Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Prepare the way of the Lord"

“Stay awake,” we heard last week. “Prepare,” we hear this week. Stay awake for the opportunities to serve the Lord. Prepare to find Him. The words of John the Baptist in this Sunday's Readings for Dec. 8, 2013 (2AdvA) warn us against sleeping our lives away, against spiritual laziness. Our Discussion Questions for Dec. 5, 2010 - Second Sunday of Advent - will guide your Online Sunday Bible Study sessions with your family, friends and church groups.

Fruits of Love

God's mysterious goodness is around us and in us. He gives it all out of pure generosity and love. But, Fr. John Foley, S. J. notes, you and I do very little to “deserve” it. In fact, we definitely are not worthy of it. Fr. James Gilhooley offers the observation that many Catholics no longer buy into the concept of personal sin. We live our lives in an era which has dry cleaned sin away.

So John the Baptist makes it clear this Sunday. Our prayers and our running to God will do us no good at all unless we produce the fruits of our repentance. Abbot Philip Lawrence, OSB says these fruits are those that bring about peace, harmony and seeking the good of others above our own good. Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB calls it the gift of love, the fruit of love, that fruit which "befits repentance." College student Colleen Corcoran reflects on this "Good Fruit" and how it manifests in on-campus student life.

Repentance and Change

Notice that these two things are inseparable, repentance and change. It was the Pharisees reluctance to change that brought about John's indignation. John’s message directed to the Pharisees and Sadducees was a message of judgment. To call the most influential religious leaders of the time, "offspring of snakes" was not designed to bring popularity.

He then challenged them to demonstrate actions worthy of repentance. It was a call for a genuine turning to God instead of regular religiosity. Fr. Orlando Sapuay, M.S. wonders whether John would issue a similar call to religious leaders today. Fr. Alex McAllister SDS agrees. He says this is something that finds a clear parallel today. So often we have questions about why people bring their children for baptism when they plainly have no intention of bringing the child up in the faith. When we refuse to live our faith, we are treating our baptism as a mere ritual act.

It seems then that we have three distinct groups; one, those who had already given up and did not respond to John's call; two, those who heard him but whose hearts were hardened and were reluctant to change, just like the Pharisees; and the third group who came to John full of hope and with a real preparedness to change. We must ask ourselves: to which group do we belong?

What is called for is repentance and we must be careful not to confuse that with remorse. Remorse is simply a temporary regret about our unworthy behavior. It usually lasts a very short time and then we return to our old habits. By contrast, repentance means that we have found something better and more promising than our sinfulness. This discovery is the love and goodness of God, Fr. Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B. tells us. If we realize that the stakes are eternal, Fr. John Foley, S. J. adds, then the words of Christ will not be lost upon us. We will take His words and teachings to heart, as spirit and life.

To the Desert - Prepare!

Father Steve Grunow reflects on the great Advent figure of John the Baptist and expounds upon his role as not only prophet, but as temple priest in the era of Herod "the Great." This imposing figure chose to spread the Good News in the desert. In the desert, Fr. Joseph Pellegrino points out, John the Baptist confronted people who thought they were entitled - the Pharisees and the Saducees. “Stop making presumptions,” the Baptist warns them....and us.

This Sunday, Fr. Phil Bloom says God also invites us to go to the desert. Not the desert of Judea, but one much closer: the desert of the human heart. The desert is a place free from distractions, a place where a person can be alone with God. In silence we meet God. And by meeting him, we find our true selves.

The coming of the Messiah as prophesied by John the Baptist obviously has something to do with the advent of peace. Dr. Marcellino d'Ambrosio says we need to examine the biblical notion of peace. For it is not quite the peace that some have in mind. It is not niceness or political correctness. It is not just the absence of armed conflict or “peaceful co-existence.” It is rather right relationship between people that flows from right relationship with God.

And just like John the Baptist, our impatience for truth and justice makes us want and expect a messiah who comes in earthly terms, all talent and muscle. But that’s not the Christmas story, nor the power revealed in it. An infant lying in the straw in Bethlehem didn’t outgun anyone. He just lay there, waiting for anyone, good or bad, to come to him, see his helplessness, feel a tug at his or her heart strings, and then gently try to coax a smile or a word out of him. Fr. Ron Rolheiser reminds us that it is still how God meets us.

Spreading the Faith

We are called to spread the Good News of God's love for each one of us. But it's not always easy. Those who have encountered the beauty and power of faith want to give that gift to their children. The question is, how? Well, explains Jake Frost, the good news is that the best way to pass faith on to our children is easy. It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in theology. It’s as simple as living the faith ourselves, day in and day out. Kids see, they absorb, and through that, they learn.

But what about evangelizing to people you don't even know - or haven't seen? Over the years, Catholic blogger David Mills has learned many things about the sort of people who write strangers on the internet to ask religious questions. Here are ten rules he developed from his experiences when writing people he didn't know. It's a very good guide to follow. We highly suggest you read it.

And Eric Sammons makes us aware of something we've all been guilty of at one time or another. He calls it "Every Catholic jerk’s motto." He explains that one of the dangers of being knowledgeable about Church history and the lives of the saints is that you can cherry-pick just about any action or words used by some saint at some time in history to justify your own actions. There's much to be learned about our own actions from this eye-opening piece.

Fr. Longenecker relates this story: "All you need to do," said the Mormon missionary at the door, "Is to pray to the Holy Spirit before you sit down to read the Book of Mormon. Say, 'Open my eyes, my mind, my heart, and if what I read is true, make me realize it in my heart of hearts.'" Then guess what? The new convert says, "I prayed that prayer and as I read my eyes really were opened and I realized that the whole thing was true!!" Gawrsh! Amazing!! Well, the good father warns us, it's really not quite that simple. He goes on to explain the important role the Church plays in helping you discern what the Holy Spirit is really telling you when you read Scripture.

Advent in Full Swing

The local radio stations are already playing Christmas music and everyone is already talking about the "Christmas" season--but it's not yet Christmas. It's the Advent Season, the season for preparing for Christmas. So what is Advent and why is it important? Taylor Marshall offers some answers with his "Top 10 Facts About Advent."

It is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. It has a quasi-penitential theme, and this can be a strong antidote against the consumerism of our nation and time. So in honor of the Holy Trinity, Dr. Jeff Mirus, presents the three most important things you can do to make your Advent more successful this year. While Lynn Wehner asks us during these early days of Advent to focus on Mary’s Yes that changed the world forever. And what better time can there be than now to recommit ourselves to the Yes that God is asking of us in our own lives each and every day.

People Are Nicer Than You Think

Danielle Bean had the enlightening experience once of having a surprise “in-real-life” social meeting with someone (she will call her Jane) whom she had previously known only online. Before their in-real-life meeting, she did not like Jane. At least she thought she didn't. They met - and was she surprised. Danielle talks about lessons learned on the internet. People are nicer than you think.

Anna Eicher survived a highway pileup that killed her father and two others and left more than a dozen people injured, a crash triggered by a trucker who was distracted by his cell phone. After four days in a hospital recovering from her injuries in the 2008 crash, Eicher returned to this Amish community in northeast Missouri to bury her father, then did what any good woman of her faith would do. She forgave the trucker and refused to sue. People are nicer than you think.

It's another eventful week in our Catholic world. Have a great and blessed new week.

Keep the Faith. Peace.

Wally Arida
Publisher & Editor in chief

BURNING QUESTION: Did John the Baptist go straight to heaven after he died?
FEATURED BLOG: Please Hold the Applause - at Mass
PASTORAL HISPANA: Conversion es parte del mensaje de Adviento

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