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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1st Sunday in Advent, Cycle A (2)

Today in the celebration of the Eucharist there’s a change of vestment colors to celebrate a change of season. It’s not just that the weather is getting colder: today we begin a new season in the liturgical year and a new liturgical year. We begin Advent. “Advent” means “coming.” Last Sunday we celebrated the future Second Coming of Christ; during Advent we prepare to celebrate the First Coming of Christ: at Christmas, or, to be more technical, at the Annunciation, when through the Holy Spirit he was conceived in Mary’s womb (also called the Feast of the Incarnation), but he was born at Christmas, which is also called the Feast of the Nativity. In Advent we celebrate the start of salvation history, when man was lost in the darkness of sin before Christ’s First Coming to earth at Christmas.

In today’s First Reading Isaiah prophesies the coming of the Messiah as time of peace and blessings for all nations forever – that is cause for rejoicing, which is why Advent is a time for rejoicing. Isaiah’s prophecy began to be fulfilled in the First Coming, when the Savior of the World was born, and will be fulfilled in the Second. Isaiah today envisions people coming from all over the world to the mountain of the Lord’s house (Mt. Zion in Jerusalem) to be instructed by the Lord himself. The Lord will bring peace and light to guide us. He is the true light that enlightens everyone (cf. John 1:9).

In the First Coming and the Second Coming Christ is not letting us go it alone. When St. Paul in the Second Reading today reminds us that “our salvation is nearer now that we first believed,” he’s reminding us that Christ is nearer to us now because he is one of us. God became man. At Christmas we’ll be celebrating the fact that God is with us as one of us. We have to do our part, we have to change our lives, but shielded by the “armor of light,” “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as St. Paul encourages us to do: by living a Christian life we are helping Christ to fulfill that prophecy of Isaiah.

In today’s Gospel Jesus is speaking about his Second Coming, but the question for both the First Coming and the Second Coming of Christ is the same: How are you getting ready? Your answer to that question will influence how you live Advent. Is it “finally!”? Is it “yeah, right…”? Is it “yikes”? Those answers are not answers to what gifts you’re going to get, what family you’re going to see, or how much you’re going to eat: they’re answers to how you are getting ready for Christ’s coming at Christmas. The Second Reading and the Gospel today remind us that he is coming at an unexpected moment. For the Israelites that was nothing new, but what they didn’t imagine was that the Messiah, the Savior of the World, would come in such an unexpected way: as a little baby in a manger. What’s your response to the Savior of the World coming as a little baby and lying in a manger? Maybe the question “Are you getting ready?” takes on a different light when you consider how he is coming. For the Israelites, the coming of the Messiah was going to be at the end of time: he was coming to defeat all their enemies and clean house. Instead he came as a little baby, way ahead of schedule. How did they respond? Some saw a little baby in a manger and said, “he’s not the Messiah, come on….” Others didn’t even believe in a Messiah to begin with, and didn’t change their opinion: “yeah, sure, the Savior of the World…right.” Christians are often on the fence: Some have the same attitude as the Israelites and the skeptics, but others are saying, “yikes,” because the Second Coming is all they have on their mind, and they know they’re not ready. Advent is a time to get ready the real Christian way, just as today’s Psalm says: “Let us go rejoicing!” Rejoicing is the Christian way to respond to the question Jesus is asking in the Gospel today.

Four weeks makes Christmas seem a long way away, but it will come quicker than you expect. Take some time in prayer this week to draft your spiritual plan for Advent. Not your plan for breaking out the ornaments, getting the tree, or do your shopping. Your spiritual plan. How are you going to use Advent to prepare spiritually for Christmas? Once you’ve made your plan, make a family plan too.

Readings: Isaiah 2:1–5; Psalm 122:1–9; Romans 13:11–14; Matthew 24:37–44. See also 1st Sunday in Advent, Cycle A and 21st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

Solemnity of Christ the King, Cycle C (2)

Today we celebrate the last Sunday in Ordinary time by celebrating the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the readings remind us that no other king has or will reign over what Our Lord does, nor will any king reign in the same way.

In today’s First Reading the tribes of Israel come to David and acknowledge them as their king. In today’s solemnity believers in Heaven and on earth acknowledge Our Lord and Redeemer as the King of not just an earthly kingdom, but of all creation, a reign that will only fully be revealed at the end of time. Today’s First Reading commemorates when David became king of all of Israel, not just the southern part and southern tribes. A few verses later in chapter 5 it says, “At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years” (2 Samuel 5:5). The way David reigned, and the extent of his reign progressed, is a foreshadowing of the reign of Our Lord that we celebrate today. Our Lord reigned over the disciples who welcomed him during his earthly ministry, but his reign soon extended not just to the disciples who believed into him, but to everyone, as St. Paul teaches in today’s Second Reading.

Today’s Second Reading reminds us that we’ve already become a part of the kingdom of Christ, rescued through baptism from the reign of sin and death that oppresses and dominates a fallen world. All of creation was made with the Son in mind, and all of creation becomes his throne from which he conquers sin and death in order to present the kingdom to Our Heavenly Father at the end of time. His reign is a reign that liberates from sin and death, gradually conquering all enemies, the last of which will be death. Therefore today, the last Sunday this year in Ordinary time, we remember Our Lord reigning from his cross, but especially the day when he will return in glory and his reign will be total and complete.

The good thief crucified alongside Our Lord in today’s Gospel thought he would only be remembered in the kingdom to come, and Our Lord promised him paradise. The Lord’s detractors were mocking his claims of royalty (of being the Messiah), since his situation and his apparent inability to extricate himself from it disproved it in their minds. When Pilate placed the inscription “King of the Jews” above the Lord’s head the Pharisees balked, but it doesn’t seem that Pilate was mocking Our Lord: he saw some royal nobility and dignity in the man whose kingdom “was not of this world” (cf. John 18:36-38), but that didn’t lead him to justice in Jesus’ regard, just political expediency. The mocking thief wanted to ride the coat tails of the injustice being inflicted on Our Lord. If the Lord was really who he claimed to be, he would not only free himself from this injustice, but free the criminals too. The good thief knew it didn’t work that way. Unlike the Pharisees or the mocking thief, he didn’t put the royal dignity of Our Lord on trial, demanding proof. He humbly submitted himself to it. It is only with the eyes of faith that you can see that Our Lord is reigning on the Cross, not just hanging on it. Which of the spectators recalled in today’s Gospel do you identify with?

The Lord gradually conquers sin and death throughout history, and he wants to do it in our personal history too. Next Sunday we start a new liturgical year, this can be the year Christ the King helps you throw off the shackles of sin in your life, big or small. Spend this last week in Ordinary Time asking your King to show you the chains and help you break them. We were born into sin and death, Original Sin, and rescued through Baptism, but we can return to slavery if we don’t turn to Our Lord repentant and ask to be remembered in his kingdom. Let’s ask him to reign in our lives, today and forever.

Readings: 2 Samuel 5:1–3; Psalm 122:1–5; Colossians 1:12–20; Luke 23:35–43. See also Solemnity of Christ the King, Cycle C, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle B and Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion.

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today is the next to last Sunday in Ordinary Time. Next Sunday is the Solemnity of Christ the King, then a new liturgical year begins with Advent two weeks from now. Today’s readings encourage us to reflect on how we’ll handle the ending commemorated next Sunday: the end of days when Our Lord returns in glory.

In today’s First Reading the prophet Malachi describes the wicked on the Day of the Lord as burning away in a flash. Stubble burns quickly and intensely. The just will see the same event as warmth, light, and healing. Even though Our Lord foretells persecution and calamities, we should focus on why he is coming, as the Psalm today reminds us: “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice.” The only people who don’t want justice are bad people, whether through their actions or their omissions, and their injustice will be swept away, no matter how enduring it seemed. The just will experience moments of pain: the prophet tells us the Day of the Lord will bring healing, which implies that there’ll be healing needed. It will require endurance, not resignation.

In today’s Second Reading Paul warns against those who have faced the possibility of the Day of the Lord’s imminence by not working and not living their lives normally. If everything occurs as Our Lord describes in today’s Gospel that attitude is a recipe for disaster. Perseverance requires work and grace. When we’re put on trial it won’t just be our spiritual toughness, but the Holy Spirit that will help us endure and realize that even as we suffer we give witness, and the Spirit gives witness through us. Our suffering and perseverance will inspire others to believe and be saved as well.

In today’s Gospel the disciples ask when the Temple will end, and the Lord starts to explain when the world as we know it will end: his Second Coming. Our Lord gives some signs but doesn’t give them exactly what they’re looking for: a signal. He describes calamities: social upheaval, wars, natural disasters, and persecutions. All of those have existed and will exist during the Church’s pilgrimage on earth, even before the end of history and Our Lord’s return in glory. Our Lord won’t give us a signal, but he will give us the secret to survival: perseverance. Our Lord predicts the destruction of the Temple, but also addresses the question of whether this will signify the end of the world. His disciples didn’t understand it at the time, but he was preparing us all for the long haul. Obviously on a natural and human level we’d have to be terrified by the thought of such events, but Our Lord invites us today to live these things on a supernatural level: with faith in him and hope that good will triumph.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord prepares us for when our faith is put on trial. It’s not some future eschatological and apocalyptic moment: even today Christians are ridiculed, labelled, even beheaded for professing their faith. Our Lord said we’d be a sign of contradiction in the world, so it’s no surprise that when we give witness to him there’ll be a reaction. It may not be a civil court, but our family, the public square, our school, or our workplace. It’s what makes us think twice before saying grace at meals around those we don’t know well, about putting a crucifix or holy card in our cubicle or dorm where others might see, about seeing our faith as something, alongside politics, that should not be brought up in polite conversation.

Our Lord gives us the secret to breaking this little internal stalemate between a desire to share our faith and a fear of how it will turn out: trusting in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit does the talking, if we are living a life that is attentive to the Spirit. Maybe we’re afraid we’ll show how little of our faith we really know and live: that’s the Spirit telling us to work on our prayer life, our lifestyle, and our understanding of the faith. You may find that puts you “on trial” before your family, friends, and colleagues, but it also gives you the spiritual resources to give witness to Our Lord and a great peace knowing you’ve suffered something for the sake of his name.

Readings: Malachi 3:19–20a; Psalm 98:5–9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7–12; Luke 21:5–19. See also 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 14th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II, and the 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday and Wednesday.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C (2)

Today’s readings remind us that the life to come in Christ is not the same as the life we live here and now. Sometimes we make the mistake of living for today as if there is no tomorrow, but Our Lord teaches us to live today in the light of not just tomorrow, but forever.

In today’s First Reading we see an attempt to violently Hellenize the Jews by forcing them to abandon Jewish practices, including their religious dietary laws. Pork was a ritually unclean food for the Jews and is even today. Their captors are astounded that the tortures being inflicting mean nothing to the young men who die, one by one, for their faith. For the captors the most important life is this one, a life meant to be lived in comfort, not pain, and some day ended forever. It’s in what the suffering young men say that we see them measuring their earthly life by the eternal life promised to them by the Lord if they remain faithful to him. They even taunt their captors by telling them their lives are headed toward a dead end due to their wickedness. The Jews who aided in forced Hellenization and the Jews who fought back are the predecessors of the Sadducees and the Pharisees respectively. In Our Lord’s time the battle had shifted from outright persecution to ideology, which is why in today’s Gospel the Sadducees try to show Our Lord the logical fallacies of believing in the Resurrection: they don’t believe in the life to come.

Believers today are in both situations: outright persecution and intellectual ridicule. Paul in the Second Reading teaches us that no matter what we suffer for our belief: “the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one.” Our faith will help us endure. The enemies of our faith have none, which is why they’ll never see beyond their ideologies, selfish scheming, and worldly outlook. Our Lord reminds us today that even if we don’t have justice in this earthly moment of our life, we will have it in eternity. Faith in eternal life is what led the young men in the First Reading to embrace martyrdom, and eternal life was the outlook that confounded the Sadducees arguments in today’s Gospel as well.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us that even something as beautiful as matrimony is only a means to an end, and if lived well, a happy end. The Sadducees denied the Resurrection, and by seeing marriage as an end, not a means, they couldn’t understand how the Resurrection would work. The Sadducees see marriage according to reason and civil order: it results in an obligation to continue the family line by some member of the family marrying the widow and provide her with children who’ll care for her in the future and continue the family line.

Our Lord teaches them that the life to come is to be lived in a different way, so it can’t be completely measured by today’s categories and concerns. All the trials and tribulations of this life–family spats, health issues, work headaches, social angst–will pass away. Marriages will be concluded when death does them part, but the love that sustained them and grew in them will last forever, which is the true purpose of marriage.

In short, when you reach Heaven, it’s “game over, you win.” Nothing else will matter and everything you underwent to get there will be put into perspective as worth it. Our Lord teaches us today that we have to live in this world, but we always have to keep the life to come in mind in order to understand why we live in this world and how we should live in it. In the game of life winning is what matters, but that victory doesn’t happen here, even though this is the playing field where we win or lose.

It’s no coincidence that when marriage vows are made today the clause is included “until death do us part”: in eternity marriage will have already served its purpose, which is the fostering of unconditional and exclusive love between a man and a woman that is often blessed by children who are loved and learn to love as well. Marriage and family are a means to enjoying an unconditional love for God and for others that will blossom in eternity. Even physical marital intimacy is a means toward that end, but, as we know, that physical intimacy has the danger of being debased, exploited, and even “weaponized”; if it stops being something good for the spouses and closed by the spouses to bringing children into the world, it becomes the means to an unhappy end. Let’s pray today that all marriages be lived well and become homes and schools of unconditional love that help us love God unconditionally too. Let’s also pray for all marriages and families in difficulty.

Readings: 2 Maccabees 7:1–2, 9–14; Psalm 17:1, 5–6, 8, 15; 2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5; Luke 20:27–38. See also 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday and 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.