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 Friday of the Second Week in Advent: Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalms 1; Matthew 11:16-19

"Blessed is the man who's . . . delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night."  Psalms 1:1-2

I love the Psalms.  As the Catechism explains, "prayed and fulfilled in Christ, the Psalms are an essential and permanent element of prayer of the Church.  They are suitable for men of every condition and time."  (CCC 2597)  Today's responsorial Psalm tell us that the person who meditates on the "law of the Lord" "day and night" is blessed.  For us as Christians, the "law of the Lord" is not simply the Ten Commandments handed down by God through Moses, though it certainly includes that.  Instead, in the fullest sense, it is the Word made flesh--Jesus Christ--and everything he handed down to us through the Apostles in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

So how do we fulfill Psalm 1's call to meditate on the Lord night and day?  Through prayerful reading of Scripture.  "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ," as St. Jerome famously wrote.  In other words, we can never truly know Jesus if we do not know God's word in Scripture.  When we read Scripture, we are not simply reading stories of past events.  No.  God's word is living and active, and He speaks directly to us in ways that have practical application to our lives.

Advent is the perfect time to pick up a Bible and start reading God's word.  Even a short time of reading each day, followed by prayerful reflection, will help bring us closer to Christ as we prepare for his coming at Christmas.  There is no better time to delight in His law.

God love you.

Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Psalm 98; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38

"Be it done unto me according to thy word."  Luke 1:38

Without those words from Mary, God's plan to redeem mankind from the slavery of sin could not have commenced.  Today the Church's celebrates Mary's Immaculate Conception--her preservation from the stain of original sin--and in so doing, also celebrates her free consent to bear the Son of God in her womb and to give birth to the Savior of the world.  For Mary's fiat is the perfect model of obedience to God's will and reveals to us what true freedom really is.

If you've read this blog at all, you probably know my love for Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen (that's his picture at the top of the page).  For this special day, I thought I would leave you with some quotes from his wonderful book on Mary called "The World's First Love."  Any words of my own would pale in comparison to what he has written.   I've taken several different quotes and put them all together below.


"The purest liberty is that which is given, not that which is taken.  God's way with man is not dictatorship, but cooperation.  If He would redeem humanity, it would be with human consent and not against it.  God could destroy evil, but only at the cost of human freedom, and that would be too high a price to pay for the destruction of dictatorship on earth--to have a dictator in Heaven.  Before remaking humanity, God willed to consult with humanity, so that there would be no destruction of human dignity; the particular person whom He consulted was a woman.  As from the first Adam came the first Even, so now, in the rebirth of man's dignity, the new Adam will come from the new Eve.  And in Mary's free consent we have the only human nature that we ever born in perfect liberty.  When, therefore, Mary had heard how this was to take place, she uttered the words that are the greatest pledge of liberty and the greatest charter of freedom the world has ever heard: 'Be it done unto me according to thy word.'  Teach us then [O Mary], that there is no freedom except in doing, out of love, what thou didst do in the Annunciation, namely, saying Yes to what Jesus asks."

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

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"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 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.

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.