Advent—Week One

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Wake Up!

First Sunday of Advent (Year A)

“Jesus said to his disciples: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:37–39

Are you awake? Spiritually speaking? As we begin the liturgical season of Advent, we are given the future coming of the Son of God to ponder. As this passage goes on, Jesus says, “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

By the “day your Lord will come,” we should understand three things. The first coming of Christ is obviously that which we most clearly ponder in Advent and Christmas. The unity of human nature with divine nature, in the Person of Jesus, is truly awe-inspiring. But that already took place long ago.

Thus, a second coming of Christ that we must continually ponder is His coming by grace, every moment of every day of our lives, once we have chosen to freely give our lives over to His service, for His glory, in accord with His will. When we live with such an interior disposition by which we seek His ongoing “coming” by grace, then we will find that we need to continually “stay awake!” If we do not, then we can be certain that we will miss countless opportunities to become more united to Christ every day and to be used as an instrument of that very grace for His service and glory. If we do not diligently build a habit of becoming attentive to every prompting of grace in our lives, then we will, unquestionably, begin to become “drowsy” and will fall asleep, spiritually speaking.

A wonderful measure of our daily attentiveness to the innumerable gifts of grace given to us every day is to also consider how attentive we are to the final and glorious coming of Christ at the end of time. Just as Jesus explains, most people will pay little attention to this final coming, presuming it will not even be in their lifetimes. But if you have that attitude, then you have completely missed the point. The point is preparedness—today, tomorrow and always. True preparedness for the final coming of Christ will not only help you enter the mysteries of these Advent and Christmas seasons by which we ponder the first coming of Christ, it will also help you form a habit of daily attentiveness to grace. 

Reflect, today, upon how ready you are for the final coming of Christ at the end of time. Are you ready if Christ were to come today? If not, understand that a lack of preparedness for the final coming also means a lack of preparedness to celebrate His first coming at Christmas long ago, as well as His daily comings by grace. Prepare today. Do not wait. If you do, God will daily transform you in ways that are glorious beyond comprehension.

My ever-present Lord, You come to us, day and night, calling to us, leading us and offering to enter our lives. Please help me to always be attentive to You and to always open my heart fully to Your daily coming by grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

Do Not Miss Out…

First Sunday of Advent (Year B)

“Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Mark 13:33

To which time is our Lord referring? He is referring to the time of His coming. But it must be understood that even though He came to us once in the flesh long ago, and though He will return again in the flesh to judge the living and the dead at the end of time, He never ceases to come to us day and night by the transforming gift of grace. Are you attentive to this coming? Or do you miss out on the countless blessings of God’s grace that He wants to bestow upon you every day, all day?

The world has many distractions. We are distracted by the lure of riches, the indulgence of our appetites, and the constant noise of modern media, electronic gadgets and the like. These and many other daily distractions make it very difficult to be constantly “watchful” and “alert.” This is because our attention span is limited. Though some may learn to “multi-task” to a certain extent, no one can continually divide their attention between the presence of God and the distractions of the world.

Some may argue that it is necessary to engage the world today. It is not possible to continually pray and think only about God. But those who would be tempted to think this do not understand the attentiveness and watchfulness to which we are called.

Being watchful and attentive simply means that God is central in our lives and is the motivation and purpose of all we do every day. Our love for and service to God cannot be divided. We cannot set aside some time for the world and other times for God. Instead, everything we do, every day, all day, must have the glory of God and the fulfillment of God’s perfect will as the central and exclusive purpose of our lives. Thus, if we interact with the world, tune into social media, fulfill household chores, put in extra hours at work, etc., we must constantly ponder the simple question, “Lord, am I doing this for Your glory and in accord with Your will?” We must never fail to ask ourselves that question. We must always have the glory of God and the fulfillment of His will as the central purpose and motivation for all that we do. If we can live this way, then we will discover that it becomes increasingly easy to always and everywhere be attentive to and watchful for God’s will.

Reflect, today, upon that to which you most often turn your attention. What is it that you think about the most each day? To what are you most attentive and watchful? If the answer to that question is not the ongoing promptings of God and His grace, then make note of that fact. Humbly pray that you can change and begin to form a transforming habit of daily keeping your attention on our Lord so that He will become your daily guide and focus in all things.

Lord of all grace, You come to me day and night, speaking to me, calling me and desiring to guide me. May I learn to turn my full attention to You every day so that nothing but You and Your holy will lead me always. Jesus, I trust in You.

Supernatural Instinct

First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.  For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34–36

“That day.” These two words are spoken twice in the passage above. To which day is our Lord referring? Clearly, He is referring primarily to the day of our final judgment and is warning us to make sure we are prepared for it in case it were to come at an unexpected moment. So how do we prepare?

Animals have the natural gift of instinct. They know how to survive, how to reproduce, how to gather food and how to avoid danger. They know this because God has implanted this knowledge within them. By this natural gift of instinct, they know what to do and what to avoid.

We, as humans, also have basic natural instincts. But our natural instincts are only sufficient to help us accomplish that which the animals accomplish. Therefore, if we are to gain an even greater knowledge and are to know how to properly prepare ourselves spiritually for the sudden and unexpected coming of Christ, then we need more.

The way we most properly prepare is through a special grace by which God reveals Himself and His will to our human reason. When that happens, we will know the best way to be fully prepared for “that day” the moment it comes. Perhaps one of the best ways to describe this ability is by describing it as a “supernatural instinct.” When our natural instincts become open to grace, and when the information on which we base our daily decisions in life comes to us by an ongoing and personal revelation from God through the infused gift of faith, then we will find that we simply know what to do and what to avoid. By analogy, just as a bird knows to fly south for the winter or a salmon knows to return to its place of birth to lay its eggs, so we will “know” within our spirit how to best serve the will of God and, thus, be most fully prepared for His imminent return. “Supernatural instinct” is nothing other than us allowing the grace of God to enter our lives so as to take control of everything we do and to lead us into the fulfillment of the perfect and glorious will of God. When that happens, we can be certain that we are perpetually prepared for all that comes and will never be caught by surprise like a trap.

Reflect, today, upon whether you are daily led by the knowledge of God’s will alive within you as a supernatural instinct. If this language seems foriegn to you, then perhaps it is a time to ponder the question “Why?” Why aren’t you led by God’s grace through an ongoing gift of supernatural knowledge of His will? And if this language does resonate within you, then spend time pondering this gift and being grateful for the way that God has truly taken over your day-to-day life.

My revealing Lord, I pray that I will always know Your will and be led only by Your gentle but unmistakable promptings of grace. Please lead me, dear Lord, so that I will be perpetually prepared for Your glorious and final coming the moment it arrives.  Jesus, I trust in You.

The Authority of God

Monday of the First Week of Advent

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Matthew 8:8–9

These are words spoken by a man who is very familiar with the exercise of authority. He is a Roman centurion, and he states that he himself is “a man subject to authority” and that he also has soldiers who are subject to him. Thus, his daily life consists of following orders and giving orders that are to be obeyed.

When authority is exercised properly, it is a gift that helps to order society, family life, the life of the Church and even our personal lives. Of course, when authority is exercised improperly, in an oppressive and abusive way, it causes much damage. But the exercise of authority is, in and of itself, an act that has the potential to do much good.

Jesus Himself is quite impressed with the Roman centurion in the Gospel passage quoted above. Of him, Jesus states, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” Imagine having the Son of God say that about you! Jesus is impressed, in part, because the centurion acknowledges that he is not worthy to have Jesus come to his house. This is humility, in that the centurion clearly perceives his unworthiness. But Jesus is also impressed because the man manifests a clear and certain faith in Jesus’ authority to heal his servant from a distance. He does not hesitate to profess his belief in this authority of our Lord.

In our own lives, we are often lacking in this area. We face a difficulty (such as the illness this centurion’s servant was enduring), and instead of turning to God with full and unwavering confidence, we turn in on ourselves. We become anxious, fearful, doubtful, confused and sometimes even angry. When any of these qualities are present, it is not because of the difficult situation we face; rather, it is because of our lack of faith and our lack of confidence in the all-powerful authority of our Lord.

In the case of the Roman centurion’s servant, it was the will of God that Jesus physically heal, and so He did. But in the countless daily challenges we face in life, God’s answers might be varied. One unwavering quality we must always have is a certain conviction that God desires to exercise His loving authority in our lives, in the way He chooses, if we trust Him and invite Him to take control.

Reflect, today, upon the perfection of the authority of Christ. Do you believe that He can exercise His perfection of power in your life? Do you believe that His authority is what is needed to order your life, your family, our Church and even our world? Prayerfully submit yourself to the authority of Christ this day and allow yourself to become amazed as you witness all that He is able to do.

All-powerful Father, I entrust to You my life and every situation in my life that needs Your power and control. Please bring order and harmony to my life and to the lives of those around me. May all Your children learn to more fully entrust themselves to You as their loving God. Jesus, I trust in You.

The Eyes of Faith

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.

For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”  Luke 10:23–24 

What did the disciples see that made their eyes “blessed?” Clearly, they were blessed to see our Lord. Jesus was the One promised by the prophets and kings of old and now He was there, in flesh and bone, present for the disciples to see Him. Though we do not have the privilege to “see” our Lord in the same way that the disciples did some 2,000 years ago, we are privileged to see Him in countless other ways in our daily lives, if we only have “eyes that see” and ears to hear.

Since the time of Jesus’ appearance on Earth, in the flesh, so much has changed. The Apostles were eventually filled with the Holy Spirit and sent forth on a mission to change the world. The Church was established, the Sacraments were instituted, the teaching authority of Christ was exercised, and countless saints have given witness to the Truth with their lives. The past 2,000 years have been years in which Christ was continually made manifest to the world in countless ways.

Today, Christ is still present and continues to stand before us. If we have the eyes and ears of faith, we will not miss Him day in and day out. We will see and understand the countless ways that He speaks to us, leads us and guides us today. The first step toward this gift of sight and hearing is your desire. Do you desire the Truth? Do you desire to see Christ? Or are you satisfied with the many confusions of life that seek to distract you from what is most real and most life-changing?

Reflect, today, upon your desire. The prophets and kings of old “desired” to see the Messiah. We are privileged to have Him alive in our presence today, speaking to us and calling to us continually. Foster within yourself a desire for our Lord. Allow it to become a blazing flame which longs to consume all that is true and all that is good. Desire God. Desire His Truth. Desire His guiding hand in your life and allow Him to bless you beyond what you can fathom.

My divine Lord, I know You are alive today, speaking to me, calling me and revealing to me Your glorious presence. Help me to desire You and, within that desire, to turn to You with all my heart. I love You, my Lord. Help me to love You more. Jesus, I trust in You.

A Miracle of Superabundance!

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets full.   Matthew 15:36–37

This line concludes the second miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes as told by Matthew. In this miracle, seven loaves and a few fish were multiplied to feed 4,000 men, not counting the women and children. And once everyone ate and was satisfied, seven full baskets remained.

It’s hard to underestimate the effect that this miracle had on those who were actually there. Perhaps many did not even know where the food came from. They just saw the baskets being passed, they took their fill, and passed the rest on to others. Though there are many important lessons we can take from this miracle, let’s consider one of them.

Recall that the crowds had been with Jesus for three days without food. They were amazed at Him as He taught and continually healed the sick in their presence. They were so amazed, in fact, that they showed no sign of leaving Him, despite the obvious hunger they must have been experiencing. This is a wonderful image of what we must seek to have in our interior life.

What is it that “amazes” you in life? What is it that you can do hour after hour without losing your attention? For these first disciples, it was the discovery of the very Person of Jesus that had this effect upon them. How about you? Have you ever found that the discovery of Jesus in prayer, or in the reading of Scripture, or through the witness of another, was so compelling that you became engrossed in His presence? Have you ever become so engrossed in our Lord that you thought of little else?

In Heaven, our eternity will be spent in a perpetual adoration and “amazement” of the glory of God. And we will never tire of being with Him, in awe of Him. But too often on Earth, we lose sight of the miraculous action of God in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Too often, instead, we become engrossed in sin, the effects of sin, hurt, scandal, division, hatred and those things that lead to despair.

Reflect, today, upon these first disciples of Jesus. Ponder, especially, their wonder and awe as they stayed with Him for three days without food. This draw of our Lord must take hold of you and overwhelm you so much that Jesus is the one and only central focus of your life. And when He is, all else falls into place and our Lord provides for your many other needs.

My divine Lord, I love You and desire to love You more. Fill me with a wonder and awe for You. Help me to desire You above all things and in all things. May my love of You become so intense that I find myself trusting You always. Help me, dear Lord, to make You the center of my entire life. Jesus, I trust in You.

Authentic Christians

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”  Matthew 7:21

It’s frightening to think of those of whom Jesus is speaking. Imagine arriving before the throne of God upon your passing from this earthly life and you cry out to Him, “Lord, Lord!” And you expect Him to smile and welcome you, but instead you come face-to-face with the reality of your ongoing and obstinate disobedience to the will of God throughout your life. You suddenly realize that you acted as if you were a Christian, but it was only an act. And now, on the day of judgment, the truth is made manifest for you and for all to see. A truly frightening scenario.

To whom will this happen? Of course, only our Lord knows. He is the one and only Just Judge. He and He alone knows a person’s heart, and judgment is left only to Him. But the fact that Jesus told us that “Not everyone” who expects to enter Heaven will enter should grab our attention.

Ideally, our lives are directed by a deep and pure love of God, and it is this love and this love alone that directs our lives. But when a pure love of God is not clearly present, then the next best thing may be a holy fear. The words spoken by Jesus should evoke this “holy fear” within each of us.

By “holy,” we mean that there is a certain fear that can motivate us to change our lives in an authentic way. It’s possible that we fool others, and maybe even fool ourselves, but we cannot fool God. God sees and knows all things, and He knows the answer to the one and only question that matters on the day of judgment: “Did I fulfill the will of the Father in Heaven?”

A common practice, recommended over and over by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, is to consider all our current decisions and actions from the point of view of the day of judgment. What would I wish I had done in that moment? The answer to that question is of essential importance to the way we live our lives today.

Reflect, today, upon that important question in your own life. “Am I fulfilling the will of the Father in Heaven?” What will I wish I had done, here and now, as I stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Whatever comes to mind, spend time with that and strive to deepen your resolve to whatever God reveals to you. Do not hesitate. Do not wait. Prepare now so that the day of Judgment will also be a day of exceeding joy and glory!

My saving God, I pray for insight into my life. Help me to see my life and all of my actions in the light of Your will and Your Truth. My loving Father, I desire to live fully in accord with Your perfect will. Give me the grace I need to amend my life so that the day of judgment is a day of the greatest glory. Jesus, I trust in You.

The True Messiah

Friday of the First Week of Advent

And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread word of him through all that land. Matthew 9:30–31

Who is Jesus? This question is much more easily answered today than it was at the time Jesus walked the Earth. Today we are blessed with countless saints who have gone before us who have prayerfully and intelligently taught much about the person of Jesus. We know Him to be God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Savior of the World, the promised Messiah, the Sacrificial Lamb and so much more.

The Gospel above comes from the conclusion of the miracle in which Jesus healed two blind men. These men were overwhelmed with their cure, and their emotion overtook them. Jesus instructed them to “See that no one knows about this” miraculous healing. But their excitement could not be contained. It’s not that they were intentionally disobedient to Jesus; rather, they did not know how else to express their sincere gratitude other than to tell others about what Jesus had done.

One reason Jesus told them not to tell others about Him is because Jesus knew they did not fully understand Who He was. He knew that their testimony about Him would fail to present Him in the way that was most truthful. He was the Lamb of God. The Savior. The Messiah. The Sacrificial Lamb. He was the One Who came into this world to redeem us by the shedding of His blood. Many of the people, however, wanted a nationalistic “messiah” or a miracle worker alone. They wanted one who would save them from political oppression and make them a great earthly nation. But this was not Jesus’ mission.

Oftentimes we can also fall into the trap of misunderstanding Who Jesus is and Who He wants to be in our lives. We can want a “god” who will save us only from our daily struggles, injustices and temporal difficulties. We can want a “god” who acts in accord with our will and not vice versa. We want a “god” who will heal us and free us of every earthly burden. But Jesus taught clearly throughout His life that He would suffer and die. He taught us that we must take up our own crosses and follow Him. And He taught us that we are to die, embrace suffering, offer mercy, turn the other cheek, and find our glory in that which the world will never understand.

Reflect, today, upon whether Jesus would caution you about speaking too loudly about your vision of Who He is. Do you struggle with presenting a “god” who is not actually God? Or have you come to know the very Person of Christ our Lord to such an extent that you are able to give witness to Him Who died. Do you boast only in the Cross? Do you proclaim Christ crucified and preach only the deepest wisdom of humility, mercy and sacrifice? Recommit yourself to a true proclamation of Christ, setting aside any and all confused images of our saving God.

My true and saving Lord, I commit myself to You and pray that I will come to know and love You as You are. Give me the eyes I need to see You and the mind and heart I need to know and love You. Remove from me any false vision of Who You are and replace within me a true knowledge of You, my Lord. As I come to know You, I offer myself to You so that You may use me to proclaim Your greatness to all. Jesus, I trust in You.

On Mission From Christ

Saturday of the First Week of Advent

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Matthew 9:37–38

What does God want of you? What is your mission? Some fervent Christians may dream of becoming a popular evangelist. Some may dream of doing heroic acts of charity that are praised by all. And others may wish to live a very quiet and hidden life of faith, close to family and friends. But what does God want of YOU?

In the passage above, Jesus exhorts His disciples to pray for “laborers for his harvest.” You can be certain that you are among the “laborers” of which our Lord speaks. It’s easy to think that this mission is for others, such as priests, religious and full-time lay evangelists. It’s easy for many to conclude that they do not have much to offer. But nothing could be further from the truth.

God wants to use you in exceptionally glorious ways.  Yes, “exceptionally glorious!” Of course, that does not mean that you will be the next most popular YouTube evangelist or enter the spotlight like Saint Mother Teresa did. But the work God wants of you is just as real and just as important as any of the greatest saints of old or who are alive today.

Holiness of life is discovered in prayer but also in action. As you pray each and every day and grow closer to Christ, He will exhort you to “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons” (Matthew 10:8) as today’s Gospel goes on to state. But He will call you to do this in the unique way within your own vocation. Your daily duty is not to be ignored. So who in your daily encounters are those who are the sick, the dead, the lepers and the possessed? Most likely they are all around you, to one extent or another. Take, for example, those who are “lepers.” These are those who are the “rejects” of society. Our world can be harsh and cruel, and some may find themselves feeling lost and alone. Who do you know who may fall into this category? Who needs a bit of encouragement, understanding and compassion? God has given you a daily duty that He has not given to another, and, for that reason, there are some who need your love. Look for them, reach out to them, share Christ with them, be there for them.

Reflect, today, upon this exceptionally glorious calling you have been given to be Christ to another. Embrace this duty of love. See yourself as one called to be a laborer for Christ and commit yourself to the full and glorious fulfillment of this mission, no matter how it is to be lived out in your life.

My dear Lord, I commit myself to Your divine mission. I choose You and Your holy will for my life. Send me, dear Lord, to those who are most in need of your love and mercy. Help me to know how I can bring that love and mercy to those entrusted to me so that they will experience in their lives Your glorious and saving grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

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