Ready or Not, the Messiah Comes

Reflections on the Third Sunday of Advent

By Rebecca Mertz

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

Late in labor with my second child, roiling with pain and exhausted from pushing, I became convinced that the birth I’d anticipated for nine months was never going to happen.

In a similar way, we struggle every Advent in the midst of all the pain and suffering in the world to believe in the arrival of the Messiah. Where is God, we cry out, in the political upheaval rocking so many nations, in the rampant spread of AIDS throughout the world, in the wars in Iraq and Sudan? To believe in a Messiah in the midst of all this sorrow can seem irrational.

Yet, in this week’s readings we’re asked to do exactly that. In the famous passage from Isaiah we are exhorted to be strong and fear not because a Messiah is coming and the “eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared, then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.” And in the second reading, James exhorts early Christians to “be patient” because the “coming of the Lord is at hand.” Finally, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus offers an imprisoned John the Baptist some hope by quoting Isaiah’s promises, and referring, however obliquely, to his own divinity.

There is a sense of longing in these readings, of the desire to believe that despite great injustice in the world a savior’s arrival is not only possible, but imminent. Yet, isn’t there also an underlying tone of arrival on very human terms, with the promise of endless joy and vindication for all the wrongs we’ve suffered? Jesus reflects the public’s longing for such a savior when he asks the crowds what they were hoping to find in John the Baptist: “What did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces.”

The flip side of our difficulty in believing rationally in a Messiah is the desire to turn the Christ into the King of “Sparkle Season,” a glittery, excess loving, egg nog swilling holiday guest who can be ushered in and out of our lives along with the Christmas tree.

Whether we believe in an absent Messiah or a convenient one, ultimately Christmas still comes. The arrival of the Christ is ongoing and inexorable, a central mystery of the universe. Every woman who’s given birth understands this truth. Despite all the Lamaze, the preparation, the best-laid plans the child will arrive on its own schedule, in its own way, with its own agenda. And so will the Messiah.

The Advent Challenge

Reflections on the Second Sunday of Advent

By Theresa Orlando

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-9
Matthew 3: 1-12

Advent is a time when the Liturgy calls us to reflect on the expectation of the second coming of Christ into the world. Jesus came once into history in the Incarnation, He comes into the heart and soul of each of us as we are baptized into his Body the Church. Jesus will come again in glory at the end times.

Isaiah in this first reading is expecting the Messiah to come into the world for the first time. The metaphor of the peaceable kingdom is how Isaiah envisions the world when the “root of Jesse” comes into the world and it is transformed. On that day everything will be made right again, justice will reign. Isaiah is longing and hoping for that day to come.

In the Gospel of Matthew, that day has come. John the Baptist heralds that the Messiah is near and all are to “prepare the way”. Preparing the way means to repent and ready our hearts for the coming of the Messiah into ours lives again and again, day after day. This cry of John’s should echo in our hearts during this Advent season. While the culture calls us to “shop 'til we drop”, the Church calls us to reflect on the incredible gift of the Incarnation in our lives. While the world around us is immersed in glitter, we are once again challenged to make ready the way. It is difficult to keep the season sacred. As you light the second candle on your Advent Wreath, pray that you and your family will keep Christ the Light of the World as your focus for these next weeks.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we are reminded that God has gifted us with enduring hope. When we welcome one another as Christ welcomed us, we make His presence known and felt again. As Karl Rahner said: “whenever we love unconditionally, Christ is born again.” This is our Advent challenge: to be filled with the Word of God, allowing the Holy Spirit to permeate us so that we become pregnant with the Good News and that this season of gestation will enable the Christ to be born again in each of our lives and in all those we touch. Our hope for this Advent Season is that each of us will become a “dwelling place” where all are loved.

Everyday Rapture

Reflections on the First Sunday of Advent

By Greg Swiderski

The readings for
this Sunday:

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

This gospel and several like it seem to describe the end of the world. After reading these scriptures peoples through the ages have determined that the day of fear and trembling would be arriving soon. Obviously, they have been wrong. Yet, this desire to predict the precise apocalyptic event persists. Several months ago 60 Minutes interviewed many serious and sincere individuals who believe that the rapture is returning. The "left behind" publications sell.

Many scripture scholars approach these passages differently. They say that the early church did expect Jesus to return soon and saw events in their time like the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the early persecution of the church as portentous of this happenings. However, the cosmic Christ did not return.

Theologians say that Jesus breaks into our lives everyday, every moment and that the exhortation to be awake invites us to be open to surprise; to realize that the divine reign is the present moment: realized eschatology they call it.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote that we must learn to live each moment as gift; this is why we call it "the present."
Can I understand what fuels those who persist in predicting the day of wrath?

For one, fear sells. The media knows this and manipulates us. Listen to the evening news and hear how so much is sensationalized. In the book Culture of Fear the author explores this phenomenon.

However, when this aura of trauma paralyzes and distracts us from confronting the real threats to our world like nuclear weapons and the gradual degrading of our environment, then we have a serious problem. There seems little excitement in confronting these real monsters. They also seem to big and beyond our grasp.

We also like to feel as though we are among the chosen or elite; after all, what could be more elitist than believing that I will caught up in the divine rapture and the non-believer will be left behind? Aren't we who are baptized and anointed to live convinced of our divine dignity now and not in some far off eternal reward? We are gifted to serve and love.

Finally, are we letting feelings, emotions in the driver's seat? Consider this wisdom from Father Joe, a Benedictine monk. He was advising a teenage Tony Hendra who as an adult wrote: Father Joe, the Man Who Saved My Soul:
“Feelings are a great gift but they’re treacherous if that’s all we live for. They drive us back into our selves, you see. What I want. What I feel. What I need. A man and a woman pass beyond just feelings at some point, don’t they? That’s when they start to know true love. The love of another. The joy in another’s existence. The wonderful ways that the other person is not like you, nor you like them. What you said about the prison of self you felt you were in – that was very exact. Love releases you from that prison, you see.”

We followers of the good news proclaim that love defines who we are. May we act, live with confidence rooted in a divine and mysterious theological virtue which, like Eleanor Roosevelt’s NOW, is the greatest gift.

What did Paul really say to Timothy?

Reflections on the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By John Houk

The readings for
this Sunday.

target=_blank>The 2nd letter of Paul to Timothy

Our Roman Catholic Church has a long history of restricting access to the Bible. In 447 Pope Leo I directed that all apocryphal books be burned. In 1229 the Council of Taulouse prohibited lay people from even having a Bible. In 1713 Pope Clement XI condemned the idea that reading scripture was for all people, and in 1816 Pope Pius VII opposed the translation of scripture into the vernacular. Then in 1965 the Second Vatican Council proclaimed that "Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided to all Christian faithful"!

Without making any judgment regarding our Church’s past practice of discouraging and even forbidding scripture reading by lay people we can see that Vatican II changed the official Catholic approach 180 degrees. The question that remains is have we Catholics changed ourselves? To help answer this question we can turn to the Second Letter of Paul to Timothy, which is read at mass on four consecutive Sundays beginning Oct 3. First let us consider how this letter is presented to us, and second we will consider the content of the passages.

2 Timothy begins "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord." This is clearly a very personal letter from Paul to Timothy. Please put yourself in the place of Timothy receiving this loving letter. How would you read it? You would without doubt read from beginning to end, and more than once.

Today’s Lectionary provides that small pieces of this letter be read to us on several Sundays. Would you read your own personal letter in disconnected pieces? Most certainly not, except for one possibility. Suppose you have had this letter for many years and have read it many times. There may then be a special day when you would take the letter out and read a passage especially important to you. Reading this small passage would bring into your presence the person who wrote it and why they wrote it as well as the message of that particular passage.

When our official Church made the mind changing decision to encourage scripture reading we went to a three-year cycle of readings instead of the old one-year cycle. This was only one part of the new teaching that was intended to connect us to our roots in the Bible. These little incomplete passages will only come alive for us when we do our own part and read this whole letter just like Timothy did..

Looking at the content of what gets read to us will help complete the answer to our question. When the new three-year cycle of reading was created there was a process of picking and choosing what gets read and perhaps as important what does not get read. For example, the Lectionary calls for reading, "Wives be subject to your husbands for the husband is head of the wife just as Christ is head of the Church" , but leaves unread just a few verses later in Ephesians the passage, "Slaves obey your master with fear and trembling". These may be good choices or not so good, but there is a definite point of view expressed in their selection.

Here are a couple of passages you will hear read from Paul’s personal letter to Timothy and a couple you will not hear. You will hear, "God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love" and, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching". You will not hear, "Avoid those who make their way into households and captivate silly women, overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires, who are always being instructed and can never arrive at the knowledge of truth" and, "I am grateful to God whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did" (Paul was a Jew).

What do you think were the reasons that these passages were chosen or not chosen, and in answering that question, what can we learn about Paul and about our Church? Each week you are presented with verses read and not read. The question we posed then becomes personal. Have you changed in response to the teaching of Vatican II? This teaching encourages scripture reading and by so doing encourages a new maturity in lay Catholics? Finally, you will not experience the Sunday readings as intended by our Church until you become familiar with what is being read and, maybe just as important, not read.

Reflections on the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Sr. Barbara Finch

The readings for this Sunday:

2 Kings 5:14-17
2 Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

The Scripture for the celebration of our Sunday liturgy truly
challenges us to proclaim and believe as the Psalmist bids us "God has
revealed to the nations God's saving power." Our God is the God of all
nations and all peoples, no matter what faith tradition, spirituality,
culture, or race. I wonder at times whether we as a Church have become
too complacent, too matter-of fact, or to familiar about our faith, that
Jesus has become virtually absent from our lives. We as Catholic
Christians claim to be followers of Jesus and yet how often do we fail
to be his true presence to the other person or experience his presence
in the other person.

Many Catholics have falsely learned that salvation comes only
through belief in Jesus in and through the Catholic Church. Our
compassionate and merciful Divine Parent would never create a human
being according to the image of God only to then damn that same

The Hebrew Scripture and the Gospel for Sunday gives us some
insight to the expansiveness of God's inclusive heart. In each reading
we find an individual not considered among the chosen but one who is
called foreigner. In each instance the individual comes to know God
fully by being healed of their leprosy. Naaman in 2Kings and the
Samaritan leper in Luke go forth living lives of profound gratitude
while glorifying God continually.

Perhaps, our Scripture bids us to come to know Jesus more
intimately by opening our hearts to the stranger or the foreigner. It
maybe the Jew, Moslem, Hindu, or Buddhist that shows us the face of
Jesus. Jesus always welcomes the stranger into his presence . If we are
to be like Jesus we will do the same.

2Timothy reminds us that the "Word of God is not chained." Let us
commit ourselves anew to seek the Word of God in all people and live as
one Church.

Reflections on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Edward Hogan

The readings for this Sunday:

Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Luke 17:5-10

People of faith are sometimes an enigma to those who say that they do not believe. Actually, all of us live in a world of faith. It may be faith in a bountiful God or a punitive God or it may be faith in something we call reason or experience. But in all forms of faith from religiosity to rigorous positivism, there has to be some kind of leap. The question arises as to what kind of leap will we settle for. They who choose to rely on the purely natural world have to rely on the stance that someday the answers will all be in and then their quest is over. For the people who believe in God, the world makes sense only through the depths of the revelation of the Divine in this world.

The scriptures today teach us about the faith that is required of those who claim to have this gift from God. The sacred writings tell us that there are no simple answers and sometimes no answers at all (as Paul reminds us 'now we see darkly') but rather than dwelling on the fact that we do not see clearly, they tell us to persevere in the faith.

In our demanding world today, the first section of the reading from Habakkuk could well describe our questions and our attitudes. " How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. The quiet calm answer comes from God and not at our pace but in God's own good time." The vision will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it." It is easy to claim that we are people of faith when life treats us well; but the truly faithful person does not tie his/her faith to well being but swells in faith in all circumstances. Answers to our questions come not just because we demand them but when we are receptive to God's message which can come in many shapes and forms. If faith should teach us one thing it should be that we have to be patient.

Faith does not promise us a life of calm and peace but rather of hardship and trial. Paul in his 2nd letter to Timothy urges us to bear our trials in the strength of faith that comes from God and is nourished by the Holy Spirit. So trials rather than being things that we have to endure, really are opportunities for growth for both us and others around us. We must stay grounded in our belief system without any arrogance or defensiveness.

A famous saying by St. Augustine tells us that we believe in order that we may know. Belief gives us a new form of knowing beyond pure reason and beyond any inkling of proof or demonstration. It is truly impossible to verify what we believe by any rational criteria and if we could it would diminish faith. What we have to be careful about is demanding that others see and know things that we see and know through faith. Just as we have to be patient with God's revelation to us, we need the same kind of patience with others in their quest for God's truth to emerge. Sometimes in our exuberance over our faith, or anxiety that we get it right, we tend to impose our views on other people. We would do well to reflect on another famous dictum from St. Augustine. In matters about which there is certainty, we should have unity. In matters about which there are legitimate doubts, we should have liberty. In all matters, however, we should have charity.