AN END OF THE YEAR
It is that time of the year again when we reach out to you for
help. Our weekly emailings now go to almost 9,000 recipients. Our
webpage, "Preacher Exchange" has had 390,000 "hits" since last
Advent. We have kept these Spanish and English resources free so
those in poorer parishes and the developing world can have access to
them. Judging from the emails I get, that is exactly what is
happening. We can’t continue this service without your help – so
Every day our community prays for our benefactors. And so you and
your loved ones will be remembered at our daily Eucharist and prayer
during these special days of Advent and Christmas.
Send tax deductible checks to:
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Vince Hagan Dr.
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link to our reflection for "The Immaculate Conception", December 8,
2018. A Holy Day of Obligation.
What an unusual beginning today's gospel passage has! Usually
such passages open with expressions like: "At that time. . .," " In
those days. . .," " Early in the morning. . . .," "On the Sabbath. .
.," etc. Or, some narratives begin with no allusion to time or place
at all: "Jesus said to the crowds. . .," "Jesus addressed this
parable to the crowds. . . ," etc. How different today's gospel is:
half of it is dedicated to dates, places and specific people of
authority. " In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar.
. . . etc. " Luke is too careful a writer not to have something in
mind. His specificity suggests a message– the actions of God on our
behalf have taken place in very concrete ways---on certain days and
in particular places. In other words, God acts in our human history
in specific and discernible ways. This unique Gospel opening invites
us to look over the realities of our own lives and to notice God's
gracious acts on our behalf in the daily routines---- through the
almost casual events and repetitious happenings at home, work,
leisure and worship.
But God also enters our lives in entirely new and unpredictable
ways. The gospel suggests that at a particular moment in the world's
history, while civil and religious powers ruled in their own worlds
of influence, God stepped in to change the course of events, to
introduce to the world a whole new way of living. God spoke a word
to John in the desert, and from that barren and still place the word
was heard and passed on to others.
It may seem idealistic to encourage peopled to take time out for
quiet and reflection at a time of the year that drives most of us to
distraction and frantic activity. But some kind of desert moment
does seem to be the necessary atmosphere for hearing God. It needn't
take much time. I know a letter carrier who, on his way in from his
delivery route, stops off at a church for five minutes each day. He
says, "I like the quiet, it soothes me. My life is so busy and crazy
these days." He is doing an Advent practice. "The word of God came
to "N"....in the desert." Fill in your own name here; God doesn't
restrict the word to just a select few. In fact, the gospel shows us
today that, though people like Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate,
Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas and Caiaphus may have been prominent
and well known by the populace of their day, God chose to speak to
an obscure itinerant preacher in the hill country of Judea.
The desert is such a rich biblical symbol. Devout people in
John's time were attuned to their religious history. The desert
played an important role for the Jews; it through the desert that
they escaped from Egyptian slavery. It was also where God spoke to
them, revealed God's name and led them day by arduous day to the
land of promise. From their desert experience the people learned
that God's advent – God's coming to fulfill the long awaited promise
– happens after a period of preparation and high expectation. Our
Advent waiting and yearning also have the same potential for
John the Baptist plays a prominent role in all the gospels, but
particularly in Luke. (For example, the evangelist presents us with
the accounts of both John and Jesus' annunciations and births.) John
hears the word in the desert and preaches "throughout the whole
region of the Jordan." The Jordan was another important place in the
faith life of the Jewish believers. After their desert wanderings
the people crossed over the Jordan river into the promise land. They
left behind slavery, came to know God in the desert and were finally
prepared by God to cross into new life. Today this reference to the
Jordan's water reminds us Christians of our baptism.
Those baptismal waters were not just part of some past ritual;
they initiated us into a new way of life. These waters have
accompanied us throughout our lives; they led us out of slavery,
traveled with us across our own desert terrain and bubbled up at
important moments when we would have given up, or when we lost our
way. Advent is a time to call on our baptismal identity to ask for
help: to straighten out our life's path if it has developed twists
and turns; to lower the mountains and hills we have built to
separate us from family members and the world around us; to fill in
the valleys of our emptiness and longing for God.
There are lots of instances of change in today's readings. The
Baruch reading starts with a change of clothing, "Jerusalem, take
off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory."
There is also a change of name; the people in exile are told that
the devastated Jerusalem will be given a new name, "the peace of
justice, the glory of God's worship." John the Baptist calls people
to change and show the results of change – that our valleys are
filled, our paths are made straight and mountains and hills lowered.
Advent is a time of change as we struggle to hear God's Word and do
our best to respond to it. This Word opens our hearts, and fills us
with the hope that we can more fully turn back to our God. Like the
Jews journeying across the desert to their promised place, our hope
is stirred for what lies ahead. Our God accompanies us on our
journey, as Baruch promised, "...God will bring them back to
you...God is leading Israel in joy...by the light of God's
We remember hearing in other gospel passages that John made
people uncomfortable. No one, then or now, wants to hear that they
must change. Maybe John had to preach out in the desert because
neither Roman rulers nor high religious authorities wanted him in
court or temple precincts. He would have upset the status quo and
challenged the compromises religious leadership had worked out with
the secular government. This "baptism of repentance for the
forgiveness of sins," sounds like sacrifice is going to be asked of
us, as well as an admission of wrong doing. Our society doesn't like
that kind of talk. Neither do religious institutions. In the recent
church scandals, some of those sinned against said they just wanted
church leaders to admit they were wrong and give them a sincere
John says that God is about to break into our lives. Advent does
not carry the same tone of penitence that Lent does. Nevertheless,
openness to the next thing God wants to do in our lives may first
require from us what John was asking at the Jordan's waters –
"repentance for the forgiveness of sin." Our baptismal waters assure
us that forgiveness is readily available. In addition, this season
reminds us that God is also ever ready to speak again at this
present stage of our journey. We noted that Luke is very specific
about the time and place God spoke the Word to John. The evangelist
is also telling us that at THIS time and in THIS place God has a
Word for us. Not only for us as individuals, but for this worshiping
community. When such a Word is received with a ready heart, we are
gently carried further along our way to God. Our church, recently
tripped up, needs to hear that Word anew this day, in this place of
worship, for we must be a sign to the world, that a new and healed
life is possible.
The setting has changed since the prophet John was called by
God's Word in the desert – but not as much as it first seems. We too
are in the wilderness, though we live in great cities and brush
shoulders with many people constantly. We live in the wilderness of
isolation that, as Karl Rahner reminds us, has no center and is not
a home for us. We too must also confront the beasts in our
wilderness: beasts of aggression, war, competition, greed, and the
lust for still more property and power. We in the church must be a
sign that another way of living is possible where there are no
hills, mountains, valleys or crooked roads to separate us from each
John the Baptist was expecting some thing wonderful and new to
happen, "in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caeasar...."
We pray that this Advent will open our eyes to see the wonderful and
new things God is promising for us, in this present moment and in
for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
PREACHER EXCHANGE WEBPAGE
PREACHING IN THE BLACK CHURCH
Literature and Preaching in the Black Church," by Bruce Barnabas
Schultz, O.P., Associate Pastor, Our Lady of Lourdes, Atlanta, GA
(Click on "Preaching Essay") John J.
Markey (O.P.), MAKING SENSE OF MYSTERY - A PRIMER ON THEOLOGICAL
THINKING, A review by R. B. Williams, O.P. (Click on "Book
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.
As we enter the second week of Advent, we focus on preparing for
love entering our lives in the form of an infant born in poverty.
Reading II today has Paul praying that our love will increase
through knowledge and perception. Knowledge is a familiarity,
awareness, or understanding of someone or something, which is
acquired through education or experience by learning, perceiving, or
discovering. Catholicism, in its love of learning, has given a great
gift by the creation of what is known as the university, a formal
institution that has its origin in the Medieval Catholic tradition.
But we are missing something if all we rely on is book learning when
it comes to God’s love.
Consider this bit of wisdom from Anthony de Mello, S.J., in his
book, The Song of the Bird, (Loyola, 1983):
"A lover presses his suit unsuccessfully for many months,
suffering the atrocious pains of rejection. Finally his sweetheart
yielded. ‘Come to such and such a place, at such and such an hour,’
she said to him. At that time and place the lover finally found
himself seated beside his beloved. He then reached into his pocket
and pulled out a sheaf of love letters that he had written to her
over the past months. They were passionate letters, expressing the
pain he felt and his burning desire to experience the delights of
love and union. He began to read them to his beloved. The hours
passed by but still he read on and on. Finally, the woman said,
‘What kind of a fool are you? These letters are all about me and
your longing for me. Well, here I am sitting next to you. And you
keep reading your stupid letters.’
‘Here I am sitting next to you,’ said God to his devotee, ‘and
you keep reflecting about me in your head, talking about me with
your tongue and reading about me in your books. When will you become
silent and taste Me?’" (128).
How can we be silent and taste God in this week of preparation?
We can do so by loving others, especially the poor and
disadvantaged. To accompany God in the guise of the poor is not an
idle exercise of learning how to love.
To join parish efforts:
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Director of Social
Holy Name of Jesus
Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
SUNDAY OF ADVENT (C) December 9, 2018
Baruch 5: 1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11; Luke 3: 1-6
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for
persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted
in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From the prophet Baruch:
Jerusalem take off your robe of mourning and misery;
on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God.
The prophet Baruch promises a time when we will be "wrapped in
the cloak of justice." Justice is not merely one virtue among many.
For God’s community, it is the key virtue. It reflects the very way
God treats us. In a community guided by justice, all are treated
equally; all share in the community’s resources; no one goes hungry
or is treated unfairly.
So we ask ourselves:
- How did I feel when an injustice was done against me?
- What can I do to help another person not be treated in the
same manner I was?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty
is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever
form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison
system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and
addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them
to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them
you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith
Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might
consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
- Jeremy D. Murrell #0940436 (On death row since 2/17/2006)
- Darrell W. Maness #0831753 (4/4/2006)
- Ryan G. Garcell #0775602 (4/4/2006)
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC
For more information on the Catholic position on the death
penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the
"First Impressions" is a service to
preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is
sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First
Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John
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If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax
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1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:
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If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group,
or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in
your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use
these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.
You can order the CDs by going to our webpage:
and clicking on the "First Impressions" CD link on the left.
2. "Homilías Dominicales" —These
Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written
by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to
receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at
3. Our webpage:
Where you will find "Preachers’ Exchange," which includes "First
Impressions" and "Homilías
Dominicales," as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and
other material pertinent to preaching.
4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those
wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the
Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent
weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above
you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the
Great Priory of Texas
Vince Hagan Drive
First Impressions Archive
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