“Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion! …Silence, all mankind, in the presence of the Lord!” (Zechariah 2:14, 17)
In this week of considering John the Precursor, as we ask for the grace to faithfully proclaim the coming of the Lord, we also consider the person of Mary. She to whom the Lord sent His Angel to announce most fully His coming! As we look to Mary, we see the one who shows that in order to proclaim well, we must also be humble and silent before the Lord when He speaks to us. In order to know what we are to proclaim we must hear the word of God! No one is a better model of that than She who listened to the words “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you!” (Lk 1:35) No one shows us more clearly how to respond to the Lord than she who replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38)
Mary, too, accompanies us and sends to proclaim the mercies of the Lord! As she appeared to St. Juan Diego, comforted him with her motherly presence, she also sent him with a message that would lead literally millions over the centuries into greater union with Her Son. Let us take time in silence with the Lord. Let us pay attention to the ways in which He is coming to labor in our lives, and so lay a good foundation for proclaiming His coming to those around us.
“Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!” (Is 35)
The responsibility of the prophet is not to make proclamations so that he can feel better about himself, or appear greater than others. His proclamation is not to be about himself at all. John the Baptist pointed to Christ saying, “He must increase; I must decrease!” (Jn 3:30) Why must we seek the increase of the Lord? Why should His coming be proclaimed? Because the very announcement of the Lord brings consolation to the heart. He is one who comes to strengthen, to heal, to give life and freedom! The whole concern of the prophet is to ready people ultimately to receive the consolation which the Lord comes to bring.
Certainly, there are those who like the Pharisees do not think that He comes. There are those who doubt His power to heal and His authority to forgive sins. In the face of such hardness of heart, prophets must insist more on the message of the Lord. And they must show by their actions and lives that they mean what they say about God. As we contemplate and announce the coming of Christ who heals and forgives, let us seek to imitate our Lord, and offer forgiveness to any who may be estranged from us now. Chances are, those people in our lives are most in need of the coming of the Lord who consoles.
This week our special Advent patron will be St. John the Baptist. He who lived in the wilderness, clothed in camel’s hair, eating locust and wild honey, preparing the way of the Lord. By his deeds and example he certainly began preparing the way of the Lord. Yet, we may be tempted to forget, especially in a culture that often encourages us to leave our religion out of the public sphere, that John prepared the way of the Lord by his preaching! He was a prophet of the Most High, giving people knowledge of their salvation by announcing the Lord’s coming.
Advent is a time for me, by the Lord’s grace, to get my life in order. But much more than this individual concern, Advent is about the whole Church becoming a herald of the Lord who comes! John’s voice is not meant to be a solo. Rather, every baptized Christian is called to join their voices in a beautiful harmonious cry to all the world: Ready the way of the Lord!
As we go through this week we will consider the different ways in which we are told to contemplate the Lord. Throughout all of them, let us not only prepare ourselves, but consider how we may encourage others, too, to conduct ourselves as St. Peter writes, “in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” (2 Pt 3:11-12)
Memorial of St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr
Again, the prophet Joel places before us the sobering contrast between those who become a wasteland through injustice and the Lord’s dwelling on Zion which not only enjoys flowing waters, but even drips with wine and new milk. (Jl 4:18) As I consider how this week has gone, I can ask if it seems more like the desert of Egypt and Edom, or like the rich land of the Lord’s Jerusalem. The result of contemplating the Word of the Lord this week should be the joy of the just in which the Psalm today urges us to partake. The joy that comes from bearing the fruits of repentance, charity, and mercy is the grace we have asked for this week. As we turn towards the future, let us ask the Lord to help us once more be faithful brothers and sisters to Him by hearing the Word of God and observing it.
Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
There is no way around the words of the prophet Joel. In a way we have been prepared for this message all week, from the Sunday Gospel’s words concerning the wicked tenants, to the preaching of Jonah, to the words of Malachi. When we fall into sin, into lack of charity, into a disregard for the justice which our Lord and our neighbor require, then we must bear the fruit of repentance. We must turn away from those deeds which cut into the relationship which we hope to have the Lord. If not, then the rotten fruit of sin is its own punishment. The Psalmist sees this quite clearly. “The nations are sunk in the pit they have made; in the snare they set, their foot is caught.” (Psalm 9:16)
In contrast, Christ gives us hope that repentance itself will render good fruit. If we turn away from the divided house of sin, if we determine not to be scattered, then we have the opportunity to gather with Him. “But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Lk 11:20) Let us have Christ enthroned in our hearts as King, so that there may be no place for injustice in our hearts.
Memorial of Bl. John Beyzym, Priest
One of the consequences of truly accepting that God is our Father is to accept even our enemies as our brothers. Another consequence is that we accept as our brothers even those whom we would be tempted to ignore. Those who do not necessarily have others upon whom they can make demands of financial support, medical support, educational support, etc., and yet who still have desperate need of money, doctors and schools. We may be tempted to remain ignorant of such people because they do not ask us personally or directly, or because they may live very far away from us. But it is the nature of charity to seek out the beloved. If we do not know any such persons in our lives yet, perhaps we could take the example of Bl. John Beyzym (1850-1912).
This Polish Jesuit as a seminarian served others in the region of the seminary when cholera was spreading from village to village. As a young priest he not only ministered as a priest and taught classes, he also took care of the sick at his school. From the age of 29 he asked he religious superiors to send him to work with lepers. Sent to Madagascar at 40, he was the first there to set up his home among those suffering from leprosy. In addition to caring for their wounds, even when those wounds were incurable, he also would also travel and send fundraising letters back to Poland to beg food for them. One Jesuit noted that his efforts to provide food for the sick reduced the number of deaths from 57 a week to 5 a year.
For 22 years, Beyzym labored in Madagascar for those suffering from leprosy until his death at the age of 62. Beyzym once wrote, “One’s country is where the greater service of God and help of the souls is found. It does not matter where you live: at the equator or at the North Pole. What really matters is to die in the service of the Lord Jesus…” That is a grace. To seek out our brothers in need, to serve Jesus in serving them, to do so faithfully not just in the short term but over the course of years… for that we need the grace of the Lord. Does such a grace seem beyond our capacity to receive? “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Lk 11:9) In our prayers this day, let us ask the Lord to help us bear the fruit of perseverance in charity like Bl. John.
Memorial of St. John XXIII, Pope
One of the sad effects of original sin is a disordered desire for others to receive their just deserts. The prophet Jonah displays this. “Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry that God did not carry out the evil he threatened against Nineveh.” (Jon 4:1) Nineveh was a city not only of general wicked activity, but the capital of an empire which would exile the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Israel. Jonah sees the Ninevites as enemies, those whom he opposes and whom God should oppose as well. But the Lord does not oppose them, nor does He treat them as enemies. He accepts their repentance and has mercy, treating them as His children.
‘I knew it,’ says Jonah. “I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loath to punish.” (Jon 4:2) Jonah did not want to preach because he knew there was a possible reconciliation with those whom he wanted justly punished. “But the LORD asked, ‘Have you reason to be angry?’” (Jon 4:4) The Lord works with Jonah, to show him that he should value mercy over retribution. Why? Perhaps for the same reason Jesus teaches us to pray in the manner that He does… because God is Our Father. And if he is truly Our Father, then we should treat one another as children of that same Father.
St. John XXIII (1881-1963) did this over and over again in life: as a priest, as a medic and chaplain during WWI, as a papal diplomat granting visas to escaping Jews in WWII, and as the pope who urged the world to peace and reconciliation (in a particularly urgent way during the Cuban missile crisis). His life shows us the disorder involved in Jonah sitting outside Nineveh watching and waiting for the Lord to destroy it. May such disorder not be found in us. Let us pray for the fruit of peace in our lives and in our world. Let us be insistent on this petition by truly treating even our worst enemies as beloved children of God.