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Readings for Saturday (morning) of the Fourth Week in Advent: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Psalms 89; Luke 1:67-79

" . . . to give light to those who sit in darkness . . . " Luke 1:79

Today is the last day of Advent before we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity tonight and tomorrow.  We end the Advent season with Zechariah's prophecy after the birth of John the Baptist and the coming birth of Christ.  Last Christmas Eve, I wrote a reflection on Zechariah's beautiful words that I thought I would share here again.  I hope and pray that in some small way, my reflections over the past four weeks have brought you closer to our Lord and Savior.  May His light shine on you and your family this Christmas.  Merry Christmas Eve, and God love you.

Let His Light Shine Upon You 3 Comments

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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."

Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalms 24; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24

"Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel (which means God with us)."  Matthew 1:24

With each passing day this coming week, the anticipation will grow as we get closer to that divine mystery of God with us.  Not a legend or a myth.  Not merely with us spiritually.  But Him assuming our nature and walking among us.  So we, "who are called to be saints" (Romans 1:7), who "seek the face of God" (Psalm 24:6), prepare ourselves anew to adore Him.

God love you.

Readings for Saturday of the Third Week in Advent: Genesis 49:2, 8-10; Psalm 72; Matthew 1:1-17

"Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ."  Matthew 1:16

I wonder what thoughts were going through St. Joseph's mind a week before the birth of Jesus? If he and Mary weren't already on their way to Bethlehem, they certainly had be close to departing.   By that time, the angel of the Lord had already appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that the child Mary was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit; that he was to be named Jesus, and that he would "save people from their sins."  (Matthew 1:20-21)  But surely this had to leave Joseph with more questions than answers.  Nevertheless, Joseph, a "just man," trusted in what God had revealed to him and followed God's will.  In a few short days, he would be holding God himself in his arms.

Like is was for St. Joseph, sometimes--no matter how strong our faith may be--it seems like God doesn't answer all of our questions.  Why is there so much suffering in the world?  Why doesn't He reveal himself more fully.  Why do we still struggle with sin?  Although there may be good  (if not completely satisfying) answers to these questions, at some level we simply have to trust in God and what He has revealed to us.  For what He has revealed changed the world forever: that He became man and entered our world as a little child--a child born out of pure Love to die for the sins of the world.  Like St. Joseph, let us trust in this revelation and see the Christ child through his eyes.

St. Joseph, ora pro nobis.

God love you.

 

Readings or Wednesday of the Third Week in Advent: Isaiah 45:6-8, 18, 21-25; Psalm 85; Luke 7:18-23

"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God, and there is no other."  Isaiah 45:22

These words from the prophet Isaiah are no doubt a preview and precursor of the coming of Christ.  A time when salvation will be opened to all men, everywhere and always.  But they are also a reminder of God's first Commandment handed down to the Jews (and to us) through Moses on Mt. Sinai: "You shall have no other gods before me."  (Deuteronomy 5:7)

From that day to the present, however, humanity has made gods out of virtually everything on earth and worshipped them instead of the one true God: money, power, sex, animals, other human beings . . . even ourselves. In fact, in no other age has man worshipped himself more than modern man does today.  The technological advancements and luxuries of modernity, together with a complete loss of the sense of the supernatural, combine to make us think that we are our own gods, with the ability to sustain and save ourselves.  But, as we know from experience, this is an allusion.  For as much as these false gods promise earthly comfort and pleasure, they always fail to satisfy the deepest desire of our heart.

Thankfully, there is an antidote for this condition.  And in ten short days, we celebrate His coming into our world through a lowly virgin named Mary.  Him whom Isaiah and all the prophets spoke of and looked forward to.  Him in whom we all "shall triumph and glory."  (Isaiah 45:25)  As we continue to wait and prepare during Advent, let us imitate the three wise men and "rejoice exceedingly with great joy" at His coming, so as to prepare ourselves to "fall down and worship Him" when He arrives on that day.

God love you.

Readings for Monday of the Third Week in Advent (Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe): Zechariah 2:10-13; Judith 13:18-19; Luke 1:26-28

"For behold, I come and will dwell in the midst of you, says the Lord."  Zechariah 2:10

As we enter the third week of Advent, the anticipation of Christ's coming becomes more and more concrete.  In less than two short weeks now, we will celebrate the birth of our Lord.  We will exclaim with the angels, "glory to God in the highest!"  (Luke 2:12)  What other response could we possibly have to such an unbelievable event?  For there is no other occurence in human history to match God becoming man and entering our world.  It split time in half, and nothing after that night in Bethlehem would ever be the same.  For a God that takes human flesh and assumes our condition here on earth is a mighty God indeed.  Even more, the Incarnation reveals a love beyond anything our human minds can grasp; a power beyond anything on this earth:

"[H]uman nature assume by God--as revealed in God's only begotten Son--is greater than all the powers of the material world, greater than the entire universe."  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

As we continue our journey toward Christmas, let us remember the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary, "with God nothing will be impossible."  (Luke 1:37)  May we never doubt this reality.

God love you.

Readings for the Third Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Psalms 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

"And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."  Matthew 11:6

Why would anyone take offense at a man who restores sight to the blind, cures lepers, makes the deaf hear, raises people from the dead, and preaches good news to the poor?  Yet, in today's Gospel reading, Jesus makes this curious statement after reminding the disciples of John the Baptist everything he had been doing as evidence that he was the One "to come"--the Messiah and divine Son of God.  It was Jesus's claim of divinity, of equality and oneness with God himself, that the Jewish authorities took offense at, and which ultimately led to His crucifixion.  The Pharisees would have had no problem with Jesus but not for His claim of divinity.

Two thousand years later, nothing has changed.  To the extent modern man even believes in miracles, he takes no offense unless you attribute them to Jesus as God.  Because in our relativistic age, Jesus has been reduced to nothing more than a wise teacher.  Call Him God, and you are placing Christianity above all other world "religions," and that simply is too offensive.  But as St. Paul reminds us, our duty as Christians is to "preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called . . . Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."  (1 Corinthians 1:23)  So, as St. James implores us in today's second reading, "do not grumble" when others take offense at you for proclaiming Christ this Advent.  Your witness may lead to them experiencing the "joy and gladness" (Isaiah 35:10) that only Jesus can provide.

God love you.

Readings for Saturday of the Second Week in Advent: Sirach 48:1-4; 9-11; Psalms 80; Matthew 17:9-13

"Tell no one the vision until the Son of man is raised from the dead."  Matthew 17:9

Today's Gospel reading picks up immediately after the Transfiguration, with Jesus descending down the mountain with Peter, James and John.  As he often did after miraculous events, Jesus implores them not to tell anyone about what they had just seen until he was "raised from the dead."  But here again, as we see repeatedly throughout the gospels, the Apostles had no idea what he meant by that statement, or at the very least, misunderstood it.  That they (other than John) would completely abandon Jesus during his Passion illustrates this fact all too well.

And so it should come as no surprise--though it always seems to--that we so often fail to understand or fully comprehend what Jesus is trying to tell us.  Perhaps it comes in the form of an unanswered prayer, or some type of suffering in our life or that of a loved one that appears utterly meaningless, or a particular sin that we cannot seem to conquer.  Yet we cling to Christ and His truth, for as St. Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life."  (John 6:69)  These words from Romano Guardini summarize our lack of understanding well:

One will be troubled now and then.  Sometimes this reality [i.e. God's will] is vividly, powerfully present; sometimes it is veiled: it withdraws itself.  Sometimes what this truth demands of us is quite obvious; other times it is not at all clear.

So next time you feel yourself confused over God's purpose and plan, unsure about what Jesus would have you do, remember Peter, James and John coming down the mountain.  They had just been given a glimpse of Christ in his resurrected glory, and still they failed to understand what He was telling them.  For as much as sin darkens our intellect to see certain things clearly, the light of Christ illuminates our path.  It is a light that, I pray, will continue to get brighter for each of us as Advent progresses toward the birth of our Lord.

God love you.

Readings for Wednesday of the Second Week in Advent: Isaiah 40:25-31; Psalm 103; Matthew 11:28-30

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."  Matthew 11:28

I have a sick toddler tonight, so please forgive me for the brevity of these reflections.  In today's Gospel reading, Jesus invites us to give him all of our problems.  To lay every burden we have down before Him at the foot of the cross.  For we all are broken and need Christ's healing.  In his commentary on these verses in Matthew, here is how the great Scripture scholar, Cornelius a Lapide, summarized it:

"All who labour, none are excluded. For there is no one who does not labour under some disease, and need Christ’s medicine. Therefore Christ offers Himself to all, that they may receive from Him health and safety. Thus did He kindly correct and heal Magdalen, Matthew, Paul, and Peter. Thus even now, in the Eucharist, He inviteth all and saith, Come unto me, ye infirm, hungry, afflicted ones I will refresh you."

Let us go to him this Advent so that we may find rest.

God love you.

Readings for the Second Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."  (Matthew 3:2)

Repent.  It is a word we don't hear much these days.  Our secular society tell us that the only evils one needs repentance from are heinous crimes like rape and murder, and, increasingly, whatever form of bigotry or "ism" one is accused of.  As long as you're not harming someone else, anything else is fair game, so we are told.  Live your life however you want.  Sin is no big deal, if there even is such a thing.  Sadly, we too often don't hear a much different message in our parishes on Sunday.

But as today's readings show, such a view stands in direct opposition to the Gospel.  For in order to make way for Jesus and announce his imminent coming, John the Baptist tells everyone who would listen to repent.  It is no coincidence that his warning is almost identical to Jesus's first public words: "the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel."  (Mark 1:15)  And John the Baptist doesn't beat around the bush or sugar coat the message either.  He called the Pharisees and Sad'ducees a "brood of vipers" and told them not only to repent, but to "bear fruit" as evidence of such repentance.  Like many Jews of that time, the Pharisees and Sad'ducees thought that just because they were descendants of Abraham, they were assured salvation.  Nothing else mattered; no repentance was necessary.  Yet John shatters their self-assurance, warning them not to "presume to say" to themselves "we have Abraham as our father," and that "every tree . . . that does not bear good fruit [will be] cut down and thrown into the fire."  (Matthew 3:9-10)

What does this mean for us as Christians?  Like the Pharisees and Sad'ducees John admonished, it is sometimes easy for us to get complacent in our walk with Christ.  We check all the boxes of our faith, do the bare minimum, and think we are good.  As long as we aren't one of those really bad "sinners" we hear about on the evening news, no real repentance is necessary.  At least that's what I try to tell myself sometimes.  But that is a far cry from the repentance and radical holiness that Jesus us calls us to.  "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."  (Matthew 5:48)  Because as John tells us, Jesus, with "winnowing fork in his hand . . . will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."  (Matthew 3:12)

Advent is a time of preparation and repentance.  And Jesus left us the Sacrament of Reconciliation for that very repentance.  His mercy is inexhaustible, and like the father of the prodigal son, He waits looking for us, eager to run and embrace us at first sight.  All we have to do is take the first step towards Him.  So, as we enter the second week of Advent, let us repent, bear fruit, and in so doing, "with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."  (Romans 15:6)

God love you.

I know what you probably are thinking (with a great deal of sarcasm): "Oh great, another Catholic/Christian blog!"  I don't blame you.   Over the past few weeks, months, and even years, I've asked myself: what could I possibly offer to the blogosphere that hasn't or isn't already being done by awesome people of faith, most of whom certainly are better writers than I am?  Yet despite this doubt, I've felt a calling from the earliest days of my journey to Catholicism to start a blog on faith and life in Jesus Christ.

Still, my hesitation in moving forward with this blog was twofold: (1) Would I be doing it for the right reasons (i.e. for God's glory and not my own); and 2. Would I be able to offer thoughts and reflections helpful to other Christian's on their faith journeys?   After lots of prayer and discernment -- and at long last, finally entering the Church -- I believe God has given me the answer to the first question.  With respect to the second question, however, the jury is still out (and will remain out for quite some time, I imagine).  Nevertheless, it has become clear to me that it will be better to have tried and failed, than to never had tried at all.

So what is my goal for this blog?  It's simple, really - to help others (and help myself) become a little holier each day.  For as Jesus commands us, "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."  (Matthew 5:48).  This certainly is no easy task, and it is only through God's grace and Christ's blood shed on the Cross that we have any hope of attaining this ultimate goal.  But we have to cooperate with His grace.  I hope to speak to people similar to myself who, for  a significant portion of their lives, have been unable or unwilling to cooperate fully with God's grace and commit to living entirely for Jesus Christ.  Given that stated goal, my writings may speak more directly to those at a similar stage of life -- those with some years and significant life experiences behind them (It's called "forty something faith" for a reason!).  Further, some of my posts may speak more directly to men, but I don't intend this blog to be exclusively a Catholic men's site.  (There are many excellent sites devoted to that purpose.  I highly recommend http://www.thosecatholicmen.comhttp://www.newemangelization.com and http://www.catholicgentleman.net).  Most importantly, although my writing certainly will have a Catholic focus, I hope to speak to all Christians -- Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox alike -- who are seeking God and desire to have a deeper relationship with Him.

Let me end with this.

I'm just an average, middle-aged guy.  Father, husband, son, friend . . . but most importantly, a sinner and disciple of Jesus Christ.  Throughout the coming weeks and months, I hope to share a little more about my faith journey, but in most respects, my journey is just beginning.  By starting this blog, I'm not holding myself out has having some kind of superior knowledge of the interior life, or that I have attained some heightened level of spirituality that deems me qualified to show others the way.  To the contrary, I'm in need of God's love and mercy as much, and probably more, as anyone.  My prayer is that -- being faithful to the Church's teachings -- I can, in some small way, help others on their faith journey to avoid (or at least recognize) the pitfalls and darkness that have plagued me for so long.  For as the great St. Augustine said, "You have made us for yourself [O Lord], and our heart is restless until in rests in You."  I pray that reading this blog will help lead your heart to rest completely in Him.  I know it will for me.

May God bless you each and every day, and thank you for checking out my humble blog!  Look for my first official substantive post early next week!

In Christ,

Travis