Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent
Isaiah 40:25-31  +  Matthew 11:28-30
December 11, 2019

   “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… and you will find rest for yourselves.”   

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.  By tradition, of course, we identity the Cross as Jesus’ yoke, and certainly it is through this gift that we shoulder all that weighs heavy in life.

Advent 2-3

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-11  +  Matthew 18:12-14
December 10, 2019

   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 Loreto and St. Nicholas

Today is the optional memorial of Our Lady of Loreto

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Please Note:  Because December 8 falls on a Sunday this year, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on Monday, December 9.  But Catholics are not obliged to hear Mass on December 9.

Gen 3:9-15,20  +  Eph 1:3-6,11-12  +  Lk 1:26-38
click on the line above for the day’s Scriptures

   “Hail, full of grace!  The Lord is with you.”   

+     +     +

click HERE to watch Dr. Ted Sri’s reflection upon this Solemnity (4:49)

click HERE to watch Fr. Mike Schmitz’s reflection upon this Solemnity (8:14)

click HERE to read the homily of Msgr. Charles Pope for this Solemnity

click HERE to watch a homily about Blessed John Duns Scotus, the “architect” of the theology of the Immaculate Conception (11:16)

+     +     +

click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2018 Angelus address for this Solemnity

click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2012 Angelus address for this Solemnity

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s homily for this Solemnity in 2004, the 150th anniversary of the promulgation of the Dogma

+     +     +

Today’s First Reading is very familiar to us.  It tells how Adam and Eve, our first parents, committed the Original Sin.  We can identify with this story because we, like our parents Adam and Eve, are sinners.  Like them, when our sins are pointed out to us we point to someone else and say, “he made me do it”, or “she made me do it”.

In doing this, we deny one of the greatest gifts God has given us:  our free will.  While the third chapter of Genesis tells us of the commission of the Original Sin, we often forget the meaning of the two chapters that come before it.  The first two chapters of Genesis tell us how good everything God created is, and how, among all his creatures, God chose man and woman in particular to live in His image:  that is, to have the free will to always choose good over evil.  This is the gift that Adam and Eve refuse when they shift the blame for their actions to someone else.  Yet this is the gift that Mary fulfills when she accepts God’s plan as the plan for her earthly life.

However, as we consider all the gifts that God gave to Mary during the course of her earthly life, we need to recognize that there’s often confusion about the meaning of the Immaculate Conception.  Many people, even many Catholics, believe that the Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary virginally conceived Jesus.  But, our Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception is the belief that when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, Mary was kept free from the stain of Original Sin.  God gave this free gift to Mary at the moment of her conception because He wanted the mother of His Son to be the greatest woman among all women on the face of the earth.

Now, when we wonder about the confusion about the Immaculate Conception, it’s actually somewhat understandable.  After all, consider the Gospel passage for today’s feast.  Today’s Gospel passage relates the events of the Annunciation:  when Jesus was virginally conceived in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit.  So we can see why people might confuse Mary’s virginally conceiving Jesus with Mary being immaculately conceived by St. Anne.

The reason, though, why the Church proclaims this Gospel passage on today’s feast is because here we see emphasized the reason why God was willing to bestow upon Mary the gift of being conceived without Original Sin.  God from eternity knew that Mary would accept His will as her own at this key moment in salvation history.

When the archangel Gabriel greeted Mary, she was confused and wondered what the greeting meant.  But still, she accepted God’s will and said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be done unto me according to your Word.”  When Gabriel announced that it was God’s plan for her to conceive a child, she did not understand how this could be, but still she accepted God’s will through the virtue of faith and said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be done unto me according to your Word.”

God, who is eternal—for whom there is no past, present, or future—who sees everything at once, knew that Mary would completely accept His will as her own.  In light of this, God preserved her from Original Sin at the moment of her conception.  In Mary, we see the model for all of us who are striving to be faithful disciples of Jesus:  for all of us who are striving to allow Jesus’ life to enter into our own lives.

Like every gift that God gave to Mary, our celebration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception tells us something important about humanity itself:  that is, humanity as we were created to be “in the beginning”.  Our belief that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without Original Sin, tells us that Mary is exactly the human being that 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 Mary:  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.  Mary is authentically human:  she is what each of us who is human is called to be:  “holy and blameless in God’s sight, full of love.”  That’s what St. Gabriel is driving at when he salutes Mary in the Gospel:  “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!”  St. Paul’s phrase “full of love” echoes that of St. Gabriel:  “full of grace”.

God the Father wanted the best possible mother for His Son, and so He granted the grace to Mary which would let her be a mother who would give nothing to her Son but the fullness of love which God means each of us to have.  Because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, she is our mother as well.  For us she is the Immaculate Conception:  through her Jesus entered the world, and through her each of us is healed, if we accept in faith the gift of healing God wants us to accept:  the greatest gift we can possibly receive in this season of gift-giving.

Immaculate Conception - Francisco de Zurbarcan

The Second Sunday of Advent [A]

The Immaculate Conception is transferred this year to Monday, December 9.  For the reflections and resources for the Immaculate Conception, click HERE.

Isa 11:1-10  +  Rom 15:4-9  +  Mt 3:1-12
click on the line above for the day’s Scriptures

   “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.”   

+     +     +

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this liturgical Sunday (3:33)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday

click HERE to watch the homily of Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR for this Sunday (27:20)

+     +     +

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 1998 homily for this Sunday

+     +     +

On the one hand, preparing for Christmas is played out in many traditional ways.  We take comfort in the sights, sounds, and smells of the season.  We look forward to seeing the traditional signs that tell us that Christmas draws near.

On the other hand, Scripture tells us during Advent to expect the unexpected.  The Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who lived seven centuries before Jesus, prophesied about a day that was to come in the future.  Isaiah preached about that future day on which the Messiah—the Savior of the Jews—would appear and set things right in the world.  But Isaiah’s prophecy is a little strange.  It’s unexpected.  That’s one reason why Isaiah was rejected.

Isaiah begins his prophecy with the words:  “On that day….”  That day will be unexpected, a day of strange sights and sounds.  The images that Isaiah describes seem to be contradictions:  the lion eating hay and the wolf as the guest of the lamb.  But then comes the most disturbing image, especially if we think of the manger in Bethlehem.

“The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.”  We would never expect to see this image in real life.  In fact, if a person is a parent, it’s the last image he or she would want to see.

Isaiah probably used these images because of a baby’s innocence and how it contrasts with the cunning and danger of the serpent.  But whether Isaiah knew it or not, his image also sums up the meaning of Christmas.  God the Son, who existed from all eternity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, entered into this world of ours as a tiny baby.

Given the perplexity that all these contradictions evoke, how can we as Christian fruitfully meditate upon them?  How can this meditation make our Advent more spiritually rich?  There are three practices that help us make the most of Advent.  We can remember them with the initials P-S-P, which stand for poverty, silence, and penance.

Silence is hard to come in our day and age.  A lot of people move to the country—even just five or ten miles from a large city—for the sake of more silence.  However, with the nature of mass media today, it doesn’t matter if you live at the top of a mountain:  radio signals, TV signals, wireless Internet and more can be beamed to you (or maybe we should say at you).  To create an atmosphere of silence, you have to go on the offense and unplug, disconnect or simply turn off a lot of devices.

Of course, there’s also another difficulty when it comes to silence.  Sometimes we don’t like silence.  Noise has a way of blocking out, or distracting us from, our own thoughts and concerns, which perhaps we’d rather not face.  Nonetheless, we need to accept silence as a gift.  Silence is a two-fold gift, the first aspect of which is that it’s a gift we give ourselves, so as to hear one’s own true self.  But the importance of silence also goes beyond our selves.

You remember the Old Testament story about Elijah, to whom the Lord God spoke not through fire or an earthquake, but within a tiny whisper.  In the Christian spiritual life, silence is not an end in itself.  Silence is a means, or rather, a medium through which to hear the Word of God.

The Word of God, of course, is a Person:  the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity.  In the prologue to his Gospel account, which we will hear at Christmas morning Mass, St. John proclaims that this divine Word, which was in the beginning, became Flesh and dwelt among us.  He became flesh and blood—one of us—in order to offer that Body and Blood, with His soul and divinity, on the Cross at Calvary, and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, because you and I are sinners.  That’s a message we sinners need to hear, and we need silence to be able to hear it.

Advent 2-0A.jpg


Saturday of the First Week of Advent

Saturday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 30:19-21,23-26  +  Matthew 9:35—10:1,5,6-8
December 7, 2019

   Jesus went around to all the towns and villages….   

Many of the Gospel passages proclaimed during Advent don’t seem at first hearing to relate to 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.”  In other words, the purpose of Jesus’ Incarnation 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.

St. Ambrose mosaic

Today is the obligatory memorial of St. Ambrose, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

Friday of the First Week of Advent

Friday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 29:17-24  +  Matthew 9:27-31
December 6, 2019

   And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.   

Although the Season of Lent evokes the themes of darkness and blindness, these themes are also 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 that Jesus brings to individuals isn’t necessarily the same as the Good News about the Person 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 in Heaven 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.  Here the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas point our attention to our hope for life in Heaven.

Advent 1-5

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

Thursday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 26:1-6  +  Matthew 7:21,24-27
December 5, 2019

   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 a meaning that transcends 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 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 with spitting, 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.

Advent 1-4

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 25:6-10  +  Matthew 15:29-37
December 4, 2019

   You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes….   

Today’s Gospel describes the Lord Jesus providing in two ways.  The first sentence sets the scene.  It echoes two earlier scenes in Scripture.  One is ten chapters earlier in Matthew.  There, before beginning the Sermon on the Mount, we hear this:  “Seeing the crowds, [Jesus] went up on the mountain, and when he sat down his disciples came to him.”

These disciples are models for us in their ascent of the mountain to be near Jesus.  Of course, both of these occasions in Matthew echo the scene far earlier in the Bible:  that is, in the Book of Exodus, where Moses brings the Law of God down from the mountain.  In his Gospel account, Matthew goes to great length to portray Jesus as the new Moses.  It’s as the new Moses that Jesus provides for the “great crowds” in two ways.

First, Jesus cures “the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others….”  Second, knowing the hunger of the crowds, Jesus compassionately works the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fish.  Both of these works of Jesus—healing and nourishing—are also portrayed in the great 23rd Psalm, the source of today’s Responsorial.  Of course, to receive nourishment and healing from the Lord, we have to be willing to admit our real hungers and hurts.  In your private prayer today, ask the Lord to enlighten you to see clearly where your mind and heart are in need of healing and nourishing.

Advent 1-3

St. Francis Xavier, Priest

St. Francis Xavier, Priest
Isaiah 11:1-10  +  Luke 10:21-24
December 3, 2019

   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 live in them and work through 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 worse the significance of your own life, according to appearances or by hearsay?  Or do you judge matters “with justice” and rightly?  I say “even worse” because you have more authority to judge yourself then to judge others.  Also, the ways in which you may rightly judge others are less important than how you must judge yourself in preparation for the Sacrament of Penance.  Thanks be to God, He is all-merciful.

St. Francis Xavier

Today is the Obligatory Memorial of St. Francis Xavier