Advent – Week Three

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

Achieving Greatness

Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11

Imagine having these words, spoken by our Lord, being spoken about you. But, in fact, they are! You are among the “least in the kingdom of heaven” when you share in the grace of Christ and remain a member of His glorious Kingdom. And for that reason, your true greatness must be understood and rejoiced in.

At the time that John lived, the gates of Heaven had not yet been opened to fallen humanity. Jesus had not yet died, risen and ascended into Heaven so as to then pour forth the Holy Spirit upon the Church, inviting us to share in His glorious Kingdom. But today, we are blessed to be invited not only to Heaven when we die in a state of grace, we are also invited to share in the glories of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now, as we journey through life.

One clear message that our Lord is speaking in the line above is that those who are now enjoying the fullness of Heaven, seeing God face-to-face, are great indeed. But another clear message from our Lord is that this greatness can begin to be lived now, as we journey through life.

Too often we take up our identity in many meaningless things. We seek “greatness” through our personal and selfish achievements, our abilities, looks, financial status, and the like. But none of these things makes us truly great. Greatness is found solely in being a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, and thus being a member of God’s Kingdom.

Today we are given the shining example of Saint John the Baptist. And as we ponder his life, we must also ponder his preaching. The central messages of his preaching were twofold. First, he called everyone to repentance for their sins. This message must ring true in our lives today just as it did in the days of John’s preaching. But his second primary message was to point us to Christ. Jesus was the exclusive purpose of St. John’s life, and his preaching concluded by pointing his followers to our Lord.

Reflect, today, upon the fact that Saint John the Baptist continues to send forth his message today to you. As we approach the glorious Christmas season, prepare yourself more fully by taking time to examine the sin with which you struggle. Acknowledge it with humility and honesty. From there, turn your eyes to Jesus, the source of mercy and forgiveness, and hear Him inviting you to the greatness to which you are called. As you put your eyes on Him, allow Him to draw you more fully into His Kingdom now, today, so that you, as a least one of the Kingdom of Heaven, will understand and live out the greatness of a son or daughter of God.

My glorious King, You sent to us Saint John the Baptist to preach repentance and to call us to Yourself. Open my mind and heart, dear Lord, to the message John spoke and help me to more fully heed his words so as to share in the greatness of life to which I am called. Jesus, I trust in You.

Recognizing the Almighty

Third Sunday of Advent (Year B)

“I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”  John 1:26–27

These are words of true humility and wisdom. John the Baptist had quite a following. Many were coming to him to be baptized, and he was gaining much notoriety. But his notoriety did not go to his head. Instead, he understood his role of preparing the way for “the one who is coming.” He understood that he needed to decrease as Jesus began His public ministry. And, thus, he humbly points others to Jesus.

In this passage, John was speaking to the Pharisees. They were clearly envious of John’s popularity and questioned him about who he was. Was he the Christ? Or Elijiah? Or the Prophet? John denied all of that and identified himself as one who is not worthy to even untie the sandal straps of the one who is coming after him. Thus, John sees himself as the “unworthy one.”

But it is this humility that makes John truly great. Greatness does not come by self-elevation, or self-promotion. Greatness comes solely by fulfilling the will of God. And, for John, the will of God was to baptize and to point others to Him Who was coming after him.

It’s also important to note that John said to the Pharisees that they “do not recognize” the one who is coming after him. In other words, those who are filled with pride and self-righteousness are blind to the truth. They cannot see beyond themselves, which is an incredible lack of wisdom.

Reflect, today, upon your calling to imitate these virtues of St. John the Baptist. Do you see your duty in life as one that is singularly focused upon putting your eyes on Christ and pointing others to Him? Do you humbly recognize that it is Jesus Who must increase and that you are nothing more than His unworthy servant? If you can seek to serve the will of God with complete humility, you also will be truly wise. And like through John, many will come to know Christ because of your holy service.

Lord, fill me with true humility. May I know and believe with all my heart that I am unworthy of the incredible life of grace You have given to me. But in that humble realization, give me the grace I need to serve You with all my heart so that others may come to know You through me.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Purification by the Fire of God

Third Sunday of Advent (Year C)

John answered them all, saying, ”I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  Luke 3:16–17

Again, this Sunday, we are given the glorious witness of St. John the Baptist. In this sermon of John, he says that Jesus will come and baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  The image of being baptized “with fire” is a good one to reflect upon.  It especially reveals to us the deep purification Jesus desires for our souls.  

What does it mean to be purified?  For one thing, purification of our soul hurts.  But it hurts in a sweet sort of way.  Turning from sin and growing closer to God requires great sacrifice and surrender.  And it requires that we allow God to do powerful things within us.  And the most powerful thing God wants to do is purify us.

Our Catholic faith reveals to us the reality of Purgatory after we die.  Purgatory is said to be a place of much spiritual pain, but again, in a sweet sort of way.  It’s painful in the sense that we are stripped of all that we hold on to that God wants us to let go of.  It’s painful in the sense that we endure a complete transformation of who we are and what we love.  We learn to love God and God alone.  And in the embrace of our love of God, we come to love all people.

It’s also sweet because, as we are purified, we grow infinitely closer to God and grow in holiness.  This lifts the burden of sin and frees us to love as we ought.  

But our purification ought not start only in Purgatory.  We are all called to enter into that process of purification here and now.  We are called to heed the words of John the Baptist today and repent of all that keeps us from holiness of life.

Reflect, today, upon the purification to which God may be calling you.  What is it that you hold on to that He wants you free of?  Commit yourself to the purifying fire of God’s love and let that love cleanse you in this Advent season.

Lord, I do long to have my soul purified by You.  I do desire holiness of life.  Help me to begin this process here and now so that I can begin to experience the joy and freedom You have in store for me.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Starting on December 17 go to the next chapter for daily reflections.  Prior to December 17 continue with the reflections for the weekdays in this chapter.

Reacting to the Authority of Jesus

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

When Jesus had come into the temple area, the chief priests and the elders of the people approached him as he was teaching and said, “By what authority are you doing these things?  And who gave you this authority?” Matthew 21:23

This was a bit of a bold move on the part of the chief priests and the elders.  They clearly had an agenda and were clearly agitated by Jesus.  How sad.

Think about that for a moment.  Here is God Almighty, in the Person of Jesus the Eternal Son, teaching the Words of eternal life.  He is in the temple area and the chief priests and elders were agitated by Him.  Jesus spoke with power and authority and everyone recognized that.  But the chief priests and elders appeared to be angry and envious of Him, calling into question where He received His authority.  This is quite shocking when understood clearly and reveals how far the religious leaders of the time were off track.  They were clearly blind.  Their challenge of Jesus, in this context, shows that they were not open to the truth and were not open to God’s plan of salvation.  Instead, they were filled with self-centeredness, pride and envy.  

Try to put yourself in that temple area where Jesus was speaking.  What would your reaction to Him be like?  Would you ignore Him?  Would you be curious about Him?  Would you be agitated by Him or envious?  Or would you recognize His divine power, love and authority and seek Him out?

Reflect, today, upon how you encounter our Lord on a daily basis.  Though we are not able to literally go to that temple area and listen to Jesus speak, we do have the same opportunity all around us every day.  The truth is that God is still speaking in countless ways.  Reflect upon how easily you perceive His presence and His voice.  And when you do hear Him speak, how do you react?  

Lord, help me to hear Your divine voice every day.  Help me to recognize You everywhere I go.  And as I seek You out, help me to rejoice in finding You and react with complete confidence in all You say.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Starting on December 17 go to the next chapter for daily reflections.  Prior to December 17 continue with the reflections for the weekdays in this chapter.

Identifying with the Sinner

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.”  Matthew 21:31c–32a

This statement of Jesus, made to the elders and chief priests, would have been hard to believe.  Were tax collectors and prostitutes really entering the Kingdom of God before these religious leaders?  Was Jesus really saying that the holiness of the prostitutes and tax collectors actually surpassed that of these religious leaders?  He certainly was!

It was especially the pride of these religious leaders that made it difficult for them to accept these words from Jesus as true.  They thought highly of themselves and expected others to think highly of them also.  They were convinced of their own self-righteousness and it was quite an ugly scene.

But Jesus cut through all of this by elevating the prostitutes and tax collectors to the Kingdom of God.  What a “slap in the face” this was to the religious leaders.  But it was a slap they needed for the good of their own souls.

The best reflection we can take from this is to ponder to whom we more easily relate.  Do you relate to the prideful religious leaders of that time?  Or do you relate more to the tax collectors and prostitutes?  Perhaps it’s hard to admit to relating to either group.  Perhaps the tendency is to want to identify ourselves as good and righteous people without admitting to any kind of weakness or personal failings.  But this is not a grouping Jesus gives us.

The truth is that we should all see ourselves in the grouping of the tax collectors and prostitutes.  Why?  Because we are all sinners.  No, we may not be guilty of the same sin as they were, but we are guilty of sin and we have to admit it.  And, in fact, if we cannot admit our weakness and sin, we are no different than the elders and chief priests.  We are also stuck in our own pride and our own self-righteousness.

Reflect, today, upon with whom you most closely identify.  If it’s hard to see yourself as a sinner like the prostitutes and tax collectors, then maybe you have the sin of pride that the religious leaders had.  Try to pray for humility.  Pray that you will see yourself as God sees you.  Only in the light of this truth will you find freedom.

Lord, please do fill my heart with humility.  And in that humility, help me to see myself as I am.  Help me to see my sin but also to see my longing for you.  Help me to turn to You in my sin and to experience the joy and freedom of those entering Your Kingdom.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Starting on December 17 go to the next chapter for daily reflections.  Prior to December 17 continue with the reflections for the weekdays in this chapter.

Do Not Be Offended by Our Lord

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.  And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”  Luke 7:22–23

Jesus speaks here of those who are “blind, lame, lepers, deaf, dead and poor.”  Each one of these people are identified as being blessed by the ministry of Jesus.  

As we continue to get closer to Christmas we must continue to look at our weakness.  We must see how we, too, are blind, lame, a leper, etc.  Of course these physical ailments point to something much deeper.  They point to the spiritual ailments that we all encounter.

Jesus also says something quite interesting.  He says, “And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”  Why would we be offended by Jesus?  What is this all about?

Jesus is perfectly direct and honest.  In fact, He obviously speaks nothing but pure truth.  The hard part is that, at times, the truth can hurt.  We can go through life thinking that we are healthy and well, spiritually speaking, and as a result, we can tend to think that we do not need the truth Jesus came to preach.  In that case, when we are confronted with our sin or any truth we struggle with, we can be offended by Christ.

Reflect, today, upon how completely open you are to the full truth of the Gospel.  Are you ready and willing to listen to everything Jesus proclaims?  Are you ready and willing to accept the full Gospel in your life?  Let Advent be a time when you deepen your resolve to listen and heed all that our Lord wants to say to you.  And if you see yourself “offended” in any way, know that the area of offense is most likely the area you need to work on the most.

Lord, help me in the Advent season to continue to prepare my heart for You.  Help me to listen to Your Word and to heed all that You have to say.  May I follow You in all things and above all things and never be offended by Your Word.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Starting on December 17 go to the next chapter for daily reflections.  Prior to December 17 continue with the reflections for the weekdays in this chapter.

The Promptings of God

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

(All the people who listened, including the tax collectors, who were baptized with the baptism of John, acknowledged the righteousness of God; but the Pharisees and scholars of the law, who were not baptized by him, rejected the plan of God for themselves.)  Luke 7:29–30

You’ve got to take a step in faith in order to grow in faith.  This could be the lesson of today’s Gospel.  It could be the lesson of this Gospel because those who stepped out in faith and were baptized by John also “acknowledged the righteousness of God.”  Those who refused to accept the baptism of John also “rejected the plan of God for themselves.”

If we apply this same truth to our own lives, we should be able to find that it applies in many ways.  First of all, we were already baptized into Christ, so we are not called to the baptism of John in a literal way.  But the “baptism of John” could also be seen as an initial invitation from the Holy Spirit in our lives.

For example, if we feel God saying, “Read this book” and we ignore that prompting, we may be rejecting much more of the plan of God for our lives than we realize.  Or if we sense God calling us to forgive that person, or spend more time in prayer, or spend extra time with family, etc., and we do it, we may find that it opens the door to many more wonderful graces in our lives.

Reflect, today, upon that which God is calling you to do or to accept as from Him.  Even if it seems insignificant, don’t reject that initial invitation; rather, embrace it wholeheartedly.  In that embrace you may just find that God blesses you in abundance in ways you never imagined.

Lord, help me to enter in to Your daily invitations in my life.  May I always discern Your holy will and live it without reserve.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Note: Starting on December 17 go to the next chapter for daily reflections.  Prior to December 17 continue with the reflections for the weekdays in this chapter.

God Speaks to Your Heart

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

“You sent emissaries to John, and he testified to the truth.  . . . 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. The works that the Father gave me to accomplish, these works that I perform testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me.”  John 5:33, 35–36

At first, the Jews rejoiced in the witness that John gave of Jesus.  John was a “burning and shining lamp” that gave light to the divinity of Jesus as the Messiah.  And, at first, this was good.  But it’s not the “end game” so to speak.

What is the end game?  For the Jews, it was to first turn to Jesus at the preaching of John but, then, to come to believe in Jesus because of a much greater testimony.  The greater testimony was not only the miracles Jesus performed, but also the power of His Word and His own transforming divine presence.  

If we apply this to our own lives, we will see how God initially calls us and then transforms us on a much deeper level.  At first, we are often drawn to Christ through some powerful preaching or witness of another.  There are many who are called to fulfill the role of John the Baptist in our lives.

But once we meet Christ and come to faith in Him, He Himself will begin to take over our life of faith and prayer.  Jesus’ own direct testimony He offers is far deeper and more convincing than any experience we will initially have of Him.  As our faith grows, Jesus begins to speak to us in a more powerful and direct way and He Himself testifies to His own divine presence and power.

Reflect, today, where you are on your journey of faith.  Perhaps you need the good inspiration of another who gives witness to Christ.  This is good in that this person may be John the Baptist to you.  But reflect, also, upon how Jesus wants to minister to your soul on a much deeper level.  Let His divine presence be what ultimately testifies to you of His love and care.

Lord, deepen my life of faith.  As I follow You every day, help me to never be satisfied with where I am.  Help me to allow You to speak to me on an ever-deepening level.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Advent – Week Four

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