Posts Tagged ‘He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire’

Prayer and Meditation For Sunday, December 4, 2016 — Second Sunday of Advent — The Holy Spirit Provides The Light Within Us

December 2, 2016

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Second Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 4

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Reading 1 IS 11:1-10

On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
a spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
but he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.
On that day, the root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the nations,
the Gentiles shall seek out,
for his dwelling shall be glorious.

Responsorial Psalm PS 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17

R. (cf. 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
O God, with your judgment endow the king,
and with your justice, the king’s son;
he shall govern your people with justice
and your afflicted ones with judgment.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
Justice shall flower in his days,
and profound peace, till the moon be no more.
May he rule from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
and the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
the lives of the poor he shall save.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.
May his name be blessed forever;
as long as the sun his name shall remain.
In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed;
all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.
R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

Reading 2 ROM 15:4-9

Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant you to think in harmony with one another,
in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you,
for the glory of God.
For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised
to show God’s truthfulness,
to confirm the promises to the patriarchs,
but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
As it is written:
Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles
and sing praises to your name.

Alleluia LK 3:4, 6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths:
all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 3:1-12

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
John wore clothing made of camel’s hair
and had a leather belt around his waist.
His food was locusts and wild honey.
At that time Jerusalem, all Judea,
and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.

When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
And do not presume to say to yourselves,
‘We have Abraham as our father.’
For I tell you,
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

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From The Abbot in the Desert
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Monastery of Christ in the Desert, Benedictine monastic community, near Abiquiu, New Mexico
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My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Isaiah the Prophet tells us today:  “the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”  So often the words of this Prophet speak of joy and of the coming of the Lord.  This Prophet also speak about the fire that will come as well to purify us.  Advent is a time of preparation, of purification, so that we may rejoice even more in the coming of the Lord.

The second reading today is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  Listen to this attentively:  “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is also about purification.  How difficult it is for us who follow Jesus to think in harmony with one another!  In the history of the Church this challenge comes up over and over.  Always there seem to be groups that head off in one direction or the other.  Each group claims that it has the truth and that the rest don’t have it.

For us Catholics, if we are truly Catholic, we accept the teaching authority of the Church and the role of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.  This does not give us complete harmony, for sure, but gives us a clear guiding light.  Yet it takes humility and purification to accept an authority outside of ourselves.  Over and over in Advent we will hear of those who do not accept the way of God in the Old Testament:  “He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.”  And we will hear of the challenges of the early Christians.  All of this can help us long for the coming of the Lord!

Matthew’s Gospel today focuses on the role of Saint John the Baptist:  to proclaim repentance and to prepare the way of the Lord.  Much of modern culture no longer accepts any notion of sin, other than thinking differently from the dominant way of thinking, or thinking differently from one’s “group.”  Modern culture does not seem to encourage thinking for oneself and even less believing in something that might make demands on us to change our lives.

Many people today will not accept that the evils in our world are brought about by choosing wrongly to follow false gods.  We prefer to believe that the evils are brought about by people thinking differently than we think.  John the Baptist would have a great challenge today telling people that they must repent.  Hopefully we who are trying to follow Christ are able to admit our sinfulness and seek to follow the teachings of our Master.

As we continue in Advent, God calls us to deeper repentance and purification—not for any other reason than that we can love Him more.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

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In 1982, John Paul II gave a wonderful sermon on the Second Sunday of Advent (see link below).

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What do Christians Get? And How Do They Get It?
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Thoughts From Peace and Freedom
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As we move toward Christmas in the Church we are preparing to receive Jesus anew — each and every one of us.
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We do this to respect tradition and to pass along to our family what we have learned on our journey.
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But most of all, we prepare to receive Jesus anew because of the the eternal value.
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Jesus, and his helper, The Holy Spirit, are our map readers in our spiritual journey.
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Each human being is capable of “possessing the Holy Spirit,” theologian Karl Rahner writes in his book Foundations of Christian Faith.
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Others may call this phenomena “the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.”
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Fr. Edward Leen, in his book “Holy Spirit,” describes this indwelling as a kind of spiritual life within us that assists in decision-making to provide a kind of GPS (God Positioning System) as an integral, spiritual part of each human being.
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There is just one catch that many overlook.
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To create an environment within us that can house the Holy Spirit, we have to be in “the state of grace.” God, and the Church, realize that this state of grace can degrade some or be in disrepair, so we have Advent set aside as the time for us to go to confession, review our adherence to the commandments and seek the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through prayer, meditation, service to others and the sacraments.
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The gift of the Holy Spirit allows us to live in peace and serenity and in harmony with God and his spiritual guidance to us.
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So during Advent we tune up our Holy Spirit receiver and set aside any evil obstacles (sins) that clutter our reception.
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Why do we pray, meditate and do all the things that Christians are taught to do?

Because we are trying to get God’s help in our lives. Because we are trying, striving, and never quite able to live up to His expectations for us.

Because we are human but we know we have a spiritual core.

We want the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We want that little tiny spark within is, that small pilot light of God, to become a reliable compass that draws us closer to Him and further from our humanness. Our sinfulness.

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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04 DECEMBER, 2016, 2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT IS SIMPLY THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ISA 11:1-10; ROM 15:4-9; MT 3:1-12 ]

Christmas is celebrated all over the world by most people regardless of religion. But for many, Christmas can be celebrated without any inkling of who Christ is or even what the celebration is all about. How can this be? How could such a universal festival be celebrated without the subject of the feast, viz., the birth of Christ, being known? Does this mean therefore that this festival is merely reduced to a social festival that has no real significant meaning for them?

No, this is not true. Of course, in some cases, Christmas is nothing else but a time to be merry and to revel. But in many cases, perhaps, more than we think, those who celebrate Christmas without knowing the historical Christ are actually celebrating His birth and His person without explicitly recognizing it. Why do I say this? Because although they might not acknowledge the historical Christ, surely in celebrating Christmas as a time of love, peace and goodwill, a time of giving and forgiving, they have indeed allowed the Spirit of Christ to live in them and operate in them. In that sense, they, in a certain sense can be said to be really celebrating Christmas.

Indeed, this is what the scripture readings of today want to tell us. What is Christmas if not allowing the Spirit of Christ to live in our hearts; to be imbued with the Spirit of Christ in our lives? Yes, even for us as Christians, Christmas is not merely a commemoration of a historical event, but we are celebrating an event that is happening all the time in our lives, some days more intensely, other days less intensely. To allow the Spirit of Christ to live in us is another way of saying that Christmas is not simply about celebrating the birth of Christ 2000 years ago but a real celebration of the birth of Christ in our hearts everyday of our lives and in a special way at Christmas.

Consequently, we need to ask ourselves whether this Spirit that is being given to us is received by us. The urgent question that is posed to us in today’s lesson is simply: Do we share in the Spirit of Christ, that is, the spirit of wisdom, insight, counsel, power, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord; the spirit of peace and right relationships, like the wolf living at peace with the lamb – those qualities listed by the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading. The reality is that unless we have the Spirit of Christ in us, then Christmas would be just another social celebration; it will be a celebration without the Spirit of Christ’s love, peace and joy; but simply a celebration of the world’s spirit of self-indugence, fear, selfishness, oppression and self-centeredness – those sins that the Pharisees and the Sadducees are guilty of in today’s gospel reading. If that is the case, then Christmas is no better than any other social celebration. If we still find ourselves lacking peace and love and joy in our hearts, then it is a clear sign that we have not imbibed the Spirit of Christ yet.

So how can we share in the Spirit of Christ? For us Christians, we are in a privileged position and we should be thankful for this. Why do I say that we are a privileged people? Because those who celebrate Christmas without knowing Christ are those who are groping for happiness and peace in their lives without knowing the direction. For them, it will be by trial and error, searching for someone who can guide them to knowledge of the truth and the way to life. But for us, we need not search anymore in one sense. For us, as the second reading tells us, we have the scriptures, we have people and models who have gone before us, who have paid the price for their search for God and have imparted their roadmap to us and for us to find God. But most of all, we have Jesus Himself who is our way, our truth and our life – He who is born fully of God and of man, who, as the Paul tells us, is the glory of God. By following His example, we who are united with Him in mind and voice will give glory to God as well in Him. For this reason, we Christians can thank God for this beautiful privilege.

But what is the use of having the roadmap to God and to life, if we do not make use of it at all? The fact is that we all know we have the roadmap but we do not refer to it. It is wasted on us. It Is real tragedy. For this reason, we must take heed of the words of John the Baptist. We need to repent. To repent is not simply to confess our sins but to acknowledge the situation we are in. It is to be aware of what we are doing and how we are living – especially the vain ways of living. It means, according to John the Baptist, to realize that we are saved not by our kinship with Abraham or simply because we have been baptized as Christians. No, John the Baptist tells us as he told the Pharisees that God can raise children for Abraham from these stones. That is to say, just because we are Christians do not mean that we are living the Spirit of Christ in us. So repentance is acknowledgement of our folly and awareness of our foolish and ignorant ways of living. So, the confession of sins is not a mere confession with our lips but more importantly with our hearts. It is a confession that we are living the spirit of the world and not the Spirit of God in our lives.

But this is not sufficient. The baptism of repentance of John the Baptist is still incomplete. It is not enough to give up our bad habits or foolish ways of living. Because when we give up something, we create a void within ourselves. And every void must be filled and will be filled again either with good or bad things. So before it is filled again, we must ensure that we will not fill it with worse values in life; but we fill them with the Spirit of Christ. That is why the baptism of repentance of John the Baptist is only to prepare us for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist therefore tells us that he is only baptizing us with water, that is the water of repentance; but someone, namely Jesus, who is coming after him, is more powerful than he is, that he is not even fit to undo the straps of His sandals; He will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire.

This is it. This is the key to the full meaning of Christmas. We are called to repent so that we might appropriate the Spirit of Christ in us. It is Christ who will give us the gifts of the Spirit. These gifts however must not be reduced to those tangible, visible gifts like what we see or might have experienced in the charismatic movements, namely, the gifts of tongues, healing, prophecy etc. Indeed, these gifts are given to some members of the Christian community but not for themselves as such. Rather, these gifts are given for the building of the Body of Christ, the Christian community in love and service. Having those gifts which are meant purely for the service of the community can sometimes make us proud and indignant. That is why these are not the greatest gifts of the Spirit.

But even more important, are the gifts of the spirit of joy, love, peace, truth, wisdom, all those gifts mentioned in the first reading and those fruits that Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians. These gifts do not make us egoistic, competitive or proud. No, they make us truly loving, forgiving, non-judgmental and peaceful people. Such gifts, as Paul tells us in the second reading, help us to treat each other the way Christ treats us. More than that, these are the gifts that really give us the fire of the Spirit – namely, the fire of life. It is faith, hope, love and peace that make life vibrant, dynamic and alive. Only when we live such vibrant lives, we can then claim to have the spirit of Christ in us – filling us with enthusiasm and joy. With such spirited life in us, surely we will also add fire to the lives of others around us, leading them to share the spirit of Christ.

Let us not wait anymore. The time is urgent; life is short. We need to make room for Jesus in our lives; we need to give Him space so that His Spirit may fill us with His love and peace and joy. If not, we will have a sad Christmas, or at most a pleasurable but empty Christmas. The supposed spirit of life that we happen to have at Christmas will just last for the day and then everything will be back to where we started, just like the drunkard person who suffers a hang-over the next day.

No, if we do not want to be the inn that has no place for Jesus when He comes knocking at our doors at Christmas, then let us give ourselves to serious prayer, self-examination and reflection, asking from the Lord His Spirit to purify us and to baptize us unto His death – the death to oneself, one’s ego, cravings and self-centeredness and complacency. For in the process of dying, we will experience the rebirth taking place in us. Christmas then, would not just be on Christmas Day, but has already begun, and is still taking place, especially in a powerful way on Christmas Day. Yes, Christmas for us cannot be a mere single day’s celebration but it must be a reality every moment in our lives. And it is so, if we allow Christ to be reborn again and again in our lives. Thus, for us, every day will be Christmas. Of course, every day can be Christmas only because we celebrate Christmas Day, that day when God’s love becomes real for us in Jesus.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore

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What Is Advent?

For many Christians unfamiliar with the liturgical year, there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. Some people may know that the Advent season focuses on expectation and think that it serves as an anticipation of Christ’s birth in the season leading up to Christmas. This is part of the story, but there’s more to Advent.

The History of Advent

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Advent Today

Today, the Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.)

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future.

Read the rest:

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http://www.christianity.com/christian-life/christmas/what-is-advent.html

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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, January 10, 2016 — “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” — Is The Holy Spirit In Us? If Not, Why Not?

January 9, 2016

The Baptism of the Lord
Lectionary: 21

Jesus shares in our  humanity — in our weak human-ness

Art: John The Baptist Baptizing Jesus

Reading 1 IS 42:1-4, 6-7

Thus says the LORD:
Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit;
he shall bring forth justice to the nations,
not crying out, not shouting,
not making his voice heard in the street.
a bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

Or IS 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by a strong arm;
here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.

Responsorial Psalm PS 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10

R. (11b) The Lord will bless his people with peace.
Give to the LORD, you sons of God,
give to the LORD glory and praise,
Give to the LORD the glory due his name;
adore the LORD in holy attire.
R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters,
the LORD, over vast waters.
The voice of the LORD is mighty;
the voice of the LORD is majestic.
R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.
The God of glory thunders,
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
The LORD is enthroned above the flood;
the LORD is enthroned as king forever.
R. The Lord will bless his people with peace.

Or PS 104:1B-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30

R. (1) O bless the Lord, my soul.
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
you are clothed with majesty and glory,
robed in light as with a cloak.
You have spread out the heavens like a tent-cloth;
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.
You have constructed your palace upon the waters.
You make the clouds your chariot;
you travel on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers,
and flaming fire your ministers.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.
How manifold are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you have wrought them all—
the earth is full of your creatures;
the sea also, great and wide,
in which are schools without number
of living things both small and great.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.
They look to you to give them food in due time.
When you give it to them, they gather it;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.
If you take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
R. O bless the Lord, my soul.

Reading 2 ACTS 10:34-38

Peter proceeded to speak to those gathered
in the house of Cornelius, saying:
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.
You know the word that he sent to the Israelites
as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all,
what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.”

Or TI 2:11-14; 3:4-7

Beloved:
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.

When the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.

Alleluia CF. MK 9:7

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The heavens were opened and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son, listen to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Or CF. LK 3:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
John said: One mightier than I is coming;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 3:15-16, 21-22

The people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
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.”After all the people had been baptized
and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying,
heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him
in bodily form like a dove.
And a voice came from heaven,
“You are my beloved Son;
with you I am well pleased.”
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Commentary on Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11; Titus 2:11-14;3:2-7; Luke 3:15-16,21-22 from Living Space

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THE BAPTISM OF JESUS is the third of three great manifestations or revelations which characterise the Christmas season. Today is a kind of transition. We have come to the end of the Christmas season. Yesterday was “Twelfth Night”, the last of the twelve days of Christmas and now we are entering the first week of the Ordinary Season. (Today is also the First Sunday in Ordinary Time, although it is never celebrated. However, the prayers of its Mass will be said during the week.)

The three great revelations we have been celebrating are:

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a. Christmas: when God comes among us with the Good News for the poor, the outcast and the sinner. This is Luke’s version, where Jesus is born in poverty and the first to come to pay him homage are poor and marginalised shepherds.

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b. Epiphany: when God comes among us with a message of salvation for everyone, for all the people of the world, and not just for one select group. This is Matthew’s version and the description of the strange visitors from the East.

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c. Baptism of Jesus: God is seen as specially present in Jesus and working in him and through him.

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Why baptise Jesus?

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We might ask ourselves: Why did Jesus need to be baptised? Most of those coming to John the Baptist were repentant sinners. Our baptism, too, is partly to rescue us from the power of sin by being bathed in the redemptive love of Christ.

How does Jesus himself fit into this? We always say that he is like us in all things, except sin. Moreover, John clearly states that he himself is not the Messiah but only the fore-runner, the herald of his coming. He is not even worthy to undo the sandals of the One who is coming. Undoing sandals was something only slaves did. John felt that, in Jesus’ case, he was not even worthy to do that. And yet – Jesus is to be baptised by John.
There are two answers we can give to this question:

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a. By being baptised in the River Jordan with all those self-proclaimed sinners, Jesus shows his total solidarity with us. “The Word was made flesh and lived among us,” says John’s gospel. He does not say that the Word was made a human person but that ‘he was made flesh’. In biblical language, ‘flesh’ has all the connotations of our human weaknesses. In becoming a human person, Jesus identified with us not just in our humanity but in our weak human-ness. Jesus had the same feelings and reactions that we have; only he never did sin or do anything wrong. This solidarity was indicated by the criticism of the Pharisees that Jesus spent so much time eating and drinking with sinners and outcasts.

Despite his dignity and rank as Son of God, as Messiah, Jesus never did require any external signs of privilege. Most of the time, he looked just the same as everyone else. And, when he got up in the synagogue of his home town and began to amaze people with his insight, his neighbours could not understand it. They had lived for years with him and had no idea of this side of his person.

b. Secondly, something different is happening here beyond an ordinary baptism. Luke says significantly that Jesus was at prayer when his baptism took place. At all the significant moments in his public life, Luke represents Jesus as praying. It was at this moment that the Spirit of God in the visible form of a dove comes down on Jesus.

A voice, clearly that of the Father, says, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.” It is clearly a form of “missioning” for Jesus. We could call it is his ‘Pentecost’ experience. It is a clear endorsement from his Father for the work that Jesus is about to begin. (Another important endorsement will come at the Transfiguration.)

So, through his baptism, Jesus is being officially commissioned to begin his public work of teaching, healing and liberating enslaved souls up to the climactic moment of his passion, death and resurrection.

What is Jesus’ mission?

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And what is that work that Jesus is to accomplish through his teaching, preaching and healing? That is described in the First Reading from Isaiah and the Second Reading from the Letter to Titus.

Isaiah promises that valleys will be filled and mountains and hills made low as all obstacles will be removed and the glory of God will be revealed and made accessible to all. The Lord is coming in the person of Jesus: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom and gently lead the mother sheep.” He is the Bread of Life and the Good Shepherd.

In the Second Reading the Lord comes to bring salvation and wholeness to all and to help us leave behind all “worldly passions”, all those appetites and longings which are ultimately destructive and harmful to our proper destiny. And our baptism is linked with that of Jesus:
“For when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared,
he saved us,
not because of any works of righteousness that we had done,
but according to his mercy
through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

The Word became flesh so that we could be liberated from the sinful inclinations of the flesh.

His baptism also for us

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At his baptism, that Spirit came down on Jesus. It was not for him alone but so that he might bring “true justice” to all. A just society is one where everyone has what they need to have, where their dignity is respected and affirmed and where people live in right relationships with each other.

So, later in his gospel Matthew applies the words of the prophet Isaiah to Jesus:

He will not argue or shout,
or make loud speeches in the streets.
He will not break off a bent reed,
Or put out a flickering lamp.
He will persist until he causes justice to triumph,
And in him all peoples will put their hope (Matthew 12:19-20a).

Here expressed in truly poetic images is a picture of the compassionate Jesus who welcomed sinners and sat down to eat with them; the Good Shepherd who left the ninety-nine “good” ones to go and find just one which had gone astray to bring it back.

Continuing to quote from Isaiah, Matthew applies these words explicitly to Jesus:

Faithfully he brings true justice;
he will neither waver, nor be crushed
until true justice is established on earth (Matthew 12:20b-21.

Jesus, in spite of hostility, rejection and efforts to destroy him, will persevere to the end. In fact, it will be in his apparent destruction, his degrading death as a public criminal that he will galvanise millions to follow him for centuries to come. Jesus’ work is above all to liberate us and set us free. For all of this, Jesus was baptised and commissioned by his Father.

Reflecting on our own baptism

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Today is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on our own baptism. It is not something which happened a long time and which “made” us Catholics. It is not just a ceremony lasting a few minutes which produces magical effects; it is the beginning of a lifelong journey. It is the beginning of a process of growing into the Body of Christ as its members.

Our baptism is essentially a community experience; it is not just a private or a family event although in the way it was “celebrated” it may have looked like that. It involves active participation in the life of the Church and not just passive membership.

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Perhaps we could paraphrase the words of John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address: “Ask not what the Church can do for you but what you can do for the Church.”

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Each one of us is called to be a living witness to the Gospel: to be the salt of the earth, a city on a hill, a lamp radiating light for all. Our baptism is a never-ending call to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Every word of Isaiah can also be applied to each one of us who has been baptised. So let us today renew our faith in and our commitment to follow Jesus. Let us re-affirm our readiness to carry on his work.

For it is a sobering fact that without our co-operation, much of God’s work will never get done.

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He reaches out to us. Do we reach back? Art: Blessed Art Thou among Women, by Walter Rane

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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10 JANUARY 2016, Sunday, Baptism of the Lord
THE MISSION TO REVEAL GOD PRESUPPOSES OUR SONSHIP IN CHRIST THROUGH THE ANOINTING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: ISA 42:1-4, 6-7; ACTS 10:34-38; LK 13:15-16, 21-22

The world, in spite of its technological progress, is still empty and life seems to be meaningless.  Like the Israelites in the first reading who were in exile, we too seek for justice in the face of sufferings and evil, for light in our dungeon of meaningless living; and for liberation from our own sinfulness.  Like the Jews during the time of Jesus, we too have this “feeling of expectancy” that the Messiah or the Saviour would come to lead us out of our captivity.  We are looking for light, for hope.

But why is it that man finds life empty and meaningless?  The scripture readings tell us it is because we have “fallen into the power of the devil.”  We have lost our relationship with God and lost our self-identity as well.  This was the situation of the Israelites in the first reading.  They forgot about God and who they were and thus, they were exiled.  They forgot that God is their Father and that they are the sons and daughters of God.  Indeed, St Paul tells us in the second reading “God does not have favourites, but that anybody of any nationality who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  Yes, all of us are called to be His sons.  But we have forgotten our sonship because we have forgotten about God due to our sins which have brought about this alienation and self-forgetfulness.

Today at His baptism, we see Jesus as one who was very much in contact with God.  We are told He was at prayer after His baptism.  Through His openness to God in prayer, the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Him and a voice came from heaven revealed to Jesus who He was.  “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on you.”  Jesus was conscious that God was His Father and He was the Beloved Son of the Father.  It was His Abba experience that was the reason for His wanting to proclaim His Father’s unconditional love to all.

The corollary of His Sonship was to reveal God through His life and being.  We are told that “Jesus went about doing good and curing all who had fallen into the power of the devil.”  Through His life, words and especially in His good works, Jesus revealed God in His life as love and compassion.  Yes, if Jesus were truly the Son of God that is the expression of who God is, necessarily, this reality must be manifested in His life.  So in all that He said and did, Jesus manifested the presence of God.  This explains why on hindsight the gospels could write about Jesus as the incarnation of God.  Hence, His work manifested His sonship as much as His sonship is the reason for His reason for doing good, since only God is good.

But not only did Jesus reveal God as His Father through His Sonship, He also revealed the Holy Spirit as well.  This was because without the Holy Spirit, He would not have been able to do His work and mission.  Hence, we are also told explicitly that “God had anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power.”  It was at His baptism that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus.  Throughout His life and work, the Holy Spirit was visibly at work in Him.  People could see that His work was the work of God; not the work of man nor even the work for God.

If this was the baptism of Jesus, which was God revealing Himself in the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit, then in the same way by virtue of our baptism, God also wants to reveal His presence in us.  This is our mission as well.  Just as Christ revealed God through His humanity, we too are called to reveal God by our humanity.  People will not be able to see God unless they see God in us.

We can reveal God’s presence by living out the Sonship of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We too are called to do the same so that God’s love is real in this world.  We are called upon to live a life of justice.  We are called to live enlightened and liberated lives.  We are called to be the hope of the people and the light of nations.  For unless they see God, they will not know who they are to God, His children.

What must we do for the presence of God to be in us so that we will be endowed with the Spirit of God?

Firstly, we are called to be baptized with water.  Water is a symbol of purification.  Water is a symbol of dying to our sinfulness and our lack of fidelity to our real calling.  To be baptized with the water of John the Baptist, is to be baptized with repentance.  We must turn away from the kind of life we are living.

Secondly, we must be baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  John’s baptism of water is not sufficient.  That is why we must be baptized with the Holy and with fire, which is the Christian sacrament of baptism and confirmation.  In other words, we must be purified by the fire of the Holy Spirit which is the love of God.  This we receive at baptism and at confirmation.  Through the love of God, we become sanctified in Him.  Only when we experience the love of the Holy Spirit, the fire of God, can we find the empowerment to live out the life of Christ.  Through the fire of love, we too find the zeal to spread His kingdom in the world.

But most of all, we need always to renew this Spirit in us through prayer.  We are told specifically in the gospel that after His baptism, Jesus was at prayer.  Only then did the revelation take place.  We must spend our time in prayer so that we come to know God more personally and ourselves more and more.  Only through prayer, which is our union with God in the Spirit, can we be empowered to live out the sonship of God.  Without prayer, our mission would be defective and powerless.  Yes, the mission of every Christian must be like that of Jesus, immersed in the love of the Father and empowered by the love and zeal of the Holy Spirit.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Book “Holy Spirit” by Edward Leen. Father Leen was a teacher who encouraged everyone to “invite the Holy Spirit into ourselves and our lives.” He encouraged all to seek “The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit”

The “Indwelling of the Holy Spirit,” if we seek — will reward us with a good conscience — an inner feeling or voice that drives us always toward, love, the good and the right. If we work to develop this indwelling we will be rewarded.
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Unfortunately, in today’s secular society, we seem to have fewer who are seeking. So how can they possibly find?
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The Gospels tell us to pray, meditate and consume Christ — make him a part of us and us in him.
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This is intertwined with the mystery of the Eucharist….
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We don’t have to “get it.” But we’ll be a lot happier if we do it!

Man’s Spiritual Dimension Governs All Human Rights

We seem to live today in a world of upheaval.

The Islamic State proclaims a caliphate, and promises heavenly rewards for the killing of those who reject Islam.

Christians are being slaughtered in great numbers.

All around the globe, people argue over human rights.

But where do our “human rights” come from?

China’s Communist government says only the Communist Party can bestow human rights. In the Muslim world, there seems to be a belief that only adherent to the Quran merit human rights. Apparently, murder and beheading of non-Muslims is acceptable to the Profit.

Yet Christians believe that human rights are bestowed by God. Christianity is rooted in the belief that man has an undeniable spiritual dimension. Many Christians believe that the Holy Spirit dwells within each and every human being — and this spirituality can be increased or minimized by the way each of us lives the Gospel.

John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom
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Related here on Peace and Freedom:
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God, I offer myself to Thee –
to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank You God, AMEN!
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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, December 13, 2015 — “Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!” — “He gathers the wheat into his barn.”

December 12, 2015

Third Sunday of Advent
Lectionary: 9

Reading 1 ZEP 3:14-18A

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
The LORD has removed the judgment against you
he has turned away your enemies;
the King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
he will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.

Responsorial Psalm IS 12:2-3, 4, 5-6

R. (6) Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
R. Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Reading 2 PHIL 4:4-7

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Alleluia IS 61:1 (CITED IN LK 4:18)

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 3:10-18

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages.”

Now the people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
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.”
Exhorting them in many other ways,
he preached good news to the people.

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Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
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Third Sunday of Advent, Modern

Sunday, December 13, 2015Zephaniah 3: 14 – 18A; Phillippians 4: 4 – 7; Gospel Luke 3: 10 – 18

The first three sentences of the reading from the Prophet Zephaniah begin with, “Shout for joy, …..Sing joyfully, …Be glad and exult with all your heart.” These sum up the joy found in the remainder of this reading, the reading we have from Saint Paul to the Phillippians, and also of this Third Sunday of Advent. Advent was originally observed as a penitential season to prepare us for Christmas. When we cross the midway point as we do this Sunday, the message is one of joyful expectation. This Sunday is knows as Gaudete Sunday, which means Joy Sunday. The celebrant is able to wear rose colored vestments today rather than the dark purple of penance. We are called to begin to rejoice because the celebration of Christ’s birth is near.

The first two readings are both interesting when you look at the context in which they call us to rejoice. The prophet Zephaniah lived at a time when the Israelites had turned away from the Lord and to other Gods. The book of Zephaniah is only three chapters and in those chapters says much about judgment and redemption. The first Chapter is about the Day of destruction. This is a day on which God strikes back at the Israelites with great destruction and suffering. Reading this chapter you might recognize verses very similar to those that at one time were sung at funerals—the Dies Irae, or as I recall from the early vernacular Funeral Mass—“ Day of wrath and day of mourning, see foretold the prophets warning.” The second Chapter speaks of the infidelity of Israel to God and the covenant with Him. Chapter two speaks of the “judgment by God” Zephaniah calls the people to gather together before the destruction takes place, humble themselves before God, and renew their faith in God. By doing this not only will God spare them, they will be restored and become victorious. Finally, Chapter three speaks of the Restoration of Jerusalem. In three short Chapters, Zephaniah’s prophecy goes from a feeling of hopelessness and defeat, to a promise of restoration and joy.

The letter of Saint Paul to the Phillippians is often times referred to as a letter of joy. Paul tells them that in spite of the difficulties they are facing; internal problems of envy and rivalry, along with opponents who are trying to intimidate them so as to turn away from the faith, don’t give up. Paul, writing from prison and his own difficult situation, encourages them to be steadfast and to rejoice.

Each of us from time to time faces difficult situations. Whether it be a struggle with our faith, and even a slipping away from God as the Israelites in Zephaniah’s time, the struggles within our particular Christian communities, or even the people who challenge us and question our faith in ways that might intimidate us, we can become discouraged. The celebration today and the readings acknowledge these, and tell us to rejoice. Never lose sight that Immanuel—God is with us. Even in our deepest struggles Jesus is with us, and his presence should bring us inner joy.

The Gospel sums this up, and I will paraphrase what I hear John the Baptist saying, “The Messiah who we are waiting for is already with us. Open your eyes to see him, open your heart to listen to him, and allow him to enter into your lives. Rejoice! Jesus is here.” May these last weeks of Advent be a time when we are filled with the joyful expectation of receiving Christ more deeply in our lives.

http://www.saintvincentarchabbey.org/sunday_homily
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.

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Commentary on Zephaniah 3:14-18; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18 From Living Space

THE ADVENT SEASON is basically a penitential period. And therefore the colour of the vestments, as in Lent, is purple or violet. It is a time when we are invited through fasting or some other form of self-denial to prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas by a genuine experience of repentance and renewal. However, in Advent as in Lent, the Church cannot refrain from “jumping the gun”, so to speak, by anticipating, if only briefly, the coming mood of celebration.

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So this Sunday is often referred to as “Gaudete Sunday” from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon in the Latin original, Gaudete (“Rejoice!”). And indeed today’s Mass text is suffused with expressions of joy and jubilation. Even the colour of the vestments can be modified from penitential purple to a pinkish colour (officially termed “rose”).

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“Rejoice in the Lord always,” says the Entrance Antiphon. (If we sing our opening hymn, it should reflect the same mood.) “Shout for joy… Rejoice, exult with all your heart” is the invitation of the First Reading from the prophet Zephaniah. “[The Lord] will exult with joy over you, he will renew you by his love; he will dance with shouts of joy for you as on a day of festival…”

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“Sing and shout for joy for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” is the response to the Psalm and, in the Second Reading, Paul invites the Christians of Philippi: “I want you to be happy, always happy in the Lord; I repeat, what I want is your happiness…”
The Gospel is more low-key but there also it tells us that “a feeling of expectancy had grown among the people…”

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A basic mood

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Joy should, in fact, be the basic mood of the Christian. It should not be something artificial or forced but something that bubbles up naturally from our sharing Christ’s vision of life. Joy should be the normal experience of the Christian but there are quite a few who unfortunately do not have that experience or conviction.

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At times one gets the impression that it is not the experience of many Christians, who somehow have come to believe that religion is a serious business, that one is not living a good Christian life unless it is full of sacrifices, that Christianity means giving up many of the pleasure that are available to non-Christians. They seem to think that being a Christian means living a half life as the price for a better one to come.

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Karl Marx saw religion as the “opium of the people”, meaning the poorer classes. Religion, he believed, worked as a kind of anaesthetic or opiate, devised by the rich and privileged, which helped the poor accept the miseries and injustices of the present life on the understanding that there was something much better on the far side of the grave.

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All this is a great pity because the whole purpose of Jesus’ coming was to bring freedom, joy and peace to people not only in the future but here and now. No one is meant to be more free than the Christian who follows Christ not in pain but in joy and enthusiasm. I am not a Catholic because I have to be; I am a Catholic because I could not imagine myself being anything else. We share the words of Peter to Jesus: “Where can we go? You have the words that give life.”

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There used to be a saying, “A sad saint is a sad kind of saint.” A sad Christian is a contradiction in terms. That is not to say that there are not in any Christian life – as in any normal person’s life – times of pain, of sickness, of failure, of great loss. Grieving and letting go is an important part of life but these experiences will only bring temporary setbacks.

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Every experience, if we can only realise it, is touched by God and has its meaning. Once that meaning is found and accepted, inner joy and peace can return. And the joy we are talking about is not something external. It has little to do with the high jinks we see during a socialising party or after our team wins a big match. Much of that can be a kind of temporary escape from lives that are experienced as boring, oppressive and unfree.

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Christian joy or happiness is deep down in the heart and is not incompatible with physical and emotional pain or difficult external circumstances. It is, as Jesus says, something that no one can take away from us. And as Fr Tony de Mello says in his book “Awareness”: We have everything we need here and now to be happy. The problem is that we identify our happiness with people or things we don’t have and often can’t have.

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What are we to do?

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Today’s Gospel speaks of the expected coming of Jesus. This coming is being proclaimed by John the Baptist as he preaches by the waters of the River Jordan. After having heard what John had to say, his hearers asked a very sensible question: “What must we do, then?” It is a question we might well ask ourselves as we prepare for the coming of Jesus this Christmas. Repentance calls for a change in behaviour and not just regret for the past.

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Luke describes three kinds of people who are listening to John the Baptist: the crowd in general; tax collectors; and soldiers. John answers each of them according to their way of life. To the ordinary people, he tells them to share what they have – their clothes and food – with those who are in need. If they are really sorry for their sins, that is, if they really want to change their lives, they will become brothers and sisters to others – even total strangers. We might consider what we could share with others this Christmas.

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Tax collectors had a rather bad reputation in Jesus’ time. The Romans used to farm out the right to collect taxes to private individuals. These would pay a lump sum to the government and were then left to their own devices to get back that money – and make a profit besides. Needless to say, such a system led to a good deal of extortion. There were no anti-corruption agencies in those days! John tells them to be just in what they collected.

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Soldiers, too, were not very popular. The advice John gives sounds just as relevant today as it did then: “No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your official pay!”

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Was John the Messiah?

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After hearing such wise and sensible teaching, the people were beginning to wonder if John was not actually the Messiah himself. As mentioned earlier, there was a great mood of expectation that the Messiah’s appearance was imminent.

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John, however, immediately disabuses them. He is certainly not the Messiah, the Saviour King that is to come. The real Messiah will be much greater. John will not even be worthy to untie the laces of his sandals – the work of a slave for his master.

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John only baptises with water but the Messiah will baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. That fire purifies what is good and destroys what is evil. It is a sign of God’s power and God’s loving presence (remember the pillar of fire that accompanied the Jews at night in the desert? Or the fire of the Spirit coming down on the disciples after the resurrection?).

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And our role is not unlike that of John the Baptist. For it is also our task as Christians – whether lay persons, religious or priests – to bring people to genuine conversion, a conversion that brings them face to face with Jesus and God and also a conversion that brings a real joy and happiness into their lives.

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Our role as ‘precursors’

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Parents, especially Christian parents, have this role. They gradually form their children to have the Christian spirit and outlook on life. A Christian family will be one of real joy. A place to which each member returns with joyful anticipation and expectancy, in other words, a real home.

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Teachers, too, are like John the Baptist. A Christian teacher is always aware of being Christian in the presence of students, irrespective of the subject being taught. After the student has long graduated, he may not remember a word from those lessons, he may never in his later career have used the knowledge he was given but he will remember the personality of his teacher. Some teachers are remembered with affection forever; others are best forgotten.

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Whatever we are – parents, teachers, civil servants, employers, doing business, self-employed – we need to remember that we are God’s instruments. We are not making people do what we say, forcing them to behave in a certain way, still less to be just like us. Our aim is, like John the Baptist, to lead people to the feet of Jesus that they may know him personally as Saviour, Lord, Brother and Friend. Our role is, like John the Baptist, to step aside once the introductions are over and leave Jesus to do his work.

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At the same time, Jesus does need our co-operation. Jesus works through every parent and every teacher and everyone who has a call to form people. Peter and Andrew began as John the Baptist’s disciples until they met Jesus. Then they left John and walked with Jesus. In turn, they brought other people to know and experience Jesus. That is the pattern and meaning of evangelisation, of bringing the Gospel to others.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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13 DECEMBER 2015, 3rd Sunday of Advent
THE NEARNESS OF THE LORD AS THE CAUSE OF OUR JOY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ZEPH 3:14-18; PHIL 4:4-7; LK 3:10-18

We have just passed the halfway mark of Advent.  This third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as “Rejoice Sunday”. What is the reason for the Church’s joy this Sunday?  Simply this: because the Lord is very near.   Yes, we have every reason to be happy today because God has forgiven us unconditionally.  There is no need to think of our past.  We must let go of our crippling past, which is our greatest enemy, so that the new life of joy and happiness can be ours.  We need not let fear and guilt control our lives.  We must not allow our narrow outlook of life and resentment to blind us to the goodness that God has given to us.

For this reason, the mood of today’s liturgy is one of joy and festival.  We might think that we are hopeless, great sinners and condemned to a life of misery and unhappiness.  But to us all, the scriptures want to tell us that happiness is within our reach.  Happiness is so near to us.  God is coming into our hearts.  But we must open our hearts to receive Him.

How?  By removing the obstacles that prevent Him from coming into our lives and being present to us; for it is His absence that results in emptiness and sadness since there is no love in us.  What then are these obstacles?

Firstly, we must remove the obstacle of selfishness and a closed heart.  This is what John demanded of the people.  He said, “If anyone has two tunics he must share with the one who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.”  In saying this, John is not simply asking us to share our abundance.  He is not saying, “You have three shirts, please give away one.”  No, he is saying, “Keep only one for yourself.  The rest, please give to those who do not have.”  In other words, John is saying that anything above our basic needs must be shared with others.

The truth is that unless we have a compassionate, loving and generous heart, we cannot share the heart of Christ.  The inability to share and to love will make us inward looking.  As a result, we become cut off not only from God but from others as well.  To be able to have a greater capacity to love and to share means to have a larger heart, which is to share in the heart of God.

Secondly, John says that we must live an honest life.  To the tax collectors, John said, “Exact no more than your rate.”  Why?  Because it was bad enough that they were collecting taxes for the Romans, their oppressors but to collect more than what they should so that they could keep the balance for themselves is to cheat the poor and increase the misery of the poor.  The flip side of this dishonesty and greed is that we will find no peace in our hearts.  We will live in guilt and fear.  Indeed, without a life of honesty and integrity, we cannot find peace in our hearts.  We live in fear that one day the truth might be out.

Thirdly, we are called to live a contented life.  Indeed, contentment is a necessary pre-requisite for happiness.  When we are not contented with what we have, then we become envious, jealous and greedy.  We begin to find fault with others.  We become vindictive and revengeful.  Some of us might even use unscrupulous means to get what we want.  As a result not only do we create competitors and enemies, robbing ourselves of our happiness, but also the happiness of others.  Contentment is the key to peace and happiness in our hearts.

But how can we live a compassionate, honest and contented life?  If we rely only on our own strength, we will fail.  Humanly speaking, most of us are self-centered and discontented in life.  For this reason, we need to pray.  Yes, we need to pray for the grace of God to remove those obstacles in our lives that prevent us from being happy and at peace within ourselves.  What then should we pray for?

We must pray for the virtue of humility, which is the ultimate antidote to removing these blocks to happiness in our lives.  For good reason, therefore, St Paul urges us to pray with thanksgiving.   Unless, we are grateful to God, we cannot be open to others, we cannot be contented nor be generous with others.  Gratitude is a pre-requisite for compassion and generosity.

Why is humility so essential for us to overcome our unhappiness in life?  Only humility can make us compassionate, for we recognize whom we are and how much God has blessed us.   And because of what God has done for us in our poverty, we too begin to feel with and for others; especially when God had reached out to us in the first place through others.

Secondly, only humility can make us recognize our selfishness and our pride.  Very often we do not know the reason for our resentment against others.  We do not know why we are angry with them.  We find all kinds of excuses to justify our anger and unhappiness.  But quite often, when we examine deeper the reasons for our anger, it boils down to nothing else but pride and greed.  Being humble enables us to acknowledge the root of our problems and this prevents us from finding scapegoats to exonerate ourselves.

Thirdly, only humility can grant us the joy of contentment.  To be contented with what we already have is the secret to real happiness in life.  Contentment comes when we recognize that we are not deserving of what we have.  Instead of always thinking that we have not been paid enough or that we have not been given our rights, we must be grateful for all the blessings that we already have received.  Without the gift of contentment, we will always be hankering for more.  This will only increase our envy of others and bitterness in life.  Thus, when we are contented, we live an integral life and honest life.

But most of all, humility is the key to allowing the power of God to work in our lives.  When we are humble, we become more open to God’s grace.  Thus, when St Paul asks us to pray with thanksgiving, he is asking us to pray with faith that we have already received what we have prayed for. To pray with the expectation of our prayers being answered implies that we have surrendered ourselves to the Lord and we know that He will always grant us all that we need and is good for us.  And those petitions that He will not grant us, we consider them as not in accordance with His will because it will not bring us real happiness and joy.

Thus, when we have removed all these obstacles, the chaff of the wheat, as John would put it, then we will find the Lord is so near to us, in our midst and in our hearts.  Truly, like the Israelites who had been purified during their time of exile, we who are purified of our selfishness, guilt and greed will find the love and joy of God in us. His presence becomes real because we would have acquired His Spirit of love and compassion.

With the felt presence of God’s love in our hearts, we will naturally be freed from all anxiety. The anxieties and the ensuing fear in our lives will simply disappear by themselves because we live in trust in divine providence.  We will have the confidence that somehow the Lord is watching over us and protecting us.  With that confidence, we need not allow greed to dominate our lives.  Only trust in divine providence can truly free us from dishonesty, greed and selfishness, which are the fruits of fear of destruction.  With fear destroyed, now we will be able to love, to share and have compassion for others.

But above everything else, when we are filled with the Spirit of God, we will experience the peace of God in our hearts.  Yes, it is this peace within ourselves that will truly make us happy.  With peace in our hearts, we will look at others and this whole world with peace too.  Peace in our hearts empowers us to look at life, our sufferings and even our enemies differently.  We will no longer see them with hatred but with understanding, compassion and detachment.  That is why St Paul says that only the peace of God can guard our hearts and thoughts because we will be able to look at life with a horizon beyond ourselves.

Truly, with the presence of God within us, then we know that God is so near.  The more He is present to us, the nearer Christmas is for us.  This is because at Christmas we celebrate the Emmanuel, God with us, but not only with us but also in us.  So if we have not yet been purified of those chaffs in our lives, let us continue to pray with thanksgiving as Paul urges us so that by the time Christmas arrives, He would have been borne in our hearts once again; a birth that entails the giving of His Spirit peace, love and joy.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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http://www.catholic.org.sg/archbishop/scripture-reflection/

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Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, December 8, 2013 — Make Ready For The Son of Man!

December 7, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent Lectionary: 4

Reading 1 Is 11:1-10

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On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.
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He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.
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Responsorial Psalm Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17

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R. (cf. 7) Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever. O God, with your judgment endow the king, and with your justice, the king’s son; he shall govern your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment. R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever. Justice shall flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more. May he rule from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
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R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever. For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out, and the afflicted when he has no one to help him. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor; the lives of the poor he shall save. R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever. May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun his name shall remain. In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed; all the nations shall proclaim his happiness. R. Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace for ever.

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Reading 2 Rom 15:4-9

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Brothers and sisters: Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I say that Christ became a minister of the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises to the patriarchs, but so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written: Therefore, I will praise you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name.
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Gospel Mt 3:1-12

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John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: A voice of one crying out in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
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When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
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In 1982, the year this sermon was given during Advent, Pope John Paul II also visited the UK.

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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Advent is a season of expectation for peace in the world, for Christ is the prince of peace.  This is the theme of the Second Sunday of Advent.    But where does peace begin if not with the individual?  When there is no peace within oneself, we cause the world to be divided.  All division begins from within the individual and not the world outside of us.   We must not blame the world but must look within ourselves.

When we look at the Messiah in the first reading, we read that because He is a man of peace, the whole of creation is at peace with Him as well.  The first reading describes it in this way, “The wolf lives with the lamb, the panther lies down with the kid, calf and lion cub feed together with a little boy to lead them. The cow and the bear make friends, their young lie down together. The lion eats straw like the ox. The infant plays over the cobras hole; into the vipers lair the young child puts his hand. They do no hurt, no harm, on all my holy mountain, for the country is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters swell the sea.”  This is the envisaged paradise of the New World and the New Creation when everyone will live in peace and unity with each other even animals.

How, then, can we find real and lasting peace, especially in times of trials and tribulations?  

We must first live lives of integrity.  The first reading tells us that the Messiah is a man of peace precisely because He lives a life of integrity.  So long as we live double lives, we cannot find peace.  When our actions and beliefs do not match, we feel hypocritical and condemn ourselves.  To find lasting peace, we must live according to our conscience.  It is the lack of personal integrity that causes us to bring division in our lives.

For this reason, repentance is always the beginning of restoration.  We read in the gospel that “In due course John the Baptist appeared; he preached in the wilderness of Judaea and this was his message: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand’.” Indeed, the concrete step to take towards peace is repentance.  Without repentance of sins and contrition of heart, we cannot find peace.  Hence, John the Baptist invites us to repent.  The desire to repent and live a life of integrity is the first step towards restoration.   Only through repentance will the Prince of Peace enters our hearts.  Christmas cannot be a meaningful celebration if we merely celebrate it with merry making unless Christ the Prince of Peace is born in our hearts.

This repentance is expressed in the confession of sins.  Through acknowledgement and confession of sins, we have our sins removed so that the Lord can enter into our lives.  We are called to remove the dark areas and rough corners of our lives. Make straight the path for him.  “This was the man the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said: A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.”

Yes, we seek to straighten our lives.  During this season of Advent, we are called to spend some time in the desert with John the Baptist, especially when we are ending this calendar year to reflect on our lives and see how we could have done better.  There are many sins which we have committed and forgotten.  The valleys and mountains and the twisted pathways are symbols of pride, anger, cheating, injustice and falsehood in our lives.   There are many areas of our lives that need purification of motives.  There are some areas that need alignment with our beliefs.  Most of all, there are many people in our lives that we need to thank, to ask for forgiveness and be reconciled with.  In this way, our hearts welcome the Lord.  To straighten the path means that we need to reform and change our lives.

Once our sins are removed through repentance and conversion of heart, He will send us the Holy Spirit of love and peace.  The Holy Spirit is the symbol of fire that purifies and cleanses so that we have peace.  It is also a symbol of love and passion.  St John the Baptist declares accordingly, “I baptise you in water for repentance, but the one who follows me is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to carry his sandals; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Love is the only way in which we are healed and purified of our impurities.  That is why with the repentance of sins, the Holy Spirit will fill us with His love so that He can continue to help us to live integrated and happy lives.  Through the Holy Spirit given to us at Baptism, we are given a new birth as His beloved adopted children.

The Holy Spirit will give us a new vision. He will help us to look at life differently.  Visions are important.  All great things always begin with a vision, a dream.  Indeed, the poorest person is not a man without a cent but a person without a dream.  So, when the Spirit comes, the prophet Joel says, “old men will dream dreams and young men shall see visions.” (Joel 2:28)   This new vision comes from the Holy Spirit who bestows upon us the seven gifts that will modify our intellect and will.  These gifts are associated with the Messiah and the messianic times.  “A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots: on him the spirit of the Lord rests, a spirit of wisdom and insight, a spirit of counsel and power, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.”

Not only that, the Holy Spirit gives us hope.  St Paul says, “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”  (Rom 5:5) A Christian is one who, like John the Baptist, St Paul and all the rest of the saints, must not only be a dreamer, a visionary but also a person of hope.  Without this visionary perspective, we cannot do great things in life.  That is why a Christian always lives with hope and never gives up hope.  He is never a pessimist, a defeatist or one who simply waits for things to happen.  

The Christian believes that with the Holy Spirit, not only are we transformed ourselves but we are given the power to transform lives.  Through the joy and love that come from the Holy Spirit, we will bring the love of Jesus to them.  Like John the Baptist, so filled with the love of the Holy Spirit already in the womb of Elizabeth, his whole life and mission was to point others to Jesus.  His mission was to prepare the Way of the Lord by removing the obstacles in coming to accept Jesus in our lives.  We too are called to give hope to the world by giving them Jesus.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit who is the love of God poured into our hearts, we become people of love.  We can now become peace makers and offer fraternal love to others, even those who are not so friendly to us and our enemies. With God’s love in us, we will do everything for the glory of God.  For peace to be restored, we need to be more giving and forgiving.  St Paul urges us to be tolerant of each other.  No one is perfect and therefore we cannot expect everyone to live up to our expectations.   Therefore those of us who are strong in the love of the Lord are expected to be more tolerant of those who are weak.  This is the secret to a happy relationship.  Only when we are not so petty, can there be peace in the family and in our workplace.   Indeed, more often than not, many quarrels and misunderstandings are over insignificant matters.  We need to be more understanding and accepting of each other’s mistakes and imperfections.  By giving way to each other and through long-suffering, we will gradually build trust, understanding and acceptance.

This love in us in a special way must be extended to the poor, both the material and spiritual poor.   We are called in a special way at Christmas, if we claim that Jesus is born in our hearts, to have a heart for the poor because it is for this reason that Jesus came to this earth.  The heart of Christianity is to have a genuine concern and love for the poor.  There is an obligation to help the poor and especially those migrants in our country who need help, whether in moral, financial or spiritual support.

Through our unconditional love and mercy, the glory of God will be made known. “It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated you.”  In this way, His praises will be sung by all men.  “The reason Christ became the servant of circumcised Jews was not only so that God could faithfully carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy, as scripture says in one place: For this I shall praise you among the pagans and sing to your name.”  St Paul reminds us, “Everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God.”  Let us learn from our failures and the good examples of those saintly people to walk the path of freedom and truth.  Let us not repeat the same mistakes of the past so that we can walk in newness of life with a new vision, confident hope and transforming love.  Let the love and peace of Christ be in our hearts so that we can truly celebration Christmas.

http://www.csctr.net/reflections/

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Homily from the Abbot
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My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Repent!  This is such a strong word for all people.  Yet it only means to change course.  It is admission that our lives are off course and we must correct our course.  Sometimes that repentance is a total change of course and sometimes it is just a slight correction of our course.

What is our course?  Always and at every moment:  what God wants of us.  So to repent for us is to seek God’s will and to attempt to do God’s will.  Advent invites us always to deepen our awareness of the ways in which God comes into our lives and to seek to live according to God’s will.  The best example of such following of Jesus is the example of Mary, His mother.

The Prophet Isaiah recognized many centuries ago that we are unable to change our course by ourselves.  We need to have God.  We need to have a Savior.  With his gift of prophecy, given by God, he foresaw the Peaceable Kingdom, recognizing the child who would come and be the Savior.  In Advent we are invited to look with the Prophet Isaiah at our world and to recognize that even though the Savior has come, we are personally still in need of that Savior.  We can also recognize that the world as a whole has not accepted the Savior.

Yet so many people yearn for the Peaceable Kingdom, where all is peace and all is harmony and where there is no fear but only love and care for one another.

The Letter to the Romans, in the second reading today, puts it this way:  Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.  How different our world would be if each one of us welcomed everyone else as Christ has welcomed us!  It is really difficult to believe that God wants us to do this.  Yet it is the heart of the Gospel and the heart of following Jesus as Lord.

So we return to repentance in the Gospel of Matthew today and realize that we are being called by God to this repentance.  We are being asked personally by God to change our course into the course of God.  We will be given all power and strength to do this if only we set out to do it.  Jesus Himself assures us in His life, death and resurrection that we will have life if we follow Him daily.

Let us start now, on this Sunday of Advent, to seek His will, to do His will and always to rejoice in the love that has been given to us.  May John the Baptist be our model:  in all things he pointed to Jesus Christ.

http://christdesert.org/News/Abbot_s_Homily/

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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In this Sunday of Advent we are presented with the figure of John the Baptist, a challenging personality, as Jesus once said about John the Baptist in describing his personality: ”What did you go out to see a reed blowing in the wind?” (Mt 1: 7). The profile of the Baptist that the liturgy puts before us is in two main sections: 3,1-6, the figure and activities of John; 3,7-12, his preaching. Within these two sections we may detect smaller matters that define the expression of this text. In 3:1-2 John is presented as the one who preaches «repentance» because «the kingdom of heaven is close at hand». This cry is like a thread running through the whole of John’s activity and is repeated in 3:8.12. The reason for this call to repentance is given as the imminent judgement of God which is compared to the cutting of every dry tree to be thrown into the fire to be burnt (3:10) and to the winnowing done by farmers on the threshing-floor to separate the wheat from the chaff which is also to be burnt in the fire (3:12). The image of fire which characterises the last part of our liturgical passage shows the urgency of preparing oneself for the coming of God’s judgement.

The text presents the following:

Matthew 3:1-3: in this first small part «the voice crying in the desert» of Isaiah 40:2 is identified with the voice of the Baptist who invites all to repentance «in the desert of Judea»;

Matthew 3:4-6: there follows a brief section which, in a picturesque manner, describes the traditional figure of John: he is a prophet and an ascetic; because of his prophetic identity he is compared to Elijah, indeed he dresses like the Thesbite prophet. A geographical and special detail describes the movement of many people who come to receive the baptism of immersion in the waters of the Jordan, in a penitential atmosphere. The influence of his prophetic activity is not limited to one place but embraces the whole region of Judea including Jerusalem and the area around the Jordan.

Matthew 3:7-10: a special group of people comes to John to receive baptism, these are the «Pharisees and Sadducees». John addresses them with harsh words that they may stop their false religiosity and pay attention to «bearing fruit» so that they may avoid a judgement of condemnation.

Matthew 3:11-12: here the meaning of the baptism in relation to repentance is made clear and especially the difference between the two baptisms and the two protagonists: the baptism of John is with water for repentance; the baptism of Jesus “the more powerful who comes after” John, is with the Spirit and fire.

The message of the text:

In a typical biblical-narrative style, Matthew presents the figure and activity of John the Baptist in the desert of Judea. The geographical indication is meant to situate the activity of John in the region of Judea, whereas Jesus will carry out his activity in Galilee. For Matthew, the activity of John is entirely oriented towards and subject to “the one who is to come”, the person of Jesus. Also John is presented as a great and courageous preacher who foretells the imminent judgement of God.

The message of the Baptist consists of a precise imperative, “repent” and an equally clear reason: “for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand”. Repentance is foremost in the Baptist’s preaching even though at first its content is not yet clear. In 3:8, however, the fruits of repentance are revealed to give new direction to one’s existence. Such a revelation, on the one hand, is typical of prophets who wanted to make repentance as concrete as
possible through a radical detachment from whatever until now was held as valuable; on the other hand, the revelation goes beyond and means to show that repentance is a turning towards “the kingdom of heaven”, towards something new which is imminent, together with its demands and prospects. It is a matter of giving a decisive turn to life in a new direction: the “kingdom of heaven” is the foundation and gives meaning to repentance and not just any human efforts. The expression “kingdom of heaven” says that God will reveal himself to all and most powerfully. John says that this revelation of God is imminent, not distant.

The prophetic activity of John, with the characteristics of the figure of Elijah, is meant to prepare his contemporaries for the coming of God in Jesus. The motifs and images through which the figure of the Baptist is interpreted are interesting, among them the leather loin-cloth around his waist, sign of recognition of the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8); the garment made of camel hair is typical of the prophet according to Zacharias 13:4. This is a direct identification between the prophet Elijah and John. This interpretation is obviously an answer of the Evangelist to the objection of the Jews of the time: how can Jesus be the Messiah, if Elijah has not yet come?

Through his prophetic activity, John succeeds in moving whole crowds just as Elijah had led back the whole people to faith in God (1 Kings 18). John’s baptism is not important because of the great crowds that come to receive it, but because it is accompanied by precise commitments of repentance. Besides, it is not a baptism that has the power to forgive sins, only the death of Jesus has this power, but it presents a new direction to give to one’s life.

Even the «Pharisees and Sadducees» come to receive it, but they come in a hypocritical spirit, with no intention of repenting. Thus they will not be able to flee God’s judgement. John’s invective towards these groups, covered in false religiosity, emphasises that the role of his baptism, if received sincerely with the decision to change one’s life, protects whoever receives it from the imminent purifying judgement of God.

How will such a decision of repentance become evident? John does not give precise indications as to content, but limits himself to showing the motive: to avoid the punitive judgement of God. We could say that the aim of repentance is God, the radical recognition of God, directing in an entirely new way one’s life to God.

Yet the «Pharisees and Sadducees» are not open to repentance in so far as they place their faith and hope in being descendants of Abraham: because they belong to the chosen people, they are certain that God, by the merits of the father, will give them salvation. John questions this false certainty of theirs by means of two images: the tree and the fire

First, the image of the tree that is felled, in the OT this refers to God’s judgement. A text from Isaiah describes it thus: «Behold the Lord, God of hosts, who tears the branches with deafening noise, the highest tips are cut off, the peaks are felled». The image of the fire has the function of expressing the “imminent anger” which will be manifested at God’s judgement (3:7). In a word, they show the pressing imminence of God’s coming; the listeners must open their eyes to what awaits them.

Finally, John’s preaching contrasts the two baptisms and the two persons: John and the one who is to come. The substantial difference is that Jesus baptises with the Spirit and fire whereas John only with water, a baptism for repentance. This distinction emphasises that the baptism of John is entirely subordinate to the one of Jesus. Matthew notes that the baptism with the Spirit has already taken place, namely in Christian baptism, as told in the scene of Jesus’ baptism, whereas baptism with fire must still come and will take place at the judgement that Jesus will perform.

The aim of John’s preaching, then, is to present a description of the judgement that awaits the community through the image of the chaff. The action of the farmer on the threshing-floor when he cleans the wheat from the chaff will also be the action of God on the community at the judgement.

A meditation

Expecting God and repentance:

In his preaching John reminds us that the coming of God in our lives is always imminent, he also invites us strongly to a repentance that purifies the heart, renders it ready to meet Jesus who comes into the world of men and women and opens it to hope and universal love..

An expression of Cardinal Newman may help us understand this new direction that the Word of God suggests is urgent: «Here on earth to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed frequently». To change is to be understood from the point of view of repentance: an intimate change of heart. To live is to change. If ever this urge to change grows dim, you would no longer be alive. The book of the Apocalypse confirms this when the Lord says: “You are reputed to be alive yet are dead” (3:1). Again, “to be perfect is to change frequently”. It seems that Cardinal Newman wanted to say: «Time is measured by my repentance”. This time of Advent too is measured through the project that God has for me. I must constantly open myself, be ready to allow myself to be renewed by Him.

Accepting the Gospel:

This is the condition for repentance. The Gospel is not only a collection of messages, but a Person who asks to enter into your life. Accepting the Gospel of this Sunday of Advent means opening the door of one’s own life to the one whom John the Baptist defined as more powerful. This idea was expressed well by John Paul II: “Open the doors to Christ…” Accept Christ who comes to me with his firm word of salvation. We recall the words of St. Augustine who used to say: “I fear the Lord who passes by”. Such a passing by of the Lord may find us at a time of life when we are distracted or superficial.

Advent – a time for interior souls:

A mystical evocation found in the writings of Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity helps us discover repentance as a time and occasion to immerse ourselves in God, to expose ourselves to the fire of love that transforms and purifies our lives: «Here we are at the sacred time of Advent which more than any other time we could call the time for interior souls, souls who live always and in all things “hidden in God with Christ”, at the centre of themselves. While awaiting the great mystery [of Christmas]… let us ask him to make us true in our love, that is to transform us… it is good to think that the life of a priest, like that of a Carmelite nun, is an advent that prepares the incarnation within souls! David sings in a psalm that the “fire will walk ahead of the Lord”. Is not love that fire? Is it not also our mission to prepare the ways of the Lord by our union with the one whom the Apostle calls a “devouring fire”? On contact with him our souls will become like a flame of love that spreads to all the members of the body of Christ that is the Church”. (Letter to Rev. Priest Chevignard, in Writings, 387-389).

Psalm 71 (72)

With this psalm, the Church prays during Advent to express the expectation of her king of peace, liberator of the poor and of the oppressed.

Rule your people with justice

God, endow the king with your own fair judgement,
the son of the king with your own saving justice, that he may rule your people with justice, and your poor with fair judgement.

In his days uprightness shall flourish, and peace in plenty till the moon is no more. His empire shall stretch from sea to sea, from the river to the limits of the earth.

For he rescues the needy who calls to him,
and the poor who has no one to help. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the needy from death.

May his name be blessed for ever, and endure in the sight of the sun. In him shall be blessed every race in the world,
and all nations call him blessed.

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Closing prayer

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Lord Jesus, led by the powerful and vigorous word of John the Baptist, your precursor, we wish to receive your baptism of Spirit and fire. You know how many fears, spiritual laziness and hypocrisies reside in our hearts. We know that with your fan, little wheat would be left in our lives and much chaff, ready to be thrown into the unquenchable fire. From the bottom of our hearts we say:

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Come to us in the humility of your incarnation, of your humanity full of our limitations and sins and grant us the baptism of immersion into the abyss of your humility. Grant us to be immersed into those waters of the Jordan that gushed out of your wounded side on the cross and grant that we may recognise you as true Son of God, our true Saviour.

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During this Advent take us into the desert of nothingness, of repentance, of solitude so that we may experience the love of Spring. May your voice not remain in the desert but may it echo in our hearts so that our voice, immersed, baptised in your Presence may become news of love. Amen.

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http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-2nd-sunday-advent

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