Monday of the Second Week of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-10 + Luke 5:17-26
December 10, 2018
Our God will come to save us!
The refrain to today’s Responsorial is from the First Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It’s rare for the Church, in selecting Scriptural texts for Holy Mass, to weave a verse from the First Reading within the proclamation of the Responsorial Psalm. “Our God will come to save us!”
This sentence could serve as the motto for the Season of Advent. It proclaims three things. It proclaims first that God Himself is the Messiah, the one for whom we wait. It’s not a merely human Messiah that we’re waiting for. The sentence also proclaims that He will come: we focus on Him as the object of our hope. Third, He will come to save us. He will come not to punish or lecture us, but to save us.
Salvation, however, itself can have multiple meanings. The first two truths proclaimed by this sentence—that our God will come—lose their meaning if we don’t focus them correctly by understanding what this salvation truly is, and is not.
To be saved implies being saved from something or someone. This is what the sentence, and the whole of Advent, demand that we ask ourselves: if we need salvation, what do we need salvation from?
Today’s Gospel answers this question. Jesus works a miracle to focus our attention not on His ability to work miracles, but on the fact that He is the Messiah. He comes to bring us salvation from our sins. Our Advent prayers, fasting and good works aim to help us enter into today’s Gospel and identify with the man who was lowered on the stretcher. Perhaps the Messiah’s response is unexpected, but it’s what each sinner longs to hear during Advent: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘As for you, your sins are forgiven.’”
Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-11 + Matthew 18:12-14
December 11, 2018
The Lord our God comes with power.
Today’s First Reading from Isaiah contains the passage quoted by St. John the Baptist as we hear him speak during Advent. St. John the Baptist is “the voice” foreseen by Isaiah, the one who “cries out: ‘In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!’” This cry is the Church’s ‘battle plan’ for Advent, and St. John is its standard bearer.
Although we know that the “desert” and “wasteland” that St. John refers to are spiritual rather than physical, we might still hesitate to acknowledge that he’s referring to our own souls in all their sinfulness. Isaiah, however, doesn’t let us off the hook. In the verses that follow those quoted by John the Baptist, Isaiah declares in some beautiful poetry just where we stand as fallen children of Adam and Eve. Consider the words that Isaiah puts on the lips of “the voice” whom he does not identify:
“All flesh is grass, and all their glory like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower wilts, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it. So then, the people is the grass. Though the grass withers and the flower wilts, the word of our God stands forever.”
The humility these words evoke from an honest soul is the soil in which God’s Word can take root. But this sinful “flesh” that is “grass” will be transformed by the Messiah who offers us His “flesh” and blood in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On this holy day of waiting for the Advent of our Messiah, pray in thanksgiving that our Father does not leave us to our sinfulness, but is sending “the word of our God” to become “flesh” for our salvation.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Zechariah 2:14-17 + Luke 1:26-38
December 12, 2018
“Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth.…’”
Today’s Responsorial is not taken from one of the psalms, but from the Old Testament Book of Judith. The verses of the Responsorial, by which the Church praises Mary today, in their original setting praise the Old Testament heroine Judith. In the thirteenth chapter of Judith you can read of Judith beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes, thus freeing her people from foreign control. The praise that follows, which we hear in today’s Responsorial, is offered by Uzziah, the king of Judah.
Although the transposition of this praise to honor Mary makes sense when one reads the verses themselves, the original setting might give one pause. However, even the setting in which Judith receives praise offers insight into the vocation of Our Blessed Mother, especially as we honor her today under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In the first book of the Bible, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God curses the serpent and declares: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” The Church has always heard these words as foreshadowing the advent of Christ and His mother Mary. It is through Mary’s vocation as the Mother of God that the power of evil is destroyed. As we ask the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe on behalf of the unborn and their mothers, we trust that her maternal love will transform our country and world into a culture of life.
St. Lucy, Virgin & Martyr
Isaiah 41:13-20 + Matthew 11:11-15
December 13, 2018
…the Holy One of Israel has created it.
The prophecies of Isaiah contain many images of “natural conversion”, where the earth, vegetation and animals demonstrate a radical, unexpected transformation. In today’s First Reading, for example, Isaiah prophesies in the name of the Lord: “I will turn the desert into a marshland, and the dry ground into springs of water. I will plant in the desert the cedar, acacia, myrtle, and olive….”
Such “natural conversions” might seem hard to believe, but such changes wrought by the Lord pale in comparison to His original works of creation. Recall the first chapter of Genesis. God creates out of nothing. He creates through His Word, but from nothing. From nothing, something came to be. Creation is a miracle. The “natural conversions” prophesied by Isaiah are also miraculous, but less so than creation itself.
During Advent, the Church calls us to repentance and penance, so as to be ready for the Lord’s coming. When we heed the cry of St. John the Baptist, the prophecies of Isaiah are fulfilled in a way that surpasses his images of “natural conversion”. Through the Sacrament of Confession, all sins are washed away, and many graces take their place in your soul. The conversion is akin to God’s original work of creation: in the place of sin, God’s grace comes to dwell. The new creation of sacramental grace is God’s gift to us, through His Son Christ Jesus.
St. John of the Cross, Priest & Doctor of the Church
Isaiah 48:17-19 + Matthew 11:16-19
December 14, 2018
“But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”
Jesus criticizes the “crowds” for their lack of consistency. The crowds criticize Jesus and John the Baptist for opposite reasons. In other words, there is no pleasing the crowds. If Calvary didn’t prove that Jesus is no populist, His words at the end of today’s Gospel passage do.
Jesus came into this world for these very crowds, of course. But as St. John says in the prologue to his Gospel account, “His own people received Him not” [John 1:11]. His last sentence in today’s Gospel passage, though, puts His advent into a helpful perspective.
“But wisdom is vindicated by her works.” Although Jesus uses a personal pronoun in reference to “wisdom”, and although the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament does at times personify “wisdom” in feminine terms, we shouldn’t misunderstand what Jesus says here. What we should read here is a contrast between the ways of the “crowds” and the world in which they live, and the ways of God in His heavens.
Jesus did not come into this world to be popular with the crowds, but to be faithful to His Father’s will. Jesus’ Resurrection is the vindication of the Father’s divine wisdom in sending His only-begotten Son into the world to die for the very sinners who crucified Him.
Saturday of the Second Week of Advent
Sirach 48:1-4,9-11 + Matthew 17:9,10-13
December 15, 2018
Then the disciples understood that He was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus speaks of John the Baptist as Elijah. Reflect on these two persons whom Jesus holds up to our attention. What they have in common can help us prepare during this Advent season for Jesus to come to us.
We tend to think of a prophet as one who vocally proclaims the Word of the Lord. But one of the chief stories about Elijah concerns him carrying out this role in action. That is, Elijah challenges the disciples of Baal to forsake their false god, and then when they refuse he puts them to shame by pitting their imaginary god’s power against that of the Lord of Hosts. When Elijah then slays the priests of Baal, a price is put on his head by the pagan queen, forcing him to flee. It’s precisely in the midst of his flight that he encounters the Lord: not in an earthquake or mighty fire, but in a tiny whispering sound.
Neither the life of Elijah nor that of John the Baptist is easy. Both are called to proclaim the goodness of the Lord in words and works, and to challenge weak humans to conform their wayward lives to the Lord’s will. We, as disciples of the Risen Jesus, need to listen to these prophet’s challenges, and rise to them. But beyond that, Jesus wants us to serve Him as prophets in our own day, preparing others for His coming in all that the Lord demands for His entry.