Late Advent Weekday — December 23

Late Advent Weekday — December 23
Malachi 3:1-4,23-24  +  Luke 1:57-66
December 23, 2021

But who will endure the day of his coming?

Today’s First Reading is taken from the last book of the Old Testament, the Book of the Prophet Malachi.  There is a certain harshness or strictness to this passage that might seem out of place with the humble birth of the gentle Jesus.  Yet Malachi’s message is needed if we are to celebrate Christmas fittingly.

Many passages in the Old Testament’s eighteen prophetic books are apocalyptic in nature.  That is to say, they are prophecies not just about the distant future, but about the “end times” and what the Church calls the “Last Things”:  Heaven and hell, death and judgment.  Today’s First Reading is such a passage.

The Lord God speaks of the coming “day of the Lord” as “the great and terrible day”.  He speaks also about a purgation that will take place akin to “the refiner’s fire” and “the fuller’s lye”.  Yet what is the goal of this purification?  The answer to that question helps us understand the meaning of Advent and Christmastide.

Malachi prophecies that the Lord’s coming is about more pure sacrifice being offered to God.  He foretells that “the Lord whom you seek” “will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord.”  This helps us as Christians to focus what we’re about during these holy seasons.  The Lord comes in the person of the infant Jesus so that He might grow up and offer His very Self on Calvary, thereby becoming the source of all our worship as Christians.  When we enter into this, Malachi’s prophecy can come to pass:  “Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord, as in the days of old, as in years gone by.”

 

The Nativity of the Lord

The Scriptures for the four Masses of Christmas can be found here.

The Nativity of the Lord
December 25, 2021

And the Word became flesh / and made his dwelling among us ….

When a person gives someone a gift, if it’s a good gift, it reveals something about the person to whom it’s given.  Christmas is about accepting a gift from God the Father.

One of the most beloved songs of the Christmas Season ponder what sort of gift this is.  It asks:  “What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?”  In the next verse we hear:  “Why lies he in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding?”  What does this gift of the Christ Child say about us who are on the receiving end of this gift?

What child is this?  We ourselves speak the answer to that question at every Sunday Mass when we stand and profess the Creed.  About our “Lord Jesus Christ” we profess that He is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God … consubstantial with the Father”.  This tiny infant is God, and the fact that this tiny gift is God tells us something important about why the Father gave this gift to us.

On the other hand, just a few lines later in the Creed, we also say that Jesus “by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”  These words describe what today’s feast is all about.  That’s why every year, on the feast of Jesus’ birth, when we profess those words of the Creed, we don’t just bow as we do on Sundays:  we genuflect as we say these words.  But we also need to keep in mind that these lines of the Creed also tell us something important about why the Father gave this gift to us.

Jesus Christ is true God and true man.  From the first moment of His conception, Jesus was fully divine and fully human.  Still today as He sits in Heaven at the Father’s Right Hand, Jesus bears a divine nature and a human nature.  These two truths together tell us what we need to know about the first and greatest Christmas gift:  that is, the person of Jesus Christ.

These two natures which Jesus bears within Himself are the means and the end of what God the Father wants for us who are His adopted children.  The gift of Jesus is the means and the end of our life.  Jesus became human because we are sinners; and because Jesus is God we can become sharers in His divinity.  Jesus became tiny at Bethlehem so that we could become great in Heaven.

At the Annunciation, Jesus became human—the eternal Son of God took on flesh and blood within Mary’s womb—to help us overcome the greatest stumbling block preventing God’s plan for our lives from coming true.  Overcoming this stumbling block is our greatest need in this world.

Our greatest need is salvation:  the forgiveness of our sins.  That is why Jesus accepted the agony of His Passion and Death:  to open the gates of Heaven for us, by offering up His Body and Blood, soul and divinity.  In humility, Jesus was born into this world, so that some thirty years later he could die to open the Gates of Heaven.  As the saying goes, “the wood of the crib is the Wood of the Cross.”

Jesus wants us to accept the gift of His Cross, to wash away our sins.  But as great as the gift of His Death on Good Friday is, we must not confuse this means with the end.  That is to say, on the Cross Jesus offers up His Body and Blood in sacrifice for us:  to wash away our sins, to cleanse us, to prepare us.  But what does the gift of His Cross prepare us for?

New life.  Divine life.  The life of God the Son.  This is the end, the goal, the reason for Jesus being born for us today.

God the Father sent His divine Son down to earth so that the Father might adopt each of us as His children.  Through grace, each us becomes one member of Christ’s Body, so that we might live on earth, and die, and live in Heaven, in Christ.

 

Late Advent Weekday — December 22

Late Advent Weekday — December 22
I Samuel 1:24-28  +  Luke 1:46-56
December 22, 2021

“From this day all generations will call me blessed ….”

Yesterday’s Gospel Reading introduced the narrative of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth.  In that passage the evangelist records only the words of Elizabeth speaking.  But today’s Gospel Reading consists almost entirely of Mary proclaiming a hymn of praise to God.  Every evening in the Divine Office the Church prays this hymn.  This hymn’s title is “Magnificat”, which is simply the first word of the hymn in Latin.

One way to reflect upon this hymn is to compare it to today’s Responsorial Psalm.  This comparison could be made verse-by-verse.  Another means of comparison would be to consider the narrative setting of each.  Consider the latter means.

Today’s Responsorial Psalm does not come from the Book of Psalms but from the second chapter of the First Book of Samuel.  The childless Hannah had prayed to the Lord for a son, promising:  “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life” [I Samuel 1:11].  After Samuel is born, Hannah fulfills her promise by leaving the child at the house of the Lord in Shiloh.  There Hannah offers a hymn of praise to God, from which today’s Responsorial Psalm is taken.

The narrative setting of today’s Responsorial Psalm gives us an example from the Old Testament of what the Blessed Virgin Mary lives out throughout Jesus’ life.  In turn, God calls each Christian to imitate this example of Mary:  not only praising God for His blessings, but more importantly, returning to the Lord His blessings, and in so doing, becoming instruments of His will so that His blessings might be multiplied for the glory of God and the good of others.

Late Advent Weekday — December 21

Late Advent Weekday — December 21
Song of Songs 2:8-14 [or Zephaniah 3:14-18]  +  Luke 1:39-45
December 21, 2021

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

Today and tomorrow’s Gospel Readings together form the narrative of the Visitation.  Whenever we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, this event is the object of meditation for the second decade.  Today’s Gospel Reading is the more narrative of the two passages, focusing upon the interaction between Mary and Elizabeth.

Almost half of today’s Gospel Reading consists of Elizabeth’s words to Mary.  About these words, the evangelist tells us that Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice.”  This fact makes the scene more dramatic, drawing more attention not only to Elizabeth’s words, but also to what provoked her words.

In Elizabeth’s cry, we hear the word “blessed” three times.  These three instances focus for us the entire scene of the Visitation.  The first two occur in the same sentence, where Elizabeth cries to Mary:  “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Mary and Jesus are united in being “blessed”, yet Mary receives this blessing from Jesus when He descends from Heaven.  On the other hand, Mary and Jesus are united by their shared humanity, which Jesus receives from Mary in her womb.

The third instance of “blessed” in this passage describes Mary in a way that offers hope to each Christian.  Each member of the Body of Christ receives from Him a unique place among the Body’s members.  Not every Christian is “blessed” to be the Mother of God.  Yet God calls every Christian to be “blessed” by imitating that fidelity of Mary of which Elizabeth cries:  “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Late Advent Weekday — December 20

Late Advent Weekday — December 20
Isaiah 7:10-14  +  Luke 1:26-38
December 20, 2021

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

Today’s Gospel Reading focuses our attention upon the First Joyful Mystery of the traditional Dominican Rosary (as opposed to the six-decade Carmelite Rosary, whose first Joyful Mystery is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary).  The mystery of the Annunciation focuses upon the moment of the Divine Word becoming Flesh within the womb of Our Lady.  This moment, among other ways in which we might reflect upon it, symbolizes the way that each Christian disciple needs to accept Jesus into his or her own life.

Jesus is the divine Gift that God the Father gifts fallen mankind with.  We can prepare for Christmastide by pondering both the graciousness of this divine Father, and the bountiful goodness of this Gift who is the divine Son.  Yet another way to ponder the Mystery of the Annunciation is to reflect upon the manner in which Mary receives the divine Gift of Jesus.

Mary is the first and best disciple of Jesus.  She not only intercedes for each of us.  She is also a model for us, which means that each time we find her mentioned in the New Testament, we ought to consider how we can imitate her virtues as the first and best disciple.

At the scene of the Annunciation, Mary exemplifies many virtues, but perhaps no virtue more than that of humility.  It’s not a coincidence that the words “humble” and “humility” derive from the Latin word “humus”, meaning “ground” or “earth”.  Mary is grounded, or down-to-earth, because of her humility.  She knows what she is about, and never tries to be someone she is not.  This humility does not prevent her, however, from being surprised by God’s message that she is destined to be the Mother of the Messiah.  Nonetheless, without any assurances about what this vocation will demand of her, she assents to God’s will:  “May it be done unto me according to your [divine] word.”

Late Advent Weekday — December 18

Late Advent Weekday — December 18
Jeremiah 23:5-8  +  Matthew 1:18-25
December 18, 2021

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.

Only the Gospel accounts of St. Matthew and St. Luke relate any of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.  During the last eight days of Advent, the Gospel Readings come from the first chapter of Matthew and the first chapter of Luke.  In fact, only on December 17 and 18 do the Gospel Readings come from Matthew.

In St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel, the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary is not recorded.  Today’s Gospel Reading is St. Matthew’s only narrative about the events occurring before Jesus’ birth.  This single narrative records the Annunciation to St. Joseph.

Saint Joseph is one of four key figures in the landscape of Advent, the others being St. John the Baptist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Lord Jesus.  Among these four, St. Joseph is the easiest to overlook.  None of the four evangelists records even a single word that Joseph spoke.  Yet in today’s Gospel Reading, the evangelist focuses upon Joseph’s faith and action.  St. Joseph puts his faith in what God declares to him.  Then Joseph works to carry out God’s will.  In both of these, Joseph is model for each of us Christians.

Late Advent Weekday — December 17

Late Advent Weekday — December 17
Genesis 49:2,8-10  +  Matthew 1:1-17
December 17, 2021

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

It’s obvious that today’s date—December 17th—begins the final week of Advent.  One week from today the Church will stand at the threshold of Christmastide.  What’s not so obvious is that the Church approaches this final week of Advent differently than the season’s first few weeks.  Beginning on December 17th, the Gospel Readings at weekday Mass shift from scenes set during Jesus’ adulthood to scenes set before His birth.

Today’s Gospel Reading is the first seventeen verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel account.  The very first verse tells us what this passage is all about:  “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  This genealogy of Jesus is different than the one recorded by St. Luke the Evangelist in Luke 3:23-38.  St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy goes back in history only to Abraham, while St. Luke’s traces Jesus’ lineage back to Adam himself.

Nonetheless, the figures of David and Abraham help us understand the structure of the genealogy that St. Matthew records.  Today consider just the latter of these two persons.  The genealogy has three parts.  Abraham and Jesus stand at either end, revealing the most important truth of this genealogical record:  that Jesus fulfills what Abraham, “our father in faith”, could only foreshadow.  The shadows of the Old Testament are now giving way to the light of Him who soon will be born.

The Fourth Sunday of Advent [C]

The Fourth Sunday of Advent [C]
Micah 5:1-4  +  Hebrews 10:5-10  +  Luke 1:39-45
December 19, 2021

“‘… behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”

Sacrifice has long been the heart of religion.  From pagan religions to the religion of the Old Testament to the religion of Jesus Christ, sacrifice stands front and center.

However, the object of sacrifice has differed greatly from one religion to another.  That is to say, that which has been sacrificed to God has differed greatly from one religion to another.

At one end of the spectrum, the most horrific example of religious sacrifice is the ritual sacrifice of innocent human beings in an attempt to appease wrathful pagan gods.  Other pagan religions made sacrificial offerings without violence.  They offered sacrifices of material objects that were important to their livelihood.  They sacrificed objects such as animals or grains that might instead have been needed to feed their families.

In this latter type of religious sacrifice, then, there would be a two-fold sacrifice.  First, the object was destroyed through its being offered as a religious sacrifice to God.  Consequently, that ritual sacrifice meant that the person sacrificing had to endure a sacrifice of well-being—a personal sacrifice—since he could not use the sacrificed object for his own need and comfort.

The Old Testament, in contrast to pagan religious sacrifices, bears witness to sacrifices ordered and directed by the Lord God Himself, often also demanding personal sacrifice.  In the Book of Leviticus, for example, the Lord gives lengthy, detailed instructions about both the objects to be sacrificed to Him, and the manner in which each sacrifice is to be made.

In addition to the sacrifices offered ritually by Israel’s priests, other members of Israel made religious sacrifices.  One example is Joseph and Mary, shortly after Jesus’ birth, travelling to the Temple where they make a sacrifice of two turtledoves [Lk 2:24].

That example evokes two other types of sacrifice that God often called for in the course of the Old Testament.  These are not ritual sacrifices, but are deeply personal sacrifices.  The first occurred when God called an individual to take a “leap of faith”, such as Abram leaving his settled life in Haran for an unknown land [Gn 12:1-4], or Moses leading the People of Israel forth from the Red Sea into the desert for a long, perilous journey [Ex 15:22].  The second occurred when God called an individual to confrontation against great odds, such as Moses confronting the Pharaoh [Ex 3:10-15], or the youthful David confronting Goliath [1 Sam 17:32-37].

This background of Old Testament sacrifices—ritual and personal—stands behind the Gospel Reading for this last Sunday of Advent.  The passage focuses upon part of the Joyful Mystery of the Visitation.  The latter half of this passage consists of Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” speaking about Mary.

The Blessed Virgin Mary reveals two dimensions of Christian sacrifice.  First, what is the object of Mary’s sacrifice?  She sacrifices her very self, not another person or an inanimate object or animal.  Mary’s life becomes a literal “holocaust”:  that is, a sacrificial offering entirely consumed by the will of the Lord, according to His Word.

This complete self-offering demands from her a “leap of faith” into an unknown future.  Furthermore, that future will demand that Mary confront the fullness of evil, as foretold in the first book of the Bible after the fall of Adam and Eve, where the Lord speaks of her crushing the serpent [Gn 3:15], and as described in mystical terms in the last book of the Bible [Rev 12].

Nonetheless, all the gifts of Mary’s life—from her Immaculate Conception to her Coronation—and all that Mary herself accomplishes through her vocation are rooted in a second, more fundamental dimension of Christian sacrifice.

Not only does Mary offer her whole self in sacrifice.  She bears Christ within her very self.  It is Christ within that makes self-sacrifice—according to the will and Word of God—possible.

Consequently, through her self-offering, Mary offers the sacrifice of the Word made Flesh to God the Father.  She bears Jesus so that she might offer Him as the object of her own self-sacrifice.

Yet despite the greatness of her vocation, Mary does not stand on a pedestal at a remove from you and me.  She is the model for each of us who works at following Jesus.  What Mary bore physically, each disciple bears through grace, most especially through the Eucharist.  Each disciple sacramentally bears the Body of Christ within, to make possible the complete offering of one’s whole self to the will and Word of God.

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent
Isaiah 54:1-10  +  Luke 7:24-30
December 16, 2021

“‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you.’”

Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading quotes two Old Testament verses:  Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3.  Together, these two verses illustrate Jesus’ image of John the Baptist.  They help us understand how John the Baptist stands in relation to Jesus.  John goes first, but only to prepare the way that leads to Jesus.

As the first half of Advent concludes tomorrow, Jesus’ quotation in today’s Gospel Reading brings up an important principle of our Catholic Faith.  We need to keep this principle in mind as enter tomorrow into the second, more intense half of Advent.  That principle is intercession.

Many of our separated brethren dismiss the principle of others interceding between “me and Jesus”.  Protestant leaders had statues and paintings of saints destroyed because they suggested that certain persons might be important in the process of bringing us to Jesus.  The dismissal of the role of saints went hand-in-hand with the dismissal of the ordained priesthood, another important means by which human persons intercede for us in bringing us closer to Jesus.

So as the first half of Advent ends today—and with it, its focus upon St. John the Baptist—we ought to reflect on two points.  First, what do I need to learn from St. John the Baptist, and how can he lead me to Jesus?  Second, how can I imitate St. John the Baptist and lead others to Jesus by my own words and sacrifices?