Advent – Week Two

A Time to Repent

Second Sunday of Advent (Year A)

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Matthew 3:1–2

John the Baptist is truly the greatest of the prophets. He had the unique role of being the immediate precursor to the Savior of the World. Many pious traditions state that John was sanctified within the womb of his mother at the moment of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, when our Blessed Mother who was pregnant with Jesus visited Elizabeth who was pregnant with John. Upon Mary’s greeting, John leaped in the womb for joy. Additionally, Jesus says that no one born of woman was greater than John. That’s an incredible statement and is reason enough for us to listen to the words of John.

Regarding the preaching of John, note first that John did his preaching in the desert of Judea. He did not sit on a royal throne or enjoy the honors of the Jewish leaders. Instead, he was poor, simple, prayerful, regularly engaged in penance, remained in the desert and invited many people to come to him. And when they came, he preached bold words to all.

Among those who came to John in the desert were the Pharisees and Sadducees. They did not come because they were sincere but because of their jealousy and envy. But when they came, John said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” John then went on to preach that someone much mightier than he was coming after him and that he was not worthy to even untie His sandal straps. John explained that the one coming would become the source of salvation for many, but for others, they “…will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Though much more could be said about John the Baptist, it’s essential that we regularly consider his strong words of preaching and allow those words to shake us to the core. In what ways do you need to hear John’s message of repentance? In what ways are you like the Pharisees and Sadducees? In what ways are you self-centered, envious, jealous, prideful and the like? If you think you are much better than the Pharisees and Sadducees who were addressed with these harsh words by John, then you may actually be fooling yourself more than you realize. The humble soul will also see the sin in their soul and will always allow the powerful words spoken by John and by our Lord to lead them to deeper repentance.

Reflect, today, upon the unerring truth that you need to repent. You do. The only person who doesn’t need to daily repent is the one who lives perpetually in a state of perfect communion with the Most Holy Trinity. But these holy souls are rare. Don’t be offended by this truth but rejoice in it. Give thanks to God for the strong words of Saint John the Baptist, spoken to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and allow yourself to hear those words yourself, as if they were spoken just for you. Receive them with humility and rejoicing, and allow them to prepare you more fully to receive our Divine Lord more deeply into your soul this Advent season.

My powerful Lord, You sent Saint John the Baptist before You, so as to prepare many hearts to receive You and Your transforming truth. Please humble me, dear Lord, so that I will listen to the words spoken by John and will indeed continually repent of all of my sin with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.


The Greatness of Humility

Second Sunday of Advent (Year B)

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.” Mark 1:7

John the Baptist was considered by Jesus as one of the greatest human beings ever to walk the face of the Earth (see Matthew 11:11). Yet in the passage above, John states clearly that he is not even worthy to “stoop and loosen the thongs” of Jesus’ sandals. This is humility to the greatest extent!

What made St. John the Baptist so great? Was it his powerful preaching? His dynamic and attractive personality? His way with words? His good looks? His numerous followers? Certainly it was none of the above. That which made John truly great was the humility with which He pointed everyone to Jesus.

One of the greatest human struggles in life is pride. We tend to want to draw attention to ourselves. Most people struggle with a tendency to tell others how good they are and why they are right. We want attention, recognition and praise. We often struggle with this tendency because self-elevation has a way of making us feel important. And such a “feeling” feels good, to an extent. But what our fallen human nature often fails to recognize is that humility is one of the greatest attributes we can have and is, by far, the greatest source of greatness in life.

Humility is found clearly in these words and actions of John the Baptist in the passage above. He knew who Jesus was. He pointed to Jesus and turned the eyes of his followers from himself to his Lord. And it is this act of pointing others to Christ that has the double effect of elevating him to a greatness that self-centered pride can never achieve.

What could be greater than the act of pointing others to the Savior of the World? What could be greater than helping others to discover their purpose in life by coming to know Christ Jesus as their Lord and Savior? What could be greater than exhorting others to a life of selfless surrender to the one and only God of mercy? What could be greater than elevating the Truth over the selfish lies of our fallen human nature?

Reflect, today, upon your calling in life to imitate the humility of John the Baptist. If you want your life to have true value and meaning, then use your life to elevate the Savior of the World to the greatest extent possible in the eyes of those around you. Point others to Jesus, make Jesus the central focus of your life and humble yourself before Him. In this act of humility, your true greatness will be discovered and you will find the central purpose of life.

My glorious Lord, You and You alone are the Savior of the World. You and You alone are God. Give me the wisdom of humility that I may dedicate my life to pointing others to You so that many will come to know You as their true Lord and God. I am not worthy of You, my Lord. Yet in Your mercy, You use me anyway. I thank You and dedicate my life to the proclamation of Your holy name. Jesus, I trust in You.


Humility Prepares the Way for Christ

Second Sunday of Advent (Year C)

“A voice of one crying out in the desert.  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  Luke 3:4

On this, the Second Sunday of Advent, we are given the person of St. John the Baptist to ponder.  What a gift he is!  Jesus Himself stated that “among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).  What a compliment!

What is it that made John so great?  We can point to two things in particular.  The first has to do with his calling and the second has to do with his virtue.

First of all, John was great because he was the transition from the Old Testament Prophets to the New Testament.  He was the bridge that prepared for the new life to come.  His unique mission makes him truly great.

But John was great not only because of his unique calling, he was also great because of the virtue he had in his life.  And it is this gift that is worth pondering for our own inspiration more than any other.

The particular virtue that John had was that of humility.  He saw himself as nothing other than a “voice of one crying out in the desert.”  And the Word he spoke was Jesus.  

John acknowledged that he was not even worthy to stoop down and untie the sandal straps of Jesus (Mark 1:7).  He was praised by many and followed by many and yet he continuously said of Jesus that “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3:30).  John was not in it for praise and honor; rather, his mission was to point everyone to the Savior of the World.  He could have sought the honor and praise of many and he would have certainly received it.  They may have even made him king.  But John was more than willing to fulfill his mission and then submit himself to the cruel sword of his executioner.  His humility was such that he was focused only on Jesus and desired only to point to Him.

Reflect, today, upon this humility in your own life.  Do you tend to point to yourself or to Christ?  Do you seek the praise of others or do you humbly point all praise and glory to God?  Humility is the path that St. John the Baptist took and it’s the path we must strive for each and every day.

Lord, thank You for the gift of St. John the Baptist.  May his witness of humility inspire me in my Christian walk.  Help me, Lord, to always point others to You rather than to myself.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Astonishment at the Mercy of God

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.”  Luke 5:26

They were “astonished” because Jesus cured the paralytic after he was lowered through the roof of a house in which Jesus was teaching.  Jesus cured him and they were amazed.

But this was not what amazed and astonished people the most.  What was most astonishing was that Jesus also said to the paralytic, “As for you, your sins are forgiven” (Luke 5:20).  Jesus then confirmed that He had the power to forgive sins by performing this physical miracle.

True, most people went home that day speaking first about the physical healing.  But you can be certain that, as they pondered this experience, they were even more deeply moved by the forgiveness of sins.  Perhaps they did not fully understand what this all meant.  But, nonetheless, His words of forgiveness were quite powerful and transforming.

Reflect, today, upon your desire to receive God’s forgiveness in your life.  Do you long to hear these words spoken to you?  Do you long to experience the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus in your life?  The reason He came from Heaven to Earth was to offer you the forgiveness of your sins.  Miracles do not matter in the end.  What matters is mercy and forgiveness.  When you receive this gift of His mercy you will also glorify God with a joyous and holy astonishment as you see this incredible gift unfold in your life.

Lord, I do desire Your mercy and forgiveness in my life.  Help me to lower myself before You so that I can hear You say, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’  Jesus, I trust in You.


God Never Gives Up on You

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent 

“In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”  Matthew 18:14

Jesus makes this statement after telling the parable of the one lost sheep.  The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine and goes searching diligently for that little one.  The parable goes on to state that, “If he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray” (Matthew 18:13).

We are all “one of these little ones.”  At first, it may seem unfair that the shepherd rejoices more over the one lost sheep than over the ninety-nine.  But if we understand that each and every one of us is that one lost sheep, it makes sense.

As we ponder this parable, it’s essential that we reflect upon the deep desire of the shepherd to find us.  We must look at his concern, his tireless effort and his diligence in seeking us out.  This is the care God has for you.

Reflect, today, upon you being that one lost sheep.  Being “lost” in our sin is not a pleasant experience.  Sin brings fear, despair, confusion, anger and the like.  But if we can turn our eyes to the Good Shepherd in the midst of our sinfulness, we will regain hope.  We will regain hope that our God cares for us so much that He will never stop searching for us.  And when He finds us, His heart will be filled with the greatest joy!

Lord, in the midst of my sinfulness and confusion I turn to You.  I trust that You will seek me out.  May I always trust in Your burning love for me.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Come to Me with Your Burdens 

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”  Matthew 11:28–30

What a beautiful invitation from Jesus!  This passage is worth reading over and over and memorizing so that it can easily be reflected upon during those more difficult moments in life.  We all have those moments.  The moments when we feel overwhelmed and burdened.  It could be we are burdened by some tragedy in life, or it could be we are burdened by the small and monotonous aspects of life.  One of the greatest daily burdens is that of our own sin.  But whatever the case may be, Jesus wants us to hear and believe these words.  “Come to me…” He says.  Come to me no matter what is going on in your life.  Come to me without hesitation and without fear.  

Jesus also promises us that His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light.”  What does that mean?  Does it mean that coming to Jesus will remove all hardship from our lives?  No, not really.  What it means is that coming to Jesus will enable us to endure and walk through any hardship we encounter in life.  

Advent reminds us that God the Son came and took on our human nature and all that goes along with being human.  And though He never sinned, He allowed Himself to experience the effects of sin and the burden it imposes.  So as God, He is able to look us in the eye and tell us that He understands our hardships because He lived them.  He lived them out of love for us so that He could help us endure, joyfully, all we face in life.

Reflect, today, upon this gentle and glorious invitation from Jesus.  Let Him enter into whatever it is that burdens you.  Let Him carry the yoke that you carry and give you, instead, the gentle yoke He has prepared for you.  The cross you bear may not go away, but it will be transformed and made light in His grace.

Lord, I surrender my life and all that I am to You.  I accept Your invitation to come to You.  Thank You for Your unfailing compassion and concern for me.  Jesus, I trust in You.


The Road of Charity

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent 

“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

As we reflected upon St. John the Baptist this past Sunday, so also we are given his witness in today’s Gospel.   John was great first and foremost because of his humility.  But Jesus also makes it clear that John’s greatness as the greatest of the Old Testament Prophets is nothing in comparison with being a member of the Kingdom of Heaven! 

Heaven must be our goal.  It must be the purpose of our life.  What good is it if we obtain much greatness in this world and fail to make it to Heaven?

Interestingly, Jesus does not put down St. John in this statement since “Saint” John the Baptist is in Heaven.  Instead, He points to the fact that John was not only great because of his humility and all he did in this life, but he was even greater because he is now enjoying the rewards of eternal life in Heaven.

Too often we measure our lives from a worldly point of view.  We look for greatness here and now and fail to recognize that eternity is what matters most.  

Think about it.  What will you rejoice in for all eternity?  Will you rejoice in the fact that you accomplished this or that in this world?  That you made lots of money?  That you were praised by many in this world?  No, from Heaven none of this will matter.  What will matter is one thing: charity.  

The charity we live here and now will radiate from our lives forever in Heaven.  Even if our charity is not seen by others, it will be seen in Heaven.  Charity is the result of a life lived fully surrendered to Christ.

Reflect, today, upon the ultimate goal of getting to Heaven and look at the fact that daily acts of charity are the road to this goal.  Is this your focus in life?  If not, look at your priorities and recommit yourself to this eternal calling. 

Lord, I desire to be with You forever in Heaven.  Help me to keep eternity as my ultimate focus in life.  Help me to build a glorious life in Heaven through the charity I live now.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Overcoming Harsh Words

Friday of the Second Week of Advent 

“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’   The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’”  Matthew 11:18–19a

What we have here is the ugly sin of calumny.  Calumny is the intentional twisting of facts so as to misrepresent the truth.  Basically, calumny is a lie meant to do harm to another.

Jesus points out that both He and John the Baptist were ridiculed and falsely accused of being sinful.  John, for example, fasted much which was quite virtuous.  But the Pharisees interpreted it as the work of the devil. Jesus spent time at many people’s homes as a guest and He was accused of being a glutton and drunkard.  

When someone gives into calumny, they often look at some virtue in another and twist it some way so as to deceive and misrepresent the truth.  And it is often done out of envy or jealousy.  

This sad situation should be an opportunity for each of us to look at how honest we are in our relations with one another.  When you see goodness in another are you able to rejoice in that fact?  Are you able to honestly give thanks to God for their goodness?  Or do you immediately start to interpret their virtue in a false way?

Reflect, today, upon the way you look at others around you and, especially, how you speak about them.  Look at their virtue and try to honestly honor them for it.  And if you see yourself falling into any form of jealousy or envy, surrender it over to our merciful God so that it doesn’t turn into the ugly sin of calumny.  

Lord, help me to see others in the light of humility and truth.  Help me to see their goodness and virtue and to rejoice in it.  Strip from me any falsity and calumny.  Jesus, I trust in You.


Repent of Your Sins this Advent

Saturday of the Second Week of Advent 

“I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.  So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”  Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.  Matthew 17:12–13

As we continue to reflect upon St. John the Baptist, we see that his role of being Elijah was missed by the scribes.  They failed to see him fulfilling Elijah’s role of preparing the way for the Lord.  

Though John had a unique and definitive role in preparing for the coming of Christ, so also do each one of us have a role in preparing for His continual coming.  Jesus came once many years ago, but He desires to continue coming into our lives.  And He can only come if we properly prepare for Him.

How do you “prepare the way of the Lord?”  How do you continue the work of John the Baptist?  You do so, especially in Advent, by heeding the main message of John.  And what was his main message?  His message was to repent of our sin.

Though we all struggle with sin as a result of our fallen human nature, we should never forget that our calling is that of perfection.  We are called to be perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect.  We are called to recognize our sins, confess them, and strive to become detached from them.

Advent is one of the most important times of year to do this and it is especially important that we seek out the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this holy season.  

Reflect, today, upon how ready and willing you are to preach to your own soul about the importance of repenting of your sins.  Embracing repentance in this holy season is the best way to prepare for the continuous coming of Christ in your life.

Lord, help me to see my sin as we enter more deeply into this Advent season.  Help me to be aware of the many things that keep me from You and to turn from them wholeheartedly.  Jesus, I trust in You.

 

Advent – Week Three

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