Sunday Word

God is at work in each one of us

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, Dec. 9 Second Sunday of Advent
Bar 5:1-9; Ps 126:1-6; Phil 1:4-6, 8-11; Lk 3:1-6

On this second Sunday of Advent we read St. Paul’s encouraging words to the Philippians: “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” This expectation is expressed in the ordination rite, as the man to be ordained a deacon or a priest kneels before the bishop, who says, “May God, who has begun a good work in you, bring it to fulfillment.”

God has been working in each of us all our lives. He is at work in the catechumens and candidates who are preparing to receive the sacraments of the Church next Easter. He is at work in each marriage and each family of our parish. He is at work in our community of faith. Our task this Advent is to allow him to bring his good work to fulfillment — being more open each day to that work — which truly transforms us, “so that we may be pure and holy for the day of Christ.”

In Advent, we pray with confidence that the promises of God will be fulfilled, that he will perfect his work in us. Baruch promises us that God will fill us with joy: “God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.” St. Paul writes these hopeful words to the Philippians: “This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”

We prepare for Christmas in many different ways. In the midst of so much preparation, there is nothing more important that we can do than to open ourselves up to the love God wants to share with us. Herein is the greatest challenge and the greatest blessing of Advent. God began a wonderful work in each one of us on the day of our conception (as he did in a unique way in Mary’s, as we celebrate on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8). He has ratified it sacramentally on the day of our baptism and has continued to do so in various ways through the sacramental life of the Church. This Advent, we ask God to continue this work and bring it to perfection.

This Advent, the words of St. Paul have particular resonance, as we look back at a year with many sorrows and challenges, in our country and in the Church. Some of the events might even have made some of us lose trust in the assurance that filled St. Paul with hope, despite the challenges he faced. He knew that his readers shared in his mission, that they were in “partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now.” Almost 2,000 years later, every priest and every Christian continues to share in a “partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now.” Every priest and every Christian is called, with St. John the Baptist, to “prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths.” Even as we lament the failures of some of our number and as discernment continues about ways even for our bishops to be more accountable to us and to each other and first of all to God, Advent calls us to remember whose the Church is, whose we are, and whose the work is.

All of us, priests and laity, must recognize that our growth in the Christian life is always God’s work. Without recognizing this truth, we cannot be as St. Paul hoped the Philippians would be: “pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness.” Advent gives us the opportunity to open ourselves for God to do his work in our lives. With the love and affection that St. Paul showed readers, let us pray for each other a prayer I would beg you to pray, especially for priests: “May God, who began a good work in you, bring it to fulfillment.”

‘Love for one another and for all’

Father Alfredo Hernandez
Sunday, Dec. 2, First Sunday of Advent
Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; 1 Thes 3:12–4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

As we consider the reality that surrounds us, the promise made by the Lord to the people of Israel can seem downright Pollyanna-ish. “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise.”

Only a couple of weeks ago, we observed the 100th anniversary of the conclusion of the War to End All Wars. We know, though, that somewhere near to 100 million people have died as a result of armed conflicts in the last 100 years. Our own nation seems more divided than ever, as turning on the news each day reveals. We know that there are so many causes of suffering in the world, so many ways in which we have failed to learn the lessons of what our sin can do to us and to others.

The promise of Jeremiah was not a promise made in a joyful time for the Jewish people. In fact, it was made in what was probably the lowest point in the entire history of Israel. Jerusalem was about to fall to the Babylonians, and the people of Judah were about to be sent into exile. There was no deeper “rock bottom” than the one that the people of Israel were experiencing around 587 B.C. And yet, in that moment, Jeremiah announces the day of hope: “I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be safe and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: ‘The Lord our justice.’”

God promises the people of Israel to fulfill his promises to them, and we Christians know that it is in Christ that all the blessings God has promised are given. In this Advent season we are called to open ourselves up to these awesome blessings. The hope that the Lord offers to us, then, is not that the world is all of a sudden going to become peaceful and that all that we want is going become reality, as if God were a genie in a bottle. The hope he offers us is that he has the final word, the word of justice, over all the injustice in the world, over all the injustice in our hearts. God leads us into this justice, by his love, as the psalmist says: “He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way.”

What gets in the way of our being open to the gifts of justice with which the Lord wants to shower us? In the Gospel, Jesus himself makes some suggestions: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” Somehow we have allowed the parties and the trappings of “Christmas season” or the “holidays” to take the place of Advent to such an extent that we do not give ourselves a chance to prepare to receive the ultimate gift of justice and mercy, Christ himself, when Christmas comes.

How should we prepare to receive Christ? St. Paul, in the oldest text of the New Testament, his first letter to the Thessalonians, writes of how we should live: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” He goes on to state: “We earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God and as you are conducting yourselves you do so even more.” St. Paul seems to be saying, you are doing pretty well, but do even better. It is interesting that St. Paul sees that the greatest gift God gives us is for us to be able to please God!

I mentioned being “Pollyanna-ish” at the beginning. It seems to me that Pollyanna gets a bum rap. In the 1913 book by Eleanor Porter, Pollyanna is an orphan girl who sees the good in all situations, to such an extent that it can seem unrealistic. In the 1960 Disney movie, Pollyanna, played by Hayley Mills, is not upbeat and positive because she is pretending that there is no suffering in her life, but being upbeat and positive is the way her faith helps her to deal with her very real pain. A locket her late father had given her had a saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “When you look for the bad in mankind, expecting to find it, you surely will.”

As we begin to get ready for Christmas 2018, I invite you to be aware of what obstacles there are in your life and in the life of your family to receiving Jesus with joy. Look as well at how you can live out the life of “love for one another and for all,” looking for the good in each other and in all of our brothers and sisters. It is “love for one another and for all” that will allow us to trust in the fulfilment of all of God’s promises. “Love for one another and for all” will also allow us to be the means by which God will fulfill those promises in the 21st century.

Father Hernández is academic dean and Director of Liturgy at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

Jesus Christ is King of Everything

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, Nov. 25, Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Dn 7:13-14; Ps 93:1-2, 5; Rv 1:5-8; Jn 18:33b-37

Last Sunday the Scripture readings gave us hope. While our movies and TV shows foresee a future of doom, we Christians look forward to the renewal of the universe itself.

We need not live in anxiety or fear. We can trust that what God has begun in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God will surely bring to a joyous fulfillment. We proclaim “the life of the world to come.” Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
This Sunday the Scripture readings and prayers strengthen our hope. Paradoxically, the hope is born in trial. All three Scripture readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe take place during times of trial.

The first reading from the Book of Daniel came into its present form when the Seleucid Empire during the second century before Christ persecuted the Jewish people. The second reading from the Book of Revelation was written when the Roman Empire under the reign of Domitian persecuted the early Church. In the reading from the Gospel of John, the Roman ruler Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus was on trial for his life.

In a trial, the truth comes out. The witness swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Through these trials of the Jewish people, the early Church and Jesus himself, the truth has come out: Our Lord Jesus Christ is King of the Universe.

He is not only king of consolation to whom we turn in our grief at a funeral. He is not only king of Sunday morning when we stop what we are doing for a couple of hours to come to Mass. He is the King of Everything.

The aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had a sign reminding us that the oceans are a loan to us from our children. Or as Scripture tells us, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Ps 24:1). All creation belongs to Christ the King.

He is the King of kings, the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” His rule is the standard to measure all other rulers. He rules their wealth, landholdings, investments, legislations and deliberations. He is the King of the living and the dead, “the firstborn of the dead” (Rv 1:5).

The Book of Revelation continues. He “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (and) has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.” Notice the grammatical tenses. As Peter Wallace points out, his love for us is present here and now, while his offering on the altar of the cross has freed us and made us holy.

Though we live under the authority of our city councils, state legislatures, and federal government, our first and final allegiance is to God. Even our own lives belong to him. We neither live nor die as our own masters; rather, “if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom 14:8). The Lord Jesus Christ is King of Everything.

Belonging to Christ and his kingdom, how do we live? We live in obedience to his commands, for “your decrees are worthy of trust indeed” (Ps 93:5). We proclaim his praise, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mk 11:9).

Look what happens when we live this way. The preface describes his kingdom as “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” Violence has no place in his kingdom. Neither do injustice, racism, division, half-truths, and domination. Who would not want to live in such a kingdom?
“To him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen” (Rv 1:6).

To take to prayer: Pray for the coming of the kingdom, adding the word “today” at the end of each phrase of the “Our Father.”

Father Scotchie is the pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo. He is the co-author of “Rites of Passage: Preaching Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals” and can be reached at frdavidscotchie@gmail.com.

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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