. What was yearned for is already in our midst.

Gaudete Sunday is the pinnacle of Advent. The remaining focus of our Advent journey shifts to our recollection of just how God touched history and sent salvation to us; His beloved ones. Christmas. So, if you’ve been trying to be just like John the Baptist, shed your burlap wardrobe, push away the plate of locusts and sneak a Christmas cookie from the tin.   Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

– Fr. Paul Gulya

Action

Think of someone or a situation where you perceive there is a sense of abandonment, loss of direction or an absence of hope. It might be someone in a nursing home or hospital, an addict, someone struggling financially, someone grieving, a single parent, an outcast…you get the picture. Show them God’s kindness as you have known it. Bring them joy. A call—a card—a Christmas Carol—a gift—a visit. Help them to know hope, know they are not forgotten. Free them to look forward to and welcome Christmas. Give them the gift of Gaudete Sunday.

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Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

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Reading:  Matthew 17:9a, 10-13

As they were coming down from the mountain,
the disciples asked Jesus,
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;
but I tell you that Elijah has already come,
and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”
Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Reflection

During this week, we had been reflecting in the figure of John Baptist and today is not the exception. In today’s gospel, we found Jesus, Peter, James, and John following the experience of the transfiguration, where they experience the glorious splendor of Jesus as son of God. During the transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophetic tradition, speaking with Jesus, showing that in the person of Jesus the law and the prophecy is truly fulfilled.

Coming down from the mountain, the disciples questioned Jesus about the scribes’ belief about Elijah having had to come before the messiah, and Jesus reaffirmed this belief in the figure of John the Baptist. The image of Elijah in this gospel is seen as the person who was needed to prepare and light the way as John did.

Today’s readings help us to reflect in the preparation that we are taking for the coming of our Lord, no only during this advent season for the celebration of Christmas, but also for the second coming of Christ as we profess and believe. Jesus’ core of preaching was founded in his personal relationship of pure and immeasurable love with God the father and his brothers and sisters. Love was the base of his commandment and now it has become our rule of life.

– Fr. Julian Londono

Action Step:

Today, let us take sometime to listen to the word of God and prepare the way for Jesus. Let us be one in his love. Today, let us take some extra time to express the love that we feel for others. Let us take this time to forgive others and ourselves, to heal our wounds and sorrows. Today, let us build the Kingdom of God.

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

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Reading: Matthew 11:16-19

Jesus said to the crowds:
“To what shall I compare this generation?
It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance,
we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said,
‘He is possessed by a demon.’
The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said,
‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard,
a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’
But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”

 

Reflection:

What an interesting passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking to the crowds and comparing them to bickering children who won’t play with each other. He is speaking to those who follow him and those who followed John the Baptist. John and Jesus had very different styles in their preaching and ministry. But the root of the message is that whether a person was a follower of Jesus or John, they were required to make major changes in the way they lived. John preached that one needed to repent and give up all of the pleasures to which they were accustomed, and take on uncomfortable responsibilities. Jesus was contrary to what people thought were comfortable social conventions. He dined and socialized with those who were thought to be beneath him as a teacher.

It is easy to criticize either of them rather than to follow and make those major changes in our lives.

– Dcn. Donald Simon

Action Step:

Take the time to step out of your comfort zone. There are so many opportunities during this season to do so. Volunteer to serve a meal at a mission or Salvation Army or visit an assisted living home. Personally, deliver some warm socks, gloves or mittens to a homeless shelter. These are examples of first steps for working out of our comfort zone. They don’t take much time out of a busy schedule but they will make a difference in your life and of the people you serve.

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church

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Gospel (Matthew 11:11-15)

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Amen, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has been none greater than John the Baptist;
yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force.
All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John.
And if you are willing to accept it,
he is Elijah, the one who is to come.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

 

Reflection: 

Does anyone really listen anymore? We may have the ears, but it often seems our mouths and minds have the power – especially with the megaphone of social media.

“Here is my opinion.” “This is the way to think”. “Your thoughts and actions and politics and views and prejudices and associations are unacceptable, unchristian, immoral, and just plain wrong.”

True, sometimes evil and error must be called out. John the Baptist certainly was not shy to point out the evil ways of different groups that came to hear him. But he also helped them change and repent and then prepare for the coming of the Christ in their lives. He didn’t just condemn and abandon…he challenged and then pointed the way.

This Advent perhaps we can listen to each other a little more, be challenged once in awhile about how we add to the world’s division, hatred, and chaos, and look for ways to bring the compassionate, respectful, healing love of Christ into our world.

On this memorial of the mystic and spiritual guide Saint John of the Cross, we might reflect on one of his famous sayings: “Where you do not find love, put love and you will find love.”

-Father Vincent McTighe

Action:

This day try to really “listen” to others. Don’t react as much as respond. Especially when confronted with opinions and views that are difficult to understand, pray for discernment about what is really being said…and how the Word of God might be heard in the confusing din of confrontation.

Memorial of Saint Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

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Gospel: Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus said to the crowds:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

Reflection

I often wonder how the lectionary readings for a given day are related to one another and who matched them up.  Fortunately, today’s gospel from Matthew, the psalm and the passage from Isaiah work together to tell us a compelling story about what it means to be a Christian.  Jesus knew that the numerous political and religious codes and requirements heavily burdened the people of his time and they often failed sometimes with dire consequences.  He also knows that we feel the terrible weight of the many problems confronting our world today.  We’re beset by multiple and competing obligations not to mention a whole host of personal problems that require attention.  

How odd it is then that Jesus acknowledges people’s burdens by asking them to pick up another yoke, yet another burden!  It seems the last thing anyone wanted or needed was one more thing to do. Jesus’ invitation only makes sense if we understand how yokes work.  Yokes are designed to share the workload among two or more animals thereby reducing the weight carried by each individual.  It is also the case that the oxen do not have to be of equal size or strength, especially during their training period.  The experienced ox will carry much more of the load while a new ox learns how to work in tandem with its stronger partner.  The message is that Jesus’ yoke is light because He will carry the heavy load and never overwhelm us with more difficulty than we can handle as long as we prayerfully maintain our relationship to Him.  As Isaiah notes, “He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound.”

A second point worth considering is what Jesus’ yoke requires.  It is not mindless adherence to a set of rules and regulations important as they may be in developing well-formed consciences.  Jesus’ yoke consists in nurturing loving relationship, seeing with compassionate eyes, and opening our hearts and hands in generosity.  It is about Matthew 25, the Sermon on the Mount (and Plain), and following the golden rule.  

Of course we will fail sometimes.  Jesus does not expect perfection as Psalm 103 points out, “Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.”  That is, He loves us unconditionally.  What matters most is acknowledging the yoke Jesus invites us to share and picking it up day after day in faithful love and service to God and our sisters and brothers.

– Juli Corrigan

Action Step

Many people struggle with depression and anxiety during the holiday season.  Find someone who has lost a loved one, who is struggling with a difficult life decision, whose pain is spilling over.  Offer to share their yoke and walk with them patiently and compassionately.  Jesus wept.  We should too.

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Gospel: Luke 1: 26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

Reflection

In today’s Gospel, Luke recounts the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary: A poor, young, betrothed girl is greeted by the Angel Gabriel who gives her incredible news that will change her life.

What a situation for a young girl of that time to find herself in! By having the courage to accept the role thrust upon her, she risked everything—her honor, her future, and even her life.

We all have had situations of uncertainty in our lives we didn’t want to accept. It takes considerable strength of character to face our obligations head-on and not try to “manage” or control things or make our burdens lighter or change the way things appear to others—or to stick our heads in the sand in the hopes our obligations will disappear. It is very difficult to accept circumstances that are unpredictable or uncomfortable, to trust God, and to live through them and see where they lead, especially when others view us in a less positive light.

Mary’s “yes” meant she let go of her security and boldly accepted an uncertain future.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, perhaps we can let this time unfold before us as our hearts need and not cling to our plan. Maybe we should just trust in His.

– Sr. Donna Lombardi, FCM

Action Step

Are you anxious about many things beyond your control?  Take some time to relax and meditate on God’s divine plan.

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

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Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.
A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it.
No lion will be there,
nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.
It is for those with a journey to make,
and on it the redeemed will walk.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.

Reflection

Throughout our Advent readings, the prophet Isaiah has been painting a word-picture of the transfiguration of the world that occurs when the Messiah comes. It’s a glorious vision, one in which pain and death, enmity and fear, and sorrow and decay vanish. The lion lies down with the lamb, and all peoples—and, indeed, all creation—rejoice in the Lord.

Today, the word-picture is especially vivid, almost cinematic. Isaiah invites us to imagine deserts suddenly bursting into bloom and arid, lifeless places becoming oases brimming with water and life.

This makes me think of that wonderful night in which the dark sky over Bethlehem burst into nova-bright light at the nativity of the Messiah. In that moment, the world was forever transfigured, just as Isaiah predicted. If you and I don’t experience the vibrant colors, delicious aromas, and captivating melodies with which the Incarnation garnished the world, it’s because our spiritual senses today are too dull to experience what Isaiah’s spiritual vision foresaw centuries ago. May our spiritual journeys this Advent season sharpen them so that we come to see the world as the Christ-saturated gem it is.

– Fr. Kerry Walters

Action

Take some time today to see the world as it really is, shot through-and-through with grace. Clear your mind as best you can, concentrate on a specific sight or sound, and let its intricacy and beauty seep into your soul. Afterwards, say a short prayer of gratitude for whatever clarity you achieved. Continue this practice for the rest of Advent. By the time Christmas arrives, you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much clearer your spiritual senses are.