Advent—Week Three

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Note: Use the reflections in this chapter through December 16. On December 17 (unless it’s Sunday of the Third Sunday of Advent) skip to the next chapter for the proper reflections.

Change and Newness in Christ

Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Matthew 11:2–3

Why did Saint John the Baptist send his disciples to Jesus to ask this question? Recall that John had previously stated about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). So if John knew that Jesus was the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world,” then why would he send his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the one who is to come?

The Church Fathers explore many reasons, but most arrive at the conclusion that John did this not because he didn’t know Who Jesus was, but for the sake of his disciples, so that they would come to follow our Lord once John was killed by Herod. So this was a way of trying to point his disciples to Jesus and to encourage them to embrace this new change in their life of faith.

Jesus understood the reason John sent his disciples to Him. As a result, Jesus gave these disciples what they needed so as to come to believe themselves. He points them to the works that He has done as the Christ so that they would be able to interpret these works on their own and, thus, come to the newness of faith. Jesus points out that the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. Who could argue with such miraculous signs from Heaven? But Jesus goes even further and states something very subtle. He says, “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” This line appears to be one way that Jesus gently reproached these disciples for what appears to be their own personal struggle with this change of spiritual leaders. Jesus identified a certain “offense” that they were dealing with. They were “offended” by the fact that Jesus was indeed increasing while John was decreasing.

In many ways, this is a common experience any time there is a change in our spiritual lives. When something is new, we often struggle with various aspects of the change and newness. But the Christian life is all about change, transformation and newness of life. And this is good. We must seek to change, be transformed, build better and new relationships, learn new ways of loving and reaching out, and become very comfortable with any and every new experience that our Lord places in our lives.

Reflect, today, upon any way that you have struggled with changes in your spiritual life. Oftentimes, those things we struggle with are actually glorious opportunities to live our Christian faith and charity on a new level. Seek out the changes God is calling you to embrace in your life and know that even if they are difficult, they are the surest pathway to a life of greater holiness for you.

Dear Lord, I know You call me to embrace the newness of life and the changes that I must endure so as to follow You more faithfully. Help me to be open to all that You call me to so that I will continually become a new creation in Your grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Use the reflections in this chapter through December 16. On December 17 (unless it’s Sunday of the Third Sunday of Advent) skip to the next chapter for the proper reflections.

Meeting Christ in the Desert

Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,’” as Isaiah the prophet said.” John 1:23

In the passage above, Saint John the Baptist quotes Isaiah 40:3: “A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” This was a prophecy of Isaiah who was speaking about the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Normally, people would travel along the well-watered routes from Mesopotamia to Israel. Those routes were safer than the desert and provided the necessary food and water for the journey. But Isaiah prophesied that the Jewish exiles would travel the shortest route—straight across the desert—and that God would provide for their needs during that journey. Such a journey required much trust in the providence of God.

John the Baptist, in quoting Isaiah, applies this prophecy to himself. He was called to cry out in the desert and point people directly to the Messiah. It was in the desert that they would discover their Savior.

First of all, John cries out in the “desert.” His message is for those who experience dryness, destitution, need and loss in life due to sin. His message of repentance is first for those who are without the spiritual nourishment God wants to bestow upon them through grace. The message of John is pointed to those who humbly see the difficult situation they are facing in life and acknowledge their need for the Living Water of the Savior of the World.

Second, this new “straight” way implies that many are not walking the direct path to Christ. Instead, they are taking unnecessary detours in life. John’s message is one that calls everyone to the straight and direct way of repenting of their sins so that they can come to faith in Christ Jesus.

Third, walking through the desert to find Christ requires trust in God’s providence. It takes courage to make such a journey. Trust in the ongoing providence of God, Who promises to meet all of our needs, is key. One would not walk straight through the desert if they did not trust their guide.

Advent is a time to reexamine the road you are on. Are you trying to find your own way to happiness? Are you trusting in your own abilities, your own intelligence and your own plan for the future? If so, then listen to the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” Listen to Saint John speak to you, calling you to the simplicity of the desert, to a greater detachment from all things, to an abandonment of all that is not of God, and to a more willing trust in the providence of God to lead you.

Reflect, today, upon this calling from the desert and listen to the message God is speaking to you, personally. Abandon all worldly concerns, repent of sin, trust in Him and go out to meet Him so that you can more quickly and more easily come to a deeper faith in our Lord during this Advent season.

My loving Lord, You are there, waiting for me in the darkness and dryness of my sin. You are waiting for me to lead me and guide me through the many challenges I face in life. Please give me the courage and wisdom I need to trust in You enough to follow You wherever You lead. Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Use the reflections in this chapter through December 16. On December 17 (unless it’s Sunday of the Third Sunday of Advent) skip to the next chapter for the proper reflections.

Turn From Sin

Third Sunday of Advent (Year C)

The crowds asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” Luke 3:10

Among those within the crowds who were asking Saint John the Baptist this question were tax collectors, soldiers and ordinary people. John gave an answer to them all, first telling them to turn away from the sins that they struggled with the most. Sin takes on many forms and often is closely associated with our daily duties in life. Some sins are sins of commission, meaning sins we commit by an intentional act. Some sins are those of omission, meaning a lack of certain virtues or a failure to do what we ought to do.

After addressing the particular sins that those in the crowds were struggling with, John then turns their attention to Christ. He states to them that “​​one mightier than I is coming” and that “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In other words, John was giving the people a twofold command. First, work to overcome sin. And second, turn your eyes to Him Who is coming to you. Repenting from sin is not enough. Once we repent, we must then fill the void within our souls with the presence of Christ.

Advent, just like Lent, is an important time within our liturgical year to heed these messages. Though it’s true that we must work to overcome sin and turn to Christ every day of the year, God knows we need a special time each year when we give concerted effort to these spiritual endeavors. So before Advent passes you by, heed the words of the Baptist and take some time to examine your conscience thoroughly. Perhaps use a detailed list of the Ten Commandments or the Seven Capital Sins. Once you do that, seek out an opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Doing so is essential to a fruitful Advent season.

Once you thoroughly repent of the sins you struggle with the most right now, turn to the Savior of the World with special attentiveness to the miracle of the Incarnation this Advent. Spend time adoring the God Who came to us in the form of a little child. Meditate on this Gift. Gaze at a nativity scene prayerfully. Read the Scripture passages about the birth of Christ. Close your eyes and imagine yourself there at His birth.

Reflect, today, upon this twofold exhortation from John and apply it to your Advent preparations. Cleanse your soul in a special way from all sin this Advent. Then prayerfully ponder and meditate upon the reality we are preparing to celebrate. As John says, allow the Christ Child to truly “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” through your deepening devotion and prayer this Advent.

My dear Jesus, please help me to see my sins as You see them. Help me to be attentive to every sinful action I commit and even those smaller sins of omission. As I ponder my sin, please draw me to Your mercy and grace so that I can then open the eyes of my soul more deeply to see You and to adore You more completely this Advent. Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Use the reflections in this chapter through December 16. On December 17 skip to the next chapter for the proper reflections.

Religious Politicians

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

“Where was John’s baptism from? Was it of heavenly or of human origin?” They discussed this among themselves and said, “If we say ‘Of heavenly origin,’ he will say to us, ‘Then why did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we fear the crowd, for they all regard John as a prophet.” So they said to Jesus in reply, “We do not know.” Matthew 21:25–27

This is a perfect example of how not to live your life. But, sadly, this is too often an illustration of the way many in authority do live their lives. In this Gospel passage, we see the Pharisees acting as what we may term “religious politicians.” A religious politician is one whose religious convictions are decided in a backwards sort of way. Ideally, we will turn our eyes to Christ and all that He has revealed to us. This will produce the glorious gift of authentic faith, and from that rock foundation of faith, we act. But the Pharisees allowed their “convictions” to be based on what they perceived would produce the best outcome at the moment. They chose to say “We do not know” where John’s baptism was from because they thought it was the answer that most safeguarded them from any criticism.

As followers of Christ, we need to be ready and willing to suffer any and all ridicule that comes from living our convictions of faith in an open way. Faith will lead to charity, and charity will always be grounded in the truths of faith. But when we live and proclaim the truth, we will be criticized by some and will suffer as a result.

This Gospel offers us all an invitation to reflect upon the difficult truths of our day and age and to decide whether or not we are willing to publicly profess the truth. Think, especially, about the many moral truths of our faith that seem to be continually under attack. Are you willing to speak your faith clearly, with charity and with conviction, even if it means criticism from the world?

Reflect, today, upon the backwards approach taken by the Pharisees when they were confronted with a difficult question. Make the choice not to follow their example, choosing instead the unwavering convictions that you are called to embrace by your faith. What questions are being asked of you today? In which ways are you being tested by others? What is your approach to those tests? Do you speak more like a “religious politician?” Or do you speak with a clarity flowing from the rock foundation of your faith?

My Lord of all truth, give me the grace I need to stand firm on all that You have revealed to me. Give me courage to remain firm in the convictions of faith that have been given to me by You. May I proclaim this faith to all whom I encounter so that I can be an instrument of Your love and mercy to the world. Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Use the reflections in this chapter through December 16. On December 17 skip to the next chapter for the proper reflections.

It’s Time to Change

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people: “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterwards he changed his mind and went. Matthew 21:28–29

This Gospel passage above is the first part of a two-part story. The first son says he will not go work in the vineyard but changes his mind and goes. The second son says he will go but does not go. Which son are you most like?

Of course, the ideal would be to have said “Yes” to the father and then actually have followed through. But Jesus tells this story to contrast the “prostitutes and tax collectors” with the “chief priests and elders.” Many of these religious leaders of the time were good at saying the right thing, but they failed to act in accord with the will of God. By contrast, the sinners of the age were not always ready to agree at first, but many of them eventually listened to the message of repentance and changed their ways.

So, again, which group are you most like? It’s humbling to admit that we often struggle, especially at first, with embracing all that God asks of us. His commands are radical and require a tremendous amount of integrity and goodness to embrace. For that reason, there are many things we at first refuse to embrace. For example, the act of forgiving another is not always immediately easy. Or making the immediate commitment to daily prayer can be challenging. Or choosing any form of virtue over vice may not come to us without difficulty.

One message of incredible mercy that our Lord reveals to us through this passage is that, as long as we live, it’s never too late to change. Deep down we all know what God wants of us. The problem is that we often allow our confused reasoning or disordered passions to hinder our absolute, immediate and wholehearted response to the will of God. But if we can keep in mind that even the “prostitutes and tax collectors” eventually came around, we will be encouraged to eventually change our ways.

Reflect, today, upon that part of the will of God that is most difficult for you to immediately and wholeheartedly embrace and do. What do you find yourself saying “No” to, at least at first. Resolve to build an interior habit of saying “Yes” to our Lord and following through with His will in every way.

Precious Lord, give me the grace I need to respond to every prompting of grace in my life. Help me to say “Yes” to You and to follow through with my actions. As I see more clearly the ways I have refused Your grace, give me courage and strength to change so as to more fully conform to Your perfect plan for my life.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Use the reflections in this chapter through December 16. On December 17 skip to the next chapter for the proper reflections.

The Transforming Power of Christ

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

And Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”  Luke 7:22

One of the greatest ways that the transforming power of the Gospel is proclaimed is through the works accomplished by our Lord. In this Gospel passage, Jesus points to the works He has done to answer a question about His identity. The disciples of John the Baptist came to ask Him if He was the coming Messiah. And Jesus responds by pointing to the fact that lives have been changed. The blind, lame, lepers, deaf and dead all received miracles of God’s grace. And these miracles were done for all to see.

Though the physical miracles of Jesus would have been awe-inspiring in every way, we should not see these miracles as actions that were done once, long ago, and that no longer happen. The truth is that there are many ways that these same transforming actions continue to take place today.

How is this the case? Start with your own life. How have you been changed by the transforming power of Christ? How has He opened your eyes and ears to see and hear Him? How has He lifted your burdens and spiritual ills? How has He brought you from the death of despair to the new life of hope? Has He done this in your life?

We all need the saving power of God in our lives. And when God acts on us, changes us, heals us and transforms us, it must be seen first as an act from our Lord to us. But secondly, we must also see every action of Christ in our lives as something that God wants to be shared with others. The transformation of our lives must become an ongoing testament to the power of God and the power of the Gospel. Others need to see how God has changed us and we must seek to humbly be an open book of God’s power.

Reflect, today, upon this Gospel scene. Imagine that these disciples of John are actually the many people you encounter every day. See them coming to you, desiring to know if the God you love and serve is the God whom they should follow. How will you respond? How can you give testimony to Christ Jesus? See it as your duty to be an open book by which the transforming power of the Gospel is shared by God through you.

Lord, I thank You for the countless ways in which You have changed my life, healing me of my spiritual illnesses, opening my eyes and ears to Your truth, and raising my soul from death to life. Use me, dear Lord, as a witness to Your transforming power. Help me to give testimony to You and Your perfect love so that others will come to know You through the way You have touched my life. Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Use the reflections in this chapter through December 16. On December 17 skip to the next chapter for the proper reflections.

Sharing in God’s Divinity

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

This is the one about whom Scripture says: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you. I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John; yet the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.” Luke 7:27–28

Saint John the Baptist was truly great. He was the promised prophet foretold by Isaiah who would be the “messenger” who would precede the Christ, the Messiah. Many believe that John was sanctified within the womb when he leapt for joy when encountering the presence of Christ during the Visitation. John then faithfully fulfilled his mission of being the last of the Old Testament prophets and died prior to Jesus giving His life for the salvation of all. For these reasons, John is considered the greatest of those born of women, prior to the glorious gift of salvation in Christ.

Of course, after praising John for his greatness, Jesus then goes on to point out that even “the least in the Kingdom of God” is greater than John. This is simply because everyone who is now a member of the Kingdom of God was given a gift that John never enjoyed in this life. We are given the gift of grace so as to actually share in the divine nature. Through baptism, we become sharers in God’s very life by grace. This transformation of our very being is something that John the Baptist did not share in until after his death when Jesus opened the gateway to salvation.

Imagine being John the Baptist. Imagine being given this incredible responsibility and unbelievable privilege of not only being a blood cousin of Jesus but also being called to preach to the people so as to prepare them for Jesus’ ministry and the gift of salvation. What a privilege that would be!

But according to the words of Jesus, we are all given something even greater. We are given the privilege of not only a blood relationship with Jesus but a transformation of our very soul, sharing in His divine nature. We are privileged to become totally new creations by grace. And we are also privileged to then be called to go forth and to prepare the way for Christ in the lives of others.

Sometimes, we can take the gift of salvation for granted. We can easily fail to comprehend this incredible gift. As a result, we can fail to have gratitude and fail to be in awe of what we have become in Christ.

One of the central messages of Advent is that God became man so that we could share in His divinity. This reality is beautifully presented in the prayer that the priest prays at Mass as he mixes the water and wine: ​​By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ Who humbled himself to share in our humanity. What a gift! We are called to actually share in Christ’s divinity! This gift makes us members of the Kingdom of God and is a far greater gift than even John the Baptist received in his earthly life.

Reflect, today, upon the amazing gift that you have been given through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. If you are one who has fallen into the trap of a lack of gratitude for this gift, use this Advent season to rekindle your awareness of and gratitude for all that God has done for you.

My divine Savior, I thank You for the awe-inspiring gift of grace You have given me, inviting me to actually share in Your divinity. May I become more and more aware of this gift and become eternally grateful for all You have done for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Use the reflections in this chapter through December 16. On December 17 skip to the next chapter for the proper reflections.

The Love of the Father

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

“John was a burning and shining lamp, and for a while you were content to rejoice in his light. But I have testimony greater than John’s.”  John 5:35–36

It’s true that when we have something good, something we enjoy, something we are grateful for, we easily rejoice in that good thing. But when the good thing we have is replaced by something even better, we move on from the old and cling to the new. On a supernatural level, this is what happened as people moved from being followers of Saint John the Baptist to followers of Jesus.

At first, many people were content rejoicing in the “light” of John. They enjoyed his preaching and his personal witness and saw the effects in their lives of the baptism of repentance he offered. But as people were pointed to Jesus, becoming His new followers, they would have been even more joyful and at peace being with their newfound Lord. The initial transition might have been difficult. But as they came to know the very Person of Jesus, they would have been deeply grateful.

The passage above points out this spiritual principle. For so many people, “John was a burning and shining lamp,” and his followers were very content with all that John gave to them. But Jesus points out to John’s followers that His  testimony is so much greater.

What was Jesus’ “testimony?” First, He says that it is the works the Father gave Him to perform. These were His miracles, His preaching and His personal witness of virtue that left so many in awe. But Jesus goes on to say that the Father has also testified on His behalf. This means that Jesus’ greatness is especially found in the fact that those who encountered Him were also encountering the Father in Heaven Whom they do not see with their eyes. But Jesus is clear that when they see and listen to Him, they are also encountering the Father.

One thing this tells us is that we must be open to the testimony of the Father in our lives. The testimony of the Father is accomplished by allowing our souls to truly hear the voice of the Father speak to us through the instrumentality of the Son. All that Jesus did and spoke in the Scriptures, all the graces transmitted through the Sacraments, and every encounter with our Lord through prayer are ways of coming to know the Father in Heaven.

Reflect, today, upon the profound reality that God the Father wants a deep and personal relationship with you. He wants to speak to you, reveal Himself to you and draw close to you. Don’t allow this Advent to pass by without prayerfully seeking out His voice, allowing Him to testify to you about His love and care for you. The Son of God came into this world so that He could become one with you. And through that oneness, He reveals to you the love of the Father in Heaven.

Most holy Father in Heaven, I do desire to come to know You and Your perfect and intimate love for me. Please open my mind and heart to You more fully this Advent season so that I can turn from all fading and passing lights of this world and come to the one and profound Light of Your loving Heart. Jesus, I trust in You.

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