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.

1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle C (2)

Lent is forty days long because we imitate Christ going into the desert at the start of his public ministry for forty days of prayer, fasting, and temptation. Every year we go into the desert with Our Lord. We can have the attitude of rolling our eyes and saying to ourselves, “here we go again.” Why do we have to remember these mysteries over and over again? We remember and re-live these mysteries in order to go beyond spiritual monotony and attain spiritual profundity.

In today’s First Reading Moses tells the Israelites how to present the first fruits as gifts from God, remembering how long they wandered in the desert. We have only just started, and we have many fruits to present to Our Lord: five days of fresh Lenten effort. Maybe for some of us our stomach has started to grumble, like Jesus’ did after forty days of fasting. Maybe we’re not feeling the pinch yet, so we need to keep making an effort. The grumbling stomachs will come at one point or another. Whenever the Israelites in the desert had a hard time, the first bad thing they wished for was to return to the fleshpots of Egypt. We give up sweets and our mind drifts to the ice cream parlor.

However, in today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us that the word is near us. It’s not just a spoken word: it is the Word made flesh. Jesus is with us during our first days in the desert, trying not to think of the dessert, and St. Paul reminds us we must have him on our lips and in our heart. All we have to do is call upon him and we will be saved from falling into temptation.

In today’s Gospel the Lord, just baptized in the Jordan, is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to battle temptation before beginning his public ministry. For Our Lord, the temptations began after a prolonged period of prayer and fasting. How many Lents have we lived? It can seem that Jesus’ words are spiritually monotonous. Our stomachs grumble, we turn to him for an encouraging word, and he says the same things, over and over: Man shall not live by bread alone, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. We ask the Holy Spirit and the Spirit says to go into the desert for forty days. We turn to Mary for advice, and she just says, “Do whatever he tells you.” Arrrgh. Congratulations, you are praying and fasting.

The desert is dry. You look around and there’s lots of sand and sun, but no beach. Wild animals are looking at you, wondering if you taste like chicken, but you’re following the Holy Spirit’s promptings, listening to Our Lord, asking Mary’s advice. Good job. The monotony reflects the fact that, for a part of you, this is not what you want, but the better part of you knows it is what you need. There is life in the desert, a profounder life that puts your ordinary life into perspective.

A good Lenten resolution is to dedicate some time to contemplative prayer. Our Lord went into the desert, as he often went to be alone, to spend quality time with his Father. We too need quiet time, away from noise and distraction, in order to set aside interior noise and distraction and speak with Our Lord heart to heart. You can do some lectio divina, contemplating a passage of Sacred Scripture and asking Our Lord how to apply it to your life, or you can simply talk to him about how your life is going and how you’d like it to be. The most important element of contemplative prayer is not talking, but listening.

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:4–10; Psalm 91:1–2, 10–15; Romans 10:8–13; Luke 4:1–13. See also 1st Sunday of Lent, Cycle C.


Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C

Today we celebrate the end of the Christmas season, and that may make you ask yourself why we would celebrate it, especially when Christmas “ended” a while ago. In today’s readings God himself celebrates what is taking place in the Gospel: John the Baptist baptizes Jesus in the river Jordan.

In today’s First Reading the Lord speaks of Jesus as his servant who is about to begin something wonderful: his public life. He’s going to bring justice to the world, be a light for the nations, open the eyes of the blind, and free prisoners, and God is keeping his promise through Jesus’ mission on earth. In short, God is sending out the Savior today to get to work. During Christmas we celebrated the birth of the Savior. On today’s feast, the Baptism of the Lord, we’re celebrating him finishing his silent years in Nazareth and going out to preach salvation to the world.

In today’s Second Reading Peter rejoices that salvation is not just for the people of Israel, but for everyone who respects God and acts uprightly. When Jesus is baptized in the Jordan he institutes a new kind of baptism. John talks about that baptism in the Gospel today as different from his: it is a baptism of the Holy Spirit. Peter is speaking to Cornelius, who was the first non-Jew to be baptized in Church history. The Jews thought originally that the Savior would only come for the Jews, but then the Holy Spirit revealed to Peter and the Church through Cornelius’ situation that the Savior was coming for every nation that “fears God” (respects God) and “acts uprightly” (acts in a good way). The Holy Spirit always works gradually. Cornelius had heard about Jesus and his promise of salvation and had been praying for a sign. Peter was praying too, and they didn’t know each other at all. An angel came to Cornelius and told him to send men to find and bring Peter. Cornelius was a Roman centurion, and since he wasn’t a Jew, Peter wouldn’t have visited him unless the Holy Spirit had said it was okay in a dream, because Jews didn’t enter the homes of non-Jews.

As Peter in today’s Second Reading rejoices that the Savior has come for everyone, he recalls Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, recalled in today’s Gospel, as the beginning of doing good and healing all those who were oppressed by the devil. Our Lord’s public ministry began with his baptism in the Jordan, so we celebrate today with God, with Peter, with Cornelius, and with everyone who has become Christian since through the waters of baptism. We celebrate that Jesus began to go out and do good, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and free those who are imprisoned by sin. We also celebrate baptism today. Church Fathers and Doctors have said Our Lord sanctified the waters for baptism even as he took the plunge into the waters of the Jordan to receive John’s. In remembering Our Lord’s baptism we remember our own with gratitude.

In today’s Gospel the Father says Jesus is his beloved son and he is well pleased with him. When you received baptism Our Lord was pleased with you too. For many of us that was a long time ago. It begs the question: am I still pleasing the Lord? We seek approval from those we love, and who loves us more than Our Lord? Make an extra effort this week to live in a way that is pleasing to Our Lord. That’s the best way to show your appreciation for the gift of baptism.

Readings: Isaiah 42:1–4, 6–7; Psalm 29:1–4, 9–10; Acts 10:34–38; Luke 3:15–16, 21–22. See also The Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C (1st Sunday in Ordinary Time).

1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle C (2)

A new liturgical year begins today, and we inaugurate it with the season of Advent, a time of joyful expectation and spiritual conversion to prepare for the birth of Our Lord at Christmas. Today’s readings remind us that Advent is a time for preparing our hearts for the coming of Our Savior.

In today’s First Reading the Lord announces through Jeremiah that the promises made throughout salvation history are about to be fulfilled, masterfully evoking the sense of anticipation we’re called to live in Advent. Jesus is that shoot that springs up from the line of King David, destined to be a just king who brings safety, security, and justice: in a word, the long-awaited Messiah. Humanity will no longer be left alone in the dark of sin and menaced by the shadow of death. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the people of Israel, who’d received so many promises, including this one, were scattered throughout the known world and under the dominion of a foreign power. Hope was the only thing they had left. Advent is a time when we start to see the light at the end of tunnel: the birth of Our Savior.

In today’s Second Reading St. Paul reminds us of the most important thing brought by the Messiah: the love of God in Person. Paul reminds us that we need to get ready for Our Lord’s arrival, which is the purpose of Advent, and how. The Lord wants to increase the love we have in our hearts, not only for him, but for each other. It takes strength of heart to welcome Our Lord as he deserves at Christmas. Advent is a time of conversion: a time for turning out hearts back to him if they’ve strayed. It’s also a time for turning out hearts back to each other. It’s no coincidence that during this season we turn back to our families and think more about those in need. Our Lord came for both those reasons: we need salvation and help coming in from the cold solitude of sin that separates us from him and from each other.

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us, describing his Second Coming, that the heart cannot rely on feelings alone, which change like the wind, if it wants to endure trials. The heart must rely on something deeper. The Lord foretells the calamities that will fall, but he tells us to be steadfast in those moments, because he as Our Redeemer is coming. Everyone endures trials in life, and, strangely, during Advent the preparations for Christmas are a trial for some: shopping, preparing for family visits, juggling work, study, and family time, etc. The “trials” of Advent are actually opportunities. We can make them a Christmas gift for Our Lord by putting love into everything we do during Advent: giving out of love, serving visiting family and friends because we love them, not just out of obligation. It’s not that we don’t love at all in doing those things; rather, it’s an opportunity to increase our love as St. Paul suggests in today’s Second Reading. Perseverance’s worth is measured by what it endures, and whether Advent is a time of joyful expectation for us or something we “survive” Our Lord will show us how to live it in a spiritually fruitful way.

There are two Advent traditions that are great for fostering joyful expectation: lighting a candle of the Advent wreath each Sunday or using a special Advent calendar. Don’t just foster that expectation; put it into action. Whether you celebrate every Sunday or every day, put a little spiritual gift for Our Lord (an extra prayer, an act of charity, a sacrifice) by the wreath or calendar every time you recall Christmas getting closer. Our holiness is best gift to offer Our Lord at Christmas.

Readings: Jeremiah 33:14–16; Psalm 25:4–5, 8–10, 14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2; Luke 21:25–28, 34–36. See also 1st Sunday of Advent, Cycle C, 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 34th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

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1st Sunday in Lent, Cycle B

We started life with a slap to a delicate portion of our anatomy to get us to cry, and we probably cried when water was poured over our head in Baptism. Today’s readings remind us that life on this earth is a battle and we need Christ’s help to fight it and to win it.

Today’s First Reading recalls the Lord hanging up his “bow” (the rainbow) to conclude the war he had declared against sin. Yet, as events later revealed, sin didn’t stop trying to wage war on him. The Lord makes a covenant with Noah, who has survived the Flood along with his family and a remnant of the earth’s creatures. When we look at a rainbow today it brings a smile and wonder to our face, but it also symbolizes the end of the flood and the covenant the Lord made with Noah to never wipe out living creatures that way again. The rainbow is a sign of peace, but it is a sign of war as well: the war against sin.

In today’s Second Reading Peter reminds us that the Lord didn’t wage war on sin for sin’s sake, but for us. He waged war on what was destroying us. Peter observes that the story of the Flood and Noah foreshadowed when the waters of Baptism would wipe out sin. Lent is a time when we’re reminded of Baptism, in part because the catechumens throughout the world will be Baptized and received into the Church during the Easter Vigil. Baptism also reminds us of the destruction of sin in us. Peter makes a connection between Jesus’ resurrection and Baptism: there is a power in that water and those words that comes from Our Lord. If the Flood destroyed sinners along with sin, through Baptism the Lord continues to wage war on sin, one soul at a time.

In today’s Gospel the Lord, just baptized in the Jordan, is led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to battle temptation before beginning his public ministry. Our Lord has assumed human nature and made the battle personal. Sin and evil have a chance to strike directly at him. “Forty days” is a Biblical expression meaning a long time. This was not just a formality or a quick skirmish. It was the first battle of the final part of the war on sin. Mark’s Gospel doesn’t go into much detail, but we know from the other Evangelists that Satan tried and failed to make Our Lord succumb. However, we also know from those accounts that Satan withdrew until he could strike again at a more opportune moment: Gethsemane as Our Lord’s Passion began. Just as we start Lent, so we start the battle, like Our Lord, that will ultimately win the war on sin once and for all.

Sin rarely comes on full force until you’re in its clutches. It presents itself as something good, counting on you to see it as such. It tries to make you “see reason” and not be “superstitious” or “backward” about things. Does that sound familiar? The serpent in Eden used it on Eve to horrific effect. Temptation will always try to convince you that you’re weak, ignorant, or cowardly in living according to the teaching of the faith. However, its tactics also show how to defeat it: by pushing back, knowing that Our Lord has got your back. It’s hard to stand up to a bully on your own, but if your big brother is standing behind you it gives you confidence. Our Lord is your big brother and he’s got your back.

Readings: Genesis 9:8–15; Psalm 25:4–9; 1 Peter 3:18–22; Mark 1:12–15.