2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle A (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the coming of Christ brings judgment, but also justice and mercy. John the Baptist is the last and most blessed prophet because he has the privilege of seeing the Messiah come, the Messiah to which so many of his predecessors had given witness, and today he is helping us prepare this Advent.

Today’s First Reading reminds us that the Messiah comes to usher in true justice: he goes beyond appearances to judge hearts, and he knows events as they truly happened, not just piecing together a case through rumors and innuendos. His spirit will be characterized by wisdom. His justice will usher in peace: Isaiah portrays this peace speaking of predatory and dangerous animals who lay down alongside their prey, leaving them unharmed, and an unshakable calm to nature itself. Isaiah goes on to say that the Messiah will also be “set up as a signal for the nations.” Not just the Jewish nation, but all nations.

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds the Christians converted from paganism that they too were welcomed by Christ for the glory of God, therefore they should glorify God for his mercy toward them. Paul reminds us that Sacred Scripture, such as today’s First Reading, has the goal of instilling hope. Christ comes this Christmas to bring us not only justice and judgment, but mercy and peace if we welcome it. He offers it to everyone. When we become of one mind and welcome each other as Christ welcomed us, we glorify God. Glorifying God is not just the task of Jews, but of the Gentiles who welcome the Lord as well.

John the Baptist in today’s Gospel shows the way to welcome the Messiah: sorrow for our sins. It’s no coincidence that the liturgical colors of Advent are the same of the those of Lent: it is a penitential time, a time to take stock of whether we’ve welcomed Christ or others during the year. However, this time is also aglow with hope, since Advent represents the long dark centuries when humanity, lost in sin, seemed hopeless. Now the Messiah is at hand to usher in justice and peace. Just as John warns the Pharisees and Sadducees today, we can’t rest on our laurels. We’re not safe just because we’re Christians; our actions determine our fate. We struggle with sin throughout our lives, so we also have abundant opportunities for repentance, including Advent.

John tells us in today’s Gospel that the good fruit of our actions is the sign of our repentance. We’re one week into Advent and we still have plenty of time to welcome Our Lord through good works in appreciation for the mercy he has shown us. We do a lot of good for family and friends in preparation for Christmas, but let’s go beyond that circle to do good for those who have no one this Advent.

Readings: Isaiah 11:1–10; Psalm 72:1–2, 7–8, 12–13, 17; Romans 15:4–9; Matthew 3:1–12. See also 2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle A.

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2nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s Gospel, taken from John, recalls the first of Our Lord’s signs that show his glory, signs of a new Spirit that wants to transform us and help us to transform others into what truly gives glory to the Lord: our holiness.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah reminds us the Word of God continues to resound for our sake throughout history, taking us, spread among the nations of this world, and making us a crown for his glory as his Bride, the Church. The Word of God, Jesus as we know him today, will not keep silent so long as there is any risk of unjust loss or condemnation. Even on the day of Judgment his Word will praise us or condemn us, a point John makes in his Gospel (cf. John 12:48ff.).

Isaiah describes this vindication and victory using nuptial symbolism. Nuptial symbolism is very strong in the mind of Israel as the way to understand the joy her salvation will bring. For Isaiah, any checkered past of Israel, any past disgrace will be swept away by the Lord not only wedding himself to her by way of concession, but with the delight of a young couple in love. That wedding is definitively consummated between him and the Church, with the wedding banquet awaiting us in Heaven. In today’s Gospel John’s account of the Wedding Feast of Cana has this nuptial symbolism in mind. He’s recalling a wedding feast, but he is also recalling that the Heavenly Groom, Jesus, is preparing to wed his Spouse, the Church.

Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us that when we welcome the Word of God into our lives we also invite the Spirit to fill us with gifts for our spiritual edification and the spiritual edification of others, the path to glory. The Word does not just educate us by sharing saving and joyful truth: even as the Word takes root in our hearts his Spirit fills us with gifts as well.

Grace itself is a gift, and common to many, but Paul reminds us today that the Holy Spirit also gives specific gifts to specific people: it can be a spiritual gift to educate, to heal, or to counsel; it can be a vocation to the priesthood, to the consecrated life; it can be to form part of an ecclesial movement or other association of faithful, etc. The Holy Spirit heals, educates, counsels, and sanctifies, but also gives those gifts for the healing, sanctification, etc. of others. The Holy Spirit has a plan for those gifts, so it is being attentive to the Spirit that enables us to use those gifts and help the Spirit’s sanctifying and edifying work.

What starts in today’s Gospel with Our Lord attending a wedding banquet turns into a sign that the Lord’s courtship with Israel, foretold in today’s First Reading, has begun in earnest. The transformation of the water into wine is the first sign Our Lord performs in John’s Gospel. John doesn’t speak of miracles as much as he speaks of signs: each sign is an opportunity for Israel to put her faith in the Lord. Wedding celebrations in Jesus’ time were prolonged affairs with abundant wine to represent the joy of the wedding and the future joy of when the Lord would be wed to his spouse Israel.

When it seems today that the joy is going to prematurely run out, Our Lord through transforming the water into wine not only extends the joy but makes it an even greater joy. All the things we enjoy in life that are good and holy for us will experience a similar transformation. The huge jars of water represent penance, conversion, purification, and baptism, everything that shows our contrition for our checkered past and our desire to change. Our Lord takes that penance and purification and converts it into pure joy, just as he turns the water into fine wine. Our Lord envisions his relationship with us, whether as Church or as individuals, as one of intimate and joyful love. If we want to be captivated and purified by him and achieve a greater joy, let’s follow the Blessed Mother’s advice today to do whatever he tells us.

Mary today shows great considerateness toward the young couple about to be embarrassed before all their family and friends, but also toward the seriousness and importance of her son’s mission. She doesn’t ask him so much as mention that there’s a pending need. She could have just ordered told him to do it, backed up by the Ten Commandments (honor thy mother). Our Lord’s enigmatic reply to his mother is going to be the subject of discussion until the Second Coming, but Mary keeps it simple, telling the waiters, “do whatever he tells you.” She leaves it in her son’s hands, just as we, when we need something, should just mention the need to him and trust him to do what’s best, like his mother. Let’s learn from Mary how to ask for what we need.

Readings: Isaiah 62:1–5; Psalm 96:1–3, 7–10; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; John 2:1–11. See also 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Cycle C.

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2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C (2)

Advent is a time of penance and conversion, but is also characterized by Messianic hope: our penance and conversion reflect a good work that is already underway, a good work that is about to experience a boost and a means to bear fruit in the birth of Our Lord at Christmas. As St. Paul describes it in today’s Second Reading: “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Our Lord enables us to definitively leave our sinful past and ways behind, and that is a cause for joyful hope.

In today’s First Reading Baruch reminds Israel that the Lord is coming to help smooth the way so that they can return to Jerusalem in triumph. The Lord had taken Israel from being a nomadic people wandering in the desert (Abraham) to the Chosen People in the Promised Land, a nation. Their sins drove them into exile and scattered them again, and refugees don’t have the luxury of dressing in their “Sunday best.” Baruch encourages Israel to foresee the moment when they’ll cast aside the rags of their affliction and dress in their “Sunday best” because the Lord is bringing them back to Jerusalem.

The peaks and valleys that make any journey more difficult will be leveled to pave the way for a people that were once exiled and defeated, but now are victorious thanks to the Lord. Even as they were exiled the Lord promised through his prophets to bring them out of the desert and back into their Land again. Salvation was underway even then. Advent reminds us that salvation is underway and has been from all eternity, culminating in the Incarnation and Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that the good work in us, a work we are trying to capitalize on in Advent, wasn’t started by us, but it can be finished by us, for good or for ill. The Lord from all eternity wanted us to be gathered around his Son before him in Heaven. Adam, Eve, then we blew it. Our Lord came to deliver us from our predicament, but the Holy Spirit was working in our hearts long before that, nudging us toward contrition and conversion for our sins, trying to get us disposed so that the good work could get back on track (in Christ) after we’d derailed it (through our sins).

We received the grace of redemption at Baptism, Paul encourages us today to trust in Our Lord and trust that the good work of redemption will reach its completion thanks to him. Our redemption is underway. It’s not finished yet. Paul also reminds us that the work of redemption is a work of God’s love: it wants to spark something in us, a love that burns all secondary and disordered loves away. Through that good work the Lord’s love reaches out to us, and, straining toward his, our love reaches out to him. His love reached out to us first, and it continued to reach out to us after we’d sinned and continues to reach out to us whenever we reject it by sinning.

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist is mobilized to get the word out that the Lord is coming to lead anyone to salvation who wants it. Today’s Gospel said the “word of God” came to him, something prophetic. God addresses his word to his prophet to set something good into motion. At that moment, just as in Advent, the good work was simply an announcement: the Lord is coming, get ready. The way to get ready was to receive John’s baptism (a gesture of repentance, not the Baptism we’ve received that was instituted by Christ) and seek forgiveness for our sins. We could never extricate ourselves from the consequences of our sins alone: John is announcing that the Lord will pave the way for our forgiveness and our conversion. The Lord is coming within reach. We need to start reaching out to him during Advent.

The holiday season is a special time for reaching out in a special way to those in need, whether spiritually or materially. Outreach literally means “reaching out.” Helping the poor is always important. Reaching out to reconcile with those with whom we’re estranged is also a beautiful way to welcome Our Lord at Christmas. Reaching out to those who are lonely, those whose family is far away, or those coping with loss. Reaching out to that irascible person who is difficult to get along with, getting under that crusty armor to discover who they truly are and show that you “get it.” You may not need to go very far. Some of these people you might even find in the privacy of your own home or family.

Readings: Baruch 5:1–9; Psalm 126:1–6; Philippians 1:4–6, 8–11; Gospel Luke 3:1–6. See also 2nd Sunday of Advent, Cycle C.

Advent Week 2

2nd Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

In the Transfiguration Jesus gives his most beloved disciples (Peter, James and John) a glimpse of the life they will live one day in glory. Not just a transfigured life, but a life with their beloved forever, free from all distraction. It is an encouragement for our own desire for silence and prayer that enables us to encounter Our Lord in the depths of our heart.

Today’s First Reading recalls another mountain, but also a momentous decision in the life of Abraham, a life or death decision that showed who came first in his life. Isaac was the fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to a great nation. The Lord had promised Abraham for years that he would bless him with a son who’d show the promise being fulfilled. He and his wife Sarah were so old that Isaac’s birth was nothing short of miraculous. At one point Abraham had another son, Ishmael, through the slave Hagar, but the Lord revealed that Ishmael was not the way he intended to fulfill the promise.

When the Lord tells Abraham to offer up Isaac as a holocaust it seems that he is asking Abraham to kill a promise fulfilled. The Old Testament does not say that Abraham went ballistic, engaged in long and bitter discourses a la the Book of Job, or denounced God as cruel and evil. He simply took his son and headed for Moriah. Abraham was put to the test, and he passed. He was ready to go through with something horrible because he believed it was God’s will. His attitude was enough to show that the Lord came first for him. As the Lord said, “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the Lord spared Abraham’s son, but did not hesitate to sacrifice his own. When Abraham was heading up the mountain with Isaac, Isaac asked him, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham replied, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Genesis 22:7-8). The sacrifice of Isaac was a prefiguration of the Lord sacrificing his Son, Jesus, on Calvary. When we call Jesus the “Lamb of God” we are referring to the fact that he willingly laid down his life, like a lamb led to the slaughter, to take away the sins of the world. When John the Baptist first identified him to the disciples who would soon become Our Lord’s Apostles he said, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29). He saw him as a sacrifice for the sins of the world from the beginning. Just as Abraham showed how the Lord had first place in his life through his willingness to sacrifice his son, the Lord shows us that we are first place in his. Sacrificing his only-begotten son shows that there’s nothing he is not willing to do for us.

In today’s Gospel the Lord takes his closest disciples up the mountain, alone, to give them an insight into who he is and prepare them for the trials to come. If the Lord subjected Abraham to a trial, Our Lord takes his closest disciples up the mountain to prepare them for an upcoming trial: his Passion and death. Our Lord gives his disciples a glimpse of his divinity. They’ve followed him and had faith in him, and now he gives them a deeper insight into who he truly and to strengthen their faith.

Elijah and Moses, through their appearance, show the disciples that Our Lord is the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). That’s enough for Peter to suggest building a shrine in remembrance of the revelation he’d just received, but the Lord is not done. The disciples witness a theophany: God the Father (the voice) identifies Jesus as his beloved Son, and the cloud that overshadows them is the Holy Spirit. It’s important to remember that this was not the first opportunity for the disciples to show their faith, but, rather, like Abraham with Isaac, it was a culminating moment of the faith they’d already shown. Neither the disciples not Abraham understood completely after the “mountain” what had happened. The disciples still didn’t understand what Our Lord meant when he said he would be raised from the dead, but they soon would.

It’s not easy getting to a mountaintop, and today’s Gospel says Our Lord took his disciples up a high mountain. Prayer is one of the pillars of Lenten observance. The battle for quality prayer is often a battle for silence. Everyone acknowledges the utility of “quiet time,” but, for prayer, this is just the first step. Exterior silence must foster interior silence. We have to quiet down on the inside too. Find a quiet place this week (a chapel, a monastery, a convent, a shrine) and set aside some real quiet time so that Our Lord can reveal himself to you more profoundly. Consider doing a retreat or a daily mediation for Lent.

Readings: Genesis 22:1–2, 9a, 10–13, 15–18; Psalm 116:10, 15–19; Romans 8:31b–34; Mark 9:2–10. See also Transfiguration of the Lord, Cycle BTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle CTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle A2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, and 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A.

2nd Sunday in Lent, Cycle B (2)

Lent is a time of prayer to re-assess Our Lord’s place in our lives. He does not just tell us his place; he shows us. Today’s readings all give us insight into what the Lord’s place is in our life and what it should be. The key, in prayer, is to make both those things coincide.

In Richard Harris’ portrayal of Abraham the sacrifice of his son Isaac was due to him focusing so much on having his long-desired son and heir that he started to neglect his duties as patriarch. His willingness to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah showed that no matter how precious his son was, the Lord came first. However, Isaac also represents a promise fulfilled by the Lord: if we focus on the Lord fulfilling his promises and not on him we are not putting him in first place, just what he can do for us.

As Abraham and his son are going up the mountain Isaac asks him, innocently, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7-8). Abraham’s response may seem to avoid the painful answer, but it also has the marks of a profound act of faith: “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” In the end the Lord did provide a lamb for a burnt offering, and Abraham’s faith was shown to always put the Lord first. In the Second Reading today St. Paul reminds us how the Father showed us our place: he loved us enough to sacrifice his only son. He provided the Lamb for the sacrifice–his Son–that Abraham in the end was not required to sacrifice. What place does he have in our lives if he is willing to spare us nothing?

Our Lord in today’s Gospel shows his place in the grand scheme of things in order to prepare his disciples for the trials to come. When he comes down from the mountain he will take up the march to Jerusalem and to his Passion and death. Mark reminds us that those disciples didn’t understand the Resurrection, so it is no surprise that they wouldn’t understand the Passion either. Peter is described as “terrified,” but he could also be considered awestruck. Seeing Our Lord flanked by Moses and Elijah showed his place with regard to the Law and the prophets. That was enough to show Our Lord was the Messiah, but the voice from Heaven and the cloud also revealed Our Lord’s place in the Most Holy Trinity: the Son of God. He does not reveal himself in order to lord it over us; he reveals his place in the grand scheme of things and in our lives in order to encourage us when trials come.

Spend some time this week seeing, with Our Lord, whether there is an “Isaac” in your life toward whom (or which) your attitude needs to change. If that someone or something is irremediably coming between you and Our Lord it may be time for a sacrifice. The Lord always comes first. Let’s put him there.

Readings: Genesis 22:1–2, 9a, 10–13, 15–18; Psalm 116:10, 15–19; Romans 8:31b–34; Mark 9:2–10. See also Transfiguration of the Lord, Cycle BTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle CTransfiguration of the Lord, Cycle A2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, and 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle A.

Connaissez vous Abraham ? L'homme de foi en Dieu