Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. We see this in this week’s Gospel. His disciples taking His words to heart in the Our Father each day gives us a spiritual reminder and uplift of all we are entrusted to do as the followers of Jesus and all we are truly capable of. By praying the Hail Mary we acknowledge Mary’s powerful faith and her love for Jesus and us. In our imperfection but faith fired hope we say: “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Like any mother she sees beyond our faults and imperfections to someone she loves with all her heart.
We also hear the voice of Jesus speaking to us through our consciences. At times we ponder what we should say or do. Openness to the Spirit of God enables us to hear the voice of Jesus and say or do what He would say or do. When someone tells us of a good thing that has happened to another person we know, we increase their joy with words of congratulations. When we thank people for what they have done for us, we increase their joy. At times we are told of those who are sick or mourning the loss of a loved one. Those words lead us to visit them and offer them words of comfort and love.
Each day is another opportunity to hear God’s voice in all the ways we use to communicate with one another. The more we listen, the more we respond with our life-giving presence and words. The constant blessing is not only our life-giving words to others, but the chance to speak them from our hearts. Life-giving words are Resurrection words – they lift us both those who hear them and those speak them.
We are already in the third week of our journey through Advent’s preparation for the coming of Christ at Christmas time. The third Sunday of Advent, which we celebrate today, is called the Gaudete Sunday. The name of this Sunday comes from the first words of the Entrance Antiphon at Mass: Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete: modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus prope est. [Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.]
These words come from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians, who often times calls the people to rejoice, even in difficult living situations. In particular, St. Paul writes this letter while he is in prison. We are to be joyful because the ultimate cause of joy for a Christian is a faith rooted conviction of the constant presence of God in our lives.
There is one more name for the Third Sunday of Advent: The Rose Sunday. This name comes from the color of the liturgical vestments for this day: rose (not pink). This liturgical color (used only twice during the liturgical year: the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday of Lent) points to the color of the sky at dawn. It pictures the glare of Jesus Christ coming to us on Christmas. The coming Christ, the Emmanuel and our Redeemer, is for us the Light that enlightens the gloom of our lives imprisoned by sin and death, like the rising Sun enlightens the gloom of the night. This theological image can be found in the words of Zachariah: “who from on high will bring the rising Sun to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow of death and to guide our feet to the way of peace.” (cf. Lk 1, 78n)
The joy of Christmas does not come from the emotional exultation, but from the authentic religious experiences of God coming to us in the form of an infant child. It is the joy of being a Christian who is visited by his only Lord that brings peace to his heart. I pray and wish you all to experience this joy and peace.
This coming 22nd and 29th, the Church honors the two subjects of our gospel this Sunday. Martha and Mary, who were sisters and friends of Jesus. They invited Jesus to their house so that He could get some needed R & R. The hosts had different roles to play. Martha did all of the dirty work: cooking and cleaning, etc. Mary supplied the chit-chat. Martha thought that the arrangement should be more equitable with Mary responsible for more chores and less gab: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” Jesus wisely skirted the issue: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part of it and it will not be taken from her.” (Could you see Martha thinking to herself: “Fine, then you can all starve and find your own accommodations…I am going to sit it out too.”…But, you know what…that is exactly the point! We tend to forget: “I came to serve…not to be served.”)
The key question is this – what exactly was the part of Jesus that Mary was choosing? When St. Luke wrote that Mary sat at the foot of Jesus, he was not describing her posture but her relationship to him. “To sit at the feet” of someone meant to be that person’s disciple. Jesus had come to call all people, women equally with men, children as well as adults…even those who were considered sinners. They were all eligible for discipleship. Jesus insisted that Mary had chosen the better part of Him. She had made the right choice. Of course, someone had to prepare the meal if they were ever going to get something to eat. Jesus wanted Martha to be His disciple too, even if she spent a lot of her time in the kitchen.
Martha and Mary represent all of the women of the Church. They can also serve as a role model for men, because we all have the same calling, to offer the Lord the warm hospitality that He had experienced in the Bethany home of Martha and Mary, to listen to Him as intently as Mary had, to make Him the priority of our lives as Martha had, and to allow nothing and no one to deprive us of our relationship with Him. In the first reading this week, the prophet Abraham proved himself to be a highly gracious host (like Martha and Mary would later be). He provided hospitality to three strangers who turned out to be Angels, preparing for them a fine meal of beef, rolls, curds, and milk. Like Abraham, Martha and Mary…we must provide hospitality for the Lord.
At Mass we “sit at the feet” of Jesus the Christ…Right? We focus our attention on Him, hear His words in faith, absorb it and apply it to our lives…right? Then we are nourished with a Sacred Food, the Eucharist, which is prepared, not by Martha or Abraham, but by Jesus, Himself (the Real Host of the party). Some of us may find the example of Mary difficult to imitate. (After all, the busy work of Martha is physically hard…but mentally easy.) We can allow the preoccupations of daily living to distract us from hearing and following the teachings of Jesus. There is a temptation to let the false values of this society turn aside the truths of our Catholic Faith. At Sunday Mass we “sit at the feet” of Jesus. This wee bit of a church becomes our Bethany, the place where we learn to become true disciples of Jesus.
Our readings this week emphasize the need for a strong practicing faith, in particular, when there are difficulties to be faced in life. In the Gospel today we hear the apostles ask Jesus to increase their possession in the Kingdom of God. Jesus says: “Be careful what you ask for.” To become great in the Kingdom of God means annoying the leading characters in this world (and they don’t like being tested). The Apostles’ ambition were getting ahead of them. This was because they were getting nearer to Jerusalem, and the strong forces that were against the message of Jesus were making their presence felt. The apostles were unnerved by this. To date they had been warmly welcomed by the people as they traveled along, and Jesus preached His message. Jesus warns them (and us)… the world does push back; and now the leaders make their displeasure known. Jesus (and His Church) is to comply to current social standards…not the other way around.
In the first reading from Isaiah (written about 550 years before the birth of Christ) recalls a similar situation. Israel is in exile – the people are in slavery, deportation or dead. Their faith in God is shaken. But the prophet proclaims the same message of perseverance in the face of these many trials. Know God is watching (and refining) the Faith (not world leaders). But, because of laziness to respond in witnessing the faith in one’s life causes a power vacuum that evil will always fill. The moment we stand for the Truth, the light of that truth will reestablish common sense in a confused and messed up world.
Likewise, in our own day we are facing very difficult times as a country and in each household. We can ask ourselves; why is the Lord not answering our prayers? How come people are suffering? Jesus calls the apostles and each one of us to hold firm. Don’t fall away because of these testing times (we are being refined…made more pure…more perfect). Our faith will be rewarded. Remember that it is always easy to be a person of faith in good times (when we are enjoying the blessings the Lord sends our way); the real challenge…to be a person of faith when the Lord appears to be distant and challenges are presented instead. Let us pray for a strong faith and constancy in our lives.
Reading our Gospel today, one would have to feel sorry for St. Peter. When Jesus poses the question: “Who do you say I am?” He is no longer asking the apostles to relate to Him the thinking of the people. He now wants to know what their personal opinion is. He seeks a sign from each of them to put into words…their faith… in action. Out of the silence, Peter bravely speaks and says, “You are the Christ.” Everyone might have thought it, but Peter leads the way and says it. He believes Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus warns them not to reveal this truth about Him just yet.
He then explains all that is going to happen. He will suffer and be rejected, put to death and rise again. Peter, probably still feeling brave after getting the identity of Jesus correct, takes Jesus aside and says this is outrageous and should not be allowed to happen. After all, if we have to climb mountains, we all want the path of least resistance. And, after all, if God would only listen to Peter, the world would be better off. (Kind of sounds like our prayers most of the time…doesn’t it.) Jesus reprimands him (and each of us) in full view of all the apostles and says: “Get behind me Satan.” This must have been a crushing experience for Peter. But Jesus tells the apostles, and us, that His followers must take up their cross and follow Him. There is no way to escape suffering if we are followers of Christ. The world doesn’t want to hear Jesus or His teaching, it wants all the benefits…but…little of the work it takes to make the world the Kingdom of God. Mankind still suffers from the original sin of wanting to be gods…and make the world in our image. (How has that been working for us lately?)
The irony is that people think because you are a follower of Christ you should be protected from the worst of what life has to throw at you. It’s not the case. What we can rely on is the presence of Jesus with us in the midst of what we are going through. And, know in faith, He is the Messiah Who is Integrity Itself and will not leave us or forget us. (Though, we tend to be more like Peter at times.) Let us thank the Lord for His strength in us.
Core to who we are as Catholics is to recognize the inherent dignity of all persons gifted by God with life which is reflected in how we respect and relate to one another certainly in deed, but also in word. Words can be used to build up and support the common good or to tear down and divide.
When I was growing up a common saying was “sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me.” I defensively declared that when I was made fun of and called “four eyes” for having to wear glasses, “a shrimp” for being so short, or “a loser” because my parents had divorced. The fact is that denigrating words do hurt and often last longer than physical wounds that heal over time.
The incivility we see in politics and personal relationships, including bullying, can be attributed to hurtful words intentionally spoken to strike at another and demean him or her. Differences of opinion are natural and worthy of discussion. Greater insight and even wisdom can be revealed through robust debate undertaken with respect for one another based on truth and fullness of knowledge.
Much of the information we receive these days comes in short oral sound bites or brief headlines or strophe limited text messages that can only partially convey the fullness of that information. Often the incompleteness of the words leads to misjudgments and judgmentalism that can lead to disrespect based on untruth or inadequate knowledge.
Therefore in Christian charity we are called to be careful in how we receive and interpret information especially about individuals and what we share with others. We do not always need to know what we would like to know, nor do we need to share what we know with others who have no need to know.
Pope Francis regularly speaks of the responsibility to avoid gossip and to be respectful of the dignity of all persons in the words we choose to speak because gossip and rumors are works of the evil one and divide the Body of Christ. There is an old saying that someone who gossips to you will gossip about you.
The Eighth Commandment declares that we are not to bear false witness against our neighbor. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches what that means in concrete situations:
To read the entire article, go HERE.