Tag Archives: Advent

20181216 Advent 3 C

The crowds asked John the Baptist “What Should We Do?”  “Teacher, What Should We Do?” 

When you hear the name John the Baptist what comes to mind?  “A voice crying out in the wilderness.”  Mark tells us “John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” 

Just before the start of today’s Gospel, Luke tells us that John the Baptist was preaching to the crowds that came out to be baptized.  He told them“Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance …”  John was telling the people that their baptism changed their lives; that they should live a life of holiness from that point.  This helps us to understand why the people asked the first question at the beginning of today’s Gospel “What should we do?” 

A person would think that the people who asked these questions of John the Baptist would know what to do!  They were Jewish for the most part, so they had the Commandments and instruction from the Rabbis to guide them.  But they still asked, “What should we do?” 

John told them to take care of their neighbor.  He basically reiterated the Ten Commandments and “The Jewish Approach to Repairing the World (Tikkun Olam)” through Acts of Kindness.  In other words, to treat everyone with respect and to love your neighbor.  John said “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.” 

Catholics, more than any other religion, believe in the respect for the human dignity of every individual person from conception to natural death. When we respect and care for another person, we will look out for them and try to make their life better.  We will provide clothing, food and help them find housing.  We live out our faith exactly as John was telling the people whom he baptized. 

Many people came out into the desert to be baptized by John the Baptist. Some of them were tax collectors and soldiers. 

John Pilch helps us to understand the culture of that time.  Tax collectors did not collect taxes as we know taxes today. They collected tariffs on goods that were imported and tolls for travel over a bridge or on a highway. 

Tax collectors collected the tax (or tolls) for the Roman Emperor which only reminded them of the occupation by the Gentile oppressor.  The Roman Empire typically used locals to collect the taxes so many of the tax collectors were Jews.  Using locals for tax collectors would direct the people’s resentment of paying the taxes away from the Roman rulers and solders stationed in the region and toward the tax collector.  Middle Eastern culture accepts bribes and deceit as a part of business dealings. Tax collectors were not paid very much. It was common practice for the tax collector to charge more than the tax levied by the Roman government, so the tax collector could live a better life. 

After the tax collectors were baptized, they asked John “Teacher, what should we do?”  He told them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”  John did not try to reform the Roman tax rules of the method of collecting the taxes.  That would have brought the Roman government down on him immediately.  Instead, John tells them to do what is right; be satisfied with the commission that they received for collecting the taxes and not to gouge the people for more. 

There weren’t any Roman Legions stationed in the region at that time. John Pilch explains that Palestinian Judeans were exempt from serving in the Roman Armies.  So, these soldiers are probably Judeans who enlisted in the service of Herod.  The people resented the soldiers because,like the tax collectors, they were Jews who worked for the occupying power and enforced Rome’s rules.  After the soldiers were baptized, they asked John the Baptist: “And what is it that we should do?”  He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.” 

It is interesting that John did not tell the tax collector or the soldier to change their occupation.  He did not tell them to change the unjust tax system or not to serve in Herod’s army.  John told them to change the way they lived their lives, to live Acts of Kindness toward every person they met.  Rabbi Judah stated “… engaging in acts of kindness is nothing less than modeling yourself after God.”  That was John’s message to the people who came out to be baptized. 

Acts tell us that Paul established the first Christian community in Europe at Philippi.  In the second reading, Paul wrote to the Philippians to encourage them.  He said“I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all.” 

During this holiday season, many people show acts of kindness by helping those who are in need.  We donate to charities, we donate our time and we try to be a little cheerier to everyone we meet. 

Advent is a time of preparation for us to celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ arrival on Christmas Day and to prepare our hearts for his second coming.  It’s very difficult to find time to spend quietly with God any time but especially at this time of year. 

We are rushing at a hectic pace trying to prepare for the social celebration of Christmas.  Besides all the preparation of buying gifts for everyone and planning the get togethers, there are meals to plan and prepare; and we need to figure out how to have family over without slighting anyone because some of them won’t come if a certain family member or person is there. 

In the caustic environment of our culture today, it seems that hate rules over kindness.  It is so prevalent that it seems to consume us to the point that we are unable to get anything done.  The noise overtakes our hearts and leaves us no time to quiet ourselves and wait for God to speak to us. 

With all this emphasis on preparation for the social Christmas, does it ever seem like we don’t know what to do to prepare ourselves?  It’s so easy to get caught up in all the rush and drama that we can forget the real reason for Advent and Christmas.  “What should we do?” 

The crowds were filled with expectation that John the Baptist might be the Messiah.  But John pointed the crowds to Christ.  We too must point others to Christ.  We do that by the way we live our lives –through Acts of Kindness so others will ask “What makes you so kind, even when people are mean to you?”  Then we can explain that we are Catholic and point them to Christ. 

Blessed Mother Theresa said “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier.  Be the living expression of God’s loving kindness: Kindness in your face, Kindness in your eyes, Kindness in your smile.” 

What should we do?  Will we continue to live the same as the world around us?  Will we look the other way when we pass a homeless person?  Or will we look at them, smile and shake their hand, showing them respect as a person in God’s image who is having a difficult time? 

Will we despise the person who lives in the margins of society like the people despised the tax collectors and soldiers?  Or will we reach out to the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the immigrant? 

Will we let the squabbling of family and friends tear us apart inside? Or will we make some time in the busy rush of the season to spend quietly with God to renew our hearts?  Will we engage in acts of kindness to others, so we model ourselves after God? 

What should we do? 

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20151220 Fourth Advent C

The past three weeks were spent in prayer and reflection. Each week, one more candle in the Advent Wreath was lit. Last week the pink candle was lit expressing joy that the wait is almost over and we will soon celebrate the coming of Christ our Savior. Today, the last purple candle was lit. During this last week of Advent, let us continue to follow Pope Francis’ call to increase sacrificial prayer for the conversion of souls.
When Mary questioned the angel how she could bear a child, the angel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the child would be called the Son of God. The angel also told her that her relative Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age and would bear a son – “for nothing will be impossible for God”.
Keep in mind that this took place two thousand years ago when there were no phones let alone smart phones with texting. Communication was strictly by word of mouth since few people were educated. Only the church leaders (the Sadducees, the Pharisees and Priests) and the leaders in civil government were able to write and read. In addition, only a few people knew that Elizabeth was pregnant because she went into seclusion for five months when she conceived.
Today’s Gospel starts with action. Luke states: “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” to see Elizabeth. This was unheard of in that time. Women in the Mediterranean world were always in a group: a group of women, a group of women and children or they were with a male relative such as a father or brother or uncle who kept tabs on them. A woman’s reputation would be ruined from being alone, let alone to travel alone. Travel in those days was very dangerous. Robbers waited along the road to attack and rob anyone who came along. If Mary joined a caravan like most travelers in that day did for safety on the roads, Luke probably would have mentioned it.
Mary goes alone on a four day journey to the town of Judah to see Elizabeth. Mary travels on the rough roads of sand and rocks under the hot sun to Judah. She is not worried about herself, she only wants to visit Elizabeth to rejoice with her and help her during her pregnancy.
Elizabeth knew that Mary was pregnant with the Son of God. When she heard Mary’s voice she was filled with the Holy Spirit and said “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
What was different about these two women who were talking together and rejoicing in the promise and hope that was given to them from God? One was a woman in her later years and the spouse of a priest; the other was a young teenage peasant girl who was pregnant without a husband. The difference that set them apart was when Elizabeth said to Mary “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary’s belief brought hope to the world.
It is appropriate that we take a few moments to ponder the miraculous event of Mary’s “yes” to God. Under the oppressive rule of the Romans and in extremely difficult economic situations, two women found joy in the promise that God gave them. Because they both believed in God’s promise, they had hope for the future. That future would bring God’s mercy to the world.
Mary understood the profound impact her yes would have on the future when she said “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
John Paul the second wrote: “Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is. In this sense, we call her the Mother of mercy: our Lady of mercy, or Mother of divine mercy; in each one of these titles there is a deep theological meaning, for they express the special preparation of her soul, of her whole personality, so that she was able to perceive, through the complex events, first of Israel, then of every individual and of the whole of humanity, that mercy of which “from generation to generation” people become sharers according to the eternal design of the most Holy Trinity.”
We are unable to comprehend the whole of God’s mercy like Mary, but we can still share God’s love and mercy. As individuals of the whole of humanity, we become sharers in God’s mercy. As sharers, we bring hope to others by our kindness, concern and love to others. Father Ron Rolheiser wrote: “Hope is believing in the promise of God and believing that God has the power to fulfill that promise.”
The Gospel reading this week speaks to us about belief and action. As we approach the celebration of the coming of our Savior, it is time for action: action to believe in the promise of God and that God has the power to fulfill that promise, action to spend time in continued sacrificial prayer for the conversion of souls and action to find God’s mercy and forgive those who have hurt us.
Like Mary, we must believe and act on the gift God gave us. Will we pray that God will increase our belief in Jesus so that we can say like Mary “Lord your will be done in my life”? Are we willing to accept God’s will, even if it leads in paths that don’t fit our plans? Will we teach our children about God’s mercy and peace so his mercy will last from generation to generation? In this Jubilee of Mercy, are we willing to share the mercy God gives to us with those who have hurt us? Will we overcome our hurt and bitterness to seek those who have wronged us to say “I forgive you”?

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20151129 First Advent C

There are many Christmas traditions that we enjoy between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There is shopping to get gifts for family and friends. There are parties with friends and coworkers. There is mistletoe to hang and good times. The children are eagerly anticipating Santa Claus’ arrival and the presents that he will bring for them. For Catholics, Orthodox churches and many other Christian people, Advent is more important.
Advent is the beginning of the Liturgical year in the Church. Advent is time of waiting and preparation and looking forward with hope for the coming of Jesus at Christmas. The traditional color of Advent is purple or violet which symbolizes the penitential spirit. In the history of the church, Advent was a time of fasting similar to Lent. Some began on the eleventh of November, others the fifteenth, and others as early as the autumnal equinox. Some Catholics and many Orthodox churches still fast during Advent.
Dr Mark Roberts provides a good explanation: “The time before Christmas is Advent, a season of preparation for Christmas. Christians prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. In Advent, we’re reminded of how much we ourselves also need a Savior, and we look forward to our Savior’s second coming even as we prepare to celebrate his first coming at Christmas. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” In the season with this name, we keep in mind both “advents” of Christ, the first in Bethlehem and the second yet to come.”
The Advent Wreath helps us prepare for Christmas. Today the Advent Wreath was blessed and the first candle was lit. Each week of Advent, another candle is lit in the wreath. The colors help to remind us of the purpose of Advent. Three of the candles are purple and one is pink. Purple stands for royalty and has a somber serious feel to it. The first two weeks of Advent are purple; a time of repentance in preparation for the coming of our King. The third week is pink which is a happy color and reminds us that the joy of Christmas will soon be here. The fourth week is back to purple for the final preparation of our hearts as we long for the coming of Jesus.
During Advent, we prepare for Jesus’ coming; the celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem two thousand years ago and the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. Jesus said the no one knows the time except for the Father. The chances of our being alive for the second coming of Christ are unknown. What is known is that we will die and that will end our earthly journey. Our soul does not die but continues on. Our life is not ended, it is just changed and we must be prepared for that moment.
Advent is a reminder that we have hope beyond the eventual moment of death. This longing and expectation that we will see Jesus removes the fear that so many people feel even today.
We are fortunate that we do not live in fear of execution just because we are Christians like many parts of the world. But death can come at any moment: a car accident, a heart attack or an act of violence by a stranger or loved one. The Psalmist asked the Lord to make his ways known to us and to show us sinners the way. All the paths of the Lord are kindness to those who keep his covenant and decrees. The friendship of the Lord is near to those who follow his ways. What a wonderful promise God gave us.
Jeremiah and Paul both wrote during a time of great fear. But both had hope and looked to God’s promise for the future. Jeremiah wrote: “In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure”. Paul wrote: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all” so it will strengthen your hearts and make you blameless in holiness before God.
Today, fear is everywhere just like in the times of Jeremiah and Paul as well as the future events that Jesus talked about in today’s Gospel. The recent bombings and killing sprees by terrorists in France, Palestine, Israel and throughout Africa struck fear into people around the world. The droughts and resulting wild fires this summer on the West Coast while other parts of the country had floods has people worried about what’s next. The tornadoes in the Mid-west and hurricanes on the east coast and Mexico and the winter wind storms and rain here in the Northwest make us realize how vulnerable we really are to the forces of nature regardless of where we live.
Many people purchase food and supplies in case of a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. But these are futile attempts to calm our fears; when the disaster strikes we will still be afraid. The only way to overcome the fear that grips the world is to be ready for the coming of our Savior.
How do we prepare for the coming of our Savior?
In a letter to the Knights of Columbus’ one hundred and thirty third Supreme Convention, Pope Francis wrote: “It is urgent that, from Catholics throughout the world, an unceasing sacrifice of prayer be offered for the conversion of hearts, an end to fanatical violence and intolerance, and a general recognition of those fundamental human rights which are not granted the state, but from the hand of the creator.”
Advent is a time of preparation and repentance. One way to prepare is to offer an unceasing sacrifice of prayer for the conversion of hearts, especially our own. As we walk this journey of Advent, we pray for God’s forgiveness and help to be the witness that God wants us to be to the world. We prepare our hearts for the final coming of Christ our Savior through prayer.
Advent is a time of preparation and joy. How will we spend this Advent?
Will we spend our lives in a state of fear for what might happen in the future? Will we purchase food and supplies like those preparing for a terrorist attack or natural disaster? Or will we spend some time reaching out in love to those who hate us? Will we spend the time buying gifts and getting ready for secular X-mas without Christ in our plans? Or will we volunteer to help serve a hot meal or prepare a warm place for the homeless to sleep at night? Will we enjoy all the parties leading up to Christmas, having a good time with coworkers or family and friends? Or will we offer a sacrifice of prayer for the conversion of hearts as we prepare for the coming of Christ our Savior?

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