A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday and Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 12, n. 3)

Third Week of Advent: December 15-21, 2013 ***

 

 

(N.B. The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy of Year A from three perspectives. For reflections on the Sunday liturgy based on the Gospel reading, please scroll up to the “ARCHIVES” above and open Series 3. For reflections based on the Old Testament reading, open Series 6. For reflections based on the Second Reading, open Series 9. Please go to Series 10 and Series 12 for the back issues of the Weekday Lectio.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: December 15-21, 2013. The weekday reflections are based on the First Reading. For the weekday reflections based on the Gospel Reading, please open Series 10.)

 

 

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December 15, 2013: THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the One Who Is To Come”       

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 35:1-6a, 10 // Jas 5:7-10 // Mt 11:2-11

 

 

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

 

            On this Advent Sunday, traditionally called Gaudete Sunday, marked especially by a note of rejoicing in view of the forthcoming celebration of the birth of Jesus, we continue to focus our attention on the one who is to come”. The joy that ensues from the advent into one’s life by the saving Lord Jesus, of which the Christian disciples are instruments, may be gleaned from a story narrated by Rebecca Manley Pippert (cf. “Somebody Loved Him” in Stories for the Heart, Multnomah Publishers: Sisters, Oregon, 1996, p. 233-236). The author writes about the sad plight of an eastern European Jew who spent five years in a concentration camp during World War II after his own wife traitorously tipped off the Gestapo. Released after the war, Jacob realized that he lost everything, even the hope of seeing his own son. His blood brother who had not seen him in years, refused to believe that the haggard, decrepit-looking bum at his door was really Jacob. As he lay dying on a park bench, a teenage girl came to his rescue. Here is R.M. Pippert’s account of the life-giving messianic mission of that kind-hearted Christian girl to Jacob.

 

Suddenly he heard a soft voice speaking to him. Jacob opened his eyes and to his astonishment he saw her looking at him with a compassion and sincerity that caught him off guard … “Sir, I was afraid to come over here, but I feel like God is nudging me to tell you something, before I get back on my bus. I wish I knew how to say it better but, well, sir, Jesus loves you. He loves you. He really does.” He looked at her in disbelief. This child was telling him that somebody in heaven loved him? After all the hell he had been through, all the indignity he had suffered, all the rage that had filled his soul for so many years … But as he looked up at her face he saw tears streaming down her cheeks, and to his astonishment he began to weep as well. “No one could love me, child. It’s too late for me,” he said between sobs. “No,” she replied urgently as she took his thin, gnarled hand into hers. “It’s not too late. God will gladly take you if only you’d let him. Just tell him that you want to. He will love you and help you.”

 

He said it was at that moment that he knew that Someone was reaching out to him through her … The girl and the friend who was with her helped him up and they took him by bus to the home where they were staying. The family nursed Jacob back to health for one entire year. During the course of that year they shared their faith, read to him from the Bible and prayed with him. Eventually what began as a dying man’s desperate invitation to God to take his life, became a total commitment of his life and soul to his Messiah … Jacob eventually found a good job, lived in his own apartment and went back to his brother and was reconciled … As long as I live I will never forget the expression on his face as he spoke of what Jesus meant to him. “It would have been so easy,” he said, “to have rejected that girl. To have chosen to harbor all the years of resentment and disillusionment in my heart. But to think that God reached out to me, gave me a home and a family who loved me, restored my health, and above all else, filled my heart with a gladness and joy I never knew was possible!”

 

The identity of that charitable girl and her family is undoubtedly “Christian”. They are so because they have discovered, known, and loved the person of Jesus as the saving Lord and have put this revelation into practice. This Sunday’s Gospel pericope (Mt 11:2-11) is also about identity – an enormously greater one - the identity of “the one who is to come” and of his precursor, John the Baptist, “the one who prepares the way”. The Gospel reading is divided into two main parts: the first concerns John’s delegation to Jesus and the latter’s reply about his identity (v. 2-6); the second deals with the identity of John the Baptist as described by Jesus to the crowds (v. 7-11).

 

            Since his arrest (cf. Mt 4:12), John the Baptist had been hearing of “the works of the Christ” (Mt 11:2). From prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Mt 11:3).  According to modern exegetes, John the Baptist was not expressing complete doubt about Jesus, but perplexity that he was not the kind of Messiah he had expected. The Jesuit biblical scholar, John McKenzie, comments: “With the little information we have about him, we can surmise that the heavy emphasis on the eschatological judgment the Gospels report in John’s preaching (cf. Mt 3:1-10) did not appear in the proclamation of Jesus and that this caused John wonder.”

 

The answer of Jesus to the emissaries substantiated his messianic identity by enumerating his saving “works” in terms of the messianic expectations of ancient prophets, especially Isaiah (cf. Is 35:5-6; 61:1): “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them” (Mt 11:4-5). John McKenzie explains: “The answer of Jesus, although it is not a formal claim of messiahship, alludes to phenomena that in the Old Testament and Judaism were expected in the messianic era. More important, the quotations establish the type of messiahship that Jesus lets those see who will look. It is not a messiahship of the eschatological judgment of wrath, or the establishment of a messianic empire over all the kingdoms of the earth, or a war of extermination against the enemies of the chosen people. The messiahship suggested here is a messiahship of the healing of ills and the confirming of blessing.” Indeed, by alluding to ancient messianic prophecies, Jesus was asserting that the era of definitive salvation was joyfully breaking forth and being inaugurated. Rather than resort to violence and retribution, he dedicated himself to compassionate works of beneficence, saving miracles and the proclamation of the Good News to the poor. In a marvelous and unexpected way, Jesus of Nazareth thus brought to fulfillment the messianic prophecies concerning “the one who is to come”.

 

The Cistercian monk, Thomas Merton, reflects on Christ’s answer to John, which he calls, “the answer of newness and of life”. According to him: “Here are two kinds of eschatological signs, and they compenetrate one another, for they are all signs of life, proceeding from love. Evil ends, and gives place to good in a physical and visible way: blindness ends, sight begins. Sickness ends, health begins. Death ends, life begins. But all these signs are evidence of an inexhaustible living power, the action of life itself, bursting into time, defeating and reversing the work of time. Hence this power manifests the fullness of time … More important than the eschatological sign of renewed physical life is the sign par excellence: The gospel is preached to the poor. This means that the prophetic message of salvation, the fulfillment of the divine promises is now formally announced to the anawim, to those who hungered and thirsted for the kingdom because they had no hope but the Lord. And therefore the last days have come … The Last Days have come not merely because the poor have heard about Christ but because they “are” Christ. The poor themselves now become an eschatological sign of Christ, a sign by which other men are judged.”

 

The final words of Jesus to John’s emissaries were: “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me” (Lk 11:6). Those who welcome Jesus as the radically new and perfect model of the savior-figure based primarily on mercy and compassion, and not on fiery judgment and authority, are truly blessed. Those who welcome Jesus as the healing Christ of the poor, and are not scandalized by the meek quality of his benevolent messiahship, will relish the blessing of salvation. Indeed, the messianic works that Jesus carried out on behalf of the anawim are signs that evoke a faith response and solicit personal involvement from people in every time and space.

 

The second part of this Sunday’s Gospel passage (Mt 11:6-11) is devoted almost exclusively to an exquisite description of John the Baptist’s prophetic identity, which Jesus delineated through a series of rhetorical questions and assertions. As the messengers were leaving, Jesus began to talk to the crowds about John: “What did you go to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you’” (Mt 11:7-10). Indeed, John the Baptist, the courageous “voice in the desert”, was not a “reed swayed by the wind”, that is, someone unstable and unworthy (cf. Ez 29:6-9; Wis 4:4). Neither was he “dressed in fine clothing” as the political figures and nobles in palaces were robed. He was none of these, but rather, a prophet. John the Baptist, however, was more than a prophet. Jesus identified him as the Lord’s messenger prophesied by Malachi (3:1), the precursor who would prepare the way of the messianic Lord, “the one who is to come”.

 

The important role that John carried out in salvation history impelled Jesus to declare: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11a). Though acknowledging the greatness of John the Baptist as the last and greatest prophet of the old dispensation, the one preparing the messianic way, Jesus tempered his laudatory statement with the assertion: “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mt 11:11b). Indeed, for all the greatness attributed to him, John the Baptist did not bring to fulfillment the decisive new age of God’s kingdom. Through his messianic works, Jesus Christ accomplished that. According to Celia Sirois, “John’s greatness in the old order has been surpassed now by the unpredictably new thing God had done in Jesus.” The era of the kingdom inaugurated and fulfilled by Jesus Christ immeasurably transcends that which preceded and prepared for it. Indeed, the greatness of John, the precursor, comes from the Messiah and his prophetic identity is totally dependent on him. And so it is for us, Christian disciples of today!

 

 

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

 

At times, do we challenge Jesus with the blunt question: “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another”? Do we continue to “hear and see” the following messianic miracles in daily life: “the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them”? How do we “prepare the way of the Lord”?

  

 

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

 (Verses from the Commission Francophone Cistercienne, Chant E 202; the refrain by Lucien Deiss)

 

A voice cries out around the earth,

God is approaching in the night;

the seed of light is finally bearing fruit.

Behold the hour of the kingdom, the dead tree flowers again;

but before the Son  of man who can stand?

 

As we await the Lord, let our lips proclaim his praise:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

In the East his day arises, no one can escape his coming;

his word like a sword, lays hearts bare.

Only the poor find grace, only the poor know love:

God invites them to take their places near his eldest Son.

 

As we await the Lord, let our lips proclaim his praise:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

And the Lamb of new life, God made flesh in our time,

each day under humble signs comes before us.

Offer him your open hands, take his body which is given for you;

his love will be your feast, give him your faith.

 

As we await the Lord, let our lips proclaim his praise:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

March toward the City where your eyes will see the Lamb.

Look to him for the road to follow, leading to the new day!

 

As we await the Lord, let our lips proclaim his praise:

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

 

 

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.

 

“Are you the one who is to come?” (Mt 11:3)

 

 

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

 

During this Advent week make an effort to replicate in your life of prayer, love and service the messianic work: “the poor had the good news proclaimed to them”. Pay particular attention to the needs of the disaster-stricken and the world community.

 

***

 

December 16, 2013: MONDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (3)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Star from Jacob”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Nm 24:2-7, 15-17a // Mt 21:23-27

 

 

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

 

The Book of Numbers contains the very interesting story of the prophet Balaam being coaxed three times by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse the Israelites so that they will be able to defeat them and drive them out from the land. Instead of cursing the people of God, Balaam three times utters blessing upon them. The prophet Balaam explains to the irate and frustrated king: “I will say only what the Lord tells me to say.” The enraged Balak dismisses the prophet without any reward. But Balaam is unmoved in his purpose. Remuneration means nothing to him for his sole motivation as a prophet is to say what the Lord puts in his mouth. Before going back to his home in the eastern mountains of Syria, Balaam speaks an unsolicited word that announces Israel’s ultimate victory over the peoples of the region. Above all, he utters the most magnificent oracle of all: “A star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel.” In the context of our Advent preparation, Balaam’s prophecy about the “star” and the “staff” finds its final fulfillment, not in King David, but in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the King of the universe.

 

In the Gospel reading, after Jesus’ triumphant advent and messianic entry into Jerusalem, where he cleanses the temple, heals the sick and teaches with authority, the chief priests and elders challenge him and ask for credentials. Jesus counters with a question about the authority of John the Baptist. If they admit John the Baptist’s divine commissioning, they convict themselves of unbelief; if they deny it, they risk arousing the anger of the mob. Thus Jesus emerges from the confrontation with dignity and integrity.

 

The opposition leaders in Jerusalem refuse to recognize the divine origin of both John the Baptist and Jesus. But, as the people of Advent expectation, we know better. We are called to avow Jesus’ messianic authority. In concrete, we should courageously live and witness our faith in today’s increasingly hostile, secularized society. The White House for the first time, this year, referred to Christmas trees as “Holiday Trees”. This prompted CBS presenter Ben Stein to write an article which is circulated through Internet. His insights can encourage us in our religious witnessing.

 

I am a Jew, and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled trees “Christmas trees”. I don’t feel threatened. I don’t feel discriminated against. That’s what they are – “Christmas trees”. It doesn’t bother me a bit when people say, “Merry Christmas” to me. I don’t think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of the year. It doesn’t bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a crèche, it’s just fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards away.

 

I don’t like getting pushed around for being a Jew, and I don’t think Christians like getting pushed around for being Christians. I think people who believe in God are sick and tired of getting pushed around, period. I have no idea where the concept came from, that America is an explicitly atheist country. I can’t find it in the Constitution and I don’t like it being shoved down my throat. (…)

 

Funny how simple it is for people to trash God and then wonder why the world’s going to hell! Funny how we believe what the newspapers say, but question what the Bible says. Funny how you can send “jokes” through E-mail and they spread like wildfire, but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing. Funny how lewd, crude, vulgar and obscene articles pass freely through cyberspace, but public discussion about God is suppressed in the school and workplace. Are you laughing yet? (…)

 

 

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

 

Are we like the prophet Balaam who is totally committed to speak what God wants him to speak? Or are we like the leaders in Jerusalem who are not able to discern the divine character of the words and deeds of Jesus and refuse to commit themselves to him? What do we do to get to know Jesus, follow him closely, love him ardently and serve him faithfully?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

help us to recognize your divine authority

and submit to your saving power.

In today’s increasingly secularized and atheistic world,

give us the courage to speak your saving word

and witness that you are truly our Savior.

Maranatha! Come, O Christ the Lord!

 

 

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.

 

“By what authority are you doing these things?” (cf. Mt 21:23b)

 

 

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

 

Pray that the saving authority of Christ may be welcomed and embraced by today’s troubled world. In this Advent season, listen attentively to the Word of God and invite people around you to savor the “bread of the Word”. 

 

 

***

 

December 17, 2013: TUESDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (3)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is from the Tribe of Judah”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Gn 49:2, 8-10 // Mt 1:1-17

 

 

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

 

This happened in 1964. I was riding a bus which got stuck in traffic close to Malacanang, the Philippine presidential palace. Suddenly a group of motor guards appeared and cleared the way for a limousine. I held my breath when I saw the VIP being chauffeured - a very beautiful lady dressed in a pink Filipino gown. Later I realized that the “very beautiful” lady was Gemma Cruz, the newly crowned “Miss International”. That afternoon she was going to Malacanang to be feted by the First Lady, Mrs. Eva Macapagal. Gemma has beauty and brains. She has a heart for the poor. She donated the $10,000 prize money she received when she became Miss International to the “Asilo” for the street kids of Manila. She later became the Curator of the Philippine National Museum. Moreover, Gemma is the great-grand niece of Dr. Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero. Rizal must have been very proud of his progeny “beauty queen”.

 

Today’s Advent readings likewise depict an awesome royal progeny, Jesus Christ, the son of David and the offspring of Judah. The Old Testament reading contains the farewell address of the dying Jacob who was blessing his sons. In his blessing of Judah, the patriarch foreshadows the privileged destiny the tribe of Judah would enjoy when King David comes to power. The royal power and immense authority of David, however, point to a deeper reality: the infinite authority and the fullness of kingship of his descendant, Jesus Christ, the savior of the world and the king of the universe. In Jesus Christ, Jacob’s prophetic blessing is fulfilled: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, or the mace from between his legs, while tribute is brought to him, and he receives the people’s homage.” Let us welcome the advent of Christ’s kingdom of truth and life, of sanctity and grace, of love, justice and peace.

 

 

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

 

Do we allow Christ, the king of justice and peace, to come into our hearts and to rule over us?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

we thank you for the “scepter of Judah”

that finds fulfillment in your Son Jesus Christ.

He is the king of all ages.

Let him reign over us

that we may experience the fullness of truth and life,

of sanctity and grace,

of love, justice and peace.

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 day. Please memorize it.

 

“The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” (Gen 49:10)

 

 

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

 

Pray for civil authorities and world leaders that they may be filled with the wisdom of Christ and follow the compassionate ways of the King of kings. Treat the people around you with great respect and integrity befitting a “kingly people”. 

 

 

***

 

December 18, 2013: WEDNESDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (3)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Righteous Shoot of David”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Jer 23:5-8 // Mt 1:18-25

 

 

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

 

Today’s Old Testament reading contains Jeremiah’s prophecy, which breathes hope into an oppressive atmosphere of despair before the fall of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. False shepherds and corrupt rulers have been responsible for the exile of the nation. But God promises a righteous Shepherd-King who will gather the scattered people of Judah and the children of Israel from where they have been banished. The future king, a descendant of King David, will be God’s instrument to fulfill his saving plan. He shall govern wisely and do what is right and just. His name shall be “The Lord our justice” or “The Lord our salvation” because he is the embodiment of the true meaning of “justice”, which is the saving presence of God. Through “the king who is to come” shall be realized the blessings of the covenant, that is, the peace and justice that God has promised his people. Jeremiah’s prophecy of “a righteous shoot to David” is fulfilled with the coming of Jesus, whose foster father is Joseph, “son of David”.

 

Although the fullness of God’s saving justice is crystallized in Jesus, also called “Emmanuel” (“God is with us”), Joseph of Nazareth likewise exhibits the character of justice that befits his being a member of the chosen people. Joseph, the betrothed of Mary, is a just man who demonstrated his compassionate justice by his decision to save Mary and not to expose her to the Jewish punitive law. Had Joseph acted with human “righteousness”, the innocent Mary would have been unjustly punished and put to death. His justice, or righteousness, is further proven when he obediently followed God’s command and took Mary into his home as his wife. Saint Joseph is therefore a model of total collaboration in the divine saving plan to offer to the world its Savior, Jesus.

 

The saving righteousness of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and their cooperation in God’s saving plan continue to live on in the people of today. Steven Gemmen’s story, “Where Love Grows” in GUIDEPOSTS magazine (October 2004, cf. p. 44-48) is a touching account of how he welcomed into his life the child conceived by his wife, Heather, a victim of sexual assault. Steve narrates how his anger at the rapist found its outlet in the baby. In the sixth month of his wife’s rape-pregnancy, however, Steve was given the grace to understand that the little creature in his wife’s womb had nothing to do with the crime of the father, an unidentified African-American young man who broke into their home. Steve accepted the baby as his own, although there were bad times. According to Steve, “And there would be strained moments because of the baby’s appearance – starting with the delivery. How do you explain to the staff in the maternity ward that a white couple will have a biracial baby? But what a beautiful, beautiful baby! Healthy, squalling, wriggling, perfect – our long-awaited little girl … Our lives haven’t been the same since that terrible night. They never will be. I’d thought nothing could make me love this child. That’s true. Nothing can make us love anyone or anything. Love is not a choice. It is the sovereign gift of God. And it was his gift that the child who stirred within Heather would make the unbearable not just bearable, but miraculous.”   

 

 

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

 

Do we allow ourselves to be imbued with the true character of justice – the one lived out by Saint Joseph and his foster son, Jesus Christ? Do we realize that true justice is linked to the presence of God and his plan of salvation?

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

we believe that with the advent of your Son Jesus Christ,

“the righteous shoot of David”,

justice shall flourish in our time and fullness of peace forever.

Help us to welcome Jesus in our life

so that we may rejoice in his messianic blessing.

You are truly kind and just

and you are our almighty God,

now and forever.

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 raise up a righteous shoot to David.” (Jer 23:5)

 

 

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

 

By your prayer, words and deeds endeavor to bring justice to those who have been abused, violated and wronged. Pray in a special way for the victims of sexual violence and human trafficking.

 

***

 

December 19, 2013: THURSDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (3)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Consecrated One”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a // Lk 1:5:25

 

 

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

 

Our friends, Lynn and Restie, a young married couple residing in San Jose (CA-USA) were eagerly looking forward to raise their own family. Unfortunately, Lynn had a miscarriage. A medical problem made it difficult, or impossible, for her to have a baby. Lynn and Restie prayed to God and put their trust in him. Against all odds, Lynn conceived and gave birth to a beautiful girl. I was taking my turn for the Eucharistic Adoration when I heard some discreet footsteps. I turned around and saw Lynn and Restie, beaming joyfully and carrying their baby named Eliana. Lynn was just discharged from the maternity hospital. Before going home, the proud parents decided to pass by the Sisters’ convent and present their daughter to the Lord. Lynn and Restie put the baby, sleeping peacefully in a cradle basket, at the foot of the altar. We offered praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for the “miraculous” gift and humbly begged Jesus to bless and consecrate the child.

 

Today’s readings speak of the announcement of the birth of Samson and John the Baptist and their consecration to God from their mothers’ womb. Both the mother of Samson and the mother of the Baptist are barren. The birth of the child for each mother is an act of grace and presages a unique mission for each child. The boy, Samson, is destined for the deliverance of Israel from the power of the Philistines. The boy, John the Baptist, will bring many people of Israel back to God and, mighty like the prophet Elijah, he will prepare the way of the Lord. In view of their special saving mission, Samson and John the Baptist must live an ascetic life – never drinking wine or strong drink. Filled with the Holy Spirit, their consecration to God points to the totally “consecrated One”, Jesus Savior, whose works and words manifest him as the “Holy One of God”.

 

 

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

 

Are we receptive to the miraculous intervention of God in our daily life, and do we trust in his power to make the barren fruitful? What does being “consecrated” to God mean to us? How do we live out this “consecration”?

 

 

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

 

O loving God,

we thank you for your miraculous intervention

in the lives of barren women

and your awesome power to make the barren fruitful.

We thank you for consecrating Samson and John the Baptist

in their mothers’ womb

and for their special role in salvation history.

Help us to value our own consecration

and let the Holy Spirit of Jesus,

the totally “consecrated One” fill our hearts.

Make us docile instruments of your saving will.

We bless and praise you,

now and forever.

            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.

 

“This boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb.” (Jgs 13:5)

 

 

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

 

Make this Advent season a privileged occasion to practice mortification and sacrifices that will help you perceive the practical implications of being “consecrated” to God.

 

 

***

 

December 20, 2013: FRIDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (3)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is a Sign of Salvation”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 7:10-14 // Lk 1:26-38

 

 

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

 

It must have been some kind of midlife crisis, for I had allowed the disappointments of those moments to discourage me and even erode my self-esteem. I felt so insignificant and it seemed that I had toiled in vain. I needed some kind of affirmation to confirm that my apostolic labor had meaning and value. I prayed to God to give me a “sign”. In his goodness God gifted me with a beautiful “sign”. One day in June 2001, Bishop Protacio Gungon of the Diocese of Antipolo, in the Philippines, informed me that I was going to receive an award. The Bishop nominated me for the papal award, PRO ECCLESIA ET PONTIFICE in recognition for the service I had rendered to the Church and the Pope. On August 15, 2001, in a memorable diocesan celebration that acknowledged the contribution of a layman, a religious, and a clergyman, Mr. Guillermo Tolentino and I received the PRO ECCLESIA ET PONTIFICE award while Fr. Arnel Lagarejos was elevated to the rank of “papal chaplain”, with the title of “Monsignor”. The conferral of the papal award was for me a “sign” that encourages me in difficulties as I endeavor to serve the Lord and his people through the Eucharistic-Priestly-Liturgical apostolate.

 

The liturgy of the Advent and Christmas seasons is marked by an exquisite “sign” of God’s love: the birth of a child, which is perhaps the most universal and enduring symbol of hope for the human race. A “sign” in the Old Testament and New Testament is usually some event assuring us of divine intervention. It is an indication of divine presence and a form of revelation. A “sign” is God’s propitious expression of benevolence and a promise of salvation for his people. It is a gift of love from our saving God to encourage us in moments of crisis. Indeed, a divine “sign” is a symbol of hope in weakness and an assurance of life and victory when assailed with threats of defeat and destruction.

 

The Old Testament reading (Is 7:10-14) contains a prophetic sign directed to King Ahaz, who was anxious and trembling as “the trees of the forest tremble in the wind” (Is 7:2), for the imminent siege of Jerusalem in 735 B.C. by the kings of Syria and Israel. Confronting his lack of trust in the Lord, the prophet Isaiah declared: “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14). With the sign of the conception and birth of a child, God wanted to manifest to King Ahaz, who was piously hiding his intent to seek security through political allies, that the Lord Yahweh was in perfect control of human history and destiny. Indeed, God is with us and intimately involved in our affairs. The “sign” announced by the prophet Isaiah was an invitation to Ahaz to trust in God alone – in the realization of the Covenant and his continual protection. The King ought not to rely on the political and military interventions of the Assyrians for salvation from his enemies. The conception and birth of a child by the young wife of King Ahaz was meant to be a powerful indication of Yahweh’s abiding presence and merciful intervention on behalf of his people. The weakling ruler, however, did not accept the birth of his son, Hezekiah, as a “sign” of salvation and of God’s solicitude for the house of David. Trusting more in political security, Ahaz sent gold and silver to the King of Assyria and became his vassal.

 

Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in the birth of the Virgin Mary’s child, Jesus. The authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 1, comment: “The sign that God gives is the birth of a child. It is a sign, because this birth is a promise of salvation. Moreover, he will bear the significant name Emmanuel, that is, God-with-us. The salvation announced to the people goes beyond the person of Hezekiah. The child, the sign of the salvation of God, will be no ordinary person, and he will come from David’s lineage: the Messiah himself. When Jesus appeared, born of a woman – a virgin whose name was Mary – to whom the angel of God said: You shall conceive and bear a son … The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father … and his reign will be without end (Lk 1:31-33), one will easily surmise that he must be the promised Messiah. Not merely one sign among many, but THE sign of God.” 

 

 

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

 

Have we ever experienced a crisis situation that prompted us to ask God for a “sign” that he was really there for us? Did God send us a “sign” in response to our faith-filled yearning? 

 

 

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

 

Loving Father,

we welcome the birth of Jesus,

from the virginal womb of Mary,

as a sign of your saving presence in our midst,

a symbol of hope and a promise of salvation.

In the fragile “sign” of the Child Jesus,

born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem,

we embrace the presence,

the power and strength of your redeeming love.

In Jesus Savior

the joy of Christmas is complete.

We thank you, loving Father,

for the “sign” of the Christ Child

and the gift of Christmas.

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.

 

“The Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (Is 7:14) 

 

 

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

 

Meditate on the beautiful Christmas “sign” of the Christ Child, born of Mary. Let the “sign” of the Christ Child and the Christmas spirit of love, justice, peace and the presence of God be shared with the people around you, especially the poor, the sick and the suffering.  

 

 

***

 

December 21, 2013: SATURDAY – ADVENT WEEKDAY (3); SAINT PETER CANISIUS, priest, doctor of the Church

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is in Our Midst”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Sg 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18a // Lk 1:39-45

 

 

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

 

Zephaniah, who prophesied under King Josiah of Judah, is both the prophet of the “day of wrath” and the harbinger of the promise of salvation. His foreboding of doom (cf. Zep 1:15: “a day of wrath, that day, a day of distress and agony, a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of cloud and darkness …”) merely underlines the consoling message that God is in our midst – to bring salvation out of a painful situation. The enigmatic prophet, Zephaniah, makes an ardent appeal to trust in the mighty Lord who is “in our midst”. He courageously invites a presently distressed people to rejoice in a situation in which joy seems utterly impossible. Zephaniah’s climactic message of hope reinforces the clarion call of the Church in this Advent season to rejoice always in the Lord. The indomitable joy of a believer and the faith community is founded on the conviction that our future is secured by God and promoted by human endeavor and response. Against the backdrop of Zephaniah’s ode to joy and the exceedingly familiar situations of pain and calamity in today’s world, we perceive better our mission to be instruments of joy and hope for others.

 

The following excerpt from a letter written by our friend, Sr. Jean Marie, CSFN, an American missionary in the Philippines, invites us to cling to God whose love is made incarnate and is “in our midst”.

 

Yes, since October 15 this country has had two major calamities. A 7.2 earthquake struck Bohol and Cebu about 8:15 a.m. that day and over 3,000 aftershocks are still going on. Our 5 Sisters there had to hold on to iron grills on the windows; otherwise, they would have been thrown over the second floor porch, where they were able to exit.  Our school was damaged but the loss of 23 churches is even more devastating. (…)

 

Typhoon Yolanda, as called in the Philippines, struck a blow Nov. 8-9 leaving even more devastation. Thousands of lives were lost because of the water surge. It will take a long time plus lots of faith and courage for these families to rebuild their homes and lives.

 

Christmas is right around the corner. So, this newborn Baby Jesus is always a sign of and proof for hope that new life, especially our spiritual life will not die. Perhaps the Filipino people are being purified and strengthened in their faith and trust in the God who loves and cares. Lots of love is being poured out from all around the world. Businesses and institutions here are cancelling Christmas parties and donating the money. Is this not what Christmas is all about? Christmas is about love – the love of God for us and our love for one another.

 

 

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

 

Do we welcome with joyful expectation the advent of Jesus, the font of joy, in our personal life and in the life of the Church? Do we resolve to commit ourselves to be a people of joy and to be promoters of joy in today’s anguished and distressed world?

 

 

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

(cf. Alternative Opening Prayer of the Mass: Third Sunday of Advent)

 

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

ever faithful to your promises

and ever close to your Church:

the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming

and looks forward with longing

to his return at the end of time.

Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness

that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope

which his presence will bestow.

He is Lord 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.

 

“The Lord, your God, is in your midst.” (Zep 3:17)

 

 

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

 

Pray for those who have experienced and are experiencing terrible loss, pain and calamity. Pray that the joy in the Lord may come to them even in their painful and distressed situations. Be an instrument of joy and consolation for them. Offer your moral, spiritual and material help to the victims of natural and man-made calamities.  

 

***

 

 

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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