A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 18, n. 2)

Advent Week 2: December 8-14, 2019

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: December 1-7, 2019 please go to ARCHIVES Series 17 and click on “Week 34 Ordinary Time”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: November 8-14, 2019.)

 

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December 8, 2019: SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

  “JESUS SAVIOR: His Advent Calls for Conversion”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 11:1-10 // Rom 15:4-9 // Mt 3:1-12

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 3:1-12): “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

     

Conversion entails personal effort in response to God’s grace. Our Advent preparation for the Lord’s coming demands a process of conversion in response to the prophetic challenge, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2). The story of Mike McGarvin, the founder of Poverello House in Fresno, illustrates what true conversion and the coming of God’s kingdom mean. In his excellent book, Papa Mike, he writes about some significant moments of his conversion process, cf. p. 51-52. One of them was when he was trying to quit drugs and the bad company he was keeping. When he sought the counsel of a priest, he was told to pray about it and read the Bible. He decided to give it a try for a week. He narrates:

 

It was a week of hard partying, and I kept getting offers of drugs and booze. I would politely refuse, and then go back to reading my Bible. By the end of the week, I still couldn’t see any solution to the problem. I’d prayed, I’d read my Bible, but nothing happened. The temptation was getting to me, and I was about to give up and start getting high again, when my roommate approached me. “Hey, McGarvin,” he said. “I gotta talk to you. You’re really starting to bug me with this religious stuff. It really screws things up when we’re trying to party. You make me nervous and my friends nervous. I don’t want you around anymore, man, so I’ll cut you a deal. I’ll give you money to move out if you just leave. No hard feelings, you’re just bumming me out, and I can’t deal with it anymore.” The amount he offered was just enough to get me into someplace else, so I took him up on it …

 

About this time, there was one important and unusual experience that helped me more fully embrace the faith. On weekends, I was going to a Franciscan retreat near Danville. I wanted this new life that was being offered me, but at the same time, my old ways were beckoning. It was a struggle between light and darkness. My past was hateful to me, but the drugs, sex, and violence still wielded the power to attract and corrupt me. I’d go to the retreat house to find some peace, to pray, and to try to achieve some clarity. One of those weekends, I was up there praying, when suddenly the room seemed to be filled with bright light. I experienced a feeling of peace and comfort that was overwhelming. It probably lasted only a few minutes, but I really don’t know how long, because time seemed to stand still … Soon after this, I was baptized into the Catholic Church.”

 

            Today’s Gospel reading (Mt 3:1-12) presents a powerfully evocative Advent figure in this season of grace: John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah. The evangelist Matthew declares: “It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mt 3:3). An intensely ascetic holy man living in the wilderness of Judah, John prepares the people for the advent of Christ and ushers in the messianic saving call to conversion. The prophetic cry of the fiery John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2) is exactly the same words as the proclamation of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry (cf. Mt 4:17). The biblical scholar Daniel Harrington comments: “Both preachers demand a radical conversion of the whole person to God, and both urge it as preparation for the new age when the God of Israel will be acknowledged as the Lord by all creation. That time is very close at hand.”

 

            Matthew depicts the enigmatic figure of the messianic precursor in terms of the Old Testament prophet, Elijah: “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Mt 3:4). That the clothing of John is similar to the clothing of Elijah described in 2 Kings 1:8 communicates a subliminal message that John is the returning Elijah who would prepare the day of the Lord (cf. Mal 4:5). John eats locusts and wild honey, ritually clean food available in the wilderness. Locusts are one of the few insects Jews are permitted to eat. Through these rustic images, the evangelist Matthew presents the forerunner of Jesus as preparing the path of the Lord and treading the way of righteousness according to the Law. More interestingly, Matthew speaks of the prophetic and sacramental activity of John: “At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins” (Mt 3:5-6). The Jewish historian Josephus testifies that John draws large crowds for his exhortations to justice and piety. He also describes John’s ritual baptism as a symbolic action signifying that a conversion of heart had taken place.

 

            Apart from those who truly acknowledge their sins, John has other baptismal candidates who are not genuine, but have hypocritical motives. The evangelist thus describes the righteous outrage of John the Baptist: “When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance’” (Mt 3:7). Indeed, John’s ritual baptism is meant to be a symbolic act calling people to acknowledge their sins. Undergoing the baptism of John at the river Jordan is a means of preparing themselves for the coming of the messianic kingdom. Lamentably, however, some of those who attempt to be baptized do not have a true spirit of repentance and are not ready to welcome the advent of God’s kingdom into their lives.

 

            John the Baptist asserts to the Pharisees and Sadducees that salvation is not hereditary and warns his hypocritical baptismal candidates about the ultimate judgment that the coming Messiah would bring. The messianic precursor avows: “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:11-12). With regards to the impending eschatological judgment that will be actualized with the advent of the Messiah, St. Augustine exhorts us: “Each of us would be wise therefore to take to heart the advice of his teacher, and not waste this present time. It is now that our Savior offers us his mercy, now while he still spares the human race. Understand that it is in hope of our conversion that he spares us, for he desires no one’s damnation. As for when the end of the world will be, that is God’s concern. Now is the time of faith.”

 

Challenged by the prophetic cry of John the Baptist, which anticipates the proclamation of Jesus Christ: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2 // Mt 4:17), the Christian community of today is called to live this Advent season as a hopeful waiting in time of conversion. The liturgical scholar Adrian Nocent remarks: “John the Baptist will be constantly summoning men to conversion; such will be his basic role and the image we will rightly have of him.”  The precursor of Jesus is therefore a powerful Advent figure to remind us in the here and now that preparing the way of the Lord demands conversion and that being immersed in the baptismal waters requires bearing fruits in good deeds.

 

 

B. First Reading (Is 11:1-10): “He shall judge the poor with justice.”

 

With beautiful images of hope, the Advent liturgy continues to strengthen the faith of the community of believers in their spiritual journey. In this Sunday’s Old Testament reading (Is 11:1-10), we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah describing the messianic era and offering an idyll of peace, harmony and justice.

  

The prophet Isaiah lived in Jerusalem in the latter part of the 8th century B.C. when there was a terrible socio-political turmoil caused by the Assyrian Empire’s threat and invasion. Many kingdoms were crushed. Judah’s kinsmen in the northern Kingdom of Israel were routed by the Assyrians and sent into exile in 722 B.C. Despite the disaster experienced by the northern Kingdom, the prophet Isaiah predicted that the Kingdom of Judah would be spared. Isaiah envisioned a future when Judah and Israel, kingdoms of the north and south, would be reunited. The enemy siblings, Judah and Israel would finally be reconciled through the saving work of a Spirit-filled messianic king, a shoot sprouting from the “stump of Jesse”. This future Davidic king would reign with a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord. He would judge the poor with justice and defend the rights of the helpless. The ideal King would be after God’s own heart. His Kingdom would be a reign of harmony, peace and reconciliation – reconciliation among the members of God’s creation and creation’s reconciliation with its Creator. The prophet Isaiah’s idyll of animal enemies living together serenely and harmoniously is a beautiful portrait of God’s benevolent plan and the glorious destiny he meant for his people and the entire creation.

 

However, the prophecy of the ideal Davidic King announced by Isaiah would not be fulfilled in his lifetime. That prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the “anointed one” and consecrated by the Spirit of Yahweh for the mission of universal salvation. In the fullness of time would be the advent of the Messiah and the definitive realization of the divine redemptive plan through the paschal sacrifice of that messianic King.

 

Today’s liturgy enables us to consider the shadows and pain in today’s world that do not correspond to the messianic idyll of peace and harmony announced by the prophet Isaiah. Adrian Nocent remarks: “How can we see the golden age in a world that is adrift, a world in which virtue and vice are so mingled? We can only respond by pointing to the fact that the Good News is being preached to the poor, the blind see, and the dead rise – since the Church accomplishes all these miracles in the spiritual order. The outlook of faith and a hope grounded in faith – these alone can enable us to see the presence of the golden age in its beginnings. Advent is the season of Christian optimism.”

 

The following article, “There’s No Place Like Home” about a hapless victim (cf. Poverello News, September 2007 issue) illustrates how some people of goodwill endeavor to hasten in today’s wounded world the advent of God’s kingdom. By their works of justice for the poor and needy, Papa Mike and the staff of the Poverello House remind us that the promotion of the messianic idyll is our task and challenge.

 

Like millions before him, he saw California as the Promised Land, a place abounding in hope and prosperity. For some reason, Little Rock, Arkansas had become a dead end. Maybe he had his own problems that made it hard for him to make it in his hometown, or maybe home had grown too small for him. Whatever the reason, he wanted to get away from failure or pain, so he looked westward with longing and naïve dreams of success. He was going to hook up with some distant relatives when he got to Fresno, live with them temporarily, and find a job. Not the most practical plan, but one that is all too familiar to us at Poverello House.

 

Arriving at the bus station, he set out to get the lay of the land, and almost immediately, was mugged and robbed. Everything, including the names and phone numbers of relatives he’d never met, was stolen. He was savagely beaten, and ended up in the hospital with a broken wrist and cracked ribs. He was released, hurting, penniless, and depressed, and somehow made his way to Poverello House. Word on the street was that he could find help there.

 

At lunchtime, homeless people pointed out Mike McGarvin to him. He approached and asked Mike for help. What did he want? Just to go back home, where he knew people, where he wouldn’t be assaulted and robbed within ten minutes of arriving. Mike doesn’t do much “Greyhound therapy” anymore; more often that not, people are stuck in town because they’ve blown their money on drugs. However, something about this sad man in his late twenties appealed to Mike. As he does with anybody asking for a bus ticket, Mike told the man he could be on his way home if he passed a drug test. The test came out clean, so Mike bought him a ticket, loaded him with enough food for the trip, and put him on the bus for home.

 

Unlike so many who have been able to find a new life in the Golden State, this man instead discovered how mean the streets of California can be. As with so many others we assist, we will never know if our efforts to help this man will enable him to find his way in the world. However, Mike sent him off with a silent prayer for his safety. He left with the assurance that on the hardscrabble streets of Fresno, there is a place of refuge called Poverello House, and a big man with an equally big heart, known on those streets as Papa Mike.

   

 

C. Second Reading (Rom 15:4-9): “Christ saves everyone.”

 

This Sunday’s Second Reading (Rom 15:4-9) invites us to focus on the person of Christ – who has come, who continues to come and will come definitively in his glory at the end time – as the source and realization of our Advent hope. The Scriptures are filled with instructions and patient encouragement “that we might have hope”. But in order to realize personally this hope of saving glory in Christ, we are to live in harmony with one another and thus glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to welcome one another as Christ welcomed us. We are to imitate Christ whose life of service on behalf of the Jews fulfilled the covenant promises. The saving Christ enabled even the Gentiles to praise God for his great mercy. In this Advent season let us resolve to walk on the just path. Following Saint Paul’s exhortation, let us welcome one another and be kind to one another, in imitation of Jesus Christ, the hope and object of our Advent expectation.

 

The following story, circulated through the Internet, gives us a glimpse of a human act of kindness that builds hope. We do hope and pray that many acts of kindness will flourish in the world. Let them be a sign of the messianic age that is already here, but yet to grow in fullness.

 

December 30, 2009 was one of the worst days of Elsie Clark’s life, until she met Dean Germeyer. The 79-year-old Canadian grandmother was on her way home to Winnipeg, Manitoba when she missed her flight out of Dallas-Fort Worth after an airport employee left her at the wrong terminal for hours. Clark, who had a bad hip that leaves her wheelchair-bound when traveling, was put on another flight, connecting in Chicago, which was then delayed due to bad weather.

 

While Clark, who was visibly shaken, waited to takeoff, she worried about what was going to happen if she missed her flight out of Chicago. After contemplating having to spend the night on an airport bench due to her fixed income, she decided to strike a conversation with a man seated nearby.

 

“I wanted to talk to somebody to get my mind off things for a little while”, Clark told the Chicago Tribune on January 6th: “So, I said, ‘Sir, do you mind telling me what you do because I’ve always admired shiny shoes.’”

 

Germeyer, who runs a technology consulting group in Chicago, was more than happy to oblige. Their conversation grew, and while Clark told him about her life, Germeyer began to think about what he could do to help.

 

“There was a connection between Elsie and myself”, Germeyer told the Chicago Tribune. “She wasn’t asking for anything at all.”

 

Germeyer sprang into action, arranging for a flight attendant to meet Clark with a wheelchair upon their arrival in Chicago, hoping to get her to her gate but it was too late. The airline gave Clark a voucher for a nearby hotel room but Germeyer didn’t think it was enough.

 

Aggravated by the situation, Germeyer decided to take matters into his own hands. He called his wife to arrange an extra place setting at the dinner table, and brought Clark home. After dinner, he took Clark on a brief city tour, put her up in a hotel suite just off Michigan Avenue, and arranged for a car to take her back to the airport the next day.

 

“He even gave me a new toothbrush and toothpaste”, Clark told the Chicago Tribune. “I just sat down when I got to the hotel and I cried and cried and cried. Everything he did for me was just so beautiful.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do we hear the prophetic cry of John the Baptist in the wilderness of our hearts: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”? What is our response to this challenge? How is our life influenced and shaped by the imminent eschatological judgment that comes with the advent of the Messiah? 

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

Loving Father,

in this Advent season help us to respond

to the prophetic cry of John the Baptist in the wilderness,

place of encounter with judgment and grace.

Let his fiery appeal,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

resound in our hearts.

May our lives be marked with true repentance

as we prepare the way of the Lord.

Immersed into the waters of baptism

and fired with the energy of the Holy Spirit,

may we always let Christ be the center of our lives.

May the grace of the Advent season shape and transform us

so that we may look forward with joy to Christ’s coming in glory.

In today’s wounded world,

strengthen us for the task of prophecy, service and witnessing.

As precursors of Christ,

help us to work zealously

for the advent of your kingdom of justice, peace and love.

He lives and reigns forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

           

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:2)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

As part of your positive response to the advent of the Lord in our lives and as Christian precursors in today’s world, see what you can do to relieve the plight of the poor, the needy, the homeless, the refugees, etc.  

 

 

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December 9, 2019: MONDAY – THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

“JESUS SAVIOR: His Mother Was Immaculately Conceived”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Gn 3:9-15, 20 // Eph 1:3-6, 11-12 // Lk 1:26-38

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Mary accompanies us with her maternal and sanctifying presence in this season of grace and messianic waiting. But our Advent with Mary is marked with a “sign” – her Immaculate Conception, the sign that the coming Messiah, fruit of her virginal womb, is conqueror of evil. Mary most holy was kept sinless from the first moment of her conception, sharing beforehand in the salvation her Son Christ would bring by his death and resurrection. Indeed, Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a “sign” that in Christ, God’s love prevails and that in him, we are saved and redeemed from the power of sin.

 

Our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, remarks: “The dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was defined on December 8, 1854 by Pope Pius IX, surrounded by hundreds of bishops and an impressive crowd of believers. Mary is the first and marvelous fruit of redemption. (…) Why these privileges? Why the supreme and most abounding grace of her Immaculate Conception? All these are due to the foreseen merits of her Son, the future Messiah. Mary is the first and marvelous fruit of Christ’s redemption. His passion and death bore beforehand its most abundant fruit in Mary who would accompany him in his death and resurrection … God’s gift of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is marvelous and unique. The Church defined this exceptional privilege as a dogma of faith to proclaim to the world the marvels God wrought in Mary when her soul came forth from the Father’s creative hands.”

 

On this blessed day, we celebrate the first moment of Mary’s existence – her conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, as a wonderful springtime of grace. As we celebrate the marvelous work God has wrought in her life, we inevitably remember her important role in salvation history as giving life to the true life-giver. Conceived sinless in her mother’s womb, Mary’s “YES” to the loving plan of God for her cooperation in sending the Messiah to free the world from its sins is a cause for rejoicing. Mary’s openness to grace overcame the hopeless struggle of Genesis. Her assent to be the Mother of God made it possible for the riches of God’s grace to flow upon us abundantly.

 

The following beautiful story circulated on the Internet illustrates how Mary continues to be active in salvation history.

 

A little six-year-old Protestant boy had often heard his Catholic companions reciting the prayer “Hail Mary”. He liked it so much that he copied it, memorized it, and would recite it every day. “Look, Mommy, what a beautiful prayer”, he said to his mother one day. “Never again say it”, answered the mother. “It is a superstitious prayer of Catholics who adore idols and think Mary is a goddess. After all, she is a woman like any other. Come on, take this Bible and read it. It contains everything that we are bound to do and have to do.”

 

From that day on the little boy discontinued his daily “Hail Mary” and gave himself more time to reading the Bible instead. One day, while reading the Gospel, he came across the passage about the annunciation of the Angel to Our Lady. Full of joy, the little boy ran to his mother and said: “Mommy, I have found the ‘Hail Mary’ in the Bible which says: ‘Hail full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women.’ Why do you call it a superstitious prayer?” On another occasion he found that beautiful salutation of St. Elizabeth to the Virgin Mary and the wonderful canticle Magnificat in which Mary foretold that “the generations would call her blessed”.

 

He said no more about it to his mother but started to recite the “Hail Mary” every day as before. He felt pleasure in addressing these charming words to the Mother of Jesus, our Savior.

 

One day, when he was fourteen, he heard a discussion on Our Lady among the members of his family. Every one said that Mary was a common woman like any other woman. The boy, after listening to their erroneous reasoning could not bear it any longer and, full of indignation, he interrupted them saying: “Mary is not like any other children of Adam, stained with sin. No! The angel called her FULL OF GRACE AND BLESSED AMONG WOMEN. Mary is the Mother of Jesus Christ and consequently Mother of God. There is no higher dignity to which a creature can be raised. The Gospel says that the generations will proclaim her blessed and you are trying to despise her and look down on her. Your spirit is not the spirit of the Gospel or of the Bible which you proclaim to be the foundation of the Christian religion.”

 

So deep was the impression which the boy’s talk had made that his mother many a time cried out sorrowfully: “Oh, my God! I fear that this son of mine will one day join the Catholic religion, the religion of the Popes!” And indeed, not very long afterwards, having made a serious study of both Protestantism and Catholicism, the boy found the latter to be the only true religion and embraced it and became one of its most ardent apostles.

 

Sometime after his conversion, he met his married sister who rebuked him and said indignantly: “You little know how much I love my children. Should any one of them desire to become a Catholic, I would sooner pierce his heart with a dagger than allow him to embrace the religion of the Popes!” Her anger and temper were as furious as those of St. Paul before his conversion. However, she would change her ways, just as St. Paul did on his way to Damascus. It so happened that one of her sons fell dangerously ill and the doctors gave up hope of recovery. Her brother then approached her and spoke to her affectionately, saying: “My dear sister, you naturally wish to have your child cured. Very well, then, do what I ask you to do. Follow me; let us pray one ‘Hail Mary’ and promise God that if your son recovers his health, you would seriously study the Catholic doctrine, and should you come to the conclusion that Catholicism is the only true religion, you would embrace it no matter what the sacrifices may be.”

 

His sister was somewhat reluctant at the beginning, but as she wished for her son’s recovery, she accepted her brother’s proposal and recited the “Hail Mary” together with him. The next day her son was completely cured. The mother fulfilled her promise and she studied the Catholic doctrine. After long preparation she received Baptism together with her whole family, thanking the brother for being an apostle to her.

 

This story was related during a sermon by the Rev. Fr. Tuckwell. “Brethren”, he went on and said, “The boy who became a Catholic and converted his sister to Catholicism dedicated his whole life to the service of God. He is the priest who is speaking to you now! What I am I owe to Our Lady. You, too, my dear brethren, be entirely dedicated also to Our Lady and never let a day pass without saying the beautiful prayer, ‘Hail Mary’ and your Rosary. Ask her to enlighten the minds of Protestants who are separated from the true Church of Christ founded on the Rock (Peter) and ‘against whom the gates of hell shall not prevail’.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do we believe that Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a sign that in Christ, God’s love prevails and that in him, we are saved and redeemed from the powers of sin? How do we express this belief in our personal life?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Father most holy,

you have given us the Blessed Virgin Mary

as a radiant “sign” in our pilgrimage of faith

as Church on earth.

Through her loving intercession,

strengthen our faith and inspire our hope

so that nothing can ever sway us

from the path that leads to eternal life.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

            Amen.  

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” (Gen 3:15) 

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO    

 

 Support the movement to protect and promote every person’s right to life and especially the right to life of the unborn. In your acts of charity and in the challenges of daily living, manifest the life-giving “Yes” of Mary.

 

 

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December 10, 2019: TUESDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (2)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Way”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 40:1-11 // Mt 18:12-14

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 18:12-14): “God does not will that the little ones be lost.”

 

Today’s Gospel reading (Mt 18:12-14) underlines God’s compassionate stance to the “little ones” who go astray and “lose the way”. Through his Son Jesus Christ, the loving God is totally committed to the rescue of his people. Like a shepherd who searches out those sheep that stray, God wants that none of the “little ones” would be eternally damned or perennially perish. Today the responsibility of seeking the lost devolves on Christian disciples, the followers of “the Way”.

 

The following inspiring story narrated by Donald Driver, fourteen NFL seasons and a winner of “Dancing with the Stars”, illustrates the concern of one who cares for the “lost sheep” (cf. “Meeting Miss Johnson” in Guideposts, November 2013, p. 52-55).

 

It was a shiny little Cadillac with leather seats. The kind the guys at the chop shop paid 500 bucks for. The streets of Houston’s Fifth Ward were empty. I wrapped my fist in a T-shirt and punched through the back window. In a flash I was in. I pulled out my screwdriver, jimmied the steering wheel and popped the ignition, just like my older brother had taught me. The engine roared to life. Then I heard sirens. I pushed the pedal to the floor. Red and blue lights flashed in my rear-view mirror. I’ve got to get off this road, I thought, or I’m going to juvie for sure. I was 12 years old. (…)

 

Trouble really started when we moved to a man named J.R. Mom trusted him to watch us while she was at work, and he did. What Mom didn’t know was that J.R. and his buddies were dealing drugs. My older brother Moses and I served as look-outs. We knew it was wrong, but the money was too good - $100 a night. We broke it into smaller bills, and regularly slipped some into Mom’s purse. “Shoot, well, I guess I do have money for the light bill”, Mom would say, finding an extra twenty in her wallet. The way I saw it, we were helping the family.

 

Then Moses discovered he could bring in even more cash by stealing cars. I was just tall enough to reach the pedals. Before long, I got good at playing two different characters. Quickie the son who went to school and get good grades, and then Quickie the kid who dealt drugs and stole cars. I practiced giving the same smile, hug and kiss for my mom when I came home, no matter what I’d done on the streets. She never suspected a thing.

 

Now, though, I was about to get caught. The sirens got closer. I turned into a back alley, my best chance to lose the cops. I was almost free. Suddenly, up ahead, a car backed out of a driveway. I slammed on the brakes. Too late. The Caddy T-boned the other car. Through the shattered windshield, I saw a little old lady sitting stunned in the driver’s seat. I jumped out. Thoughts flashed through my brain. Gotta get away! I had a head start on the cops, but … What if she’s hurt? You can’t just run away. I stopped. I turned back to see if the old lady was okay. I hadn’t forgotten everything I learned in Sunday school.

 

The woman looked angry, but unhurt. “Go sit on my porch right now”, she said. It was the tone of voice no kid could disobey. I walked over to her ranch-style house and sat in her porch swing. The cops arrived and began to question the old woman. She’s going to turn me in! I thought. “The man who did this ran that way”, she said, pointing down the alley. “Who is that on your swing?” one of the officers asked. “Oh, that’s my grandson”, she said. The cops gave me a wary look, but got back to their patrol car and drove off. The woman marched toward me, “You!” she shouted. “Come inside!”

 

She led me into the kitchen. “Sit”, she said. I sat, dazed. Why hadn’t she turned me in? She pushed some cookies in front of me. I took a bite but my stomach was doing flip-flops. She sat down and looked me square in the eye. “Why did you do this, young man?” she finally asked. “You could be doing so much more with your life. This is not the way God wants you to be living.” “This is how we survive in this neighborhood”, I said.

 

“It’s not how you get out of it”, she said, and pushed the cookies closer. “My name’s Evelyn Johnson.” She lived alone, she told me. She’d never married, never had kids. But she gave me the talking of my life, like I was her own kin. I didn’t listen to her every word – I kept eyeing that door, wanting to run. But I stayed. She could always call the cops, after all. “You’ve been given an opportunity”, she said. “Don’t waste it. There aren’t any second chances in this neighborhood and don’t kid yourself.”

 

I went back to Miss Johnson’s a few days later, trying to make amends for damaging her car. I picked up groceries, helped around the house. I went again the next week, and I kept going back. “How are your grades?” she’d ask. “Did you win the game?” Why does she want to know? I wondered. But I liked that she cared. Sure, my mom cared, a lot, but she worked so much. Miss Johnson always had the time.

 

At 14, I went to live with my grandparents. I spent more time studying. Miss Johnson had told me good grades were the key to a better life. Football, basketball, baseball and track kept me busy too. I want to change, I prayed. I want to make Miss Johnson and my family proud. One night, I said to Moses, “I’m going to go to college, like Grandpa always tells us. I’m going to make something of myself.” (…)

 

I’m convinced God put Miss Johnson in my path for a reason. I turned down the alley to evade responsibility. Little did I know I’d find a way to a better life than I could ever have imagined.

 

 

B. First Reading (Is 40:1-11): “God consoles his people.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Is 40:1-11) is a beautiful prophetic message of hope and consolation. It is taken from a section of the book of Isaiah (chapters 40-55), called the Second Isaiah or Deutero-Isaiah. Also known as the Book of Consolation, it was written by an unknown author approximately 150 years after the first 39 chapters, which carry the message of the historical prophet Isaiah himself. The Book of Consolation was composed when the Exile in Babylon was about to end and the people of Israel would be allowed, by King Darius of Persia, to return to their beloved Jerusalem. To capture the joy and excitement of the moment, the Second Isaiah writer tried to rekindle the vision and to relive the ecstatic experience of the first Exodus.

 

The author of the Book of Consolation has introduced us to one of the richest expressions of the Bible: “the way of the Lord” (Is 40:3). The “way” is a manner of life for the people of Israel. The prophetic ministry of John the Baptist is to announce “the way of the Lord”. Jesus declares himself to be “the Way”, and Christian disciples are therefore those who follow “the Way”. “To prepare the way of the Lord” entails total conversion and utmost receptivity to the redeeming presence of the compassionate God. It involves an intimate and loving relationship with him that would lead us to act with justice, goodness and love. Indeed, anyone who is willing to respond totally and devotedly to the prophetic cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord”, will experience a display of divine glory and feel the advent of the consoling God, who is both a powerful ruler and a gentle shepherd, gathering the lambs and holding them closely to himself.

 

The following article, “Five Important Lessons in Life”, circulated through the Internet, gives an idea on how to follow “the way of the Lord” and promote the advent of the kingdom of God.

 

First Important Lesson: “Cleaning Lady”

During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?" Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50's, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade. "Absolutely", said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people.  All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say "hello." I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

Second Important Lesson: “Pickup in the Rain”

One night, at 11:30 p.m., an older African-American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960's. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab. She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached. It read: "Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits.  Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's' bedside just before he passed away... God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.

Sincerely,

Mrs. Nat King Cole

 

Third Important Lesson: “Always Remember Those Who Serve”

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year-old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" he asked. "Fifty cents," replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins in it. "Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired. By now more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing impatient. "Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied. The little boy again counted his coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry as she wiped down the table. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn't have the sundae, because he had to have enough left to leave her a tip.

 

Fourth Important Lesson: “The Obstacle in Our Path”

In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock.  Some of the King's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road.  After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand! Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

 

Fifth Important Lesson: “Giving When It Counts”

Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare & serious disease.  Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.  The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes I'll do it if it will save her."  As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away".  Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood to save her. 

  

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

How does the prophecy of Isaiah impact us? How do we respond to words of hope spoken on our behalf? Do we allow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to lead us on the way that leads to life? 

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Loving Father,

may nothing hinder us from receiving Christ with joy

for he is our true and living Way.

Open our hearts

that we may prepare a welcoming path for him.

May we allow ourselves to be led by him

in the ways of eternal life

for he is the Good Shepherd who feeds his flock

and tenderly gathers the lambs and carries them in his bosom.

You live and reign forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” (Mt 18:14) //“He leads them with care.” (Is 40:11)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray that in this Advent season we may truly open ourselves to the compassionate Good Shepherd who comes to save us. Endeavor to prepare “the way of the Lord” by carrying out concrete works of charity for the needy in your community. Fasting in this season of Advent in view of helping the poor is highly recommended.  

 

*** *** ***

December 11, 2019: WEDNESDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (2); SAINT DAMASUS I, Pope

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Renews Our Strength”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 40:25-31 // Mt 11:28-30

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 11:28-30): “Come to me, all you who labor.”

 

 In today’s Gospel reading (Mt 11:28-30), Jesus addresses a tender invitation to the weary and heavily burdened: “Come to me, all of you …” He assures them that they would find rest if only they submit themselves to the gentle yoke of God’s saving will. Indeed, those who welcome the “meek and humble” Jesus experience the immense peace and serenity of the Kingdom of heaven. Those who imitate his heart that is totally given to God find comfort and salvation. The Advent of the saving Lord Jesus renews our strength. As we keep our hope and faith in him, we soar as with eagles’ wings.

 

The devastation brought by the super-typhoon Haiyan to the Filipino people in 2013 is tragic, but it also underlines that “faith in the almighty God gives strength to the fainting” (cf. Michelle Martin, “Faith Sustains Filipinos after Typhoon Haiyan” in Our Sunday Visitor, December 1, 2013, p. 5).

 

Even before Typhoon Haiyan made its first landfall in the Philippines on Nov. 8, the prayers started going up to heaven. Prayers came from the Philippines, of course, but also from Filipinos in the United States and around the world. (…)

 

Indeed, Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda – broke all kinds of storm records. When it surged through the Philippines, it was 370 miles wide with sustained winds of 195 mph and gusts of 235 mph. It brought 27 inches of rain and a storm surge of 17 feet at Tacloban, the biggest city in the hard-hit central Philippines. The death toll was still fluctuating as reports from outlying areas came in, but on Nov. 14, the United Nations was reporting 4,200 dead and more than 3 million displaced. (…)

 

Meanwhile, people in the Philippines were gathering to pray for the dead and to give thanks to God for their survival. It is what they have done over the centuries after all kinds of disasters. While Typhoon Haiyan might be unprecedented in its scope, it is one of the many disasters the archipelago nation has endured. “In times of crisis like this, after a typhoon or an earthquake, people say, “Thank God we survived”, said Stephanie Savillo of Chicago. “They don’t blame God for the misfortune. They don’t blame God for the typhoon.”

 

Father Leoncio Santiago, a priest originally from the Philippines who is now a chaplain at Hines VA Hospital in Illinois, said that hope is a defining characteristic of Filipino faith. “When push comes to shove, it is our faith that sustains us”, he said. “Otherwise, we would be hopeless in the face of destruction. The Filipinos have always been very resilient.”

 

For example, Father Santiago’s home island of Bohol suffered severe damage from an earthquake in October, damage from which it will take years to recover. The church in his hometown, built by Spaniards in the 18th century, was flattened. The only thing left standing was the statue of Mary. “The focus of the people was not the destroyed church, but the surviving statue”, Father Santiago said. “You look up to your faith to give you hope. We will not be able to carry on if we don’t have hope.”

 

The Philippines are a primarily Catholic country, with thousands of people attending weekday as well as Sunday Masses and crowded prayer services and novena services, according to Filipinos living in the United States. They address the Blessed Virgin as “Mama Mary”, Savillo said, and understand that she will take care of them because she is their mother. “When I went there, I went to church on a Wednesday, and I was like, ‘What is going on?’” she said. “Is there some big festival I don’t know about?” It was a regular novena service for Santo Nino, the Holy Child, a very popular devotion in the island nation.

 

In the week after the typhoon, Savillo had been in contact with her niece, who lives two islands north of the primary area of destruction. Before the typhoon hit, she said, her niece and her niece’s neighbors were all praying that God would spare them. After the storm passed, “she sent an email again, saying God is good.”

 

Now Filipinos from the areas that were not affected are trying to take boats and get to friends and loved one whose homes were destroyed. Organized relief efforts took time to get off the ground because, in the affected areas, roads, airports, communications services and other infrastructure was also in ruins.

 

Teresita Nuval, the director of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Asian Catholics, shared an email from a Chicago-area woman whose family lives in Guiuan, the first area of the Philippines hit by the storm. The woman wrote of watching footage on the Internet.

 

“I could hear screams and cries for help as I watched the videos. The hardest part was getting word if my family survived the ordeal. I was not sure if any of our people and my family could have survived in the lashings of Yolanda”, she wrote. “I did not fall sleep from Thursday through Monday trying to get a word that all of them are safe. Unfortunately, just as Haiyan made its landfall, Guiuan was isolated and unreachable … All Sunday and Monday, I was crying because they haven’t located my immediate family. It was dreadful not knowing what had happened to them … I resigned my family’s fate to God’s intervention at the end of Day 4. Monday … Prayers are more powerful than any typhoons! As soon as I woke up on Tuesday, the message that I have been waiting for in the last four most difficult days of my life was inbox. My mom, my sister-in-law and her daughter, and my sister and her family had been found ALIVE.

 

 

B. First Reading (Is 40:25-31): “The Lord God is almighty and gives strength to the fainting.”

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (Is 40:25-31) contains the poignant reproach that God addresses to the Israelites exiled in Babylon. The exiles doubt God’s love for them. Feeling abandoned, they complain that the Lord does not know their troubles and does not care if they suffer injustice. The prophet Isaiah responds to their despair by assuring them that the all-powerful God truly cares for them. The everlasting God, who never grows tired or weary, strengthens those who are weak and tired. Those who trust in the Lord for help find their strength renewed. Indeed, the Creator God is the source of renewed power for those who are attentive to the divine will.

 

The following can give insight into what it means to find strength in the Lord (cf. “Priest Brings Stadium to Its Feet with the Story of ‘True Hero’” in Alive! March 2015, p. 5).

 

At a Mass for about 15,000 young people, gathered in Washington D.C. for the annual March for Life, a priest brought the full stadium to its feet with a homily about a woman he described as “a true hero”. Fr. Mario Majano explained that for him a hero is “something, however big or small, get in the way of defending what they know to be true, of defending what they know comes directly from God.”

 

He then told the story of a woman, Rosa, whom he knew and who “against all obstacles, against all trials, stood firm, and would not budge, would not move from her beliefs, when everything else in her life seemed to sway.”

 

The first of three major obstacles came for this woman when, as a teenager, she was raped and became pregnant. “Her family just let her be. She felt totally alone, with nowhere to go. She was practically disowned”, said Fr. Majano. A friend told her that “she didn’t deserve this”, that her situation was impossible. “Just take the practical solution”, advised the friend. “Abort.” But the teenager replied she could not face the rest of her life, knowing she had taken her baby’s life.

 

At the age 23 the woman faced a new trial, single and pregnant by a man she loved but who would not commit to marriage. Her family urged her to abort, offering to pay for everything. “For a second time”, said the priest, “she was forced to look at this reality, look at her life and say: ‘It’s still not perfect. I’m not sure what the future holds. But …’ Once again she said ‘Yes” to the life growing within her.”

 

Thirteen years later the woman, then happily married, faced yet another trial, finding herself pregnant during an intensive course of chemotherapy for cancer. Doctors told her that because the medication was so strong, there was “zero chance that this child will be born normally”. Again the woman refused to abort the baby. “Against every setback that she experienced, this woman stood firm”, said Fr. Majano. “I find that heroic. This type of heroism is largely unsung inour society. And so we sing it today.”

 

Then stunning everyone in the stadium, the priest continues: “To this woman, for her valiant effort, for constantly staying firm and focusing on her steadfast love for what life is, I simply say: ‘Thank you Mom! Thank you very much!’”

 

As the whole stadium rose to give her a standing ovation his mother, Rosa, stood with tears streaming down her face … Rosa, 53, later told LifeSiteNews that Fr. Majano was her second baby. The face she faced was either going to college or having the baby. “He’s my college degree, right there”, she said, all smiles. With four other children, all girls, she now sees that God always had a plan for her son. (…)

 

To a woman facing a crisis pregnancy she would say: “Do not give up. God has a plan … always. God will never leave you alone.” Fr. Majano recalled that “from an early age my mother’s go-to place in times of need was the church. By her example she always showed that God was essential to our lives whatever the situation.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do we despair and curse God in moments of intense suffering and severe trials, or do we trust in his loving care? How do we respond to Christ’s invitation to rest in him? Do we allow his advent in our life to give peace to our troubled hearts?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

Lord Jesus,

we are troubled – loss of a job, financial strain,

sickness, death of loved ones, global insecurity, etc.

We experience the devastation of wars and natural calamities.

Help us to trust in the almighty Father

and strengthen our hope.

Teach us to make you the center of our life.

We entrust to you all our cares.

Grant us the peace that the world can never give.

Maranatha! Come, O Christ the Lord!

You live and reign, forever and ever.

            Amen.      

      

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened.” (Mt 11:28) // “They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength.” (Is 40:31)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray for those who are heavily burdened that they may have the inner strength and consolation they need. Do what you can to alleviate the pain and sufferings of the people around you by your charitable deeds and by sharing with them the bread of the Word. 

 

*** *** ***

 

December 12, 2019: THURSDAY – OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE (USA)

  “JESUS SAVIOR: The Woman Clothed with the Sun Foretells His Final Advent”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Zec 2:14-17 or Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a // Lk 1:26-38 or Lk 1:39-47

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Revelation (11:19a; 12:1-61, 10ab) depicts a “great sign in the sky” – a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. The image of a woman in childbirth is used to describe creative acts that involve time and sacrifice in order to be brought to full maturity. The heavenly vision of the woman in labor in the Book of Revelation evokes the painful and challenging process of the birth of Christ in the hearts of the faithful, as well as Mary’s vital role in the birthing of the Church. Moreover, the vision of “the woman clothed with the sun” foretells the final and victorious conflict and the glorious Advent of Jesus Savior at the end time.

 

The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 7, remark: “Because of her role in relationship to her Son, the faithful, and the community, Mary is the image of the Church that is still giving faithful birth to believers, and which is already in glory in heaven with God … The joy of the Virgin of Bethlehem is inseparable from the pain of the mother who watched her Son die on the cross at Calvary. She followed a path that led to the paschal climax quite similar to that of her Son.”

 

Today in the countries of the Americas, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe which recalls the apparitions of Mary at the hill of Tepeyac from December 9-12, 1531, to Juan Diego, a native convert. The image of an expectant mother, “clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” was miraculously impressed in the cloak of Juan Diego. The following account is from a report by Don Antonio Valeriano, a Native American author of the 16th Century.

 

At daybreak one Saturday morning in 1531, on the very first days of the month of December, an Indian named Juan Diego was going from the village where he lived to Tlatelolco in order to take part in divine worship and listen to God’s commandments. When he came near the hill Tepeyac, dawn had already come, and Juan Diego heard someone calling him from the very top of the hill: “Juanito, Juan Dieguito”.

 

He went up the hill and caught sight of a lady of unearthly grandeur whose clothing was as radiant as the sun. She said to him in words both gentle and courteous: “Juanito, the humblest of my children, know and understand that I am the ever virgin Mary, Mother of the true God through whom all things live. It is my ardent desire that a church be erected here so that in it I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land and to those others who love me, that they might call upon and confide in me. Go to the Bishop of Mexico to make known to him what I greatly desire. Go and put all your efforts into this.”

 

When Juan Diego arrived in the presence of the Bishop Fray Juan de Zumarraga, a Franciscan, the latter did not seem to believe Juan Diego and answered: “Come another time, and I will listen at leisure.”

 

Juan Diego returned to the hilltop where the Heavenly Lady was waiting and he said to her: “My Lady, my maiden, I presented your message to the Bishop, but it seemed that he did not think it was true. For this reason I beg you to entrust your message to someone more illustrious who might convey it in order that they might believe it, for I am only an insignificant man.”

 

She answered: “Humblest of my sons, I ask that tomorrow you again go to see the Bishop and tell him that I, the ever virgin holy Mary, Mother of God, am the one who personally sent you.”

 

But on the following day, Sunday, the Bishop again did not believe Juan Diego and told him that some sign was necessary so that he could believe that it was the Heavenly Lady herself who sent him. And then he dismissed Juan Diego.

 

On Monday Juan Diego did not return. His uncle, Juan Bernardino, became very ill, and at night asked Juan to go to Tlatelolco at daybreak to call a priest to hear his confession.

 

Juan Diego set out on Tuesday, but he went around the hill and passed on the other side, toward the east, so as to arrive quickly in Mexico City to avoid being detained by the Heavenly Lady. But she came out to meet him on that side of the hill and said to him: “Listen and understand, my humblest son. There is nothing to frighten and distress you. Do not let your heart be troubled, and let nothing upset you. Is it not I, your Mother, who is here? Are you not under my protection? Are you not, fortunately, in my care? Do not let you uncle’s illness distress you. It is certain that he has already been cured. Go up to the hilltop, my son, where you will find flowers of various kinds. Cut them, and bring them into my presence.”

 

When Juan Diego reached the peak, he was astonished that so many Castilian roses had burst forth at a time when the frost was severe. He carried the roses in the folds of his tilma (mantle) to the Heavenly Lady. She said to him: “My son, this is the proof and the sign which you will bring to the Bishop so that he will see my will in it. You are my ambassador, very worthy of trust.”

 

Juan Diego set out on his way, now content and sure of succeeding. On arriving in the Bishop’s presence, he told him: “My lord, I did what you asked. The Heavenly Lady complied with your request and fulfilled it. She sent me to the hilltop to cut some Castilian roses and told me to bring them to you in person. And this I am doing, so that you can see in them the sign you seek in order to carry out her will. Here they are; receive them.”

 

He immediately opened up his white mantle, and as all the different Castilian roses scattered to the ground, there was drawn on the cloak and suddenly appeared the precious image of the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the same manner as it is today and is kept in her shrine of Tepeyac.

 

The whole city was stirred and came to see and admire her venerable image and to offer prayers to her; and following the command which the same Heavenly Lady gave to Juan Bernardino when she restored him to health, they called her by the name she herself had used: “the ever virgin holy Mary of Guadalupe”.

 

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

How does the sign of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet and wearing a crown of twelve stars” affect you?  What message can you glean from the image of a woman in labor to give birth to a child? What Marian image do you find most significant? 

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

(Pope John Paul II’s Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe)

 

O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church!

You, who from this place revealed your clemency and your pity

to all those who ask for your protection:

hear the prayer that we address to you with filial trust,

and present it to your Son Jesus, our sole Redeemer.

Mother of Mercy, Teacher of hidden and silent sacrifice,

to you, who come to meet us sinners,

we dedicate on this day, all our being and all our love.

We also dedicate to you

our life, our work, our joys, our infirmities, and our sorrows.

Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our peoples;

for we entrust to your care all that we have and all that we are,

our Lady and Mother.

We wish to be entirely yours

and to walk with you along the way

of complete faithfulness to Jesus Christ in His Church:

hold us always with your loving hand.

Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas,

we pray to you for all the bishops,

that they may lead the faithful

along paths of intense Christian life,

of love and humble service of God and souls.

Contemplate this immense harvest,

and intercede with the Lord

that He may instill a hunger for holiness in the whole People of God,

and grant abundant vocations of priests and religious,

strong in faith and zealous dispensers of God’s mysteries.

Grant to our homes

the grace of loving and respecting life in its beginnings,

with the same love with which you conceived in your womb

the life of the Son of God.

Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love,

protect our families, so that they may always be united,

and bless the upbringing of our children.

Our hope, look upon us with compassion,

teach us to go continually to Jesus

and, if we fall, help us to rise again, to return to Him,

by means of the confession of our faults and sins

in the Sacrament of Penance, which gives peace to the soul.

We beg you to grant us a great love for all the holy Sacraments,

which are, as it were, the signs that your Son left on earth.

Thus, Most Holy Mother,

with the peace of God in our conscience,

with our hearts free from evil and hatred,

we will be able to bring to all true joy and true peace,

which comes to us from your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,

who with God the Father and the Holy Spirit,

lives and reigns forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

 

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Rv 12:1)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

By our acts of charity and sacrifice for the poor and vulnerable, let us participate with Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the ongoing mystery of the “birthing of the Church”.  

 

*** *** ***

 

December 13, 2019: FRIDAY – SAINT LUCY, Virgin, Martyr

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us the Way to Go”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 48:17-19 // Mt 11:16-19

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 11:16-19): “They listened to neither John nor the Son of Man.”

Jesus Master exhorts the people to listen to his words and follow his commands that they may have life and prosperity. However, they disappointingly refuse to listen to him and the Good News of God’s kingdom. They are indecisive and reluctant to receive the message of neither Jesus nor John the Baptist. Like capricious children in the market place who call for dances to their flute playing and weeping to their funeral songs, the Jews demand that Jesus and John the Baptist square up to their standard. They demand conformity to their false stereotypes. John the Baptist suffers death because his message is piercing and unsettling. The advent of Jesus as the suffering Servant-Messiah is rejected because his means of salvation is through the way of the cross.

 

Like the contemporaries of the prophet Isaiah and of Jesus and John the Baptist, we too are called to listen to the life-giving word of God and follow the path that leads to life. We should not vacillate. And especially this Advent season, we should allow the word of God to invigorate us. Indeed, the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ invites us to make a radical choice for him

 

The conversion of Megan Hodder is an example of a modern day response to Jesus Christ who invites us to make a core decision for him (cf. “Walking on Water ‘an Entirely Sensible Thing to Do’” in Alive! November 2013, p. 5).

 

Megan Hodder was brought up as atheist, but earlier this year was baptized into the Catholic Church. Megan is one of a growing band of educated young adults who are questioning the whole reason for their existence and finding answers in the Church. As a teenager she avidly read Dawkins & Co, and found their ideas close to her own. Besides, what reasonable alternative was there for atheism?

 

Then she decided she need to be better informed, to research “the ideas of the most egregious enemies of reason, such as Catholics, to properly defend my world view.” She first read Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address, expecting it to be illogical and bigoted attempt to reconcile faith and reason. This led her to Benedict’s short book On Conscience. “It was a far more subtle, humane and credible perception of faith than I had expected”, said 29-year-old Megan.

 

“It didn’t lead to any dramatic, spiritual epiphany, but it did spur me to look further into Catholicism, and to re-examine some of the problems I had with atheism with a more critical eye.”  She began with morality. Secularist attempts to defend morality, she soon realized, just did not add up. (…) She was infuriated to discover how coherent Catholic teaching was: “once you accept the basic conceptual structure, things fall into place with terrifying speed.” This was true even in matters of sexuality, once a person grasped the “beauty and authenticity” of Catholic doctrine. Seen in context, sexual ethics were not just a series of prohibitions, but “essential components in the intricate body of the Church’s teaching.” (…)

 

One problem remained for Megan, she was not familiar with Catholicism as a lived faith, and reluctant to step into this wholly alien experience. At this point a passage from George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic struck her forcibly. “In the Catholic view of things, walking on water is an entirely sensible thing to do. It’s staying in the boat, hanging on tightly to our own sad little securities, that’s rather mad”, wrote Weigel. This and friendships with practicing Catholics finally convinced her to take a decisive step, to leave the boat and walk towards Christ.

   

 

B. First Reading (Is 48:17-19): “If only you would hearken to my commandments.”

 

In the reading (Is 48:17-19), the prophet Isaiah depicts the Lord God as Israel’s teacher who teaches what is good for them and leads them on the way they should go. He promises that blessings would flow upon them unceasingly, that victory would come upon them like waves that roll on the shore, that their descendants would be numerous as grains of sand and that they would be safely secure in the Lord forever. But all this is conditional: if they would hearken to the Lord’s commands and follow his ways.

 

The following testimony is very touching and inspiring (cf. Jake Stanwood [pseudonym] in Shalom Tidings, August/September 2014, p. 15).

 

“We love you no matter what sexual orientation you choose to live out.” These are the words of a father to me, his fifteen-year-old son, ten years ago. Umm … awkward? Until that point my dad never talked to me about sex and the topic was never again mentioned. I remember every little detail about the conversation: the sweaty palms, cold freezing office space, and the awkwardness created by the long wooden desk separating us from talking like normal people. How did I respond? I said nothing. Absolutely nothing. I stared at him with a blank face and ran back into my room crying and thinking about how I ever got into this mess.

 

“Great, even my parents think I’m gay.” “That person at school thinks I’m gay too, maybe it’s because of the way I talk.” “Wait, maybe I should change the way I talk? That will make me look manlier.” “Crap, that person is totally staring me and thinks I’m gay.” These are just a few of the crazy thoughts that constantly ruminated in my head. Talk about feeing paranoid. It always felt as if I was split in between two worlds. One side was telling me, “Just come out of the closet, hook up with someone, embrace the fact that you’re gay!” The other (far less appealing) side said, “If anyone ever finds out, you’re dead! Don’t ever talk about this to anyone.”

 

Praise God, He created a Church that has given me a third option, one that does not seem like it is going to drown me in lust or turn me into a stoic who is being internally destroyed by his desires. I have chosen chastity – the path toward authentic love and sexual self-control.

 

Is this easy? NO. (…)

 

I have chosen to never engage in a sexual relationship with another guy and remain celibate, despite the fact that there are times I feel the ache of this desire. This may seem like a total fail in the eyes of the world, but am I really missing out on much? Chastity gives me so much more. It gives me the ability to live out healthy and loving relationships with both men and women. It is giving me the opportunity to bring healing to areas of my masculinity that have been gravely wounded. It respects me for who I am, allows me to appreciate beauty and recognize the dignity in every person. This has involved a lot of wrestling with God. Many people think wrestling with God is a bad thing. FALSE. You can only wrestle with someone who is close to you, so in a way wrestling with these attractions has drawn me closer to God. It is a cross, but with every cross the Lord is always right beside us.

 

Yes, I realize that I will not always get what I want. I cannot tell you about the hundreds of days I felt I just wanted someone to hold me and be intimate with. Sometimes I look at happy couples and wonder if I am missing out. But, I understand that fulfillment goes much deeper than wanting someone around. I find fulfillment by being in relationship with God who created me to be fulfilled by Him and in community. (…)

 

I am incredibly fortunate! I have many friends in the Church who know about my struggle and are there to support and encourage me along the way. I have a choir of saints and angels who are constantly interceding for me, a mother in heaven that deeply loves me and a God who bears His very self in the Eucharist each and every day. If you ask me … I have hit the jackpot.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

In this Advent season, do I make an effort to listen and put into practice the commands of the Lord and walk in his way? Do I fully respond with radical commitment to the Advent of Jesus in our life?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord Jesus,

many times we are feckless and full of caprices.

We fail to focus on you

and commit ourselves to you.

Give us a new perspective in life

and the eagerness to work for the advent of your kingdom.

Maranatha! Come, O Christ the Lord!

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“He is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Mt 11:19) // “I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good.” (Is 48:17)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray for a grace-filled vision of life. Today, consider the people and events around you. Be thankful for the “gifts” you have received through them. In moments of difficulties, renew your fundamental option for Jesus Christ.

    

 

*** *** ***

December 14, 2019: SATURDAY – SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, Priest, Doctor of the Church

“JESUS SAVIOR: His Advent Is Prepared by John

the Baptist”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Sir 48:1-4, 9-11 // Mt 17:9a, 10-13

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

 In the Gospel (Mt 17:9a, 10-13), Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the “Elijah” who must come first before the advent of the Messiah. Today’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Sirach (48:1-4, 9-11) helps us understand and appreciate better the figure of John the Baptist as the “Elijah” who prepares the way of the Lord. Elijah was an Old Testament fiery prophet, whose words blazed like a torch, calling abusive authorities in Israel to accountability. He spoke in the name of the Lord and manifested its power by keeping the rain from coming and bringing forth famine in the land. At the end of his ministry, Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery whirlwind, a chariot drawn by fiery horses. But at the designated time, he is destined to return to carry out a mission of conversion and reconciliation. To his disciples who posed the question, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus affirms that Elijah has come indeed in the person of John the Baptist.

 

The prophetic witnessing of Elijah and John the Baptist continues to live on in our world today as the following account shows (cf. Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope, Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000, p. 114-115).

 

“I saw my father go up to Heaven.” A small book by this title won the UNESCO prize. In it the author, a Russian who lives in Paris, describes the life of his father with moving words. His father was an Orthodox priest, a pious and passionate pastor who made countless sacrifices in the midst of persecution. One day during the war he was arrested because he was wearing a pair of shoes that one of his sons, a soldier, had given him. He was condemned to death because the law forbade civilians to wear military shoes. This was of course merely a pretext to conceal the real motive for his condemnation: his religious activity.

 

The whole village was convened around the pastor in an open field. The captain declared the sentence, and the priest’s response was to kneel down and pray. All the people knelt with him and prayed aloud. “Fire”, commanded the captain. But the soldiers stood motionless. “Fire”, he cried again. No one fired. Finally, defeated, the captain could do nothing other than to allow the priest to return on horseback to his home with his people.

 

Some months later, while on a pastoral journey, this Orthodox priest “vanished”. No one ever heard any more about him, but everyone understood his fate. His people said that he had gone to heaven on his horse.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

Do we imitate the spirit of Elijah and John the Baptist in being totally at the service of God’s prophetic word and in preparing the people for the day of the Lord? Do we ask the Lord for the grace of prophetic witnessing?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Father,

we thank you for the fiery zeal of Elijah and John the Baptist

in calling forth people to conversion.

Help us to imitate their courage in speaking your word.

Make us respond fully to our prophetic vocation

and be blessed with the Elijah experience

of being brought to heaven in a “chariot of fire”.

You live and reign,

forever and ever.

Amen.  

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace.” (Sir 48:1)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

By your words and actions, endeavor to make a courageous prophetic witnessing in today’s increasingly hostile and secularized world in the spirit of Elijah and John the Baptist.  

***

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

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