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Ember Days, Catholics, and Fasting

The Ember Days are upon us!  The what? you ask. The Ember Days.  They are making a comeback in the Catholic Church after a long absence following the changes of the Second Vatican Council in the mid-1960s, which significantly revised a Catholic’s obligation for fasting. [Read more…]

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church in Verbum Today

Happy feast of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church!  This “new” feast isn’t actually new.  The basic elements of what Holy Father Francis has promoted to a Memorial has existed in the Roman Missal and Lectionary in various places–and those elements exist in Verbum right now.

The “Catholic Daily Readings” resource doesn’t currently reflect the new memorial yet because this is a text that we get directly from the USCCB and we can’t alter that text.  When they publish an updated edition, you can be sure that we’ll get it into Verbum as soon as we can.

The Saints Index

While we weren’t able to make the Catholic Daily Readings reflect the new memorial, we were able to update the Saints index in Verbum to reflect this new feast.  This is a dataset that we created and maintain.  See below in the screenshot:

Faithlife’s content team was able to make this change to the Saints Index in time for the Memorial Feast today.  There are also other elements of the liturgy that you can access in Verbum.

Roman Missal and Lectionary

Both the Lectionary and Roman Missal each contain the basic elements.  See below in the Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition:

This new Memorial Feast has, essentially, been promoted from a Votive Mass.  As you can see in the right side of the above screenshot, under Votive Masses to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady, Mother of the Church has already been a part of the Church’s liturgy–and is available to you now in Verbum.

One can also access the Lectionary readings for the day, but it is isn’t all available in one place in the text.  If one opens the Lectionary, or Catholic Daily Readings, to the Commons for the Blessed Virgin Mary you find the following:

The above highlighted texts are the recommended and optional readings for the First Reading.  The Responsorial Psalm and Gospel Reading aren’t contained entirely in the above Common in Verbum.  The prescribed Psalm (Psalm 87:1-2, 3; 5, 6-7) isn’t one of the options here.  The Gospel Reading, John 19: 25-34 is found in part as one of the Gospel option for the day.

For further information on the new Memorial Feast to The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, you can check out the directives from the USCCB here.

Enjoy and happy Feast!

–Craig

The Doctors of the Church: A History

Pier Francesco Sacchi (circa 1485–1528)
Four doctors of the Church represented with attributes of the Four Evangelists: St. Augustine with an eagle, St. Gregory the Great with a bull, St. Hieronymus with an angel, St. Ambrosius with a winged lion.

The Doctors of the Church did not begin to be officially identified as such until relatively late in Church history.  It was the Catholic Church that confers the title upon both western and eastern Christians.  In the post today, I’d like to share with you a little of the history of how the Doctors of the Church came to be.

The Ecumenical Doctors

The eight Doctors of the Church commonly known as the Ecumenical Doctors are the earliest recognized Doctors of the Church.  They are St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Athanasius of Alexandria.  As one can see, this list of eight neatly divides into four Doctors from the Latin West and four Doctors from the East.

The Latin Doctors

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us that:

In the Western church four eminent Fathers of the Church attained this honour in the early Middle Ages: St. Gregory the Great, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and St. Jerome. The “four Doctors” became a commonplace among the Scholastics, and a decree of Boniface VIII (1298) ordering their feasts to be kept as doubles in the whole Church is contained in his sixth book of Decretals (cap. “Gloriosus”, de relique. et vener. sanctorum, in Sexto, III, 22).

This notion of doctor as an authoritative teacher of the faith originated in the “early Middle Ages.” Saints Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome were contemporaries, each living into the early 400s. Gregory the Great was the last of these four to have lived and died in the early 600s.  Thus, it is reasonable to assume that possibly as early as the 700s the liturgy would be reflecting these doctor saints.

The Eastern Doctors

Here again, the Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:

In the Eastern Church three Doctors were pre-eminent: St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil, and St. Gregory Nazianzen. The feasts of these three saints were made obligatory throughout the Eastern Empire by Leo VI, the Wise, the deposer of Photius. A common feast was later instituted in their honour on 30 January, called “the feast of the three Hierarchs”. In the Menaea for that day it is related that the three Doctors appeared in a dream to John, Bishop of Euchaitae, and commanded him to institute a festival in their honour, in order to put a stop to the rivalries of their votaries and panegyrists. This was under Alexius Comnenus (1081-1118; see “Acta SS.”, 14 June, under St. Basil, c. xxxviii). But sermons for the feast are attributed in manuscripts to Cosmas Vestitor, who flourished in the tenth century. The three are as common in Eastern art as the four are in Western. Durandus (i, 3) remarks that Doctors should be represented with books in their hands. In the West analogy led to the veneration of four Eastern Doctors, St. Athanasius being very properly added to the three hierarchs.

In the Catholic Church in the Latin West, it was Pope St. Pius V in 1568 proclaimed official feasts in the Roman Calendar for these eight Ecumenical Doctors with their addition to the newly reformed Roman Breivary.

Additional Doctors

Pope St. Pius V officially established the Ecumenical Doctors, but also one new Doctor: the medieval Scholastic theologian extraordinaire, St. Thomas Aquinas.  He thus established the precedent and pattern of popes proclaiming Doctors of the Church for the benefit of the faithful.  Twenty years later, in 1588, Pope Sixtus V, a Franciscian, named the famous medieval Franciscian theologian St. Bonaventure a Doctor of the Church.

Over the next several centuries, the following popes named the following saints to the rank of Doctor (the list was adapted from the Catholic Encyclopedia)

  • St. Anselm was added by Clement XI in 1720.
  • St. Isidore by Innocent XIII in 1722.
  • St. Peter Chrysologus by Benedict XIII in 1729.
  • St. Leo I by Benedict XIV in 1754.
  • St. Peter Damian by Leo XII in 1828.
  • St. Bernard of Clairvaux by Pius VIII in 1830.
  • St. Hilary was added in 1851 by Pius IX along with two more modern saints, St. Alphonsus Liguori in 1871 and St. Francis de Sales in 1877.
  • St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and St. John Damascene were named in 1883 by Leo XIII, who also named the Venerable Bede  in 1899.

Modern Doctors

The twentieth and early twenty-first century saw the naming of thirteen new doctors:

  • St. Ephrem the Syrian, a Deacon, was named in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV as “Doctor of the Syrians.”
  • St. Peter Canisius was named in 1925, St. John of the Cross was named in 1926, St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Albert the Great were named in 1931, each by Pope Pius XI.
  • St. Anthony of Lisbon and Padua was named in 1946 by Pope Pius XII.
  • St. Lawrence of Brindisi was named in 1959 by Pope John XXIII.
  • St. Teresa of Ávila and St. Catherine of Sienna–the first women named as Doctors of the Church–were named in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
  • St. Thérèse of Lisieux was named by Pope John Paul II in 1997.
  • St. John of Ávila and St. Hildegard of Bingen were named by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
  • St. Gregory of Narek was named by Pope Francis in 2015.

You still have a few days left to check out our Doctor for the month of March: St. Cyril of Jerusalem.  We have several volumes of his for up to 50% off.  Add this Doctor to your Verbum library before these titles go back to full price!

Looking forward to our April Doctors: St. Anselm of Canterbury, St. Isidore of Seville, and St. Catherine of Siena.

February Doctors of the Church

This month in February we celebrate two Doctors of the Church: St. Peter Damian and St. Gregory of Narek.

St. Gregory of Narek (February 27)

St. Gregory of Narek is the most recent Doctor of the Church to be recognized.  Pope Francis named Gregory a Doctor in 2015.  He was an Armenian Christian and has been venerated as a saint in the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church for centuries.  Gregory, born around 951 and died in 1003, lived his life as a monk and was a noted poet, mystic, philosopher, composer, and theologian in present-day Turkey.

Pope Francis, in his usual style, raised some questions about recognizing this Christian saint whose church during his life was not in direct communion with Rome.  Catholic theologian Dr. R. Jared Staudt describes the process by which Gegory came to be acknowledged as a Doctor in a 2015 article and the Holy Father followed the precedent of recognition of other Doctors.  Staudt states regarding the process of equipollent or equivalent canonization:

It should be noted that when Pope Benedict XVI declared St. Hildegard von Bingen as a Doctor of Church he used the process of equipollent or equivalent canonization, as she also had not been formally canonized. Even St. Albert the Great was canonized in this fashion when he was declared a doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius XI. Pope Benedict used this process of canonization a few other times and Pope Francis has done so with even greater regularity, so much so, that Vatican Radio felt the need to explain the process:

“When there is strong devotion among the faithful toward holy men and women who have not been canonized, the Pope can choose to authorize their veneration as saints without going through that whole process. … This is often done when the saints lived so long ago that fulfilling all the requirements of canonization would be exceedingly difficult.”

From Andrea Tornielli’s commentary, referenced above, it seems likely that an equipollent canonization is forthcoming. Hopefully we will have clarification on this point soon. What is clear in the meantime is that there is a foundation for the equipollent canonization of saints in association with their being named a Doctor of the Church and there is a longstanding practice of celebrating St. Gregory of Narek’s feast day within the Armenian Catholic Church.

We currently don’t have any resources in Verbum we can share with you, but St. Gregory’s feast day in the Eastern liturgy is celebrated on October 13 and we are aiming to have some of his works available later in the year, hopefully in time for his feast.

St. Peter Damian (February 21)

St. Peter Damian was a Benedictine monk, a cardinal under Pope Leo IX, a bishop of Ostia and was recognized by the poet Dante as inhabiting one of the highest levels of his Paradiso.  He was born around 1007 and died February in 1072 or 1073.  St. Peter was blessed with a reforming zeal, and upon abandoning his secular career and seeking a monastic life, he avoided the more luxurious monastery of Cluny and opted for a more primitive life as a hermit.  While a disciplined and zealous monk, he also recognized the practical needs of the body–in true Benedictine fashion–by prescribing a daily siesta to balance the short night of sleep the monks typically got.

St. Peter Damian was never formally canonized, similar to Gregory of Narek, Albert the Great, and Julian of Norwich, as the Catholic News Agency states:

Never formally canonized, St. Peter Damian was celebrated as a saint after his death in many of the places associated with his life. In 1823, Pope Leo XII named him a Doctor of the Church and extended the observance of his feast day throughout the Western Church.

Unlike Gregory of Narek right now, we do offer several resources by St. Peter Damian.  The letters of St. Peter are contained in  the 15 volumes of the Fathers of the Church: Medieval Continuation collection.  This not only contains 180 letters by St. Peter Damian, but it also contains sermons by St. Thomas Aquinas, a commentary on Romans by Peter Abelard, and a treatise on Aristotle’s Categories by John Duns Scotus.

You can check out all of the February deals for Verbum here.

 

Doctors of the Church: What, Who, and Why

You may have noticed back in January that we were promoting the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Gregory Nazianzus, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and St. Francis de Sales.  You may have noticed further that each of these great saints had feast days in January.  Bonus points for those in the audience that also realized that each of these saints is also designated as a “Doctor of the Church.” We’ll be talking a lot about the Doctors of the Church this year.

What is a “Doctor of the Church?”

The Catholic Church recognizes 36 exemplary saints from throughout the history of the church as doctors, which in Latin means teacher. The Doctors are designated as such for their extraordinary teaching on some aspect of ecclesial life, including, preaching, prayer, holiness, but above all in the way in which they shared their faith and way of life with the Church.

Who are the Doctors of the Church?

The following list of the 36 doctors is ordered according to their appearance on the liturgical calendar.

Saint Feast Date
Hilary of Poitiers  1/13
Basil of Caesera  1/02
Gregory Nazianzus  1/02
Thomas Aquinas  1/28
Francis de Sales  1/24
Gregory of Narek  2/27
Peter Damian  2/21
Cyril of Jerusalem  3/18
Isidore of Seville  4/04
Anselm of Canterbury  4/21
Catherine of Siena  4/29
Athanasius of Alexandria  5/02
Bede the Venerable  5/25
John of Avila  5/10
Ephrem the Syrian  6/09
Cyril of Alexandria  6/27
Anthony of Padua  6/13
Augustine of Hippo  8/28
Peter Chrysologus  8/30
Bernard of Clairvaux  8/20
Bonaventure  8/15
Lawrence of Brindisi  8/21
Alphonsus Liguori  8/01
Jerome  9/30
Gregory the Great  9/03
Robert Bellarmine  9/17
John Chrysostom  9/13
Hildegard of Bingen  9/17
Teresa of Ávila 10/15
Thérèse of Lisieux 10/01
Leo the Great 11/10
Albertus Magnus 11/15
Ambrose of Milan 12/7
John Damascene 12/4
John of the Cross 12/14
Peter Canisius 12/21

Why the Doctors of the Church?

The Church has chosen to recognize these great saints for our edification and so we can learn from their teaching. For similar reasons, we are choosing to focus our attention here at Verbum in 2018 on the Doctors of the Church because if there are any resources you should have in your library outside of the Bible and the Catechism—it is the works of these great saints. Whether it is research, everyday study, or daily devotions, we want you to get to know them (and so does the Church).

So, in January, if you missed our doctors, then we have extended the sale on their resources through February 28th.

Each month throughout 2018 we will be featuring each doctor who has a feast for that month. We will be selecting resources written by or about them for you to add to your Verbum library. So stay tuned and don’t miss this opportunity to build your library with the best the Church has to offer.

Pope Francis’ Thoughts on Lent

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Each year, the Holy Father publishes his thoughts and reflections on the upcoming Lenten season.  This year is no different and the theme comes from Matthew 24:12: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold.” Below is an overview of his message and at the end we’ve got a link to his message so you can read for yourself.

False Prophets & Cold Hearts

The Holy Father begins by reflecting on two problem areas in our world today.  He first reflects on “false prophets” and, second, on hearts that have grown cold.

False Prophets

He characterizes false prophets as “snake charmers” and “charlatans.” Snake charmers, “who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go.” The charlatans “offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.” In the end, it is “the devil, who is ‘a liar and the father of lies ’(Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth.”

Cold Hearts

The Holy Father then turns to reflect on Dante’s depiction of Satan in the Inferno: the devil is “…seated on a throne of ice, in frozen and loveless isolation.” Pope Francis goes on to conclude:

Love can also grow cold in our own communities. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.

Prayer, Fasting & Almsgiving

The Holy Father paints a rather daunting picture of the false prophets and the “the cooling of charity” that he sees everywhere in our world.  But what are we to do?  Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the antidote to these worldly ailments.

“By devoting more time to prayer,” the Holy Father says, “we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.”

Almsgiving sets us free from greed,” Pope Francis continues, “and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church!”

Finally, the Holy Father concludes by reflecting on fasting:

Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.

You can read Pope Francis’s reflection here in full.

You can also read his homily for Ash Wednesday, preached in the Basilica of Santa Sabina (Founded by St. Dominic) here.

May you all have a blessed and fruitful Lent!

Awaiting Mary’s Yes to God

We began this Advent series of reflections with the question: what are you waiting for? With the busy-ness of Commercial Christmas constantly demanding our attention, it is easy to lose sight of the watchfulness and preparation the Church asks of us this Advent season. Let us now continue with our reflection series on this Fourth Sunday of Advent….

This Fourth week of Advent will only last one day, as Christmas comes to us the following day. Even so, it is important to reflect on this final Sunday before we embrace the celebration of the Christmas season.

Anticipation

We have been anticipating the coming of Christ through the Sunday readings since the beginning of Advent. As I reflect on the Gospel reading for today, the sense of anticipation is intense, the sequence of events almost seems to unfold in slow motion.

First, an angel, Gabriel, is headed for Mary in Nazareth, with staggering news. Upon learning of the approaching angel, we are told twice in v. 27 that Mary is a virgin, a pious and observant Jew. Yet Nazareth was a city of little consequence in Judea and an unlikely place for the appearance of an angel.

Second, as the angel approaches Nazareth, what is Mary doing? Presumably she’s at home attending to everyday domestic chores and tasks. She may be making preparations for her marriage to Joseph or attending to other family matters.

Heavy News

When Gabriel confronts Mary, with “Hail, favored one!” one gets the sense of Mary’s total surprise.  She is understandably startled and confused, as an angel of God has just manifested himself in the midst of her dinner preparations or wedding planning or house cleaning.  Mary is “greatly troubled” by the words of her new divine visitor and “pondered” what these words might mean.  The angel goes on:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom will be no end.

Wow, was this a joke?  How could any of this be true?  The Son of God?  A ruler of the house of Jacob?  Maybe she had already heard of her cousin Elizabeth’s recent miraculous conception.  One can only imagine what must be rushing through Mary’s mind as this flood of new information about her future washes over her.  Mary, understandably replies with incredulity and with the most practical of questions: “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”

The angel goes on to explain:

The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, as also conceived a song in her old age…for nothing will be impossible for God.

The sense of anticipation continues through the delivery of this “heavy news.” But what will be Mary’s response to this astonishing proclamation? She must have realized the position this would put her and Joseph in with their engagement. People in the community would start to talk of Mary’s “indiscretion.” Her status as a pious Jewish woman would be compromised. Who would believe such an incredible story?

The Ultimate “Yes”

Yet in the the face of this startling news and the seismic shift in her future plans, Mary famously responds:

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.

Mary gives her consent to the angel and to God to become the mother of the Son of God. As with the birth of any child, it changes the parents’ lives forever. But this birth is accompanied by a divine conception, both for her and her cousin, and a divine mandate for Israel.  What a perfectly serene response!

Mary is held up throughout the Scriptures as the model disciple, responding to God and His messengers with perfect obedience and submission. This was undoubtedly not easy for Mary to accept, but she does accept and embraces this new divine mission for her life.

As we await the coming of Jesus, how can we say a more perfect “yes” to God? 

  • What does that need to look like in our final days of Advent? 
  • Can we say “yes” to God in how we prioritize our time for prayer each day?
  • Can we say “yes” to God more often in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
  • What relationships in our life are in greater need of a “yes” to God?

 

Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of
Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a
man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the
virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he
said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and
pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then
the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for
you have found favor with God.
“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear
a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be
great and will be called Son of the Most High, and
the Lord God will give him the throne of David his
father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But
Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I
have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit
will come upon you, and the power of the Most
High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to
be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And
behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived
a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for
her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible
for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the
handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according
to your word.” Then the angel departed from
her.

Pope Francis & “Lead Us Not Into Temptation:” A Response

Last Friday on the Logos Blog, Faithlife’s own resident “Logos Pro” Dr. Mark Ward posted a piece in response to Pope Francis’s comments made on the “lead us not into temptation” petition in the Our Father.  The Pope’s comments were made on Italian TV and caused quite a stir in the Catholic media.  Dr. Ward also asked a native Italian speaker to render a translation of the Holy Father’s comments into English from the original Italian, available here in English and in the original Italian.  Dr. Ward is not a Catholic and I was pleased to see my colleagues here at Faithlife take an interest in Pope Francis’s remarks.  Dr. Ward’s remarks are fair and even-handed, even though he didn’t agree with the fundamental sentiments of the Holy Father’s remarks (I would also note that many a Catholic didn’t agree with the Holy Father’s comments either!).

While the Verbum team does not have our own, full time “Verbum Pro” like the Logos team does, we do have many supportive scholars of Scripture and theology.  I reached out to Fr. Devin Roza, LC and Fr. Andrew Dalton, LC. Fr Devin Roza has a licentiate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute, and is the author of Fulfilled in Christ. Fr Andrew Dalton has a licentiate in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. Both currently are theology professors at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. They graciously agreed to respond both to Dr. Ward’s post, in a spirit of fraternal dialogue, and to offer a Catholic perspective on Pope Francis’s comments.

  • Fr. Roza will be commenting directly on the Holy Father’s remarks, providing some additional context, and engaging some of Dr. Ward’s comments as well.
  • Fr. Dalton will focus more on the “lead us not into temptation” petition within the Our Father.

We will be posting Fr. Roza’s and Fr. Dalton’s comments next week here on the Verbum Blog.  When their posts go live we will update this post with their links below.

Please let us know what you think of this post, as we’re thinking of doing more like this.  We ultimately want this blog to be of value to you, so let us know what you think!

Post #1: Pope Francis and the Our Father: Why Context is Key by Fr. Devin Roza, LC.

Post #2, Part I:

Post #2, Part II: 

What to do while we are waiting

A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

Last week, on the First Sunday of Advent, we were exhorted: “Be watchful! Be alert!” We posed the question: What is it that you are waiting for? This week, on the Second Sunday of Advent, we ask: what practically does watching and waiting mean? John the Baptist has the answer for us!

Preparation for the Way

“The Way” was an early designation for the Christian community. We see “the way” referenced several times in today’s reading. John the Baptist symbolizes the preparation that was necessary for the early Christian community. Life in these communities and house churches was literally dangerous, with both Jewish and Roman authorities leaning heavily on them.  One could be called on at any moment to give up one’s life in the name of Christ. Therefore, potential new community members needed a period of waiting and preparation before being fully initiated into the community through Baptism. This preparation required would-be Christians to to be very clear about their priorities and how much of a priority God was for them.

Amidst our holiday preparations, are we prioritizing time to spend with Jesus?

Asceticism

The preparation for “the Way,” as symbolized by John the Baptist, was marked, as we are shown in the readings today, by a rigorous asceticism. The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us:

The word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis which means practice, bodily exercise, and more especially, athletic training. The early Christians adopted it to signify the practice of the spiritual things, or spiritual exercises performed for the purpose of acquiring the habits of virtue.

John’s camel hair tunic, diet of locusts and honey, and generally radical lifestyle is the archetype of early Christian asceticism. The desert was always associated with fasting, prayer, and a stringent, focused way of life. We see the beginnings of the tradition of desert asceticism in John, which, coupled with Jesus’ forty day fast in the desert, forms the basis of the entire desert monastic tradition that arose in the second century around St. Antony the Great and the other Desert Fathers.

How can you be more focused and deliberate with your spiritual practices this Advent?

The Voice Crying Out in the Desert

Life in Mark’s Christian community was marked by much chaos and confusion. The Gospel of Mark was written around 70 AD, which is the year the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. This injected significant fear and confusion into the Christian community, particularly for the Jewish converts. The Christian community, with its rituals of Baptism and Eucharist, was the antidote to that chaos. The Church then, as it does now, saw itself as initiating the restoration of creation itself in Christ. If we cannot discern the voice in the desert, we miss what Christ has in store for us.

How much time are you spending each day listening for that “voice crying out in the wilderness?” What is the voice saying to you?

Proactively waiting

The theme of waiting is central throughout Advent. Last week we asked: “What are you waiting for?” This week we ask: “What do we do while we are waiting?” The “answer” that John the Baptist presents is ultimately paradoxical. On the one hand, we can wait and anticipate the Lord’s coming by ascetic discipline. On the other hand, we would also do well to wait and anticipate by not doing, by pausing in the midst of the chaos of holiday preparations to observe some prayerful silence so we can have the opportunity to hear the voice that is crying out to us from the desert.

Many Advent Blessings! See you next week.

Gospel Reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, Mark 1:1-8.

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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