Advent 2016 (November 27-December 24)
Click on a date below to jump to that day’s reflection:
The First Sunday of Advent [A]
Isaiah 2:1-5 + Romans 13:11-14 + Matthew 24:37-44
November 27, 2016
“‘… for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’”
“Stay awake!” Jesus shouts this to us in the Gospel on this First Sunday of Advent. These words sum up the whole season. These words sum up what the original Christmas was like for Joseph, Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah, for King Herod and the three wise kings, and for the innkeepers whose homes were full when a poor expectant couple appeared on a cold night requesting shelter. Everything about the first Christmas was unexpected. That’s why on this First Sunday of Advent we hear the command: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
But these words don’t really seem to make sense for us in modern times who begin Advent today. These words don’t seem to fit with Advent because we do know on which day the Lord will come: December 25th. Everything about this season is expected. So much of the joy of the season comes from the traditions—sacred and secular—that are as familiar as well-worn mittens.
But maybe God can still work through the unexpected in our own day. St. Paul’s words in the Second Reading help us. Even if we don’t know on which day the Lord will come, St. Paul says that we do “know the time: it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.” Of course these people to whom St. Paul was speaking were not physically asleep, but they were spiritually asleep at the wheel. They thought they had it made in life. They thought that they were “saved”.
But everywhere you look in salvation history—in every book of the Bible, in each of the 20+ centuries of the Church’s history, and in the life of every saint—you see this same dynamic. God works most powerfully through the unexpected. It’s not that He can’t or doesn’t work through what’s expected. Rather, God works His greatest works when and in ways that no one expects.
Mary was the holiest of God’s creatures, and is the perfect example of this dynamic at work. We see her holiness very clearly in the Annunciation, the beginning of her nine months of waiting for Jesus to appear at His birth. She didn’t expect to conceive Him. She didn’t expect an angel to appear to her. But in humility, she kept herself open to God’s will. And the whole human race gained a Savior because of her “Yes.”
Humility is the first step of the Christian life, and it’s the virtue that each one of us as Christians needs to start Advent with. Where is there pride in my life? What am I hesitant to confess before God? What area of my life do I want God to stay out of?
As we journey through this season of Advent, ask Jesus to help you grow in humility. Ask Him to make you more like His Mother. And ask Him to help you to stay awake to His presence in your life: to look for Him in ways and at times you don’t expect.
Monday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 4:2-6 + Matthew 8:5-11
November 28, 2016
“Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
Psalm 122 describes the image of “the house of the Lord”. In this Old Testament passage, “the house of the Lord” refers not to Heaven, but to the sacred, earthly city of Jerusalem. The passage also mentions that Jerusalem sits atop a mountain (not on the scale of the Rockies or Himalayas, but a mountain as considered by the ancient peoples of the Holy Land). That “the house of the Lord” sits atop a mountain implies an ascent, which in turn implies personal sacrifice. One must stretch and climb to reach His house. We can relate this ascent both to the long course of Old Testament salvation history, and/or to our own religious practices during the Season of Advent.
Today’s Gospel passage presents the Lord’s response to such human initiative. The pagan centurion not only shows initiative in appealing to Jesus, but also faith. This pagan utters the cry that each of us echoes before Holy Communion: “‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.’” Jesus responds to him with a prophecy that fulfills Isaiah’s: “‘… many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.’” Jesus adds further to the direction given us by Psalm 122 and Isaiah 2, by pointing our attention beyond any earthly city to the heavenly Jerusalem.
This prophecy can be fulfilled in your own life only because God the Father took the initiative of sending His Son down to be our Messiah. Jesus offers us the fruits of His sacrifice on the Cross through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Each of us, even if a member of Christ’s Body from birth, should not presume on God’s grace, but imitate the faith of the pagan centurion. Make a two-fold prayer on this first weekday of Advent. (1) Pray that many others will come to Jesus in Holy Mass. (2) Pray that you will generously take the fruits of the Eucharist to many others though the sacrifices of your daily life.
Tuesday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10 + Luke 10:21-24
November 29, 2016
“The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him….”
In today’s First Reading, the verbs “judge” and “decide” are each used twice. The first sentence is negative, in that Isaiah describes how the “root of Jesse” will not judge and decide: that is, “not by appearance”, “nor by hearsay”. In the next sentence, Isaiah gives a positive description of the judgments of the “root of Jesse”. However, these phrases describe not only how he will judge—that is, “with justice” and “aright”—but also for whom he will judge. He “shall judge the poor”, “and decide… for the land’s afflicted.”
These two brief sentences foreshadow the person of Jesus Christ, the awaited Messiah. They also describe those who live in Jesus Christ: those who through the Holy Spirit are empowered to let Christ work through them, and live in them. During Advent, as you wait for the coming of the Messiah, ask yourself (especially as you prepare for the Sacrament of Penance) to what extent Isaiah’s words today describe yourself.
Do you judge the significance of others’ lives, or even the significance of your own life, according to appearances or by hearsay? Or do you judge matters “with justice” and rightly? On your Christmas wish list, have you written the Holy Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge and piety, in order to care more about the needs of the poor and afflicted than your own desires, and even your own needs?
St. Andrew, apostle
Daniel 7:15-27 + Luke 21:34-36
November 30, 2016
“And how can they hear without someone to preach?”
There are many things about a man entering the seminary that are misunderstood. One important point, that many people are not clear on, is that a man enters the seminary in order to continue to discern the calling that the Lord has made to him. He does not enter the seminary because he has already made a decision to be a priest. The Lord calls out to every young man, “Come after me….” What differs from one man to another is the phrase that follows “Come after me….” For some, the words that follow are “Be my faithful disciple, and serve me wherever you go in the world.” To others, Jesus says those words by which we hear him calling Simon and Andrew: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The prayer that a man offers while in the seminary asks the Lord for help in clarifying just which call it is that the Lord has made to him.
“Fishers of men.” This is a metaphor, of course: one that speaks to Simon and Andrew, whose lives as adults had been given to the livelihood of being fishermen. Regardless of the livelihood which they had chosen for themselves, the Lord’s words mean “Come after me. I chose you to be the servants of my Church.” No matter the Christian, and no matter the vocation to which the Lord calls him or her, the root of each vocation is service.
Thursday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 26:1-6 + Matthew 7:21,24-27
December 1, 2016
“For the Lord is an eternal Rock.”
Likely you’ve had a conversation with a fellow Christian who insists that the entire Bible—from Genesis to Revelation—must be interpreted literally. The next time that occurs, offer your fellow Christian this sentence from today’s First Reading—“For the Lord is an eternal Rock.”—and ask if the Lord is literally a rock. The absurdity of the question shows that a single Scripture verse may have multiple meanings: including, but also transcending, the literal meaning.
Most of us would say pretty readily that describing the Lord as “an eternal Rock” is a metaphor that should not be taken literally. This metaphor tells us how solid, sturdy and dependable God always is. That’s a pretty simple and straightforward idea. Jesus in today’s Gospel uses the same metaphor in a little different way. In the way that Jesus tweaks this metaphor, He gives us a good Advent reflection.
Jesus begins by flatly telling us that “only the one who does the will of my Father” “will enter the Kingdom of heaven”. Then Jesus presents a comparison in order to describe doing the will of God the Father. Jesus wants this to be a description of your life. Here’s Jesus’ comparison:
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them[…] will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” In Jesus’ comparison here, what does the image of the “rock” stand for? Jesus Himself answered that question that “the one who does the will of my Father” “will enter… heaven”. It’s “the will of [God the] Father” that is the “rock” on which the wise man builds. God’s holy Will, in other words, is rock-solid. So we might reflect today on Jesus’ words as an encouragement to ourselves to be more like God: that is, to be dependable in our decisions, and unwavering in the midst of influences that tempt us to take the broad and easy path. We might furthermore reflect on the need to pray for insight into God’s holy Will before we make decisions, so that our human will is of one accord with God’s holy Will.
But then, thirdly, you might reflect on God’s holy Will in the light of the Messiah for whom we’re waiting. Remember what the Holy Name of “Jesus” literally means: it means “God saves”. This is the Son whom God the Father wills unto sinful man. The Messiah whose coming we await will not be a general seeking conquests. He will not be a performer seeking applause. He will be a Savior seeking lost souls.
God’s holy Will will not waver in seeking lost souls, even if you yourself buffet Him with all your sins. God’s holy Will is “an eternal Rock”. God wills to save you. Even were you to join the soldiers on Good Friday and buffet Jesus’ holy Face, His Will would not waver. All you need to do is to align your will to the Father’s holy Will. Abandon your sins, and embrace the Father’s holy Will. Accept in faith the salvation that Jesus is coming to give you.
Friday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 29:17-24 + Matthew 9:27-31
December 2, 2016
“And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.”
Although the liturgies of Lent also evoke the themes of darkness and blindness, these themes are fundamental to the Season of Advent. The Sacred Liturgy during Advent often uses these themes to help Christians appreciate what man is without God.
Both the First and Gospel Readings today speak to the experience of blindness. The reference in the First Reading is only in passing: it’s one of many metaphors that speak to the power that will be seen “on that day”, the day of which the Book of the Prophet Isaiah speaks at length. That day sees reversals of fortune and wonders of nature, all testifying to the majesty of the Lord’s coming.
In comparison, the Gospel Reading seems to have a simpler focus. After curing the blindness of the two men, Jesus “warned them sternly” not to tell others about the miracle, and then the cured men ignore Jesus and spread their good news. Jesus doesn’t tell them, and St. Matthew doesn’t tell us, the reason for Jesus’ warning. However, in the bigger picture of the Gospel, it seems that the good news of individuals isn’t the same as the Good News of Jesus.
Putting the two readings side by side, they point our attention in the direction of today’s Responsorial Psalm. It is not to cure physical blindness that God sent His Son into the world. Nor are wonders of Mother Nature anything but signs of the Lord’s Power. When the Psalmist declares that the Lord is his light and his salvation, he’s singing of God’s desire and ability to raise us out of our sins and out of our very world, into His own sight for eternity. To the imagery of light the Psalmist adds his admission that the “one thing” he seeks is to “gaze on the loveliness of the Lord”. Here in Psalm 27 we hear the focus of Advent come into sharp relief.
St. Francis Xavier, Priest
Isaiah 30:19-21,23-26 + Matthew 9:35—10:1,5a,6-8
December 3, 2016
“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages….”
We might wonder why so many of the Gospel passages proclaimed during Advent seem to have so little to do with waiting for the birth of Jesus. Today’s passage, for example, concerns the adult Jesus curing the sick, having compassion on the needy, and sending out His Twelve to heal others as He had. We might argue that this passage is more fitting for the time of Pentecost than Advent.
To experience fruitful growth during Advent, however, we have to reflect on the many advents of the Christ. The word “advent” means simply “coming”. To be ready for Christmas demands realizing the many ways in which Christ is to come among man, and within him.
The simplest way to begin realizing Christ’s many advents is to consider an important principle of Christian history and the spiritual life. This principle is expressed in the old saying, “The wood of the crib is the wood of the cross.” The saying illustrates the truth that the purpose of the Incarnation of Jesus is His Death and Resurrection.
Many of the events that we hear of in Gospel passages during Advent are about the coming of Jesus’ glory on the Cross. This is a theme spelled out most clearly in St. John’s account of the Gospel. Nonetheless, all the evangelists describe how Jesus’ public ministry is a time of advent: preparing for that Holy Week when Christ entered Jerusalem and so into His glory on Calvary.
The Second Sunday of Advent [A]
Isaiah 11:1-10 + Romans 15:4-9 + Matthew 3:1-12
December 4, 2016
“‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.’”
If the world—in all its unfairness, injustice and evil—doesn’t make sense, neither does the response to it that God the Father gives. Why did God send His Son from Heaven to earth, where He knew that there would be men like King Herod, Pontius Pilate, and Judas Iscariot? God did this, and He still does so today, because He is the God of the unexpected.
God chooses to love the unlovable. That is His nature: God is love. He does not love in the way that we love. He loves in a way that we on our own cannot. He loves eternally, and boldly. He does not love you if you do something for Him first. He does not love you until you forget to thank Him, and then stop loving. He does not love you until you offend Him by your sins, and then stop loving you.
If this sounds too good to be true, we should reflect on the reason that God sent His Son down to earth. There’s only one reason why Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and that was to die on Calvary. The meaning of Jesus’ birth was his death. The baby was born in order to crush the ancient serpent.
Of course, because God gave us free will, we can folds our arms across our chest, say “No thank you” to God, and turn our back on this Gift. Often that’s what we do. But the choice is always there before us. That’s why every year, we hear the cry of John the Baptist, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The way that the Lord wants to travel is the path into the human heart, into which He wants to pour His merciful and forgiving love. But if we block God’s way, He will indeed stop and go no further.
But if we do open a way—a channel—into our hearts, God will pour into our hearts the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: the gifts of wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge, fear of the Lord, and piety. Through these we can grow in the image of Christ, and offer ourselves on a daily basis the way to God and neighbor, as Christ did infinitely on Calvary.
Advent is a time to “prepare the way for the Lord”, a time to raise our expectations of ourselves and of God. It is a time to commit ourselves to daily prayer and Scripture reading, to participating in weekday Mass, and the Sacrament of Confession. Yet no matter how little or how greatly we offer ourselves to God, He loves us: continually and boldly, because His love is mysterious and unexpected.
Monday of the Second Week of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-10 + Luke 5:17-26
December 5, 2016
“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 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 us 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 Advent—boils down to: 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 have the aim of helping us enter into today’s Gospel and living as the men who lower their friend on a stretcher. Perhaps the Messiah’s response is unexpected by those men, but it’s what we long for 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 6, 2016
“The Lord our God comes with power.”
Today’s First Reading from Isaiah contains the passage quoted by St. John the Baptist 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 St. John, Isaiah declares in some beautiful poetry just where we stand as fallen children of Adam and Eve. Consider the words he 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, say a prayer of 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.
St. Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Isaiah 40:25-31 + Matthew 11:28-30
December 7, 2016
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… and you will find rest.”
Today’s brief Gospel passage seems to have a simple message. We might relate it to the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd: He cares for us, His flock, and gives us rest. That is why He is coming, and what we prepare for during Advent. But there is another, different piece to this passage.
Jesus first tells His disciples, “I will give you rest.” But then He explains His meaning by bidding them, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… and you will find rest.” This second sentence qualifies the first in a significant way.
Jesus gives us rest when we take His yoke upon ourselves and learn from Him. We might be confused by the idea of a yoke bringing us rest: after all, with a yoke comes a burden to pull. Who wants to consider himself as a beast of burden?
But aren’t we always carrying a burden throughout the course of life in this valley of tears? The burden doesn’t accompany the yoke. The burden is ours by virtue of our fallen nature. The yoke of Jesus is simply the gift by which we gain the leverage to bear our burden with some composure and peace. By tradition, of course, we identity the Cross as Jesus’ yoke, and certainly it is through this gift that we bear all that seems heavy in life.
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Genesis 3:9-15,20 + Ephesians 1:3-6,11-12 + Luke 1:26-38
December 8, 2016
“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”
Like the Assumption, our celebration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception tells us something very important about humanity: that is, humanity as we were meant to be “in the beginning”. Our belief that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without Original Sin tells us as Catholics that Mary is exactly the type of human being God meant each of us to be. In the words of St. Paul, “God chose us in him[,] before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love.”
This is what our belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception says about her: that she was full of love. We do not believe that Mary is a goddess, or even super-human. The Blessed Virgin Mary is simply human, what each of us who is human is called to be: “holy and blameless in God’s sight, full of love.” That’s how St. Gabriel salutes Mary in the Gospel: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”
God the Father wanted the best possible mother for His Son, and so He granted the grace to Mary which would make her, for Jesus, a mother who would physically and spiritually give nothing to her Son but the “fullness of love” which God means all of us humans to have. And because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, she is our mother as well. She is the Immaculate Conception, through whom Jesus entered the world. Through her each of us is healed, if we accept in faith the gift of healing God wants to give us. In this season of Advent we meditate on the fact that this God’s gift of the Immaculate Conception has made Mary, for each of us, not only the Mother of the Church, but the model for each of us of what it means to accept Christ into our lives.
Friday of the Second Week of Advent
Isaiah 48:17-19 + Matthew 11:16-19
December 9, 2016
“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.
“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 read too much into 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 10, 2016
“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.
We tend to think of a prophet as one who proclaims the Word of the Lord. But one of the chief stories about Elijah concerns him carrying out this role in deed. He 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.
The Third Sunday of Advent [A]
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 + James 5:7-10 + Matthew 11:2-11
December 11, 2016
“The desert and the parched land will exult….”
No one is prouder of his home state than I am. But although I was born and reared as a Kansan, as I’ve had the chance to travel through other parts of the country, I’ve had to admit that the beauty of our state is not the same as that of other parts of the country. The beauty of Kansas is simple, subtle, and understated. It’s no wonder that when the first explorers came to this part of North America, their report to those back east labeled this area “The Great American Desert”.
But in fact, the beauty of our state is like the beauty of Advent. Both are rooted in the virtue of humility. There are many virtues through which we grow in our spiritual lives, but each virtue has its proper place, and humility is the virtue of those journeying through a desert.
For the spiritual life itself is a journey. In between conception and death stretches a long path, along which we are called to exercise many different virtues, such as temperance, fortitude, justice, prudence, faith and hope. Each offers some spiritual fruit to nourish us as we travel through desert territory.
But all of these virtues lead ultimately in only one direction: into that perfect love which is called charity, or in the classical language, caritas. Saint John tells us that this caritas is the very nature of God: God is love, he says simply. Saint Paul tells us that this caritas is the greatest virtue, without which every other virtue is empty and meaningless. Nonetheless, sometimes we have to return to the basics. Advent offers us a chance to rediscover what Saint Augustine called “the foundation of all other virtues”: the virtue of humility.
All of the other virtues of our moral and spiritual life grow out of the “spiritual soil” of humility. Humility is laying ourselves bare: it’s really nothing more than honesty about who we are and where we figure in the scheme of things, which is to say that we are nothing without God.
This is why Advent is a penitential season. We seriously examine our consciences, go to Confession, and are reconciled with God and neighbor. This is so because only by admitting how much we are in need of God’s grace can we be ready to accept God the Father’s gift of His Son sincerely. Only with humility can we hope to draw others into the sweep of God’s love. If we allow ourselves to be loved by God and admit what a beautiful thing that love is, we want others to share in that perfect love of caritas. But you cannot force God’s love, or throw His love, into the lives of others. The only way for people to be first drawn into the mystery of its simple beauty is through humility.
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Zechariah 2:14-17 + Luke 1:26-38
December 12, 2016
“‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers….’”
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 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 these words of 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 and Martyr
Zephaniah 3:1-2,9-13 + Matthew 21:28-32
December 13, 2016
“‘Which of the two did his father’s will?’”
Jesus applies His parable of the two sons to tax collectors and prostitutes on the one hand, and to the chief priests and elders on the other. As a parable proclaimed at Holy Mass during Advent, the Church likely wants us also to consider this parable in terms of the two Testaments of the Bible.
The Old Testament applies to God’s “first-born” people, the Jews. The Jews had said “Yes” to a covenant with God. But St. John the Evangelist tells us in the prologue to his Gospel account that Jesus came to these people (“His own”), and they accepted Him not. In not accepting the Messiah, the great majority of Jews were not faithful to their Covenant with God.
Yet God called the Gentiles also, to join with the small minority of Jews in being faithful to the original Covenant through a new and everlasting Covenant. This new and everlasting Covenant was established on Calvary, and is made present to us even today through Christ’s Church, within the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The saints of this Church do the Father’s will.
As a member of this Church, during her Season of Advent, you also ought to reflect on this parable in a third manner. You yourself are both sons. The “other son” who said “Yes” but did not do the Father’s will is you in terms of: first, your baptismal promises; and second, your sins. The first son who said “No” but later changed his mind and did the Father’s will is the child God wants you to be in this Advent Season through the grace of the Father’s only Son ever to say “Yes” and also do “Yes” to His Father’s Will.
St. John of the Cross, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Isaiah 45:6-8,18,21-25 + Luke 7:18-23
December 14, 2016
“‘…should we look for another?’”
The Season of Advent is full of dichotomies. We wait in darkness for the dawn of a great light. We wait for the deaf to hear and the lame to leap. We reflect on the Old Covenant of God’s Chosen People as we await a birth that will give rise to a Church founded on a “new and everlasting covenant”.
Yet another dichotomy is between two persons: John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus. This dichotomy is presented most sharply by John, when he insists that Jesus must increase while he himself must decrease. There are other contrasts between them noted in the Gospel account, such as that John’s disciples fasted, while Jesus’ did not. This contrast is related to the images of a best man (John) and the bridegroom (Jesus).
Today’s Gospel passage focuses on John and Jesus through the lens of a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Some modern thinkers have foolishly suggested that John wanted his disciples to ask this question because he himself did not know the answer. John is the voice who announces the Word, and John this Word intimately. Had John not known exactly who this Word was, he would never have made all the sacrifices—including his life—that he did in order to give witness to this Word.
Jesus is the One who is to come. We should not look for another. Having imitated the penance of the voice, we will be ready to give testimony to the Word.
Thursday of the Third Week of Advent
Isaiah 54:1-10 + Luke 7:24-30
December 15, 2106
“‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you….’”
St. Luke the Evangelist ends today’s Gospel passage ends with a long parenthetical statement. The contrast he makes there frames not only today’s passage, but the whole of Advent.
The evangelist’s contrast hinges on the baptism of John. Those such as tax collectors who accepted John’s baptism “acknowledged the righteousness of God”, while those such as the Pharisees and scholars of the Law who did not accept it “rejected the plan of God for themselves.”
That latter phrase is telling. The evangelist is stating very plainly that God had a plan for the Pharisees and scholars of the Law themselves. God was personally reaching out to these individuals, but in rejecting John’s baptism, they rejected God.
What was John’s baptism about? In a word, John’s baptism was about repentance. The Pharisees and scholars of the Law rejected their need for repentance, while the tax collectors acknowledged their need for repentance. This is why Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season. Only through repentance can we accept from God the Gift that offers us righteousness.
Friday of the Third Week of Advent
Isaiah 56:1-3,6-8 + John 5:33-36
December 16, 2016
“‘John was a burning and shining lamp….’”
As the first half of Advent concludes, Jesus fittingly speaks to the Church’s transition to Advent’s latter half in today’s Gospel passage. He speaks to the relationship of John the Baptist to Himself.
Jesus states plainly: “‘I have testimony greater than John’s.’” Furthermore, Jesus states that while John “testified to the truth”, He Himself does “not accept testimony from a human being”. It’s not that John isn’t testifying to Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” [John 14:6]. Rather, John is not enough. Advent itself needs to move beyond St. John the Baptist. We need to look to the testimony that Jesus does accept.
“The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify….” These words sum up all that we ought to meditate upon in the latter half of Advent. These works sum up the One whose birth we are waiting for. These works sum up the One sent to be Emmanuel, “God with us”.
Late Advent Weekday — December 17
Genesis 49:2,8-10 + Matthew 1:1-17
December 17, 2016
“…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 it 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’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 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.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent [A]
Isaiah 7:10-14 + Romans 1:1-7 + Matthew 1:18-24
December 18, 2016
“… behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream….”
Saint Joseph has a lot to teach us, if we only watch him. The reason we have to watch him is because in the whole of the Bible, not one word that Saint Joseph ever spoke is recorded. He’s not just a man of few words: according to the Gospels, he’s a man of no words. We are never told anything that he ever said to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the Christ Child, or even—in the case of today’s Gospel passage—to the angel that appeared to him.
Nonetheless, it is clear that his actions speak for him. Consider what today’s Gospel passage tells us about Saint Joseph. We are told that Joseph was a righteous man, meaning that his life was lived in conformity with the Law of the Old Covenant. He was a man who knew a great deal of the Jewish Scriptures by heart. It was the Law of the Old Covenant that told Joseph that he ought to divorce Mary, since to all appearances she had been unfaithful to their vows.
According to the dictates of the Old Covenant, and according to the appearances of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph would have divorced Mary. But through the message of Good News borne by an angel, we are told that there is far more going on in this situation that what appearances suggest. In our own lives, each of us has a choice: we can live in this world according to the appearances of things, or we can accept the role that Christ wants to play in our lives, and therefore live in a way that is different from others.
Consider the message that Joseph receives from the angel of the Lord. The angel explains to Joseph that this pregnancy is not, in fact, an occasion of shame or guilt, but the work of God Himself. The angel gives to Joseph a command from God: Joseph is to name this child Jesus. The most obvious consequence of this command comes from the fact that under the dictates of Jewish law, a man naming a child implied his acceptance of the child as his own: naming a child was a declaration of paternity. The “shame” that appearances had put upon Mary now became Joseph’s, as well.
But there is obviously far more at work in this passage than the human consequences of the acceptance of a child into a man’s life. If this were all that this Gospel passage tells us, it would have little meaning for our own lives as Christians. Out of fidelity to the Law of God, Joseph was ready to divorce Mary. Little did he know that it was out of fidelity to man that God had sent the Holy Spirit to Mary. It was because of God’s faithful love for us that the strange prophecy of Isaiah was beginning to take shape: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” Joseph’s just act was a first act in the unfolding of God’s Good News for us.
Late Advent Weekday — December 19
Judges 13:2-7,24-25 + Luke 1:5-25
December 19, 2016
“He was gesturing to them but remained mute.”
During the last eight days of Advent, which are usually 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 messenger. 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.
Late Advent Weekday — December 20
Isaiah 7:10-14 + Luke 1:26-38
December 20, 2016
“‘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 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 person as God created human persons to be. Jesus is a divine person (with a human nature), but Mary is like you and me in that she’s a human person. But she lives up to, and shows us what it truly means, to live as a person, which means fully to relate to others, and 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 — December 21
Song of Songs 2:8-14 + Luke 1:39-45
December 21, 2016
“‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’”
Today our Scriptures present responses to the coming of the Lord. Both are worthy of our reflection and imitation, although they are very different from each other.
Our First Reading today 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 book’s expression of waiting that sets it apart from most of the Old Testament’s 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 epistles, from which we will hear during the Christmas Season.
Today’s Gospel passage offers us Elizabeth’s response to the Messiah, borne 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 love that her life became so closely bound up with that of Our Savior.
Late Advent Weekday — December 22
I Samuel 1:24-28 + Luke 1:46-56
December 22, 2016
“‘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, Him to whom Mary was chosen by the Father to bear into our fallen world.
Late Advent Weekday — December 23
Malachi 3:1-4,23-24 + Luke 1:57-66
December 23, 2016
“…he spoke blessing God.”
In these last weekdays before Christmastide, our Gospel passages focus not on the Holy Family, but on Elizabeth, Zechariah and John the Baptist. These passages come from St. Luke’s account of the Gospel. It’s striking how much attention Luke shows to the events surrounding the birth of John, and how many parallels to and contrasts with the stories of Jesus’ birth that Luke makes.
Today’s Gospel passage contrasts Zechariah with Joseph. Joseph is never, in any of the four Gospel accounts, recorded as saying a single word. But he is the “just man” whose actions speak louder than words. Zechariah, however, is struck mute because he acts unjustly: he does not trust in God’s Word. Today, though, we hear Zechariah speak once again after he acts in accord with God’s Will. He names his child “John”, his mouth is opened, and “he spoke blessing God”.
As far Luke’s Gospel account goes, this is the end of the story for Zechariah. His vocation as John’s father continued for many years after these events, of course. But within the narrative of the Gospel, we’ve heard Zechariah move in his life from speaking unjustly, to being struck mute, to acting justly, to blessing God. If each of us has examined his conscience during Advent and seen in Zechariah an image of our own unjust actions, today’s Gospel portrait of Zechariah offers us hope.
Late Advent Weekday — December 24
II Samuel 7:1-5,8-12,14,16 + Luke 1:67-69
December 24, 2016
“‘…the dawn from on high shall break upon us….’”
This morning’s Scriptures are beautiful in their simplicity. The Gospel passage is a prophecy. We’re so familiar with the Benedictus from praying Lauds each day that we might forget the words by which St. Luke the Evangelist introduces this hymn: “Zechariah his father, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying….”
Zechariah, remember, was a priest “of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron” [Lk 1:5]. Zechariah and Elizabeth symbolize the priestly power of the Old Testament, and God’s transformation of it into prophecy within the New Covenant. Zechariah the priest prophesied.
Also, Zechariah here was “filled with the Holy Spirit”. St. Luke the Evangelist uses this phrase throughout his infancy narratives purposefully. When the angel appears in Temple to announce to the priest Zechariah, who was burning incense, the conception of his son, the angel proclaims that “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” [Lk 1:15].
Six months later at the Visitation, “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry” [Lk 1:41-42]. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and thereby exclaims a prophecy about Mary and her Son.
Likewise, in today’s Gospel passage, the Old Covenant comes to an end. Zechariah, “filled with the Holy Spirit”, prophesies about his new-born son, John the Baptist. The canticle concludes with imagery of a morning, which is fitting on this morn that lies on the threshold of Christmastide: “In the tender compassion of our God / the dawn from on high shall break upon us, / to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, / and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”