Over the years, I’ve come to really love the Advent season. Perhaps part of the attraction is that we simply pack so much into such a short liturgical season. (And this year it’s even shorter, since in effect we have three weeks rather than four.) We begin by continuing the theme of late ordinary time, as we are reminded about the end of the world, and that no one knows the day or the hour. Therefore we must be prepared. This theme of preparation sets the theme for the second and third Sundays of Advent, when we find ourselves at the Jordan river with John the Baptist, whose mission in life was preparation: He came to prepare the way for the one who was greater than he, the long awaited one, who would baptize with fire and Holy Spirit, rather than only water. Continue reading →
The one who is truly hungry does not complain about the plate and dish that hold the food that rescues him from starvation. The one who is parched and dry does not complain about the cup which holds the water that slakes his thirst. Yet, like the generation of which Jesus speaks today, we are often particular about the ways in which truth is offered to us.
If we truly hunger and thirst for the Word, and for the life-giving grace of God’s presence in our lives, we will be open to the countless ways in which God would speak to our hearts, and open to the innumerable situations in which God would be present to our gaze. John fasted, Jesus feasted, yet both manifested the saving power of God.
John was prominent enough to attract hordes of people to the Jordan. He was successful enough to draw others who wanted to be his disciples. He was enough of a threat to those in power that he was imprisoned, and eventually executed for speaking the truth. A great man, indeed, greater than any man born of woman, had appeared out of the desert to shatter the silence with a message of hope.
Yet he was also the least. He himself knew this: he was not the light, but came specifically to witness to the light. His own words testified to this: “He must increase, I must decrease.” By recognizing and identifying the Lamb of God, he prepared the way for all that would follow – the life, preaching and death and rising of the Son of God.
And John succeeded. For that we honor him, and are grateful for him.
“Rabbi, where are you staying?” “Come and you will see.” Such a simple exchange, that changed the lives of two of Jesus disciples, occasioned by their willingness to surrender to the guidance of Jesus. When we hear today’s Gospel, with an invitation take upon ourselves the yoke of Jesus, what do we imagine happening? Do we not often see ourselves shouldering a burden which we’re required to carry alone?
“Come, and you will see.” The yoke is for two, not one. When we take up the yoke of Jesus, we carry it with him, for he would not leave us to carry any burden alone. And it is precisely because we bear the weight with him that the “yoke is easy and the burden light”.
Recall, however, that the yoke of Jesus is a yoke of surrender: we do not choose the path to walk, nor the burden to bear. Can we believe that walking with him is better, richer, fuller, than going our own way? “Come and you will see.”
Having been sent by the Lady of his vision at Tepeyac to the Bishop of Mexico, Juan Diego (Cuauhtlatohuac) returned the next day to the place of apparition. There he explained that the Bishop had not believed him. He then begged the Lady to send someone “more illustrious” with her message, for as he said, “I am only an insignificant man.”
Juan Diego knew well the ways of the world, and the disdain with which the powerful and privileged look down upon the poor of the world, especially those who are different in their customs and their language, and especially upon those who are different in the color of their skin. Yet Mary insisted that this poor Indian return to the Bishop, sending him with the cloak full of roses, and with the miraculously appearing image we know as Mary of Guadalupe.
Juan Diego learned that Mary was the true mother of her Son, a Son who revealed a special love for those who were different, who were outcasts, who had been driven to the fringes of society. Though insignificant in the eyes of the world, Jesus knew the special dignity of the poor and the needy. The Church speaks of this stance of Jesus as the “preferential option for the poor”, a preference that Mary embraced when she spoke to the “insignificant” Juan Diego. This is the same Mary who praised God for looking with grace upon her in her poverty: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, . . . for he has look upon his servant in her lowliness.’ Heed the words of Christ: “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, you do unto me.” (Matthew 25)
“Under the ancient law prophets and priests sought from God revelations and visions which indeed they needed, for faith had as yet no firm foundation and the gospel law had not yet been established. Their seeking and God’s responses were necessary. He spoke to them at one time through words and visions and revelations, at another in signs and symbols. But however he responded and what he said and revealed were mysteries of our holy faith, either partial glimpses of the whole or sure movements toward it.
“But now that faith is rooted in Christ, and the law of the gospel has been proclaimed in this time of grace, there is no need to seek him in the former manner, nor for him so to respond. By giving us, as he did, his Son, his only Word, he has in that one Word said everything. There is no need for any further revelation.” — From a treatise on The Ascent of Mount Carmel by Saint John of the Cross, priest
This week I read the story of Time magazine’s naming of “The Silence Breakers” as Persons of the Year. (Historical note: From 1927 to 1999, this honor was awarded to the “Man of the Year”). The aware serves as recognition so many women who found the courage to speak out against sexual harassment, in the work place and elsewhere. It is still a developing story. Yes, there are concerns about due process, in a nation that upholds innocence until proof of guilt. At the same time, there seems to be a realization that our culture, which objectifies women in countless ways, is a fertile breeding ground for these unjustified attacks on the integrity of women. That realization makes it possible, finally, to believe the women. When there are 16 accusers, the perpetrator’s statement that every one of them is lying is simply beyond belief. That kind of denial, a self-serving attack on the integrity of these victims of sexual harassment, is beneath contempt. Continue reading →
“Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance. Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation. To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself. Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary. The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary. God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God. The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation. He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.” — From a sermon by Saint Anselm, bishop
“The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakeable and firm against the assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress. Although the Church is tossed about on the sea, it rides easily on rivers, especially those rivers that Scripture speaks of: The rivers have lifted up their voice. These are the rivers flowing from the heart of the man who is given drink by Christ and who receives from the Spirit of God. When these rivers overflow with the grace of the Spirit, they lift up their voice.” — From a letter by Saint Ambrose, bishop
“We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.” — From a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot