December 17-22, 2018

Late Advent Weekday
Genesis 49:2,8-10  +  Matthew 1:1-17
December 17, 2018

…Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers.

“Late Advent Weekday” is the term that describes the last eight days of Advent, beginning on December 17.  The Sacred Liturgy—from the Divine Office to Holy Mass—shifts slightly in tone as the Church’s preparation for the Messiah intensifies.

Each year on December 17 (unless the date falls on a Sunday), the Church proclaims the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel account at Holy Mass.  Matthew begins his account of the Gospel with a genealogy from Abraham to David to Jesus.

At the beginning of Pope Benedict XVI’s book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, he comments on the significance of Matthew’s and Luke’s genealogies.  He observes that Matthew focuses on Abraham as a faithful wayfarer, whose life points forward.  As such Pope Benedict quotes from the Letter to the Hebrews“He looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” [11:10].

This City of God can be understood as the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.  This Church is universal in nature, and Abraham points towards this universality:  Pope Benedict points out these two truths about the Church by citing two Scripture verses:  “Make disciples of all nations” [Matthew 28:19]; and “all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him” [Genesis 18:18].

The universality to which Abraham points is complemented by the sense of eternity to which King David points.  Pope Benedict notes this verse from the Second Book of Samuel“Your throne shall be established for ever” [7:16].  The Holy Father observes how the entire genealogy presented by Matthew “is truly a Gospel of Christ the King:  the whole of history looks toward him whose throne is to endure for ever.”

Our own day, of course, is included in “the whole of history”.  We, in our own day, must look forward to Christ the King, not to ourselves.  The Christ Child whose birth we await with Mary and Joseph is destined to be our King, Emmanuel.  As our King wants nothing more than to be “God with us”, we ought in prayer today to dedicate ourselves always to remain with God, no matter where He leads.


Late Advent Weekday
Jeremiah 23:5-8  +  Matthew 1:18-25
December 18, 2018

He shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment.

The Responsorial Psalm at Holy Mass both on December 17 and 18 is from Psalm 72.  The first strophe (that is, set of verses) proclaimed each of these days is the same.  Consider these verses of Psalm 72:1-2:  O God, with your judgment endow the king, / and with your justice, the king’s son; / He shall govern your people with justice / and your afflicted ones with judgment.

These opening verses of Psalm 72 clearly reflect the subject of the entire psalm.  The header of this psalm in the American translation of the breviary is “The Messiah’s royal power”, which closely reflects the Latin original:  “Regia Messiæ potestas”.  The more simple header of the New American translation of the Bible is “A Prayer for the King”.

Regardless of the differences, each header points to the royal quality of the psalm.  That the Responsorial on the first two “late Advent weekdays” comes from this regal psalm points to the mission for which God the Son was sent into our world.  He is to be a king.

Consider the four lines of Psalm 72:1-2 in reference to the Son of God.  The first two lines call for God to endow the king with His own “judgment” and “justice”, while the latter two foresee that the king will govern God’s people with “justice” and “judgment”.

Focus these four lines on the Son of God even more specifically by reading them in light of Jesus’ self-giving on Calvary.  As the Son of God, Jesus’ “judgment” and “justice” reflect His divine nature, that from eternity He always has shared in God’s own nature.  But through His mission on earth as Christ the King, He spends Himself in order to “govern [God’s] people” as the Good Shepherd, who came into this world to seek the lost and lead them into the bosom of His own Father.  This mission is why He was born at Bethlehem.


Late Advent Weekday
Judges 13:2-7,24-25  +  Luke 1:5-25
December 19, 2018

He was gesturing to them but remained mute.

During the last eight days of Advent, called the “Late Advent weekdays”, the Gospel heard at weekday Masses shifts to the infancy narratives.  It might surprise some that not all four Gospel accounts tell us about the infancy of Jesus.  Only Matthew and Luke do.  In his prologue (John 1:1-18), John one-ups those two evangelists by accounting for the life of God the Son from all eternity in brief and brilliant poetry.  Mark begins his Gospel account (the shortest of the four) with Jesus already an adult.

On the first two Late Advent weekdays, the Church proclaims passages from the infancy narratives of Matthew.  On the last six days of this “octave”, the Gospel comes from Luke.  Key to Luke’s infancy narratives is a parallelism between John the Baptist and Jesus.  Their “annunciations” and births are described similarly.  Yet even more significant are the differences between the two sets of narrative.

Today’s Gospel passage recounts St. Gabriel’s announcement to Zechariah of the immanent conception of John.  Two differences from the Annunciation of Jesus stand out.  The first concerns the circumstances of each.  John is conceived through natural means by an elderly, “barren” woman.  Jesus is conceived through “the power of the Holy Spirit” by a young virgin.

Perhaps even more significant are the differences between the persons to whom Gabriel appears, and their responses to heavenly messengers.  Focus today on the response of Zechariah to Gabriel.  Zechariah is struck mute because of his disbelief.  This is ironic given that his son is destined to be “the voice crying out” the advent of the Word made flesh.  Pray today asking God not only that your voice might be His instrument, but also that disbelief may never prevent you from listening to another who is pointing your attention towards God’s Good News.


Late Advent Weekday
Isaiah 7:10-14  +  Luke 1:26-38
December 20, 2018

“May it be done to me according to your word.”

Of all the contrasts between Zechariah and Mary in St. Luke’s infancy narratives, the starkest is found in their responses to the good news announced to each.  What makes Mary’s response to St. Gabriel even more striking is that objectively, the message entrusted to her was much more difficult to understand from an earthly perspective.  After all, what Gabriel announced to Zechariah was news which he and his wife had been longing to hear for many years.  While the facts foretold by Gabriel were unlikely from a human standpoint, they were not impossible even by human standards, and had precedent in biblical history.

Mary, however, is unique.  Her response to the Good News is possible only through faith.  Zechariah did not even have faith in a human possibility.  Yet Mary has faith in a seeming human impossibility.  She trusts that God will accomplish what He wills, and speaks only of what He wills.  How different are you and I:  we speak not only of what we will, but also of what we desire and dream about, what piques our interest even momentarily, and even what would harm us.  Worse yet is what we so often do, which in facts harms us spiritually, bodily, emotionally and in other ways:  in fact, “personally”, in its fullest sense.

Mary is a human person as God created human persons to be.  Jesus is a divine person who has both human and divine natures.  But Mary is like you and me in that she’s a human person.  She shows us what it truly means to live as a human person:  that is, to relate fully to others through our humanity, and likewise to relate to the Other who created and redeemed us in His Son.  Mary accepts God as her Creator and Savior, and lives for Him rather than for herself.


Late Advent Weekday
Song of Songs 2:8-14  +  Luke 1:39-45
December 21, 2018

“Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Today our Scriptures present two different responses to the coming of the Lord.  Both are worthy of our reflection and imitation, although they are very different from each other.

The First Reading is from the Old Testament book Song of Songs.  This book is highly poetic in nature, and as such, is open to many interpretations.  The Church sees in the words of today’s passage a loving longing for the Messiah.  It’s the loving nature of this expression of waiting that sets the book apart from most of the Old Testament’s descriptions of waiting for the Messiah.

This book’s insight into the nature of the Messiah and His reason for coming raise it above much of the Old Testament’s desire for earthly security.  This book foreshadows the truth of God being love, proclaimed by St. John in his New Testament epistles, from which we will hear during the Christmas Season.

Today’s Gospel passage offers us Elizabeth’s response to the Messiah, borne as He is by His Mother.  The praise that Elizabeth bestows on her cousin is woven amidst her praise of her Lord.  Three times Elizabeth uses the word “blessed” in speaking to Mary:  “‘Most blessed are you among women’”; “‘blessed is the fruit of your womb’”; and “‘Blessed are you who believed’”.  We honor Our Blessed Mother during Advent and Christmas because it was through blessed love that her life became so closely bound up with that of Our Savior’s life and mission.


Late Advent Weekday
I Samuel 1:24-28  +  Luke 1:46-56
December 22, 2018

“From this day all generations will call me blessed:  the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

From the day of the Visitation, all generations of Christians have called Mary “blessed”.  Unfortunately, the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary is used by some to divide members of the Body of Christ against each other.  But we cannot fruitfully reflect on the mystery of Christmas without reflecting on the person of Mary, her blessedness, her maternity, and the One who is her Lord and ours.

A 2006 movie titled “The Nativity Story” actually edited the “Magnificat” (Mary’s hymn of praise that we hear in today’s Gospel) at the end of the movie, so that Mary’s blessedness would not be mentioned.  The Word of God was muted out of fear of the Blessed Virgin Mary!  If some Christians are fearful of honoring Mary, we all have work to do as Christians.

We all need both to call Mary blessed, and to proclaim at the same time the right reasons for calling her blessed.  We don’t need to fear Mary as a “stumbling block” in the way of following Him who is the Way, whom Mary was chosen by the Father to bear into our fallen world.