The Third Sunday of Advent [A]
Isa 35:1-6, 10 + Jas 5:7-10 + Mt 11:2-11
December 15, 2019
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brethren, the prophets who spoke….
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click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this liturgical Sunday (4:32)
click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday
click HERE to hear the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Sunday (14:37)
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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2016 Angelus address for this Sunday
click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2010 Angelus address for this Sunday
click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2001 homily for this Sunday
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“Hardship and patience” don’t come easily to most of us. St. James in this Sunday’s Second Reading, however, focuses our attention upon hardship and patience.
Out of these two, we can see the value of patience more easily. We know from daily experience how much we need the virtue of patience in order to get along in this world.
In fact, though, we even need to have patience with God. As disciples of the Lord Jesus, who leads us in all things to “Our Father”, you and I need patience with God. Of course, the reason for needing patience with God is very different than why we need patience with our children, parents, boss, and so on. For the most part, we need patience with our brothers and sisters because of their imperfections, faults, and sins.
But with God we need patience because His time is not our time. God looks at us and our lives from the perspective of eternity, while we like children look only at the current “now”. We need patience with God because He is a farmer, while we too often want to reap what we have not sowed.
In addition to patience, however, we also need penance. We can think of penance in terms of the hardship that we hear of in the Second Reading. Saint John the Baptist, by means of his example and his preaching, also points our attention to the importance of penance.
Yet the word “penance” is not always appreciated for all that it means. For some, the word “penance” suggests only the Sacrament of Penance, which demands from the penitent examination of conscience, confession, and amendment of life. Yet the Church also teaches her children to practice some penance every Friday in honor of that Good Friday when Jesus sacrificed His life for us. During Lent, the Church imposes a particular form of penance upon her members—abstaining from meat—while on Fridays during the rest of the year Catholics are free to choose what form their penances will take. But Catholics are not free not to do penance each Friday during the year [see the Code of Canon Law, c. 1250].
The Church goes still further in cultivating penance in the lives of her members. The Church sets aside two seasons each year as seasons of penance. Advent and Lent are seasons of preparation, and penance is one of the tools with which to prepare for the great celebrations of Christmastide and Eastertide.
Nonetheless, although Advent and Lent are similar in many ways, they focus our hearts and minds in somewhat different ways. Both are about preparing for new life: the birth of Jesus, and the Resurrection of Jesus. However, Advent’s unique take on penance has its origin in the experience of new earthly life: the birth of the Word made Flesh being the heart of the Christmas Season.
Those who are mothers can recall the many sacrifices involved in bearing new life in the womb, in giving birth, and in rearing the child. New life and self-sacrifice go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other.
Yet it’s important here to make a distinction. It’s certainly true that God’s grace is always freely given. Grace is never earned. But that doesn’t mean that God’s free gift of grace doesn’t call for penance on our parts. St. James in the Second Reading urges us: “Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” St. John the Baptist is the chief example of such a prophet: our chief model of how to prepare the way for the Lord by means of patience and penance. Preparing to receive God’s gifts always demands self-preparation.
Along with poverty and silence, penance helps us prepare to celebrate Christmastide in a deeply spiritual manner. As an image to reflect on during this third week of Advent, picture our Blessed Mother at the Annunciation, during the journey to Bethlehem, and in the stable after Jesus’ birth. Reflect on the poverty, silence, and self-sacrifice of our Blessed Mother, and give thanks that through the grace of her Son, you and I can draw closer to God our Father.