Readings for Tuesday of the Second Week in Advent: Isaiah 40:1-22; Psalm 96; Matthew 18:12-16


"He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms."  Isaiah 11:11

I love the paradoxes in Christianity, especially as seen through the lens and tradition of Catholicism.  By paradoxes, I mean those divine realities, scriptural revelations, and/or statements of faith that would seem to be contradictory, yet on further inspection, reveal themselves to be true.  It is one of those paradoxes that jumped out to me as I read today's Gospel reading from Matthew: the familiar parable Jesus told about the shepherd who left his ninety-nine sheep on the hills in order "to go in search of the one that went astray."  (Matthew 18:12)  The parable of the one lost sheep is yet another illustration of God's great love and mercy towards us.  For as Jesus says, God "rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray."  (18:13)  At one time or another in our lives, each of us has probably been the lost sheep that went astray.  But Jesus is our Great Shepherd who goes out in search for us and brings us back to the fold.  One of my favorite images is that of Jesus carrying a lamb stretched over his shoulders.  He will carry us like that every day if we only let him.

Not only is Jesus our Shepherd, however, He is also the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!"  (John 1:29)  Therein lies the paradox.  For while He gathers, leads and watches over his flock as shepherd, he also offers Himself as a perfect sacrifice, an unblemished Lamb, in atonement for our sins.  And while he goes out to find the one lost sheep, he leaves to the rest of us His very self to feed upon--His body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine--at "the marriage supper of the Lamb."  (Revelation 19:9)  We get but a foretaste of this divine reality on this side of the veil.  But one day, the full splendor of this paradox will penetrate our innermost being as we participate in the heavenly liturgy in the world to come:

"For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."  Revelation 7:17

Let us continue to prepare ourselves for that day this Advent.

God love you.

Readings for Monday of the Second Week in Advent: Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 85; Luke 5:17-26

"And when he saw their faith he said, 'Man, your sins are forgiven you.'"  Luke 5:20

In today's Gospel reading, St. Luke tells the familiar account of the men who lowered their paralyzed friend through the roof of a house in order to get to Jesus, in hopes that Jesus would heal him.  Many things can be said about this passage, and indeed much ink has been spilled over it throughout the ages by more learned Christians than me.  But in any event, here are two observations:

  1. What friends this paralyzed man had, and what role models they are of true Christian friendship!  For one who truly loves  a friend--love meaning, as St. Thomas Aquinas would say, to will the good of the other person--will lead that friend to the feet of Jesus, no matter how inconvenient or difficult it may at first seem.  Perhaps you have a friend this Advent who needs to be lowered through the roof in order to experience Christ's healing power.
  2. As St. Luke tells us, Jesus was impressed by the men's faith and their willingness to go to the trouble of lowering their friend through the roof.  But notice that Jesus did not heal him immediately.  Instead, he told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven.  Here again, Jesus takes the opportunity to remind us of the horror of sin and the damage it causes to our souls.  Because as broken and in need of healing as the paralyzed man's physical body was, it paled in comparison to the pitiful condition of his soul due to sin.  In reality, each and every one of us is paralyzed due to sin--both original sin and those that we personally commit--although we sometimes don't realize it.  And like the paralyzed man from the Gospel reading, we must be willing to go to any lengths to see Jesus, lay before him, and be healed, even if it means going through the roof.  For every time we seek his mercy, he will say "your sins are forgiven you . . . rise and walk."  (Luke 5:23)

God love you.


Readings for Saturday of the First Week in Advent: Isaiah 30:19-21; 23-26; Psalm 147; Matthew 9:35-10:1,5, 6-8

"You shall weep no more.  He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you."  Isaiah 30:19

These words from Isaiah in today's first reading are an eternal promise God has made (and kept) to His people, and to each one of us individually, in the past, present and the future.  In the past--as we look forward to this Advent--for sending his Son to die for our sins.  In the present, for answering our prayers (even if not always in the way we want) when we cry out to Him in our hour of need, "healing [our] every disease and infirmity." (Matthew 9:35).  And in the future--as we also look forward to this Advent--in Christ's glorious Second Coming, when "he will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more."  (Revelation 21:4)  Let us hold fast to this promise today, tomorrow and forever.

God love you.


Readings for Friday of the First Week in Advent: Isaiah 29:17-24; Psalms 27; Matthew 9:27-31

"But they went away and spread his fame through all that district."  Matthew 9:31

Jesus, in today's Gospel reading, miraculously restores sight to two blind men.  As he often did after performing a healing miracle, Jesus told the two men not to tell anyone.  "See that no one knows it,"  He "sternly charged them."  (Matthew 9:30)  But, as was also often the case, the two men didn't follow his instructions, and told anyone who would listen what Jesus had done for them.

Certainly there are reasons why Jesus told the recipients of his miracles not to tell anyone about them.  His "hour had not yet come," as he sometimes said.  But as He was God, Jesus had to know that, like the two blind men, most of the people he healed would "spread his fame" anyway.  Really, how could they not?  If you were blind, and a man--with the simple touch of his hand or words from his mouth--opened your eyes to sight, wouldn't you tell it to the whole world?  Posting in on Facebook and Twitter, telling your co-workers, the waiter at lunch, even that homeless guy on the corner every morning?

Those two blind men were desperate to tell people about Jesus because they realized He had given them a gift that they did not deserve, and for which they could never repay.  This quote from G.K. Chesterton comes to mind:

The whole secret of the practical success of Christendom lies in the Christian humility, however imperfectly fulfilled.  For with the removal of all questions of merit or payment, the soul is suddenly released for incredible voyages.

Shouldn't we have that same sense of humility and gratitude every second of every day, with the same desire to share with the world the reason for our hope?  For Jesus has restored our sight too, but in even a more spectacular way.  He has opened our eyes to the light of His Truth; given us the gift of faith; given His very self in suffering death so that we might have eternal life with Him.  Once we accept that gift and truly come to realize its magnitude, we simply cannot keep it to ourselves.  Go out this Advent and share it.  Incredible voyages await.

God love you.

Readings for Thursday of the First Week in Advent: Isaiah 26:1-6; Psalms 118; Matthew 7:21, 24-27

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus compares those who hear his words and do them versus those who do not, using the imagery of building a house upon rock or upon sand.  (Matthew 7:24-27) With those verses as inspiration, I penned the following short poem:

On rock or sand? It seems so clear.

What to build my life upon, O God, my Dear

I hear your words; seek to do your will

Will either foundation my desires fulfill?

For the sand is soft; it feels good under my feet

It’s easy to walk on; glimmers in the heat

I think I’ll lie down and rest before I build

There’s plenty of time; no threats that might kill

Yet beyond the horizon, I see a large rock

It protrudes from the earth; there’s a path that it blocks

I get up and draw closer, not knowing at first why

Then I notice the darkening clouds in the sky

With haste, I arrive at the stone

I cannot explain it, the feeling I’m no longer alone

But the wind is swirling, the storm is near

Upon the rock I notice an inscription: “A wise man builds here”

Quickly, I commence with the chore

Four walls, a roof, a makeshift door

The rain falls; the floods come; wind beats upon the shack

Despite all odds, my dwelling survives the attack

The storm finally passes, I step outside

There’s no more reason to run or hide

I look to the sky and cry out loud

How, O Lord, did your grace abound?

“Simple,” He says, as I begin to smile

“You took the less traveled path; walked the extra mile”

“But,” He paused, “even more important than that”

“You did the will of my Father in heaven during this Advent.”

God love you.

Readings for Wednesday of the first week in Advent: Romans 10:9-18; Psalm 19; Matthew 4:18-22

But How are men to call upon Him whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless sent?  Romans 10:14-15

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.  The Gospel reading recounts how Jesus first called Andrew and his brother, St. Peter, telling them, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."  (Matthew 4:19)  Without hesitation, Peter and Andrew "left their nets and followed him."  (4:20)

It seems fitting this first week of Advent to remember the Apostles and to realize that without their living out Christ's great commission to "make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19), none of us would be preparing to celebrate Christmas this Advent.  For as St. Paul explains in his letter to the Romans from the first reading, we cannot believe in Jesus and call upon Him unless we have heard of Him, and we would never have heard of Him without preachers (the Apostles) who were sent.  So St. Andrew and the other Apostles went forth to the ends of the known world in the first century A.D., preaching the Good News of Christ crucified and raised from the dead, knowing that their spreading of the Gospel would more than likely get them killed one day. Indeed, like all the other Apostles (except St. John), St. Andrew was martyred for the faith, crucified on a "crux decussata" (an X-shaped cross) in Patras, Greece.

Yet despite the Apostles' martyrdom, the Gospel continued to spread like wildfire, and the Church grew without the aid of anything resembling modern forms of communication or travel. Century followed century, one person passing on the Good News of Jesus Christ to another, and that person to another, sharing the wondrous story of God becoming man through the womb of a virgin named Mary.  And at some point, from the seeds first planted by the Apostles as commissioned by Christ, that story reached you and me--whether from a parent, a friend, or even a stranger.  So now, just as St. Andrew did, we must proclaim the Gospel through our lives this Advent.  Let us leave our nets, follow Him, and become fishers of men.  Our witness will make Advent possible for future generations.

St. Andrew, ora pro nobis!

God love you.

Readings for Tuesday of the First Week in Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Luke 10:21-24

. . . and a little child shall lead them.  Isaiah 11:6

My youngest child turned 17 months old yesterday.  His brother and sister (ages 7 and 5) are far enough removed from that age that I had forgotten much of what having toddler is like.  More than anything, I've been blessed to experience all over again how a child of his age is struck with such awe and wonder at virtually everything he comes into contact with in his ever expanding world.  Would that we could have that same sense of awe and wonder this Advent about the coming of our Lord.

In today's Gospel reading, St. Luke tells us that Jesus, speaking directly to the Father, "rejoiced in the Holy Spirit," and prayed "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father for such was thy gracious will."  (Luke 10:21) For us "wise and understanding" modern adults, it is easy to take the awe and wonder of the Advent season--of God becoming man and entering the world as a child-- for granted, if we even recognize it at all.  And it should not be lost on us that Jesus "rejoiced" in his prayerful thanksgiving that "these things" are revealed to children. They have so much to teach us if we will but watch and listen.  Indeed, as the Catechism reminds us, children "contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents."  (CCC ¶ 2227).

Therefore, may we allow our children to lead us in awe and wonder this Advent; to lead us to that cave in Bethlehem where the divine Child awaits--the Child that will one day die on a cross so that we might "become children of God."  (John 1:12)

God love you.

Readings for Monday of the First Week of Advent: Isaiah 4:2-6; Psalms 122:1-9; Matthew 8:5-11

I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  Matthew 8:11

Today's Gospel reading reminds us that, more than anything else, what Jesus asks of us is to humbly trust in His will.  Indeed, what caused Jesus to "marvel" at the Roman centurion was his humility -- "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof"-- and his simple faith that Jesus could heal his servant with only a word.  By recognizing his unworthiness, the centurion was made worthy.  Thus from this humble expression of faith Jesus proclaims that "many" will come and "sit at table . . . in the kingdom of heaven"; the New Jerusalem where, as Isaiah prophesies in the first reading, those who remain "will be called holy, every one who has been recorded for life."  (Isaiah 4:3)

Of course, it is the same spirit of humility shown by the centurion that allows us to sit at the Eucharistic table of the Lord at Mass.  For each time we consume the body and blood of Jesus, we get a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us in the New Jerusalem.  Moreover, this heavenly food transforms us and prepares us for that day.  As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once explained:

In receiving the Eucharist, "[t]he living Lord gives himself to me, enters into me, and invites me to surrender myself to him, so that the Apostle's words come true: 'It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me' (Galatians 2:20)."

And as the manna sustained and strengthened the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land, so the Eucharist sustains us on our journey toward the kingdom of heaven.  As we continue that journey this Advent, let us partake of it as often as we can.

God love you.

First Sunday of Advent Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44

"For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed."  Romans 13:11

Those words from St. Paul in today's first reading hit home particularly hard with me.  In all the years of attending Sunday school at the fundamentalist Protestant church in which I grew up, there really is only one lesson I remember.  I was probably fifteen or sixteen years old, and felt like I had this whole Christianity thing figured out by that point.  I vividly remember the teacher (who was the father of another kid in the class) tell the story of an old man who, throughout the various stages of his life, had put off fully committing himself to Christ.  "Let me finish high school, then I will give my life to Jesus," he said.  A few years later, "let me finish college," then I'm His."  College came and went, but the man kept finding reasons to kick the can down the road as the years passed by.  Marriage, career, raising children - "I'm much too busy to follow Him right now.  Maybe when I retire."  The one thing I don't remember about the story from that Sunday morning long ago was how it ended.  Did the man keep putting off his salvation until it was too late, or did he finally, at some point, pick up his cross and follow Jesus?  Either way, the story made a profound impact.  Little did I know then that the man would be me.  I think there's probably a little of each of us in that story.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus warns his disciples "Watch therefore, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming."  (Matthew 24:42)  Taken as a whole, the readings for the first Sunday in Advent remind us that it is a season not only for anticipating the Incarnation--God becoming man and entering our world, but also Christ's glorious Second Coming at the end of time.  Of course, most of us will no longer be walking the earth whenever that takes place.  But that fact does not lessen the gravity of Jesus's warning.  For none of us are promised tomorrow, and "at an hour you do not expect," each one of us will be standing before the judgment seat of God.

As He does each and every day, God offers us the opportunity to rededicate ourselves and follow Him anew this Advent.  Consider, for a moment, all of the different people who must have come into contact with Mary and Joseph on the (roughly) 90 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  If they had known that this ordinary, teenage Jewish girl carried the Savior of the world--the very God that created the heavens and the earth--in her womb, how many would have dropped everything, followed the Holy Family on their journey, and in so doing, prepared themselves for the birth of the King of Kings?  We have that same choice once again today.    So let us "wake from sleep," "put on the armor of light," and prepare ourselves for the birth of our Lord and His return.  And in accompanying Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, may we go beyond "up to the mountain of the Lord . . . that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths."  (Isaiah 2:3)

God love you.



I'm often amazed how Sacred Scripture speaks to us in new and different ways each time we read it, even if it is a passage we are familiar with or have read countless times before.  I had this experience recently when reading St. Luke's account of the birth of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:57-80)  Recall that the angel Gabriel had visited John's father, Zechariah, to announce to him that his wife, Elizabeth--advanced in years and no longer able to have children--would bear a son "filled with the Holy Spirit" to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord."  (Luke 1:5-17)  But Zechariah did not believe the angel's words, and therefore was struck mute until John's birth. (Luke 1:18-20)

Eight days after Elizabeth gave birth to John, they took him to the temple to be circumcised.  (Luke 1:59)  After writing on a tablet that the baby would be named John, immediately Zechariah's "mouth was opened and his tongue loosened."  (Luke 1:64)  He then speaks what we now call the "canticle of Zechariah," prophesying about the coming Messiah and John's role in preparing His way.  The following passage repeatedly jumps off the page at me:

""[T]hrough the merciful compassion of our God . . . a dawning from on high will visit us, to shine light on those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet onto the path of peace." (Luke 1:78-79)

More beautiful or poignant words have never been spoken to foretell the ultimate event in all of human history--God becoming man and entering the world so as to die for our salvation.  Only a God with unfathomable "merciful compassion" would humble himself to the point of taking human flesh and "become[] obedient to death, even death on a cross."  (Philippians 2:8) But come He did on a cold December night almost 2015 years ago, splitting time into.  Though He came as a helpless babe born in a cave,  the dawning light he would shine on the world sitting in darkness could not be contained, allowing each of us the chance to become partaker's in God's divine nature.  "God became a man so that following a man--something you are able to do--you might reach God, which was formerly impossible to you."  (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 134, 5)

As the song we often sing at Mass during Advent proclaims: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel."  And rejoice we should, for He comes to each one of us to "guide our feet on the path of peace." The path that leads to true joy on this earth, and the path that leads us to everlasting life with Him.  But we first must be willing to stand in His light and accept this great gift--bright and painful to our senses as it may at first be.   The Son provides no illumination to those who prefer to remain in the darkness.    Although standing in His light exposes our weakness, our sin, our humanity, it allows us to step out of the "shadow of death."  Indeed, through Jesus, "[d]eath is swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?"  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

If you are a parent, you know the indescribable joy you experience in watching your children open their gifts on Christmas morning.  Consider then, for a moment, the joy God feels when one of his children opens, and accepts, the gift of His Son, and he or she allows His light to shine upon them.  So, as Advent draws to a close, and we anxiously await the birth of our Lord tomorrow night, I pray that you will step out and fully bask in Jesus's shining light, and in so doing, become "the light of the world." (Matthew 5:14)  I leave you with these words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:

"God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh. His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human understanding: the Infinite has become a child, has entered the human family. And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him."

Merry Christmas and God love you!