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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.

We await new heavens and a new earth


This weekend St. Peter reminds us that waiting for the Lord is not something passive, but something that requires vigilance and diligence on our part. It is about serving the Lord. A waiter at a restaurant isn’t called that because the person sits around doing nothing, but instead they are waiting to serve. So this Advent we are reminded to “wait on the Lord’s table.” The short clip from above is a reflection on today’s New Testament reading that that touches on this theme. As we continue in this season, “be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace” (2 Peter 3:14).

2 Peter 3:8-14

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,”
but he is patient with you,
not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire,
and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

Waiting for more? Check out the entire lectionary devotional series.

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.”

What are you waiting for?

What is it that you are waiting for? Advent is here, and we typically think of this season as a time of waiting for Christmas. This may be true, but there’s more. The word Advent has its root in the Latin word for “coming.” In this season we are also reminded that we are awaiting the second coming of Christ. The gospel reading from today’s liturgy makes this emphatically clear: Jesus reminds us to always be ready, because we cannot know at what time he will return.

Waiting and being ready go hand in hand; we can’t adequately wait unless we are ready. We all know what it’s like when we wait in the checkout line, but we don’t have our money or all our items ready. That’s why this time of Advent is intended to help us shift our focus from our regular way of doing things and remind us that we should always have our minds on conforming to Christ. And if we truly believe that Christ is present to us now, we will realize that ultimately it is Christ who is waiting for us, knocking at the door of hearts. And to deepen the mystery even more, we become humbled when we realize that we cannot truly wait for Christ without the life of Christ in us—without the power of the Holy Spirit.

Below you will find a short clip from a reflection on today’s gospel reading that touches on this theme. As you enter into this busy season, think about the importance of what you are waiting for. Are you being distracted by the hustle and bustle around you, or are you being watchful and alert?

Mark 13:33–37
Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’ ”


Waiting for more? Check out the entire lectionary devotional series.

Deacon Kevin’s Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent

This guest post is by Deacon Kevin Bagley, DMin, Director of Verbum.

“Prepare the way of the Lord.” These were John’s words as he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The season of Advent is the time of year when we prepare ourselves to welcome the newborn Christ child into our lives.

As citizens of the modern world, we are bombarded with advertising urging us to purchase the right gifts, try the newest electronic gadget, and prepare ourselves for the gift giving season. As Catholics, we should be focused on receiving the greatest gift of all: the Savior of the World. The things we buy today may be broken or lost tomorrow. Developing a loving relationship with God will not only last a lifetime, but forever.

As we prepare to give gifts, host gatherings, and celebrate, we must also make room in our homes and hearts for the coming of the infant Jesus. Get rid of the clutter and debris of resentment and shortcomings, plan to be reconciled, be open to receive and provide forgiveness, and make way for the Christ child.

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Deacon Kevin’s Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent

This guest post is by Deacon Kevin Bagley, DMin, Director of Verbum.

Are you ready? Have you prepared as well as you can?  If tomorrow was your last day on this earth, would you be ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?

As we enter the season of Advent we prepare.  This is the beginning of the new church year and we eagerly await the day we celebrate when the Word became flesh.  We prepare ourselves for the coming of the Savior and we should ensure that we are ready to greet him whenever and however he comes into our lives.

We also prepare for Christmas gift giving, prepare our homes, prepare food and shop for groceries.  As we prepare for this wonderful event, I encourage you to seek out an opportunity to enrich your spiritual life by attending an Advent retreat, do some spiritual reading or participate in a corporal work of mercy remembering the true meaning of Christmas.

Over 2,000 years ago we received a gift more precious than anything we could buy or make.  Christ came into the world to bring us the wonderful gift of salvation.  We should take time to remember that Christ is the light of the world, and that we are guided through his Light.

Through God’s grace, we make it through the mall, the shopping, and the crowds; at home we take care of the cooking, cleaning and decking the halls; all to arrive at the beauty, peace and joy of Christmas.  May the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, guide you through this season to the joy and peace of Christmas morning.

Kevin Bagley headshot.JPG.opt279x419o0,0s279x419

Free Advent and Christmas Sermons!

Deepen your spiritual life with Sermons of St. Bernard on Advent and Christmas, free this month. St. Bernard of Clairvaux is a doctor of the church and speaks with wisdom and insight about the scriptures leading up to Christmas:

It is now fitting that we should consider the time of our Lord’s coming.
He came, as you know, not in the beginning, nor in the midst of time, but in the end of it. This was no unsuitable choice, but a truly wise dispensation of His infinite wisdom, that He might afford help when He saw it was most needed. Truly, “it was evening, and the day was far spent”(Lk 24:29); the sun of justice had wellnigh set, and but a faint ray of his light and heat remained on earth. The light of Divine knowledge was very small, and as iniquity abounded, the fervour of charity had grown cold. No angel appeared, no prophet spoke. The angelic vision and the prophetic spirit alike had passed away, both hopelessly baffled by the exceeding obduracy and obstinacy of mankind. Then it was that the Son of God said: “Behold, I come”(He 10:7). And “while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, the almighty word leaped down from heaven from thy royal throne” (Wi 18:14,15). Of this coming the Apostle speaks: “When the fullness of time was come, God sent his Son” (Ga 4:4) (Sermons 11-12).

st bernard

You can also add St. Bernard’s On Consideration for 0.99.

This offer ends December 1st–download your free book today!

 

 

Advent Sale—Last Chance!

Don’t Miss Your Advent Deals!

Wednesday, December 24, is the final day of the Advent season. It’s also the final day to take advantage of Verbum’s Advent deals!

Make sure you check out the Advent calendar for daily surprises, or see what’s on sale so far.

If you haven’t been following along, here’s a taste of what’s been revealed up to today:

Sales:

Tissot

The Birth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ by James Tissot

Augustine

Don’t miss out on any deals or surprises—visit Verbum.com/Advent before Christmas!

Anne Catherine Emmerich on Joseph’s Search for Lodging

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s mysterious visions have been a subject of ongoing discussion in the Catholic Church. When she was beatified in 2004 by Pope John Paul II, the authenticity of the transcriptions of her visions was thoroughly investigated. Interestingly, her beatification was based on grounds completely apart from the writings associated with her.

These visions have continued to fascinate believers for generations—even the 2003 film The Passion of the Christ was inspired by Emmerich’s vivid visions of Jesus’ crucifixion. We may never be able to prove or disprove these private revelations to Emmerich, but one thing is certain: these accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion and Mary’s life  will draw you you to a closer devotion to the Holy family.

JOSEPH IN VAIN SEEKS FOR A LODGING.—THEY GO TO THE GROTTO OF THE CRIB

THEY then entered into Bethlehem, in which the houses were separated from each other by considerable spaces. They entered across some rubbish and by a gate which was fallen into decay. Mary remained quietly with the ass at the end of the street, and Joseph searched in vain for a lodging in the first houses, for there were many strangers in Bethlehem and many people were running here and there. He returned to Mary and told her that he could find nowhere to lodge there, and that they must go on further into the city. He led the ass by the bridle whilst the Blessed Virgin walked by his side. When they were come to the end of another street Mary remained again near the ass while Joseph went from house to house without being able to find one where they would receive him. He soon returned very much troubled. This was repeated several times, and sometimes the Blessed Virgin had a long time to wait: everywhere the place was taken up, everywhere he was repulsed, and he ended by telling Mary that they must go to another part of Bethlehem, where they would be sure to find what they wanted. They then retraced their steps in the direction contrary to that which they had taken in coming when they turned to the south. They then passed through a street which seemed rather a country road as the houses were isolated and on slight elevations.

Arrived at the other side of Bethlehem, where the houses were still more scattered, they found a large empty space situated in a hollow; it was like a deserted field in the city. There was there a kind of shed, and a short distance from it a large tree, like a lime tree, with a smooth trunk, whose branches extended widely and formed a kind of roof over it. Joseph led the Blessed Virgin to this tree; he arranged a convenient seat for her with bundles at the foot of the trunk, in order that she might rest whilst he sought again for a lodging in the neighbouring houses. The ass stood still with its head turned towards the tree. Mary remained at first standing, leaning against the trunk of the tree. Her robe of white wool had no belt, and fell about her in folds; her head was covered with a white veil. Many persons passed by and looked at her, not knowing that their Saviour was so near them. How patient, humble, and resigned she was. She had to wait a long time, and at last she sat down upon the rugs, her hands joined on her breast, and with her head bowed down. Joseph returned to her in great trouble: he had not found a lodging. The friends of whom he had spoken to the Blessed Virgin would scarcely notice him. He shed tears, and Mary consoled him. He went again from house to house; but as, in order the more to induce them to consent, he had spoken of the near approach of his wife’s confinement, this drew upon him a more distinct refusal.

The place was solitary; but in the end some people passing by looked from a distance with curiosity, as is usual if any one is seen remaining a long time in the same place towards the close of the day. I believe that some of them spoke to Mary and asked her who she was. At last Joseph returned; he was so much troubled that he hardly dare come near her. He told her it was of no use, but that he knew further on in the city a spot where the shepherds often stayed when they came to Bethlehem with their flocks, and that they would find there at least a shelter. He knew the place from his youth: when his brothers tormented him he had often retired there to escape from their persecutions. He said if the shepherds came there he could easily arrange with them, but that they were rarely here at this season of the year. He added, when they were quietly settled he would make further inquiries. They then went away by the eastern side of Bethlehem, following a deserted path which turned to the left. It was a road like one which is found in walking by the side of the dilapidated walls, ditches, and fortifications of a small city in ruins. The road at first rose a little, it then descended the slope of a small hill, and led them a few minutes to the east of Bethlehem, before the place they were seeking, near a hill or an old rampart, in front of which stood some trees. They were green trees (firs or cedars), and other trees which had little leaves like box leaves.

Emmerich, A. C. (1899). The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (G. Richardson, Trans.) (pp. 69–75). London; New York; Cincinnati; Chicago: Burns and Oates; Benziger Brothers.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas

From J.N. Tylenda’s Saints and Feasts of the Liturgical Year:

The shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, on the outskirts of Mexico City, is the most famous shrine of our Lady in the Western Hemisphere, and today we commemorate her appearances to a native Mexican convert, St. Juan Diego, on Tepeyac Hill. On December 9, 1531, our Lady appeared to him and asked that a church be built on the site, and on December 12 she again appeared and urged him to take her message to the bishop. To offer proof that he was our Lady’s messenger, she told him to gather the flowers he found blooming there in mid-December. When Juan Diego stood before Bishop Juan de Zumárraga, he opened his cloak, and as the flowers cascaded to the floor, those present saw on the rough cloth an image of our Lady—the image still preserved at the shrine. The first sanctuary was built in about 1533; the second was begun in 1556; and the third was built in 1695. The present basilica dates from 1976. In 1746, Our Lady of Guadalupe became the patroness of Mexico, and in 1754 Pope Benedict XIV established December 12 as the feast. In 1945, when Pope Pius XII was speaking of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he called her “Queen of Mexico and Empress of the Americas.” The pope went on to say that the image on the cloak was done “by brushes that were not of this world.” The prayer in the Mass today affirms that by the Virgin Mary’s appearance at Tepeyac, God has brought blessings to the Americas (273-294).

1531_Nuestra_Señora_de_Guadalupe_anagoria

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico

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