30 Wed Saint Andrew, Apostle Feast Rom 10:9-18/Mt 4:18-22
DECEMBER 1 Thu Advent Weekday Is 26:1-6/Mt 7:21, 24-27
2 Fri Advent Weekday Is 29:17-24/Mt 9:27-31
3 Sat St Francis Xavier, Priest Memorial Is 30:19-21, 23-26/Mt 9:35—10:1, 5a, 6-8
4 SUN SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT Is 11:1-10/Rom 15:4-9/Mt 3:1-
The daily readings at Mass for the first week of Advent are beautifully arranged.
The Prophet Isaiah speaks in the Old Testament readings as a fierce Assyrian army heads towards Jerusalem. Bad times ahead, but the prophet sees something else. All nations are streaming to God’s mountain.
The nations will come to God’s mountain, Jerusalem, where the temple stands, the prophet says. They’ll be fed a rich banquet (Wednesday), the poor will triumph (Thursday), the blind will see (Friday). Safe on this rock, children play around the cobra’s den, and the lion and the lamb lie down together (Tuesday). The prophet challenges us to see our world in another way.
In the gospels Jesus Christ fulfills the Isaian prophecies. The Roman centurion, humbly approaching Jesus in Capernaum, represents all nations approaching him. (Monday) Jesus praises the childlike; they will enter the kingdom of heaven.(Tuesday) He feeds a multitude on the mountain.(Wednesday) His kingdom is built on rock.(Thursday) He gives sight to the blind to find their way. (Friday)
Many Advent readings in these early weeks of Advent are from the gospel of Matthew, who portrays Jesus teaching on a mountain (Isaiah’s favorite symbol). His miracles affect all. Jesus is the new temple, the Presence of God, Emmanuel, God with us. He brings hope beyond human hope, beyond our hope.
I’ll be publishing a calendar at the beginning of each month from now to next December. Our Catholic calendars combine the Roman calendar for the church throughout the world, the national calendar, in this case, for the USA, and any other calendar. This calendar includes the calendar for my religious community, the Passionists.
I like calendars. They remind you life is bigger than the immediate day before you . The scriptures and the feasts, the liturgical seasons open up a timeless world beyond this: “As it was in the beginning is now, and every shall be, world without end.” The calendar teaches us ” to number our days aright that we may gain wisdom of heart.”
We begin a new year in December with the season of Advent. Jesus Christ, the “long-expected Savior” came before, comes to us now, and will come again when calendars are no longer needed.
The Advent wreath– a good Advent devotion– originated in the folk practices of the pre-Christian Germanic peoples who gathered wreaths of evergreen and lit fires during the cold December darkness as a sign of hope for spring and new light.
Christians kept these popular traditions. By the 16th century Catholics and Protestants throughout Germany used these symbols to celebrate their Advent hope in Christ, the everlasting Light. From there, the Advent wreath spread to other parts of the Christian world.
Traditionally, the wreath is made of four candles in a circle of evergreens. Each day at home, the candles are lighted, perhaps before the evening meal– one candle the first week, and then another each succeeding week until December 25th. A short prayer may accompany the lighting.
Prayers for an Advent Wreath
The day the wreath is lit the leader may say:
Our nights grow longer and our days grow shorter. We look at this candle and green branches– and remember God’s promise to our world: Christ, our Light and our Hope, will come.
Here are the words of Isaiah the prophet:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who lived in a land as dark as deatha light has dawned. You have increased their joy and given them gladness; We rejoice in your presence.
Let us pray:
O God, we rejoice as we remember the promise of your Son,
His light shines on us,
brightening our way, guiding us by his truth.
May Christ our Savior bring light into the darkness of our world,
Jesus told his disciples a parable. “Consider the fig tree and all the other trees. When their buds burst open, you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near; in the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Kingdom of God is near. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
The same day we read the terrifying night visions from the Book of Daniel in our lectionary (Daniel 7) Jesus offers a parable about the fig tree and other trees. Learn from them– summer is near.
It’s another way to see the coming of God’s kingdom. It will be like the coming of summer, the earth flowering in abundance, Jesus promises.
The coming of God’s kingdom doesn’t destroy creation but brings it a surprising summer.
Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.
But Santa Claus is more than a salesman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.
Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our modest contribution for bigger children– like us:
Thanksgiving is a good time to remember our blessings, starting with Creation itself . “All it takes is one good person” like Noah, Pope Francis says in “Laudatory Si’. Here’s his prayer:
you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned
and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty,
not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
On November 24 Catholics celebrate the feast of Saint Andrew Dung– Lac and 117 other Vietnamese martyrs killed in the 18th century in a cruel persecution of Christians. They are remembered as martyrs who gave their lives for their faith; their martyrdom also caused many non-Christians in their native land to inquire what made them so brave to endure such suffering and death. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity,” the early Christian writer Tertullian said.
Since their time, many others in Vietnam have bravely given witness to their faith in wars and long years of persecution. Christianity is now strongly rooted in that part of the world.
The joy of the martyr has always puzzled those who do not share their faith. How can someone be joyful in the midst of great torture and pain. Here’s a letter of Saint Paul Le-Bao-Tinh, one of the Vietnamese martyrs:
“I, Paul, in chains for the name of Christ, wish to relate to you the trials besetting me daily, in order that you may be inflamed with love for God and join with me in his praises. The prison here is a true image of everlasting hell: to cruel tortures of every kind – shackles, iron chains, manacles – are added hatred, vengeance, calumnies, obscene speech, quarrels, evil acts, swearing, curses, as well as anguish and grief. But the God who once freed the three children from the fiery furnace is with me always; he has delivered me from these tribulations and made them sweet, for his mercy is for ever.
In the midst of torments, that usually terrify others, I am, by the grace of God, full of joy and gladness, because I am not alone – Christ is with me.
I am not alone–Christ is with me.”
“Christ is with me. I am not alone–Christ is with me.” That’s the faith that enables Christians to enter the mystery of the passion of Jesus and know the joy of his resurrection. It’s a faith that explains the strength of the Church in Vietnam.
The two scriptures brought together these last two weeks in our lectionary are an interesting combination. The Book of Revelation with its stark imagery of the destruction the end times brings is paired with the Gospel of Luke.
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great. She has become a haunt for demons. She is a cage for every unclean spirit, a cage for every unclean bird, a cage for every unclean and disgusting beast. A mighty angel picked up a stone like a huge millstone and threw it into the sea and said: ‘With such force will Babylon the great city be thrown down, and will never be found again.’ (Rev 18: 24-26)
Luke’s Gospel recalls Jesus and his disciples entering Jerusalem, the city sparkling with its almost completed temple. The disciples are dazzled by the massive new structure. There will not not one stone left on other, Jesus says, warning of the frail world we live in. Yet, Jesus is much more optimistic about life in this world than Revelation is. He speaks of the mercy of God. On his way to Jerusalem he keeps calling sinners. He does so even as he dies on the cross. He never looks at the world as unredeemable. He calls the tax collector, Zachaeus, but he never tells him to give up his job. He warns against burying your talent in the ground. Not matter how bad the times are, we have something to do. He also said not to search into the time and day the Son of Man will come. Our cross is a daily cross, Jesus says. He will help us bear it till he comes again.
The best commentators on scripture are the scriptures themselves, St. Augustine taught, and so we read the Book of Revelation and the Gospel of Luke together.
At our evening prayer we read from the Book of Revelation frequently but not its grim passages about the fall of Babylon. We read the beautiful promises of life beyond this. At the end of the day, we go into the night listening to the songs they are singing in heaven. There’s going to be a great day.
St. Clement of Rome is honored in an ancient church near the Colosseum,probably built over his home. A wonderful place to visit when in Rome. He wrote an important letter around the year 95 to the church at Corinth, which was having troubles with its leadership.
After the death of the apostles there was no blueprint for church administration; the change from apostles like Paul and charismatic preachers like Apollo to bishops was not an easy one for early communities like the Corinthians. It was not an easy change for the church in Rome either.
New structures were evolving, and Clement is an important witness in their evolution. In his letter he appeals to the Corinthians to do what Jesus told his followers to do: follow him as one flock follows its shepherd. They must walk together.
Using the the Roman legions as an analogy, Clement urges them to be like soldiers who depend on one another. They must be a community to be the church of Jesus Christ.
“Think of the soldiers who serve under our generals, and with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. Not all are prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage.
“Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head. The very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. All work harmoniously together and they are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.
“In Christ Jesus let our whole body be preserved intact. Let every one of us be subject to his neighbor, according to the special gift bestowed upon him.
“Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect to the strong. Let the rich provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor bless God, who has given them what they need. Let the wise display their wisdom, not by mere words, but through good deeds. Let the humble not bear testimony to themselves, but leave witness to be borne to them by others. Let those who are pure in the flesh not grow proud of it and boast, knowing another has bestowed the gift of continence on them.
“Let us consider, then, brothers and sisters, of what matter we were made. Let us consider how we came into this world, as it were out of a grave, and from utter darkness: who and what manner of beings we were. God who made us and fashioned us, having prepared bountiful gifts for us before we were born, introduced us into this world.
“Since we receive all these things from God, we ought for everything to give God thanks; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
Evidently, the problem of church leadership Clement addressed was not limited to Corinth. His letter was read in a number of other Christian communities at the time. The transition from apostles to bishops was not an easy one; the Roman church faced it as well.
Historians like Eamon Duffy see the Roman church originating in the large, thriving Jewish community in Rome which was concentrated in Trastevere and spread out to found numerous synagogues in the city– some of which evolved into early Christian house churches. Peter and Paul, who came to the city and were put to death there in the Neronian persecution ( 62-63 AD), were acknowledged and celebrated by these house churches as their leaders in faith.
“The Roman synagogues,” Duffy writes, “unlike their counterparts in Antioch, had no central organization. Each one conducted its own worship, appointed its own leaders and cared for its own members. The same way, the ordering of the early Christian community in Rome seems to have reflected the organization of the synagogues which had originally sheltered it, and to have consisted of a constellation of independent churches, meeting in the houses of the wealthy members of the community. Each of these house churches had its own leaders, the elders or ‘presbyters’. They were mostly made up of immigrants, with a high proportion of slaves or freedman among them–the name of Pope Eleutherius means ‘freedman’.”(Saints and Sinners. A History of the Popes. Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press, 1997 p 6)
Rome was slow to recognize a chief bishop, Duffy and other historians claim. Clement was later recognized in the list of popes, but more likely he was spokesman for the Roman house churches, representing an eminent church whose leaders were apostles, Peter and Paul. He was designated to write to the Corinthians urging them to unity under their bishop.
The papacy as we know it emerged slowly. San Clemente and Saints John and Paul nearby are two Roman house churches from the early Christian period. Visit them if you’re in Rome.