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Contents: Volume 2 - 4th Sunday - ADVENT – B –
December 24, 2017


 

The 4th

Sunday

Advent

2017

1. -- Lanie LeBlanc OP

2. -- Barbara Cooper, OP

3. -- Carol & Dennis Keller

4. -- Brian Gleeson CP

5. -- Paul O'Reilly SJ

6.. (Your reflection can be here!)

 

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Advent 4 B

This year's shorter than most Advent season objectively means less time for the spiritual aspect of the season as well as the practical, more commercial one. No matter how much "extra" one tries to shorten the to do list, there are always essentials that are, well, critical. I have tried to put "being still" at the top of each day's list to be sure that, even at the end of the day, I have connected with the Reason for the season.

Last Sunday morning was one of those mornings with too much happening, and just before leaving a little later for Mass, too. Those with children can surely relate! We slid into the pew just before the procession with hardly enough time to settle down really. My quicker breathing slowed down as our pastor asked the congregation to repeat the mantra we have been using just before lighting the Advent candle each week. Basically it is "Slow down , slow down, and know I am God." After three times, all was well.

It got even better! After the first reading, in the stillness of the church, our cantor began to sing the Psalm which was the Magnificat, Mary's "yes". It is the subject of this Sunday's Gospel reading although the longer version is not used... but back to last Sunday and the connection I felt.

My lovely granddaughter usually sings along at an appropriate time during Mass, usually paying attention, and being musically pretty much in tune. Well, two out of three is usually OK with me. This time though she sang spontaneously along with the cantor rather than just at the parishioners' response! She did it fairly softly, without looking at the words. It was straight from her heart. It was the most beautiful moment I can recall in a long time and two tears just rolled down my cheek. We just smiled. It would have been a Kodak moment for sure or a great YouTube video if appropriate; that memory will sustain me for a LONG time. Just 30 minutes previously....

Fast forward to this week and the Gospel story. Mary had no idea what her "yes" meant, but she said "yes" because she knew that God's grace would sustain her through whatever that might be. As we ponder how fully we are able to say "yes" at this point in our lives, let us ask our Blessed Mother to help us be all we were meant to be, relying on God's grace as she did.

Yes, Mary's life was difficult, but she was right: God's grace will sustain us. That is true through the hardest of times as well as when little things (and little ones) challenge our peacefulness the most. I will never read, hear, or sing the Magnificat the same ever again.

Blessings,

Dr. Lanie LeBlanc OP

Southern Dominican Laity

lanie@leblanc.one

 

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Fourth Sunday of Advent – B – December 24, 2017

Here it is the fourth Sunday of Advent and also Christmas Eve. I feel like I'm being cheated out of a week worth of Advent! Mary hardly has a chance to look at her pregnancy test, and Jesus is about to nestle into her loving arms, at least liturgically. It reminds me that the mysteries we celebrate and reflect on are interconnected and timeless.

In the first reading we find King David, having overcome his enemies and secured his kingdom, relaxing and dreaming of building a more suitable "dwelling for God". We do like to manage and control things, even the Divine Mystery.

God's reply to David is a reminder that the Divine Presence has been with him wherever he went. God doesn't really need a fixed abode. In fact, God will build a "house" for David:

"But that night, the word of God came to Nathan saying, "Go and tell my servant David: This is God’s word on the matter: You’re going to build a ‘house’ for me to live in? Why, I haven’t lived in a ‘house’ from the time I brought the children of Israel up from Egypt till now. All that time I’ve moved about with nothing but a tent. And in all my travels with Israel, did I ever say to any of the leaders I commanded to shepherd Israel, ‘Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?’"

One senses a bit of astonishment in God's tone. The text goes on and later in the same chapter God promises to build a "house" for David. Sometimes we just have to allow God to work and stop fussing so much. Because...

Christmas is about God living in a "tent" rather than in a mansion. Tents can easily be folded and packed to the next location. Tents follow life, where ever it leads us. The Divine Presence is "tenting" with us.

Tents are not only portable, they are translucent, and sometimes even transparent. "The Word became flesh" John tells us at the very beginning of his gospel, and dwells with us. In this Word is life, and this life is the light for all people. We hold this light tenderly so it shines in darkness, and is not extinguished. But it shines within us in all situations, seeking to illuminate us and our world.

And tents are open to others. They can't be locked and bolted to keep others out. The Holy One is always inviting us to stop in and visit awhile. The "tent" of our body and spirit is near, we just need to be still and listen for the Word. It speaks of birth and fullness of life.

Barbara Cooper, OP

Vancouver Island, BC Canada

bcoop60@yahoo.com

 

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Fourth Sunday of Advent December 24 2017

2nd Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, & 14-16; Responsorial Psalm 89; Romans 16:25-27; Gospel Acclamation Luke 1:38; Luke 1:26-38

The first reading from the Book of Samuel and the Responsorial Psalm were written at a time when the Kingship of David and the presence of God’s goodness were in question. The house of David had fallen into scandal and corruption. Yet the divinely inspired author of the Book of Samuel looks back to the unsolicited promise given to David by the prophet Nathan. David’s success as king united the disparate, independent, and often warring Hebrew tribes. David’s reign was a time of great hope and building and infrastructure projects. Jerusalem was a great city build high on a hill, Mount Sion. In this reading from the book of Samuel, David agonizes over the lack of a proper dwelling for Yahweh in Jerusalem. David had brought the Ark of the Covenant to the heights of Mount Sion where it was sheltered under a tent as during the time in the desert wandering. Our reading wasn’t written at the time of David, however. When this history was written down, the Jews were a mere remnant of the nation Israel. They looked back to the glory days of David and recalled the story of the Yahweh’s promise to David that his house would live on and thrive forever. This was the hope of the people that one day they would be restored to the prominence it experienced under David and his son Solomon. Well, Solomon, not so much, as those were harsh time with levies and taxes that crippled commerce and the quality of life enjoyed while David was king. At the time this was written down Yahweh’s promise seemed an empty hope for power, influence, and peace. There was a longing to return to the glory days described by stories from tradition and legends of David’s reign. There was a hunger, a longing for better days.

Even the Responsorial Psalm this last Sunday of Advent speaks of the longing. "Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord." The composer of this psalm looked back to the time of David again as to a time of great joy, peace, and justice. The stories told of those times were glorious. By singing of the legends of those times and their wonderful peace and happiness, The psalmist thought to remind God of the promise given to David. When we pray the verses are a reminder to God of his promise. It is a prayer calling on God to return the nation to its former greatness where peace and justice prevailed. The times of the composition of this psalm were difficult. The people were desperate for God to intervene again and come to them and dwell with them.

If we keep in mind the circumstances of the Jews at the time the book of Samuel was written our listening to the reading from Romans, we’ll better understand Paul’s point of view. He speaks of God’s promise through the ages gone before and insists that the promise, all God’s commitments to the people is now fulfilled. God is with his people no longer in the glory of the temple, no longer in a dark cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night as in the time in the desert. The Good News Paul teaches is that the Lord has come; that the reestablishment of the Kingdom and House of David has been effected. Not everyone will or has the ability to recognize that presence. It takes a heart of faith for a person, for a community to recognize and be conscious of God’s presence. The world does not recognize or accept that presence. Because of its unwillingness, because of its inability, because it chases after gods of its own making the world cannot enjoy the peace and mercy God’s presence gives those who believe in the historical Christ. That presence clarifies our vision, our hearing, and our living only if faith resides and grows in the hearts of believers. That faith, a Christmas gift from God, changes everything.

During these weeks of Advent we’ve come to understand the oppressive and enslaving condition of our living. When we become conscious of what is lacking in our individual and communal lives, we discover a longing for hope of a better tomorrow. Scripture insists this better tomorrow is not something we wait to achieve until eternity. Our eternity begins now, in this moment, in these days. The reward of the living of the gift of faith changes how we engage our life and how we relate to the lives of the community. How can this be? The terrible suffering that exists even in nations which enjoy wealth and power and security is a threat to this view of the impact of faith. The hurts of mind and heart, the greed and avarice that deny a share of the resources of the land and the hubris and arrogance that hardens hearts and stiffens necks to the needs of those who struggle to live. Their faithlessness leads to hunger, unfit shelter, ignorance, addiction, and a crushing arrogance, greed and avarice. We who are "poor in spirit" experience and feel the pain, anxiety, and exclusion imposed by the world and its tyrants onto the backs of the ordinary. The cry of the people gives truth to the words of the psalm: "help, Lord, for the just are dying out and honesty has disappeared from the earth." Many join the thieves and charlatans as they mask their pain with activity, with rich food and plentiful drink. Many bury their anxiety with acquiring toys that are in our day are so readily supplied by ever advancing technology. Many bury their unique persons by falling in line and accept being cast as units of production and a purchasing unit in unsatisfying consumption. At some point the realization of the foolishness and emptiness of that self-image results in deep depression and an overwhelming despair that pharmaceuticals cannot heal.

When we understand that the readings and Responsorial Psalm rips off the scabs from the wounds we suffer in an unfeeling and inconsiderate environment we can reject the way of the way of the world. We become conscious that the world’s oligarchical power and demand for ego-massaging adulation are empty barrels. Then, and only then we become open to glimmers of a rising dawn of hope. That growing light, at first only a faint ray gradually blooming and growing, casts into relief our relationships, separates out untrue shadows from the substance forming the truth of our existence. We become conscious of the truth that we are persons in the image and likeness of God. We are receptacles of dignity and worth not because of power, wealth, influence, or access to pleasure. We are worthy and dignified because God absolutely loves us and God works and struggles constantly to prove it to us. If we understand this we can then understand the words of Luke’s gospel this week.

A young girl, yet a teenager is visited by an apparition. The angel – we name the angel Gabriel – announces to her she is a chosen one, one favored by God from her the moment of her conception. Who among us would not be frightened by such an event? We would likely look around ourselves at our condition and wonder, "why me? What have I done to deserve this?" That’s the first truth we should understand. It’s not what Mary did that entitled her to this visit. It was God’s favor that prepared her for it. Mary lived in a little town of working men and women. They lived out their lives as we do. Life then was a lot simpler, much less hurried. But it was certainly much more tenuous. The health care we take for granted, the education, the sanitary conditions, the access to food and water were less assured. Yet they lived as we live. They also had the choice in their lives to accept opportunities for growth in mind and heart or to choose to live lives of decay into ignorance, violence, and hatred.

To this teenager the angel announced she would be the one chosen to give birth to the Messiah. But this Mary was no fool. "How do I know you’re not just a con? Maybe you’re trying to take advantage of me for some evil purpose. Prove to me you are trustworthy!" The proof Gabriel offers is a proof based on impossibility. But it was a proof any practicing Jew would recognize as a repeat of God’s historic intervention. Just as Abraham and Sara were promised a son of their own flesh when they were well past child-bearing, so also Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, well past child bearing, is said to be with child already in the sixth month of gestation. How could this be were it not for the intervention of God? With this proof and this repeat of God’s intervention, Mary says "yes" and becomes the very first disciple of the Messiah. For ever after her, every true disciple of the Christ brings into the world the presence of the Son of God. That is our calling, that is our joy, that is our glory, that is the promise to David lived out again and again and again.

Recall for a moment the beginning of Jesus’s ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth. The crowd told Jesus his mother and family were outside. It seems harsh and unfeeling of Jesus when he responds, "who is my mother, who is my brother, who is my sister? It is the one who heeds my message and walks the walk I walk. It is they who bring into the world the power, hope, and love of God. It is they who fulfill the promise to David."

Mary is the very first disciple. John in his gospel never mentions her name – even under the cross she is identified only as his mother. Mary is the first disciple. She first received the Son of God into her heart and brought to human life the Son of God, the Son of Man. She it is who brings into the world the promise of the prophet Nathan to King David. It is through her "yes" that is the dawn of new hope, of a new way of living human life. She experiences Jesus in his growing up and "keeps all these things in her heart" reviewing and uncovering the wonder of the love of the Father for his creation. It is her heart that is pierced along with her Son’s at the suffering of creation, of humankind. It is the pain of God’s pathos that cries God’s tears at the sight of his creation’s suffering and its violence.

It is time! It is time to get ready to receive the Son, our brother, our hope, our chance at peace and justice. It’s time to empty our spirits of the trash and junk of the world’s enticements and return to the wonder of the person we are uniquely created to be. ‘

May it be so!!

Carol & Dennis Keller dkeller002@nc.rr.com

 

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SURPRISED BY GOD: 4TH SUNDAY ADVENT B

A few days before Christmas a woman received a beautiful string of pearls in the mail. She could only guess who sent the gift. But when she didn’t find any message with the present she burst into tears. Three times she turned the packet inside out and upside down. But there was no note, no words, and no message, wrapped up with the gift. What she really wanted was a card that said ‘You mean a great deal to me. I love you!’ That message would have meant more to her than the pearls themselves.

By contrast, when God’s messenger Gabriel greets Mary, the first thing Mary hears is words of love from God: ‘Rejoice, Mary! The Lord is with you. God has chosen you. You are special, you are precious, and you are loved.’ God, then, doesn’t leave out the important words.

On hearing those words of God’s special love for her, Mary can indeed rejoice. But joy is not her only response. Here she is, a girl about fourteen years old, living quietly in an out-of-the way village of Galilee, far from the rich and famous and movers and shakers of this world, and yet hearing those amazing and stunning words from God! ‘What is God up to?’ she wonders. The gospel could not be clearer when it says: ‘She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what the greeting could mean.’

The messenger of God reassures her: ‘Don’t be alarmed! Don’t be afraid, Mary! Listen to what I have to say! Of all women on earth, God has chosen you to be the Mother of the Saviour of the World!’ But Mary is a virgin and so she asks the perfectly obvious and reasonable question: ‘But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?’ The messenger answers: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow.’

Mary doesn’t ask any more questions. She doesn’t need to. She simply responds freely and deliberately to the God of surprises, the God who has picked her out for the greatest mission in the world: ‘I am the servant of the Lord,’ she says, ‘I say "yes" to God. I accept my part in God’s plans. Let what you have said be done to me.’ From that moment Mary conceives the child Jesus in her womb. From that moment ‘the Word of God became a human being and dwelt among us’. St Augustine comments that Mary first conceives her child in her heart and only then does she conceive him in her body. Our Preface today makes the beautiful observation: ‘The virgin mother longed for him with love beyond all telling’, i.e. with indescribable love.

You and I are living in an age when many people find it difficult to make permanent commitments to others, commitments that require life-long love, fidelity, perseverance and endurance. So it’s particularly appropriate for us to wonder and marvel today at Mary’s total commitment to God, and to all the changes that her pregnancy will bring to all her plans for the future. What a striking example she is, then, of living that life-motto, ‘Let go and let God!’ She teaches us to put our faith and trust in God at all times, but especially in difficult, demanding, and seemingly impossible situations. But she also teaches us to be people who bring Jesus Christ to others, just as immediately afterwards Mary set out to bring him to her elderly cousin, Elizabeth.

During the past year, and particularly during this past week, we have become aware of how much darkness there is in our world as well as how much light. In the rituals we have watched on TV for people killed or maimed in particular catastrophes, we have noticed that grieving people often light candles of remembrance. Those small pieces of self-consuming wax and flame say with undimmed hope that the light in our world is stronger than the darkness. That is the message too of the lighting today of the four candles of our Advent wreath. Those candles will burn out, but our commitment as his followers to be the light of Christ in the darkness of insensitivity and indifference, ignorance and malice, should never burn out or never be put out.

During the rest of our Eucharist, then, let us renew our commitment to be that Light of Christ that drives out the darkness of evil, and especially for those for whom this Christmas is more a time of darkness, sadness, depression and desperation than an experience of light, joy, love and peace. I’m thinking particularly of people who are homeless, separated, bereaved, friendless, or abused. At this time of Advent and Christmas they more than any others need our commitment to bring them the light and love of Jesus Christ.

May we, then, just like God, surprise and encourage them with our loving words and our kind, caring and generous deeds!

"Brian Gleeson CP" <bgleesoncp@gmail.com>

 

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Year B: 4th Sunday of Advent

"The Holy Spirit will come upon You and the power of the most high will cover you with its shadow."

Just recently, I met a priest who had run a marathon. His name is Tony. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Marathon is a running race of 26 and one-third miles. And it is very different to most races – for three reasons.

First, because it’s a lot longer than most races.

And second, because most of the contestants don’t actually want to win it: the very great majority are happy just to get through it in one piece and in sufficiently good condition to brag about it in the pub afterwards.

And third - and this is the bit I didn’t understand - it’s incredibly popular: last year more than 100,000 people applied for the 35,000 places in the London Marathon.

So, since Tony is even older, and even fatter, and even balder (!) than I am, I asked him why he had done it. He said that it all started when he got involved with a project to raise money for sick children in the Amazon. These were babies who had been born with serious problems in their hearts that needed operations to fix them - operations that are not available in the Amazon. So, the children have to be sent away to Brazil or Trinidad to have these operations and to do that is very expensive. The government don’t have money for that and so people had to do their best to try to raise money for them. He had gone to see one of the children in the hospital and he had been touched to the bottom of his heart by the sight of the little child in the incubator struggling desperately just to go on breathing – the little chest heaving desperately, the little arms and legs struggling against the little cords which restrained them, the suffering only to be imagined. It brought tears to his eyes.

So he wanted to do something to help. Someone suggested that he should go in for a sponsored run – in case you have been so fortunate never to be asked, that is when people give you money to run a particular distance for a good cause. So they set him up to run this marathon and, trusting foolishly to their judgment, he agreed. And, yes, before you ask, this discussion did indeed take place in a pub and drink had been taken.

But, being a man of great wisdom and foresight, before he actually did it, he thought he ought to try it out to see what it was like. So he went for a little run. And he got about 2 miles before he had to stop, panting and wheezing. Suddenly he realized that running 26 and one-third miles is actually quite hard work. So he started to train and for about three months he trained until he got to the stage where he thought he could just about do it.

The day of the race came. And it was very, very hot. Many of the runners who had been entered for the race dropped out because they did not want to run on such a hot day. But Father was determined. He had made his mind up. He had made a promise. He wasn’t going to let anybody down. He was going to do it. So he set out.

He told me later that if he had only been running for himself, he would have stopped after the first mile: He felt exhausted already. After 10 miles, he was in more pain then he had ever experienced in his life and all he could think about was his legs and how much they hurt. He wanted either to stop or to die – and at that stage he really didn’t much mind which, but he wanted it soon!

Then something very odd happened. He got an image in his mind of that baby lying in the incubator panting for breath even harder than he was, not to run - just to stay alive. And he discovered that, so long as he had that image in his mind, his legs did not hurt. When he thought about anything else, his legs hurt plenty! And so he focused as hard as ever he could on that image in his mind of the prize for which he was running. And he said later, "once you are thinking of that, even 26 and one third miles doesn’t seem so far".

I think that is what happens when: "The Holy Spirit comes upon you and the power of the most high covers you with its shadow."

You get the power to focus on something other than your own hurts.

You get the insight to see that actually, you are not the centre of the universe.

You get the compassion to feel someone else’s suffering.

And most of all, you get the love to do something about it.

Let us all pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit in our own lives - that we too, like Mary, may be given the responsibility of bringing the goodness of God into the world.

And let us stand and profess our Faith in the God whose Spirit lives in us.

Paul O'Reilly sj. <fatbaldnproud@opalityone.net>

 

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Volume 2 is for you. Your thoughts, reflections, and insights on the next Sundays readings can influence the preaching you hear. Send them to preacherexchange@att.net.  Deadline is Wednesday Noon. Include your Name, and Email Address.

-- Fr. John
 


 

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