Posts Tagged ‘Zep 3:14-18a’

Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 30, 2017

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 572

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing

Art: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Domenico Ghirlandaio

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.

Or  ROM 12:9-16

Brothers and sisters:
Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you,
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

Responsorial Psalm  ISAIAH 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6

R. (6) 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. 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. 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. Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Alleluia SEE LK 1:45

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary, who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:39-56

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

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Homily Ideas for The Visitation
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Today’s feast celebrates the special place that Mary has in the life of the Church. This place is first of all defined by her being chosen to be the mother of Jesus, his only human parent. This alone gives her a uniqueness which is shared by no other person who has ever lived.

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As with the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to look at the meaning of what the feast is about rather than being too literal in our understanding of how it is described in scripture.

Today’s Gospel is the story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth, when both were expecting their first child. The story contains most of the elements which contribute to the status we give to Mary in our Church.

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First, we see Mary setting out with haste from Nazareth to a small town in the hills of Judea, not far from Jerusalem (where Zechariah served as a priest in the Temple), to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the child we know as John the Baptist. Mary herself, of course, is carrying her own child, Jesus. It is highly significant that it is Mary and Jesus who go to visit Elizabeth and John. Already in the womb, Jesus is showing that urge to serve rather than be served. Mary, too, shares that urge. And, at the presence of Jesus and his mother, the child in Elizabeth’s womb jumps for joy.

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Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, excitedly bursts out into praise. She recognises the special position of Mary and her Son: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary is indeed unique and blessed in being chosen to be the mother of our saving King and Lord. Elizabeth is deeply moved that it is Jesus and his Mother that come to her and John: “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” And yet that is what is happening to each of us all the time, and especially in every celebration of the Eucharist when the Lord comes to us in the sharing of his Word and in the breaking of the bread and our sharing in the cup.

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And there is a special word of praise for Mary also: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” This brings us to the second characteristic of Mary: her faith and total trust in God. That was expressed in her fiat (‘Let it be done to me…’), when, even though not fully understanding what was being asked of her, she unconditionally accepted to submit to God’s plan.

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It is now Mary’s turn to sing God’s praises in the lovely song we called the Magnificat, which the Church sings at its evening prayer every day. It is full of reflections on what makes Mary great in the eyes of God.

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“He has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.”

Mary was a simple unmarried girl living in obscurity in a small town in an out of the way Roman province.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Mary’s greatness was not just in being chosen to be Jesus’ mother but in her total acceptance of that responsibility in faith and trust, accepting blindly all that it might entail. And, indeed, she had no idea the price she would have to pay to be the mother of Jesus. But, again, like her Son she had emptied herself in total service to him and to day we celebrate her reward, her being raised to the highest place among the human race.

In the human race we see today, perhaps we have forgotten how to full appreciate and protect human life.

We need to constantly look to Mary and Joseph who never question God’s plan — but fully accept what they have been chosen to do.

May we do the same with half as much fidelity. That would be a miracle for me!

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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31 MAY, 2017, Wednesday, Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
THE LORD IS IN OUR MIDST IN THE HOLY SPIRIT

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ZEPH 3:14-18 or ROM 12:9-16; LUKE 1:39-56 ]

The scripture readings of today’s feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary underscore the presence of God in our midst.  Whenever the Lord is in our midst, there will always be joy and celebration.  In the first reading, the prophet Zephaniah said, “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!”  In the gospel too, we read how the Lord came into the lives of Mary, Elizabeth and John the Baptist.  Again, the theme of joy is prevalent.  “Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit … For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.’”

Indeed, the cause of sorrow is always the absence of God in our lives.  We become discouraged when God is not present in our midst.  Our hearts are made for God.  When life is lived without God, there is a vacuum in our hearts.  That is why the psalmist cried out, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” (Ps 42:1)  Whether we admit it or not, our soul seeks union with God.  When a soul lives in sin, it knows that God is absent.  We feel His absence when we know that we are living immoral lives or lack integrity in our lives.  Knowing that we are not living a blameless life, we condemn ourselves being hypocritical.

The other cause of sorrow is when we feel quite alone in our struggles.   This was the case of the Israelites.  They felt that they were alone and helpless against their enemies.  But God was with them!  They did not have to go through all this alone. The prophet assured them, “The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear.  The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.”  God assured them of His love and presence.  Most of all, the Lord would be their warrior.  He would be the One who would rescue them from their enemies and help them to return from exile.

How, then, can we once again bring back the presence of God into our lives?  We need to welcome the Holy Spirit.  He is the presence of God.  The gospel of Luke, which is the gospel of the Holy Spirit, always associates joy with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Mary was filled with joy because of the Holy Spirit overshadowing her and the baby Jesus.  She was filled with the Holy Spirit when she sang the Magnificat. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out with joy and so did John the Baptist who leapt for joy.  Anyone who is filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit is filled with joy.  This explains why those who are prayed over for the awakening of the Holy Spirit often are overwhelmed by the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Of course, the Holy Spirit can come in many other ways as well, as illustrated in the scriptures.  Indeed, it is appropriate for us during this 7th Week of Easter, as we prepare for the feast of Pentecost, to emphasize the importance of the Holy Spirit and welcome Him as Mary did at the Upper Room.

One way of experiencing the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation always releases the burden of years of guilt and pain.   Many of us, because of the fear of confession due to our pride, carry these fears in our hearts, the fear of coming before God because of our sins; and the fear of man because of shame.  In the Magnificat Mary warns us that God will bring down the mighty from their thrones.  Unfortunately, many are not making use of this most beautiful Sacrament given by the Church.  We take note that the peace of Easter given to the apostles was followed by the power to forgive sins through the gift of the Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22f)  Having our sins forgiven is a necessary prerequisite to receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit, as the apostles remind us.

The second way to rediscover the presence of God is forgiveness of our enemies.  Many have no peace in their hearts because they refuse to let go of those people who have hurt them.  They keep the pain caused by betrayals or harsh words buried deep in their hearts.  They cannot let go of their resentment and anger against those who have humiliated them.  Without letting our enemies go, we remain prisoners of the past.  Hence, we cannot find peace.  Indeed, many are not free and have no deep joy in their hearts simply because they did not take heed of the words of St Paul, “Bless those who persecute you: never curse them, bless them.”   We must be ready to let go of our hurts and bless our enemies if we are to overcome the hatred in our hearts.  Forgiveness will liberate us for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The lack of forgiveness hinders us from receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit because He is the Gift of God’s love in person.

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit also comes to us through acts of kindness and genuine love.  St Paul says, “Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor.”  That was what Mary did after the annunciation.  Immediately, filled with joy, she did not keep the joy within her.  Rather, she brought her joy to Elizabeth who was pregnant in her advanced age.   Her thoughtfulness came from the joy within her.  In sharing that joy, her joy doubled.  St Paul urges us also to identify with those who are in need and give them empathy and support, for by so doing, we share and partake in the joy of the Holy Spirit.  Again, St Paul exhorts us, “if any of the saints are in need you must share with them; and you should make hospitality your special care.”  Through genuine hospitality and care, we bring the presence of God to others.

Fourthly, from Mary, we learn the importance of fraternal support from the community.  Encountering the love of God is always within and through the community.  That is why St Paul urges us to “Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other.”  Mary could have kept to herself, but upon knowing that her cousin needed help, she went out of the way to see her and stayed with her for three months.  Mary saw the need of community and that was why she was with the apostles in the Upper Room, giving them encouragement and strength when Jesus returned to the Father.  Many Catholics miss out on the presence of God because they do not have fellowship with their fellow Catholics. They are alone in their faith, without any support.  What they must do is to reach out and find a community to which they can belong, not just for social fellowship but one that can offer them spiritual support through prayer and sharing of the Word of God.

Fifthly, from Mary, we learn that the way to welcome the Holy Spirit is through expectant prayer.  That was what Mary did, together with the apostles. “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”  (Acts 1:14). In the Magnificat, she urges us to be receptive and docile to God through a spirit of poverty.  St Paul also urges us to pray often, especially in times of trial, for this is where we can experience the power of the Holy Spirit helping us.  Mary did not simply pray, but she prayed with faith.  This was what Elizabeth said of her.  “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”   So if we want to receive the Holy Spirit, we need to pray with faith and with fervor.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is seen in and through the mighty deeds of God.  With Mary and the psalmist, we must sing the Magnificat often in our lives.  In praising and glorifying God, we remember His presence in our lives.  The psalmist urges us to “Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples! Declare the greatness of his name.” Mary in the Magnificat spontaneously gave thanks to God. “All generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.” In rendering thanks to God and thanksgiving, we recount His goodness and mercy.  By so doing, we will not forget the presence and love of God in our lives.  When our prayers are only petitions, they become weak as they are based only on hope; whereas in thanksgiving, our prayers are more certain as our hope is based on the past actions of God.  It is our hope that through our service to others, we can bring the love of God to them.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Magnificat
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My soul doth magnify: the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced: in God my Saviour. For He hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For He that is mighty hath done great things unto me: and holy is his name.
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And his mercy is from generation to generation: unto them that fear Him. He hath shewed strength with his arm: He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich He hath sent empty away.
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He hath upholden his servant Israel: being mindful of his mercy. As He spake unto our fathers: to Abraham and his seed for ever. Glory be to the Father, etc.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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14 AUGUST 2016, Sunday, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary*
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ASSUMPTION CELEBRATES THE GRACE OF CERTAIN VICTORY

SCRIPTURE READINGS:

[  REV 11:19; 12:1-6.10; 1 CORINTHIANS 15:20-26; LUKE 1:39-56 ]

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Life on this earth is always a battle between good and evil as we read in the first reading. In the book of Revelation, we read how the Church, represented by the woman, was harassed by the Evil One, represented by the huge red dragon.  This woman of course also represents Mary, the Mother of the Church.  The reality is that all of us are fighting against evil all the time.  Day in and day out, we are being challenged to remain faithful to the gospel values.  At times, we are able to overcome the temptations of the Evil One.  But there are also many times when we succumb to his temptations. The more we try to be faithful to the gospel, the more we fall.  This can be rather trying and disappointing, especially when we have just gone for a good confession.  Indeed, the Devil wants us to give up trying to be good and holy. He wants us to feel discouraged and condemn ourselves as hopeless recalcitrants.

When we feel defeated and want to give up fighting against evil, we can take courage on this solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The promise of final victory over the Evil One is most consoling.  We read in the first reading, “The woman brought a male child into the world, the son who was to rule all the nations with an iron scepter, and the child was taken straight up to God and to his throne.  Then I heard a voice shout from heaven, Victory and power and empire for ever have been won by our God and all authority for his Christ.”  Jesus Christ truly has won victory for us and He has conquered the Evil One.  So we need not feel that we have lost the battle against the Devil. Rather, our faith remains in Christ who has won that victory for us.

This certain victory has been claimed for Mary, for we read that “the woman escaped into the desert, where God had made a place of safety ready.”  This is what the Assumption is celebrating; that Mary has now shared in the glorification of our Lord.  She was given the special privilege of sharing the fullness of resurrection that has already been anticipated in Christ.  She is now in heaven waiting for the rest of the Church, the Body of Christ to join her.  While she remains there, she is also interceding for the Church so that the full body of Christ can be complete.   The assumption of Mary therefore is meant to be a source of hope for the Church, that where she is, we will be there too; and that we too will share in the glorification of the body when we die.

Our destiny after death is clear.  Unlike many in the world who fear death because it is seen as annihilation, we need not fear death because death has been overcome forever in the resurrection of Christ.  St Paul says that Christ “must be king until he has put all his enemies under his feet and the last of the enemies to be destroyed is death, for everything is to be put under his feet.”  Death, which is the cause of every sin on this earth and gives rise to selfishness and self-preservation, having been conquered once and for all by Christ dying to death and rising again, gives us confidence not to fear death as well.  We now know for certain that death is not the final word, or hatred and selfishness brought upon by death.  Love conquers death because love is stronger even than death.  Even after death, when we love someone, love lives on.  Nothing can overcome the power of love in terms of passion and in terms of time.  It is God’s love for us in Christ that overcomes death forever.

Mary’s assumption is the guarantee of our sharing in the resurrection.  Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, and Mary’s assumption of body and soul into heaven, we know where we will also be after death.  St Paul makes it clear that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is “the first-fruits of all who have fallen asleep. Death came through one man and in the same way the resurrection of the dead has come through one man. Just as all men die in Adam, so all men will be brought to life in Christ; but all of them in their proper order: Christ as the first-fruits and then, after the coming of Christ, those who belong to him.”

So this feast of Mary’s assumption is an important celebration to remind us that we should not subscribe to the materialistic world view that like the rest of the creatures on earth, when we die, we will be reduced to nothing or that we would be left with only an immortal soul.  Rather, Christian faith affirms the value of the body and hence the glorification of the body after death.  As human beings, we are constituted of body and soul; and whilst separated temporally at death, our body and soul will be reunited on the last day.

Accordingly, when we celebrate the feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, we need also to share with her the life she lived in Christ if we are to share in the resurrection as well.  If Mary was granted that privilege of sharing the resurrection of Christ before us, it was because she was sinless and intimately shared in the suffering of Christ on the cross. Mary was associated with Jesus in His redemptive work right from the beginning of her fiat to God’s will and throughout her life until the death of Christ on the cross, where she surrendered her only Son to the Father.  Beyond His death, Mary, given to the Church as the Mother when Christ was glorified at His death, played the role of giving encouragement to the primitive Church at prayer, interceding for her.

Concretely this means being receptive to grace, like Mary, all the time.  Salvation is not the work of man but principally the work of God.  That is why the Assumption of Mary is called a privilege, not a merit that Mary gained for her work.  It is purely a gift from God on account of God’s generosity.  The Church perceived it as fitting for her to be glorified based on tradition and scripture.  This was what Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.”  Her blessedness is purely due to God’s mercy and grace.

Mary is called ‘full of grace’ because God has not only bestowed upon her grace, but she has always been receptive to grace all her life.  In truth, God too has given us His grace but we are not always that responsive.  When we fail to be docile and receptive to His grace, this is where we fail and fall.  If we lack docility to His grace, it is because, unlike Mary, we are proud and arrogant.  This is what Mary again said, “He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.”  Humility is the way to obtain the grace of God to live a holy and blessed life.  Pride has been the downfall of the Devil and so is ours.  Many of us rebel against God, thinking we know everything instead of obeying His divine will for us.

So today, let is in faith cling to God’s promise given to Mary, realized in her and also given to us.  We need to be like Mary – carry Jesus in our hearts as she did in both her womb and her heart.  Like Mary, we are called to never doubt in God’s love and forgiveness but ”believe in the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”   Indeed, during this year of mercy, “He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

*Traditionally the Assumption of the B.V.M is celebrated on 15 August. By decree of The Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei this solemnity is being celebrated on Sunday, 14 August this year.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Wednesday, December 21, 2016 — “If the Lord is to dwell in our hearts, we must make time for silence and prayer.”

December 20, 2016

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Advent
Lectionary: 197

Image may contain: 1 person, standing

Reading 1 SG 2:8-14

Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
“Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one,
and come!
“For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come!“O my dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and you are lovely.”

Or 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 PS 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21

R. (1a; 3a) Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.
Sing to him a new song;
pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
But the plan of the LORD stands forever;
the design of his heart, through all generations.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield,
For in him our hearts rejoice;
in his holy name we trust.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting

The Visitation By Philippe de Champaigne.

Gospel LK 1:39-45

Mary set out in those days
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

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From Living Space from The Carmelites

Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-14 and Zephaniah 3:14-18

We have a choice of two First Readings today. The second, which is from the prophet Zephaniah, is for those who may find the passionate love implied in the passage from the Song of Songs a little strong for a liturgical celebration. The Song of Songs (also known as The Song of Solomon) is a collection of about 25 poems or parts of poems about human love and courtship, suitable for singing at weddings. “The poetry is graceful, sensuous and replete with erotic imagery and allusions to the ancient myth of the love of a god and a goddess on which the fertility of nature was thought to depend. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, loc. cit.). The pronouns (He, She…) imply that the speakers are a bridegroom (Lover), bride (Beloved) and chorus. Although it is called ‘The Song of Solomon’ the actual author is unknown. And, although dating from about the 3rd century BC, the symbols and motifs date from early mythology and have become the language of human love and courtship.

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Strangely enough, the book has no obvious religious content compared to other books in the Bible and it can only be given such an interpretation by finding a deeper symbolism in its highly graphic language. Its inclusion in the Old Testament can be explained by the Lord being called the “husband” of his people (Hos 2:16-19). In the Christian tradition, it has been understood as an allegory of the love of Christ for his bride, the Church (Rev 21:2,9), or as symbolising the intimate experience of divine love in the individual soul. The links between mystical experience and sexual ecstasy are not so far apart. We should be grateful that such a beautiful work has been included in our collection of God’s Word.
The choice of the reading for today is obviously linked to the Gospel account of the Visitation of Mary and Jesus to Elizabeth and John. The love expressed in the First Reading clearly points to a close, warm relationship between Jesus and John, where John represents each one of us. Perhaps we do not use this kind of passionate language when speaking to Jesus but there have been mystics who have not hesitated to do so. One thinks of John of the Cross or Ignatius of Loyola and even more of Teresa of Avila.

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As the passage opens, it is the Beloved, the girl who is speaking. She is living with her parents in the city. Not unlike the lover in one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, the Lover appears at the Beloved’s window. The door is closed and there is a forbidding wall. “He looks in at the window, he peers through the lattice.” He urges her to come away with him to the countryside. “Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.”

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The cold of winter, which is also the rainy season is past. It is now spring, the time of new life. Nature is bursting out in leaf and flower and the migrant birds have returned to make their nests. The cooing of turtle doves is heard, the first figs are appearing and the vines are in fragrant flower. And, of course, for humans, too, it is the season of love.
The Beloved is hiding in the clefts of the rock, a euphemism for her home, a place inaccessible to the Lover. “Show me your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face beautiful.”

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Jesus, too, is still hidden in the womb of his mother. His mother’s voice is enough to create a joyful reaction in John, in Elizabeth’s womb. He knows that where the Mother is, the Son must also be close by.

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It is important to realise that our Christian faith is not just a list of intellectual doctrines. Ultimately it is a life based on love, intimacy and affection for our brothers and sisters.

ALTERNATIVE  FIRST READING – from the prophet Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:14-18)

Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of King Josiah (640-609 BC) who did much to restore traditional Jewish religious customs. But his example was not followed and Zephaniah foretold disaster and this indeed happened with the collapse of the Assyrian empire brought about by the Babylonians who went to attack Egypt, an ally of Assyria. Josiah took sides with Egypt and was killed in a battle. It was to set the stage for one of Israel’s most painful memories – the Babylonian Captivity. While much of Zephaniah is a condemnation of religious infidelity, the last part from which today’s reading comes is a promise of better times to come for those who wait patiently for the Lord.

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Today’s passage consists of two psalms or hymns looking forward to the full restoration of Jerusalem to its former glory and religious faithfulness. The whole people (“daughter of Zion…daughter of Jerusalem”) are invited to celebrate the coming salvation. Words echoed in the words of the angel to Mary: “Rejoice! The Lord is with you.”

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In today’s celebration, it is the close presence of the Lord which is emphasised. “The Lord, the King of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear.” And again: “The Lord your God is in your midst.”

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Again, “The lord your God is in your midst…
He will exult with joy over you,
he will renew you by his love;
he will dance with shouts of joy for you…”

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There is also an air of joy. “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion!.. Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem.”

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All of this can fittingly be applied to Elizabeth as she welcomes Mary and Jesus and indicated by John jumping for joy in the womb of his mother. Let us too share their joy as we prepare to welcome the coming of our God among us in Jesus.

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Source: http://livingspace.sacredspace.ie/A1221r/

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Image may contain: outdoor

Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606–1669). The Visitation, 1640

Rembrandt uses light and shadow to train the viewer’s eye through the canvas. The brightest light falls on Mary and then Elizabeth. Mary has just traveled to see her cousin, whom the angel told her would be with child in her old age. There they both stand, pregnant by divine intervention—Elizabeth with John the Baptist and Mary with the Christ.

Rembrandt’s light focuses on the two women like a spotlight coming down from the heavens. As our eyes adjust to the scene we see the two servants. Beyond them at the edges of the frame we see Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah the priest, to the left and Joseph down and to the right.

A few years ago this Rembrandt traveled to my city as part of an exhibit about the Dutch Golden Age. I was struck by small size of the painting. It is just a little bigger than two by two and half feet. Still, Rembrandt doesn’t waste an inch of composition space, filling the dark background with an elaborate cityscape and the foreground with detailed foliage and architecture. The peacock looking on from the bottom left signifies Jesus’s royalty and immortality. Peacocks were regarded as kingly and there was a myth in Rembrandt’s day that their flesh never decayed.

The scene shows an ornate world in motion, but the meeting between these two women, though their pregnancies would transform that world forever, takes place with no fan-fare. As Isaiah said, there would be nothing about Jesus’s coming that would capture the world’s attention.

 

Consider

“When the angel Gabriel stood before Mary, the hypothetical gave way to the real. The ordinary stories all at once glistened under the extraordinary light of this celestial storyteller.

“As she listened, there rose inside her a sense that the glory of his tale was nothing new, but rather was older than time. She only needed uncommon light to see it. She had, Gabriel told her, found favor with God. She shouldn’t fear this visit or the message he brought.

“It must have been strange to stand before this seraph dressed in light, strong and otherworldly, and hear him tell her not to be afraid. Perhaps it was even stranger for Mary to discover that God had formed an overall impression of her. She was known by God, and he favored her. He liked what he saw?

“The angel then came to the reason for his visit. He told Mary she would conceive a son, who would rescue his people from their sins. God had already chosen his name— Jesus, which meant “salvation.”[1]

 

Examine

What do you think the angel means when he tells Mary she has found favor with God?

In what ways is the Christmas story globally epic? In what ways is it deeply personal? Are you drawn to one of those poles more than the other? Which one? Why?

Where are some places in your life where you need the help of a God who governs the cosmos? Where are some places in your life where you need a God who can cut into the deeply personal details of your heart?

http://russ-ramsey.com/day-19-the-ordinary-overshadowed-reflection-questions-and-art-during-advent/

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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21 DECEMBER, 2016, Wednesday, Weekday of Advent
JOY IS BORN OF THE PROMISE

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Song of Songs 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18a; Ps 32:2-3,11-12,20-21; Luke 1:39-45   ]

Christmas is often associated with joy.  One of the carols that we like to sing is “Joy to the world!”   What is the basis of this joy?  Namely, that the savior has come and that Christ has come to reign with His love and truth.  With Christ’s coming, there will be peace in our land and there will be love among men.  The thought of Christ’s coming therefore fills those without love and without peace with expectant joy.  This joy is born out of this promise.  This is the message of today’s scripture readings as we enter the 5th day of the “O” Antiphons that prepare us for the coming of Christ.

Indeed in the first reading from the Book of Songs, the mystical love and union between God and His bride, the Church is portrayed in terms of human love between two lovers.  The Book of the Song of Songs is really a compendium of love songs for a wedding.  Love is full of joy and admiration at the beauty of our loved ones.  “I hear my Beloved.  See how he comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills. My Beloved is like a gazelle, like a young stag.”  She says, “My dove, hiding in the clefts of the rock, in the coverts of the cliff, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.”  Love is attentive, always paying attention and observing the details of our beloved.   “See where he stands behind our wall. He looks in at the window, he peers through the lattice.”   Where there is love, there is newness of life and we see things in a new perspective.  “For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.”

Indeed, anyone who is in love with God is filled with joy.  When the love of God fills the person’s hearts, the things of this world pale in comparison with His love.  “If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.” (Songs 8:7b) Love gives us meaning and purpose in life.  To fall in love with God is the greatest thing on this earth.  When God’s love is in our hearts, we find deeper inner peace, joy and security.  St Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (1 Cor 13:19b-20)

Secondly, the joy of Christmas comes from liberation.  In the optional reading from Zephaniah, the prophet said, “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has repealed your sentence; he has driven your enemies away.”   Indeed, the Lord has come to take away our shame.  He has come to take away all that harm and destroy us.  He will help us to overcome our inner enemies, that is our sins and selfishness; and He will liberate us from our external enemies, pain, suffering and injustices.  The prophet assures us that God is our warrior.  He will fight the battle for us.  We only need to rely on His strength and might.  “The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear. When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem: Zion, have no fear, do not let your hands fall limp. The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.”   Both in today’s acclamation before the gospel and at the Magnificat at vespers, we pray, “O Key of David, who open the gates of the eternal kingdom, come to liberate from prison the captive who lives in darkness.”

Truly, when the Lord is in us, we feel liberated from all fears, worries and anxieties.  All our sins come from fear and the desire to protect our self-interests.  We fear death, hunger and pain.  But the Lord shows us that love is stronger than death and selfishness.  So like the lover, we say to the Lord, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”  (Songs 8:6-7a)

The Good News is that the Lord is coming and He has come.  “My Beloved lifts up his voice, he says to me, ‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.”  The Lord is saying to us, “Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.”  In a real way, the Lord comes to us in the Incarnation.  In the gospel reading, we read of how the Lord came to visit Elizabeth in the womb of Mary.  “Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”   The coming of the Lord filled Elizabeth with joy and John the Baptist also leapt for joy.

The Lord comes to us again and again.  He comes to us when we receive Him in the Eucharist, just as our Blessed Mother carried the Lord in the tabernacle of her womb.  Whenever we receive the Eucharist with a pure heart, a clear conscience and a devout spirit, the Lord enters into our lives and renews the Holy Spirit given to us at our baptism.   If our disposition is right, the Lord comes, but most of the time we do not recognize His real presence in the Eucharist.  This explains why although many Catholics receive communion every Sunday, nothing is happening in their lives. They receive without reverence, without a conscious recognition of Christ’s presence in the bread and most of all, in the seriousness of their sins.

Still, the Lord can come to us anew if we receive Him in the sacrament of reconciliation.  The Lord wants to set us free from our prison of sin and misery.  Our pride, self-righteousness, egotism and anger often blind us to the reality of the truth.   If we want to be set free to find love and peace, then we need to seek His forgiveness; and then extend this forgiveness to our fellowmen and all those who have hurt us.  So if we have not yet frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we will be losing a great opportunity of grace.  How can there be peace and joy at Christmas when one is not reconciled with God and with our loved ones and our fellowmen?  If we want peace, let us make peace with ourselves, with God and others.

The Lord comes especially also in the compassion and mercy that others show to us, or vice versa.  Mary, hearing that Elizabeth was pregnant in her old age immediately responded to her help.  She travelled a great distance to help her cousin.  We too like Mary are called to be channels of grace and love.  She not only literally brought Jesus to Elizabeth and John the Baptist but she herself became the presence of Jesus to them.  Through her kindness and graciousness, Elizabeth immediately sensed the divine presence in her heart and womb.  We too must do the same.  As we reach out to the lonely, the sick, the wounded, the hungry and the poor, we come to encounter Christ in them and they encounter Christ in us.

If the Lord were to dwell in our hearts, we must make time for silence and prayer.  “Give thanks to the Lord upon the harp, with a ten-stringed lute sing him songs. O sing him a song that is new, play loudly, with all your skill.”  This last week of Advent is an intense period of expectancy which is aroused and strengthened by prayer, meditation and contemplation.  We must seek and desire that our Lord comes into our lives.  Like the love who said, “Upon my bed at night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” (Songs 3:1-2)  Let us wait for the Lord in prayer and good works.  “Our soul is waiting for the Lord. The Lord is our help and our shield. In him do our hearts find joy. We trust in his holy name.”  Let us not delay any longer but have faith.  “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh
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Related:

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Edward Leen totally believes in the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit” in every human being. His book “Holy Spirit” works for everbody.

Karl Rahner also believed in the gift of the Holy Spirit in every human being. Rahner says, “To get more, give more.”

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Worrying claim: Professor Patrick Pullicino said doctors had turned the use of a controversial ¿death pathway¿ into the equivalent of euthanasia of the elderly

Worrying claim: In Britain, Professor Patrick Pullicino said doctors had turned the use of a controversial ‘death pathway’ into the equivalent of euthanasia of the elderly

Prayer and Meditation for Tuesday, May 31, 2016 — “The LORD has removed the judgment against you has turned away your enemies.” (The Greatest Reprieve)

May 30, 2016

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 572

The Visitation, By Antonio de Pereda y Salgado

“Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction and persevere in prayer.”

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.

Or ROM 12:9-16

Brothers and sisters:
Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you,
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

Responsorial PsalmISAIAH 12:2-3, 4BCD, 5-6

R. (6) 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. 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. 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. Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Alleluia SEE LK 1:45

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are you, O Virgin Mary, who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the infant leaped in her womb.’

Gospel LK 1:39-56

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.”

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

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Homily Ideas for The Visitation
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Today’s feast celebrates the special place that Mary has in the life of the Church. This place is first of all defined by her being chosen to be the mother of Jesus, his only human parent. This alone gives her a uniqueness which is shared by no other person who has ever lived.

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As with the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we need to look at the meaning of what the feast is about rather than being too literal in our understanding of how it is described in scripture.

Today’s Gospel is the story of Mary’s visitation to her cousin, Elizabeth, when both were expecting their first child. The story contains most of the elements which contribute to the status we give to Mary in our Church.

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First, we see Mary setting out with haste from Nazareth to a small town in the hills of Judea, not far from Jerusalem (where Zechariah served as a priest in the Temple), to visit her older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the child we know as John the Baptist. Mary herself, of course, is carrying her own child, Jesus. It is highly significant that it is Mary and Jesus who go to visit Elizabeth and John. Already in the womb, Jesus is showing that urge to serve rather than be served. Mary, too, shares that urge. And, at the presence of Jesus and his mother, the child in Elizabeth’s womb jumps for joy.

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Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, excitedly bursts out into praise. She recognises the special position of Mary and her Son: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary is indeed unique and blessed in being chosen to be the mother of our saving King and Lord. Elizabeth is deeply moved that it is Jesus and his Mother that come to her and John: “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” And yet that is what is happening to each of us all the time, and especially in every celebration of the Eucharist when the Lord comes to us in the sharing of his Word and in the breaking of the bread and our sharing in the cup.

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And there is a special word of praise for Mary also: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” This brings us to the second characteristic of Mary: her faith and total trust in God. That was expressed in her fiat (‘Let it be done to me…’), when, even though not fully understanding what was being asked of her, she unconditionally accepted to submit to God’s plan.

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It is now Mary’s turn to sing God’s praises in the lovely song we called the Magnificat, which the Church sings at its evening prayer every day. It is full of reflections on what makes Mary great in the eyes of God.

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“He has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.”

Mary was a simple unmarried girl living in obscurity in a small town in an out of the way Roman province.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Mary’s greatness was not just in being chosen to be Jesus’ mother but in her total acceptance of that responsibility in faith and trust, accepting blindly all that it might entail. And, indeed, she had no idea the price she would have to pay to be the mother of Jesus. But, again, like her Son she had emptied herself in total service to him and to day we celebrate her reward, her being raised to the highest place among the human race.

In the human race we see today, perhaps we have forgotten how to full appreciate and protect human life.

We need to constantly look to Mary and Joseph who never question God’s plan — but fully accept what they have been chosen to do.

May we do the same with half as much fidelity. That would be a miracle for me!

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A Word About The Sanctity of Human Life

Catholics are taught that all life is sacred from conception until natural death, and the taking of innocent human life, whether born or unborn, is morally wrong. The Church teaches, “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, Who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being” (Donum Vitae, 5). This puts Catholics at odds with many people on issues of abortion and euthanasia.

Related:

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God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to 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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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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31 MAY 2016, Tuesday, 9th Week in Ordinary Time

The Feast of the Visitation

MINISTERS OF THE GOSPEL OF JOY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ZEPH 3:14-18 OR ROM 12:9-16; LUKE 1:39-56  ]

The scripture readings of today’s feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary exude joy from beginning to end, both in the first reading and in the gospel.  To the Israelites in exile, the prophet said, “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!” For Mary, she too exulted in joy.  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.” John the Baptist also leapt for joy.  Elizabeth exclaimed, “”Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.”

We have just completed the Feast of Pentecost when the Lord commanded us all to go and proclaim the Good News to all creation.  This Good News therefore must be one that gives joy to those who receive them.  But it can only be of great joy to those who hear them provided the messengers themselves are filled with joy.  On this feast of the Visitation of Mary, we are called to imitate Mary by being messengers of joy to others.  In this way, we too become like Mary, bearing the visitation of our Lord.

How can we be joyful messengers of the gospel unless we ourselves have been recipients of joy?  We cannot give what we have not received.  Mary was the recipient of that joy herself.  She was not only called to be the mother of the Saviour but her real joy was that the Lord was not only with her but in her.   She was filled with joy simply because God was so close to her, truly the Emmanuel.  This is but the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zephaniah when he said, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He 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.”

When we know that the Lord is with us as our warrior and commander, we have no fear, just as the angel said to Mary, “Do not be afraid.”  In a similar vein, the prophet said, “The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear. When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem: Zion, have no fear, do not let your hands fall limp.”  Thus Mary could exalt when she herself with confidence proclaimed the saving help of God. “Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him. He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Indeed, when the Lord is with us, we are free from slavery and bondage, like the Israelites.  The Lord has given us new purpose, new hope and meaning.  So the Good News is proclaimed to the downtrodden, the lowly and the poor.  God has come to assure us that He is with us.  This explains the joy of Mary, Elizabeth and John the Baptist.  So, too, in the resurrection appearances, the disciples were filled with joy when the Lord appeared to them.  To have Jesus so near to them, in their womb and in their midst gave them joy that was incomparable.  Indeed, whoever knows that the Lord is with him or her will no longer fear about tomorrow!   St Paul wrote, “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” (Rom 14:8)   We too are filled with joy whenever we are at prayer and feeling His healing and assuring presence.

But for some of us, we have lost this joy.  What is the reason for losing the joy of the Lord?  What are the enemies of our joy?  In truth, unlike the Israelites, our real enemies are not external enemies. It has to do with ourselves.  

Our enemy, as the Magnificat tells us, firstly is the lack of faith.  We lack faith in the Lord and therefore we live in fear and anxiety.  Mary was called to be the mother of the Saviour.  Of all peoples, we would expect Mary to be full of fear and anxiety at the prospect of her pregnancy; how she would have to explain to Joseph and her family, and her community.  But we read that upon receiving the message of the angel, she left everything into the hands of the Lord.  Instead of focusing on her needs and her future, she turned outwards and immediately went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who too was pregnant with John the Baptist, in her old age.  Indeed, the remark of Elizabeth captures the spirit of Mary when she said, “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Secondly, it is the enemy of pride.  Mary said, “He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.”  Only the humble and lowly, the anawim can receive the blessings of God.  Many of us rely on our own strength, on our wealth, power and talents.   That explains why the modern man and woman are so proud of their achievements.  They think that their success is all due to their hard work, ingenuity and intelligence.  Such people are arrogant and look down on others who are not as successful as them.  But the day they are struck down, with a marriage failure, an incurable illness, a tragedy or an accident, they will come to realize their nothingness and finiteness.

Thirdly, it is the enemy of self-sufficiency.  “The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.”  Many of us cannot feel the presence of God in our lives because we do not need Him.  We think we can manage by ourselves.  This is what the humanist is saying to us.  We do not need God.  We can solve all problems by ourselves.  We have intelligence and with will, we can conquer the sky.  There is nothing we cannot do, no problem we cannot solve.  Such self-sufficient people cannot feel with others.  They lack the humility to know their limitations.  That is why God only comes to those who need Him and acknowledge that only He is sufficient.  When we are self-sufficient, we live in fear of losing what we have.  But if our sufficiency is in God, we live a life of freedom and detachment.  St Paul wrote, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:12f)

Fourthly, it is the enemy of ingratitude.  When we are proud and self-sufficient, we lack gratitude for what we have because we feel that we have earned them and hence there is no one to whom we need to be grateful to.  An ungrateful person is an unhappy person because he is not appreciative of what he has.  Mary was a woman who felt blessed, not because of her merits but by the grace of God.  And so with great joy, she could say, “Yes, from this day on all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.” Her greatness, she knows, comes from God and therefore she did not rejoice in herself and become proud, but instead she remained always humble before the Lord and His people, for she did not merit her position as the Mother of the Savior, or whatever she has been blessed with.  For her, everything is pure grace.

So if we have lost our joy, we need to come back to the Lord.  The Lord wants to be with us but we must welcome Him like Mary, Elizabeth and St John the Baptist.  He wants to fill us with His joy and peace.

We begin this process by recounting the wonderful things that the Lord has blessed us with.  Like Mary, we must recall the good things that the Lord has done for us.  As the psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord, give praise to his name! Make his mighty deeds known to the peoples!  Declare the greatness of his name. Sing a psalm to the Lord for he has done glorious deeds; make them known to all the earth!  People of Zion, sing and shout for joy, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Giving thanks and praise for all that He has done for us like Mary is the way to recover that joy which we have lost.

Secondly, we must then pass that joy to others, the same way that Mary did.  St Paul invites us to live a life of charity like Mary in reaching out to others.  He said, “Do not let your love be a pretence, but sincerely prefer good to evil. Love each other as much as brothers should, and have a profound respect for each other. Work for the Lord with untiring effort and with great earnestness of Spirit.”  (Rom 12:8-11)  When we share the joy that we have received from the Lord, that joy multiplies and increases.  Mary in bringing the joy to Elizabeth and John the Baptist augmented her own joy.  Whenever joy is shared, joy increases.  We do not keep joy to ourselves.  The sign of true joy is that of spontaneity in sharing that joy with others, just like the outbursts of Mary and Elizabeth and John the Baptist in thanksgiving. Again St Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and be sad with those in sorrow. Treat everyone with equal kindness; never be condescending but make real friends with the poor.” (Rom 12:15f)

 

 

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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Prayer and Meditation for Monday, December 21, 2015 — “I have come to serve and not to be served.” — Proclaim the message of liberation

December 20, 2015

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent
Lectionary: 197

Art: The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth,  by Florentine Artist Domenico Ghirlandiao, in 1491.

Elizabeth realises that Mary is going to be the mother of Christ and falls to her knees – and her own babe , the future John the Baptist ,“leaped in her womb for joy” in recognition of the promised Saviour.

Reading 1 SG 2:8-14

Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
“Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one,
and come!
“For see, the winter is past,
the rains are over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of pruning the vines has come,
and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance.
Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one,
and come!“O my dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and you are lovely.”

Or 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 PS 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21

R. (1a; 3a) Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
Give thanks to the LORD on the harp;
with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises.
Sing to him a new song;
pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
But the plan of the LORD stands forever;
the design of his heart, through all generations.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield,
For in him our hearts rejoice;
in his holy name we trust.
R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.

Alleluia

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
O Emmanuel, our King and Giver of Law:
come to save us, Lord our God!
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 1:39-45

Mary set out in those days
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,
“Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.
Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”
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Meditation from Living Space
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We continue reading from Luke, picking up from yesterday’s text. In the last two days we heard about the two annunciations – to Zechariah and to Mary – about the birth of two special children, John the Baptist and Jesus. Obviously, both mothers, cousins to each other, must have been very excited about the birth of their first child. They were anxious to share together their joy and happiness. In one way, it would make sense for Mary to visit Elizabeth, because the younger should visit the older. On the other hand, Elizabeth should be the one to visit because Mary’s child was a person of such rank and dignity, God’s own Son. In a way, the story is more interested in the children than in the mothers. And Luke uses his Infancy Narrative as a vehicle to present in advance some of the characteristics of Jesus’ future life. Here it is the characteristic of service that he illustrates.
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Jesus later on will say, “I have come to serve and not to be served.” And so, still in his mother’s womb, he comes to visit his cousin, John, rather than wait at home to be visited. The power of the Spirit is also much in evidence. John leaps in his mother’s womb at the very sound of Jesus’ voice. His mother recognises this as the power of God in Jesus reaching out to her son. Elizabeth herself is also filled with the Spirit and recognises in her young cousin the Mother of her Lord. As we saw, the choice of the First Reading is interesting. It is taken from the Song of Solomon, a poem of the passionate love between two young people. It is a fitting expression of the love that should exist between Jesus and his followers and between the followers themselves. There is no such thing as a purely ‘spiritual’ love. True love literally ‘em-bodies’ the whole person – spirit, mind, emotion and body. Mary, filled with the Spirit, will soon break out into that wonderful hymn of praise that we call the Magnificat, a hymn that will proclaim the message of liberation Jesus will later deliver by word and action. We will see that tomorrow.
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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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21 DECEMBER 2015, Monday, 4th Week of Advent
WELCOMING THE BELOVED WITH ANTICIPATORY JOY

SCRIPTURE READINGS: SONGS 2:8-14 OR ZEP 3:14-18A; LUKE 1:39-45

What is it like to welcome someone whom you love dearly?  We all know the joy of anticipating the meeting with someone we love, especially if that person is our beloved.  Many of us would take much trouble to prepare ourselves to meet that person.  And if the person is coming to our house, we would make sure we clean up the place, decorate it with a nice ambience and prepare the best food and delicacies to serve our guest.  We only want the best for that person because we love him or her.  We want her to feel happy to be with us, to enjoy our company and share our love and joy.  Indeed, the preparation to receive our guest is already such a great joy.  The thought of meeting our beloved gives us much consolation and joy.  The waiting itself is filled with yearning and thoughts and feelings of love.

This is what the scripture readings of today invite us to do.  As Christmas is just a few days away, the Church is asking us whether we are ready to receive our guest, who is not just human but also divine.  Are we ready with our preparations to make Him feel welcome, not just physically but most of all, whether our hearts are ready to receive Him?  In other words, are we filled with joy and expectation just thinking of receiving Jesus into our lives?

In the scriptures we are told of how Israel was filled with joyful expectation of the Lord’s coming.  The first reading from the Book of Song of Songs portrays Israel as the beloved of God.   The lover is of course the Lord Himself.  Israel was delighted to know that God was coming.  The author says, “I hear my Beloved. See how he comes leaping on the mountains, bounding over the hills. My Beloved is like a gazelle, like a young stag.”  Yes, that is how God loves us.  He is excited about us and His joy is to love us.  He calls us His beloved too. “My Beloved lifts up his voice, he says to me, ‘Come then, my love, my lovely one, come.”  Truly, He is inviting us to come to Him.  This is fulfilled in the gospel when Christ, still in the womb of Mary, came to fill John the Baptist who was in the womb of Elizabeth.  Hence, “she gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?  For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy.”

However, God is a “shy” lover.  He does not force Himself on us.  He needs to be invited.  That was how the author describes God.  “See where he stands behind our wall.  He looks in at the window, he peers through the lattice.”  If we want God to come into our lives, then we must invite Him and open our hearts to receive Him.  If we are still lacking this joyful expectation of the birth of Christ, is it because our hearts are too preoccupied with many non-essential things like the rest of the world than with the most important thing which is the birthday boy Himself?  I am afraid that many of us are not much different from the world in our preparations for Christmas, focusing on the material preparations, the merry making, the gifts, the decorations, etc, but not on our personal relationship with the Lord.  How could we ever celebrate Christmas, the birth of Christ, without Christ Himself?  The joy of Christmas is more than dinners, parties and merrymaking but the encounter with the love of Christ.  With this experience of Christ’s peace and love in our hearts, we in turn would want to share Him with others through the sharing of gifts, love and fellowship.  Unless such celebrations are rooted in Christ, they are empty, superficial and we have missed out the true meaning of Christmas.  And thus Christmas will not bring us the joy and peace we hope it would.

But if we make room for our beloved Lord to come to our house, just as Mary and Elizabeth did by opening their hearts to the Lord, then we, too, will receive peace and joy.  For those who are reconciled with the Lord, and have made their peace with God and their fellowmen, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, they too will see the fruits of Christ’s coming.  As the author says, with the coming of the Beloved, it means that “winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.”  So great is the joy that this joy is expressed in dancing. “He 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.”  The Prophet invited Israel in similar terms when he wrote, “Shout for joy, daughter of Zion, Israel, shout aloud! Rejoice, exult with all your heart, daughter of Jerusalem!”  Even John the Baptist leapt for joy in the womb of his mother.  If we are not leaping for joy, it is an indication that our hearts are perhaps not really disposed to receive Him yet.  We have not entered into the experience of being loved and embraced by our beloved.  God remains distant from us.  All who are in love are always full of joy.  The psalmist remarks, “They are happy, whose God is the Lord, the people he has chosen as his own.”  Indeed, to belong to the Lord, to be His Chosen as His own truly make us feel so loved and special.

As a result, we no longer have to live in shame and in fear.  The Prophet Zephaniah said, “The Lord has repealed your sentence; he has driven your enemies away. The Lord, the king of Israel, is in your midst; you have no more evil to fear. When that day comes, word will come to Jerusalem: Zion, have no fear, do not let your hands fall limp. The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.”  With God in our midst and as our warrior, we need not fear about our future or our past.  The former is certain and the latter is forgotten.  Indeed, if many of us are fearful about our past and the future, it is because we have not brought Christ into our daily life and our struggles.  So long as God is with us, as He was with Moses, the prophets, Mary and Christ, then we can be certain that we can overcome all suffering, trials and challenges in life.  He will see us through and prove us victorious.

But how does He come into our lives so that we can be filled with joy?  Alas, Christ has come and is coming all the time, but because we have not been attentive, we have missed Him.  Christ comes to us through the ordinary events in life.  He came to Elizabeth in her cousin, Mary, who bore Him in her womb.  He comes to us too in the daily events of our life, in our joys and sorrows, in good and bad times.  But faith is necessary to see Him.  It was the faith of Elizabeth that enabled her to see that Mary was truly the mother of her Lord.  She could have doubted Mary’s claim to carrying the Messiah. Of course, she herself, having a miraculously conceived of John the Baptist, knew that nothing is impossible to God.  Thus she was filled with joy for Mary.  “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” With faith comes hope. With hope comes joy. The hope of liberation, of being loved and forgiven, of having a new life, fills us with joy indeed.

Secondly, He fills us with joy when we share the joy we have received.  We find Elizabeth and Mary filled with joy because both of them shared with each other what the Lord had done for them.  No greater joy can we have than to share with someone whom we love the joy that is in us. When joy is shared, it is doubled.  That is why at Christmas we underscore the importance of giving gifts.  As we give ourselves to others, we find joy.  Making ourselves a gift to others is what Christmas is all about because God makes Himself a gift to us in Christ.  Of course, the greatest joy we can give to someone this Christmas is to give Him Jesus.  Have you shared with someone what Christ has done for you as Mary did with Elizabeth?  If you have not, then, although you might have given many gifts, you would have failed to give THE giver of all gifts to those whom you love so much.  The gifts we give to others will soon be forgotten but if we give them Jesus, He will see them through not just today, tomorrow or next month, but throughout the year and beyond.

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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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Song of Songs

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon, the Canticle of Canticles, or simply Canticles (Hebrew: שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים Šîr HašŠîrîm ; Greek: ᾎσμα ᾈσμάτων asma asmaton, both meaning “song of songs”), is one of the megillot (scrolls) of the Ketuvim (the “Writings”, the last section of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible), and the fifth of the “wisdom” books of the Christian Old Testament.[1]

Scripturally, the Song of Songs is unique in its celebration of sexual love.[2] It gives “the voices of two lovers, praising each other, yearning for each other, proffering invitations to enjoy”.[3] The two are in harmony, each desiring the other and rejoicing in sexual intimacy; the women (or “daughters”) of Jerusalem form a chorus to the lovers, functioning as an audience whose participation in the lovers’ erotic encounters facilitates the participation of the reader.[4]

In modern Judaism, the Song is read on the Sabbath during the Passover, which marks the beginning of the grain harvest as well as commemorating the Exodus from Egypt. Jewish tradition reads it as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel.[5] Christian tradition, in addition to appreciating the literal meaning of a romantic song between man and woman, has read the poem as an allegory of Christ (the bridegroom) and his Church (the bride).[6]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Song_of_Songs

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 Saturday, May 31, 2014 — “More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

May 30, 2014

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Elizabeth (left) visited by Mary, the Visitation, by Philippe de Champaigne

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lectionary: 572

Reading 1 zep 3:14-18a

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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.
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or rom 12:9-16

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Brothers and sisters:
Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
exercise hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you,
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Have the same regard for one another;
do not be haughty but associate with the lowly;
do not be wise in your own estimation.

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Responsorial Psalm is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

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R. (6) 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. 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. 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. Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.
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Gospel lk 1:39-56

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Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’

And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant. Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed,
for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name,
and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him.
He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart.
He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly.
He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love
-according to the promise he made to our ancestors — of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.
Mary stayed with her some three months and then went home.

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The feast of the Visitation recalls to us the following great truths and events: The visit of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth shortly after the Annunciation; the cleansing of John the Baptist from original sin in the womb of his mother at the words of Our Lady’s greeting; Elizabeth’s proclaiming of Mary—under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost—as Mother of God and “blessed among women”; Mary’s singing of the sublime hymn, Magnificat (“My soul doth magnify the Lord”) which has become a part of the daily official prayer of the Church. The Visitation is frequently depicted in art, and was the central mystery of St. Francis de Sales’ devotions.

The Mass of today salutes her who in her womb bore the King of heaven and earth, the Creator of the world, the Son of the Eternal Father, the Sun of Justice. It narrates the cleansing of John from original sin in his mother’s womb. Hearing herself addressed by the most lofty title of “Mother of the Lord” and realizing what grace her visit had conferred on John, Mary broke out in that sublime canticle of praise proclaiming prophetically that henceforth she would be venerated down through the centuries:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me, and holy is His name” (Lk. 1:46).

—Excerpted from the Cathedral Daily Missal

This feast is of medieval origin, it was kept by the Franciscan Order before 1263, and soon its observance spread throughout the entire Church. Previously it was celebrated on July 2. Now it is celebrated between the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord and the birth of St. John the Baptist, in conformity with the Gospel accounts. Some places appropriately observe a celebration of the reality and sanctity of human life in the womb. The liturgical color is white.

According to the 1962 Missal of Bl. John XXIII the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, today is the feast of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Petronilla. The feast of the Queenship of Mary is now celebrated in the Ordinary Rite on August 22.

Aurelia Petronilla was guided in the Faith by St. Peter, the first pope. She died three days after refusing to marry a pagan nobleman, Flaccus. There is no historic proof that she was martyred, but an early fresco clearly represents her as a martyr. Her feast is no longer on the calendar.


The Visitation
And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda. [Lk. 1:39]

How lyrical that is, the opening sentence of St. Luke’s description of the Visitation. We can feel the rush of warmth and kindness, the sudden urgency of love that sent that girl hurrying over the hills. “Those days” in which she rose on that impulse were the days in which Christ was being formed in her, the impulse was his impulse.

Many women, if they were expecting a child, would refuse to hurry over the hills on a visit of pure kindness. They would say they had a duty to themselves and to their unborn child which came before anything or anyone else.

The Mother of God considered no such thing. Elizabeth was going to have a child, too, and although Mary’s own child was God, she could not forget Elizabeth’s need—almost incredible to us, but characteristic of her.

She greeted her cousin Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice, John quickened in his mother’s womb and leapt for joy.

I am come, said Christ, that they may have life and may have it more abundantly. [Jn. 10, 10] Even before He was born His presence gave life.

With what piercing shoots of joy does this story of Christ unfold! First the conception of a child in a child’s heart, and then this first salutation, an infant leaping for joy in his mother’s womb, knowing the hidden Christ and leaping into life.

How did Elizabeth herself know what had happened to Our Lady? What made her realize that this little cousin who was so familiar to her was the mother of her God?

She knew it by the child within herself, by the quickening into life which was a leap of joy.

If we practice this contemplation taught and shown to us by Our Lady, we will find that our experience is like hers.

If Christ is growing in us, if we are at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems to be, from it He is forming Himself; if we go with eager wills, “in haste,” to wherever our circumstances compel us, because we believe that He desires to be in that place, we shall find that we are driven more and more to act on the impulse of His love.

And the answer we shall get from others to those impulses will be an awakening into life, or the leap into joy of the already wakened life within them.

Excerpted from The Reed of God, Caryll Houselander

Patronage: St. Elizabeth: Expectant mothers.

Symbols: St. Elizabeth or Elisabeth: Pregnant woman saluting the Virgin; Elderly woman holding St. John Baptist; huge rock with a doorway in it; in company with St. Zachary.
St. Zacharias or Zachary: Priest’s robes; thurible; altar; angel; lighted taper; Phyrgian helmet.

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/calendar/day.cfm?date=2014-05-31

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“Visitation”, from Altarpiece of the Virgin (St Vaast Altarpiece) by Jacques Daret, c. 1435 (Staatliche Museen, Berlin)

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection

• Today is the Feast of the Visitation of the Virgin, and the Gospel narrates the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. When Luke speaks of Mary, he thinks of the communities of his time which lived dispersed in the cities of the Roman Empire and offers to them, Mary as a model of how they should relate to the Word of God. Once, hearing Jesus speak about God, a woman in the crowd exclaimed: “Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you”, praising the mother of Jesus.

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Immediately Jesus answered: “More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11, 27-28). Mary is the model of the faithful community which knows how to live and practice the Word of God. In describing the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, he teaches how the communities should act in order to transform the visit of God into service of the brother and sisters.

• The episode of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth also shows another typical aspect of Luke. All the words and the attitudes, especially the Canticle of Mary, form a great celebration of praise. It seems to be a description of a solemn Liturgy. Thus, Luke evokes the liturgical and celebrative environment, in which Jesus was formed and in which the communities should live their own faith.

• Luke 1, 39-40: Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Luke stresses the haste with which Mary responds to the demands of the Word of God. The Angel spoke to her about the pregnancy of Elizabeth and Mary, immediately, rises in order to verify what the Angel had announced, she goes out of the house to help a person in need. From Nazareth to the mountain of Judah there are about 100 kilometres! There were no buses or trains!

• Luke 1, 41-44: The greeting of Elizabeth. Elizabeth represents the Old Testament which ends. Mary, the New One which is beginning. The Old Testament welcomes, accepts the New One with gratitude and trust, recognizing in it the gratuitous gift of God which comes to realize and to complete whatever expectation people had. In the encounter of the two women, is manifested the gift of the Spirit which makes the child jump with joy in Elizabeth’s womb.

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The Good News of God reveals his presence in one of the most common things of human life: two housewives who exchange the visit to help one another. A visit, joy, pregnancy, children, reciprocal help, house, family: Luke wants to make the communities (and all of us) understand and discover the presence of the Kingdom. The words of Elizabeth, up until now, form part of the best known and most recited Psalm in the world, which is the Hail Mary.

• Luke 1, 45: The praise which Elizabeth makes of Mary. “Blessed is she who believed that the promise made by the Lord would be fulfilled”. This is Luke’s advice to the communities: to believe in the Word of God, because it has the force to realize what it says. It is a creative Word. It generates a new life in the womb of a virgin, in the womb of the poor and abandoned people who accept it with faith.

• Luke 1, 46-56: The canticle of Mary. Most probably, this canticle was already known and sung in the Communities. It teaches how it should be prayed and sung. Luke 1, 46-56: Mary begins proclaiming the change which has come about in her life under the loving look of God, full of mercy. This is why she sings joyfully: “My spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour”. Luke 1, 51-53: she sings the fidelity of God toward his people and proclaims the change which the arm of Yahweh is bringing about in behalf of the poor and the hungry.

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The expression “arm of God” recalls the liberation of the Exodus. It is this saving force of God which gives life to the change: he has routed the arrogant of heart (1, 51), he has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly (1, 52), he has sent the rich away empty, and has filled the starving with good things (1, 53). Luke 1, 54-55: at the end, she recalls that all that is the expression of God’s mercy toward his people and an expression of his fidelity to the promises made to Abraham. The Good News is not a response to the observance of the Law, but the expression of the goodness and the fidelity of God to the promises made. That is what Paul taught in the letters to the Galatians and to the Romans.

The second Book of Samuel tells the story of the Ark of the Covenant. David wants to put in his own house, but he is frightened and says: “How can the Ark of Yahweh come to be with me?” (2 S 6, 9). Then David ordered that the Ark be placed in the house of Obed-Edom. And the Ark of Yahweh remained three months in the house of Obed-Edom, and the Lord blessed Obed-Edom and his whole family” (2 S 6, 11). Mary, waiting for Jesus, is like the Ark of the Covenant which, in the Old Testament, visited the houses of the persons granting benefits. She goes to Elizabeth’s house and remained there three months. And while she is in Elizabeth’s house, the whole family is blessed by God. The community should be like the New Ark of the Covenant. Visiting the house of the persons, it should take benefits and the grace of God to the people.

Personal questions

• What prevents us from discovering and living the joy of God’s presence in our life?

• Where and how does the joy of the presence of God take place today in my life and in that of the community?

Concluding Prayer

Bless Yahweh, my soul, from the depths of my being,
his holy name;
bless Yahweh, my soul,
never forget all his acts of kindness. (Ps 103,1-2)

http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-visitation-blessed-virgin-mary

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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BE A REAL CHRISTIAN! EVANGELIZE IN THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT  

SCRIPTURE READINGS: ACTS 18:23-28; JOHN 16:23-28
http://www.universalis.com/20140531mass.htm

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/31-may-2014-saturday-6th-week-of-easter/#sthash.JJ7jTuQG.dpuf

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What does it take to be a true Christian?  Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical “God is Love”, states that “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  In the light of this definition, the scripture readings invite us to examine the depth of our relationship with the Lord.

The first group of Catholics who have a deficient faith belongs to those who are ignorant about their Faith.   Unfortunately, many of us Catholics do not take the trouble to deepen our understanding of the faith.  We do not read the scriptures daily, much less explore further our knowledge of the Church’s doctrines and practices.  For many of us, the last time we received any proper instructions on our faith was in RCIA class.  This is ironical because in the corporate world today, one cannot survive in any industry without upgrading one’s knowledge to keep pace with the changing world.   We make time for all kinds of courses, even those not related to our work, but we have no time for our spiritual growth.  We do not realize that understanding our faith better will determine the way we live our lives meaningfully and holistically.

The second group of Catholics is slightly better than the first. They are the intellectuals.  They do make some effort to study about their faith.  They are akin to Apollos in the first reading.  He was an Alexandrian Jew and a good model of what a Christian should be.  We read that “he was an eloquent man, with a sound knowledge of the scriptures.”  He had also “been given instruction in the Way of the Lord and preached with great earnestness and was accurate in all the details he taught about Jesus.”  So this man seems to be knowledgeable in his faith and at the same time, evangelical as well in reaching out to those who do not know Jesus.

Yet, in spite of Apollos’ great enthusiasm, “he had only experienced the baptism of John.”  In other words, he never had a real personal encounter with the Lord Jesus.  He had not yet received the Holy Spirit, which is given only in baptism.  The baptism of John the Baptist was only for the forgiveness of sins but not sufficient for the reception of the Holy Spirit, the personal love of God the Father and the Son.  This observation is very significant for us too.  Again, although many of us Catholics may appear to be knowledgeable in our faith, we lack a personal encounter with Jesus.  We have only fallen in love with the ideas inherent in the Christian Faith, but not with the person of Christ.

This explains why the focus of the scripture texts, especially the gospel immediately following the feast of the Ascension, is on the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is necessary that Catholics become conscious of the Holy Spirit and be in touch with His indwelling if they are to encounter the Lord Jesus as a person, and not simply as a historical figure but as the risen Lord. It was for this reason that Jesus remarked with disappointment that His disciples had yet to ask “the Father in my name … Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”

But what is it that we are to ask?  Above all things, we must ask for the Holy Spirit because it is a gift given by the Father in the name of the Son.  Only the Holy Spirit can give us true joy, since joy comes from love.  With the Holy Spirit in us, we will come to know the nature of God who is Love.  Indeed, Jesus assured His disciples, “I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father.”   Only the Holy Spirit can reveal to us the meaning of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.  Without the Holy Spirit, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus would remain extraneous to us.  But with the Holy Spirit, we will enter into the Spirit of Jesus and become identified with Him in His love for the Father and for humanity.  Only then can we truly experience the love of the Father, and only this love can empower us to love ourselves and our fellow human beings.

It is this identification with Jesus which brings about our union with the Father that is the basis for all our prayers to be answered.  For when we pray, we will be praying in union with Jesus and for the world.  Jesus said, “On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God.”  When we are in Jesus and He is with us in the Holy Spirit, the Father will hear us, the Body of Christ, praying and interceding for the world.  Jesus, who is one with the Father, is also one with us, His body, in prayer.  Yes, He said, “I came from the Father and have come into the world. Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Today, we are invited to imitate the docility and humility of Apollos.  In spite of his knowledge about the faith, he was never too proud to learn from Priscilla and Aquila.  Apollos was humble enough to accept correction and instruction.  He never felt he knew too much, unlike many of us Catholics who do not feel the urgency to renew our faith, even though we cannot even remember the basic teachings of the Church or the scriptures.

But most of all, we must be like Apollos who sought the Holy Spirit after becoming aware that the baptism of John the Baptist was not sufficient.  He knew that without a deep awareness of the personal love of God in his life, which is only possible through an encounter with the Holy Spirit, he could not be a real witness of the Lord, nor perform signs and wonders to demonstrate the power of the Risen Lord. But because he was docile and humble, not only did the Holy Spirit work in and through him, but many of his fellow Christians also came to his help, welcomed him and rendered him support and encouragement.

If we find ourselves weak in faith or ineffective in proclaiming the Good News, we must sincerely examine whether we are receptive to the Holy Spirit, directly or indirectly through our fellow brothers and sisters.  More often than not, it is the lack of humility and recognition of the poverty of our personal and intellectual faith that hinder us from knowing Jesus intimately and allowing His Spirit to work freely in and through us.  Today, let us humble ourselves and pray for the Holy Spirit to renew our lives, and if necessary, seek the assistance of those who have already encountered Him so that we too can experience a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Be open to the Holy Spirit!

– See more at: http://www.csctr.net/31-may-2014-saturday-6th-week-of-easter/#sthash.JJ7jTuQG.dpuf

Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, December 21, 2013 — To find true joy and peace, we must find the Lord

December 20, 2013

File:Champaigne visitation.jpg

Elizabeth (left) visited by Mary, the Visitation, by Philippe de Champaigne

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent Lectionary: 197

Reading 1 Sg 2:8-14

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Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Here he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices. My lover speaks; he says to me, “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! “For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of pruning the vines has come, and the song of the dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines, in bloom, give forth fragrance. Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come!
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“O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see you, let me hear your voice, For your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.”
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.Or Zep 3:14-18a

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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.

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Responsorial Psalm PS 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21

R. (1a; 3a) Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song. Give thanks to the LORD on the harp; with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises. Sing to him a new song; pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness. R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song. But the plan of the LORD stands forever; the design of his heart, through all generations. Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he has chosen for his own inheritance. R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song. Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and our shield, For in him our hearts rejoice; in his holy name we trust. R. Exult, you just, in the Lord! Sing to him a new song.

Gospel Lk 1:39-45

Mary set out in those days and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
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The Visitation, from Altarpiece of the Virgin by Jacques Daret, 1434-1435.
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The infant in my womb leaped for joy. The Lord Jesus and the good news are a treasure not only to be possessed but to be shared. Those who have truly received Jesus in faith know that he is for the life of the world, the world that needs him badly. So they go out to share to others the grace they have received.

We can see this in our Blessed Mother Mary. After she receives Jesus in her heart and in her womb, she travels in haste to a town of Judah, to visit her relative Elizabeth. She brings to Elizabeth and her son, John, not only the words of the good news but the Word made flesh in her womb. What a marvelous effect her visit produces! The Holy Spirit comes down upon Elizabeth at the sound of Mary’s voice. She is enlightened regarding Mary, whom she calls “the mother of my Lord”! She rejoices and so does John who is still in her womb.

Those who bear Jesus and the good news bring grace and joy to people.

SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord 2012,” ST. PAULS Philippines, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: books@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.

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Lectio Divina from the Carmelites
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Reflection.Luke stresses the readiness of Mary in serving, in being a handmaid. The Angel speaks about the pregnancy of Elizabeth and immediately, Mary rises and sets out as quickly as she could to go and help her. From Nazareth to the house of Elizabeth there were more than 100 km, the minimum, four days of travelling!, There were no buses, no trains. Mary begins to serve and fulfils her mission in behalf of the people of God..Elizabeth represents the Old Testament which was about to end. Mary represents the New Testament. The Old Testament accepts the New one with gratitude and trust, recognizing in it God’s gratuitous gift which is going to be realized and is going to complete the expectation of people. In the encounter of the two women is manifested the gift of the Spirit. The child leapt with joy in Elizabeth’s womb. This is the reading of the faith which Elizabeth makes of the things of life..The Good News of God reveals his presence in the most common things of human life: two house wives who visit each other to mutually help one another. Visit, joy, pregnancy, children, mutual help, house, family: Luke wants us and the community to perceive precisely this and that we discover in this God’s presence..

Elizabeth says to Mary: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Up until today, these words form part of the best known Psalm and most prayed in the whole world, “The Hail Mary”. • “And blessed is she who has believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled”. This is the praise of Elizabeth to Mary and the message of Luke for the community: to believe in the Word of God, because the Word of God has the force to fulfil all that which it tells us. It is a creative Word. It generates new life in the womb of the Virgin, in the womb of people who accept it with faith.

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Mary and Elizabeth already knew one another. But in this encounter, they discover, one in one another, a mystery which they had not known as yet, and which fills them with great joy. Today also, we meet persons who surprise us because of the wisdom they possess and the witness of faith that they give. Has something similar happened to you already? Have you met persons who have surprised you? What prevents us from discovering and from living the joy of God’s presence in our life?

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The attitude of Mary before the Word expresses the ideal which Luke wants to communicate to the Community: do not close yourselves in self, but get out of self, be attentive to the concrete needs of persons and try to help others as far as possible according to their need.

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Personal questions

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Placing myself in the place of Mary and Elizabeth: am I capable to perceive and experience the presence of God in the most simple and common things in the life of every day?

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The praise of Elizabeth to Mary: “You have believed!” Her husband had difficulty to believe what the angel was telling him. And I?

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Concluding Prayer

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We are waiting for Yahweh; he is our help and our shield, for in him our heart rejoices, in his holy name we trust. (Ps 33,20-21)

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http://ocarm.org/en/content/lectio/lectio-divina-luke-139-45

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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How are you feeling today?  Are you feeling happy?  Is there joy in your heart?  Or are you feeling sad and downcast?  What is the reason for your sadness? The cause of sadness is always the lack of love and peace in our lives.  Joy and peace is lacking because God is absent in our lives.  Hence, the liturgy is assuring us that God is coming into our lives very soon.

Like the lover in today’s first reading, God is yearning to see us.  The impatience of the man waiting to see his beloved expresses God’s passionate love for us.  Indeed in the bible, the love of God for humanity is always described in terms of a nuptial love, a marriage between Yahweh and Israel.  In the New Testament, Jesus is called the bridegroom and the Church, His bride.  So intimate is God’s love for us that He longs for us to share in His love.

Thus, being in love and the thought of being with our beloved cannot but fill us with joy even during the time of waiting.  When one is in love and when one is meeting one’s beloved, one cannot but be filled with joy, simply knowing that we can hold our beloved in our arms and be embraced by his or her love.  The time of waiting is a time of yearning and pining.  It is one of excitement and joy.

This too was the experience of Mary, Elizabeth and John the Baptist.  We read that Mary, after receiving the message from the angel, went in haste to share with Elizabeth the Good News of the coming of the Messiah.  Elizabeth too, when she heard Mary’s greeting, gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?”  John the Baptist too “leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” just as King David danced for joy when he received the Ark of the Covenant. (cf 2 Sm 6) So all of them were all dancing for joy at the thought of the coming of the Saviour. They could not contain the joy of the prospect that at last the Messiah was coming.

What about us?  Are you looking forward to Christmas?  You might, but perhaps you are looking forward to some merry-making and receiving some Christmas gifts, but you are not looking forward to having Christ born in your heart!  How sad it would be to celebrate Christmas without the birthday boy!  Without Christ coming into our hearts, how can we experience the love of God being poured into our hearts?  And without His love, there can be no joy and no peace since love is the origin of joy and peace.

It is therefore urgent to confront the emptiness and despondency of our hearts.  We need to fill it not with things and with activities and festivities but with the love, joy and peace of Christ.  We need to be quiet and seek Him as we approach the feast of Christmas.   We must enter into the longing of the lover waiting for his beloved to come.  Unless we long for God to come into our lives, He will not come.  The beloved will not impose His love on us.

How then can we fill the vacuum in our hearts?  The scripture readings instruct us that in the first place, joy is born of hope and hope is born of a promise.   Because of a promise, we can look forward each day in hope.  Like a young couple awaiting their marriage day, or their child that is to be born, or a young man his graduation day, or a poor family of financial assistance or a terminally ill person of a cure, that person cannot but be filled with joy, provided that hope is a certain hope.  Truly, when hope is a substantiated hope, unlike a vain hope for something to happen, one is infused with joy already.  Christian hope is based on a promise made by God Himself and that is why we know that this promise would be fulfilled.  And because of a promise made to us, joy is already in us even while waiting for the hope to be fulfilled.  

Consequently, to enter into this joy, we must believe.  Mary believed that God is faithful and trustworthy.  She knew that God will always be true to His promise as she sang in the Magnificat, “He protects Israel, his servant, remembering his mercy, the mercy promised to our fathers, to Abraham and his sons forever.”  Mary also believed in the Word spoken to her.  Relying on the promise of God through the angel, she consented to do His will in spite of all the uncertainties and challenges ahead of her.  She committed herself to do His will, believing that He will make all things possible, regardless of the sufferings and persecutions she would have to go through.  This faith is summed up in the response of Elizabeth, “Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”  Mary believed that God could do the impossible, and much more than we can imagine and understand.  With God all things are possible to those who have faith.  She remembered the exhortation of the angel Gabriel.

How do we know that we have believed?  Not by words but by the fruits of faith.  Anyone who believes in the promise of God will begin to reach out to others.  So in the case of Mary, she immediately went to assure Elizabeth of the truth of God’s message, for Elizabeth too must be strengthened in her faith that she was no longer barren.  Both gave each other support in believing the miracle that was happening to both of them.  Together they could affirm that whether one is barren or a virgin, God could accomplish the impossible in human reckoning.

If we have faith, we too, must encourage others in their faith.  Like Mary, we must bring hope to others, especially those who are facing crises in their personal life, those who have given up on God or on love because of the tragedies they are going through as a consequence of failed relationships, betrayals, infidelity or sickness and misfortunes in their life.  In solidarity with them, we must help them to cling to God’s promise by helping them to find faith in Christ again, who is their hope, joy and peace.  Are you bearing fruits of love like Mary by bringing Christ to others, or by being Christ to others so that they too can leap for joy in encountering God’s love?

In the final analysis, to find true joy and peace, we must find the Lord.  We must be reconciled with Him by allowing Him to be the Lord of our lives.  Have we gone for the Sacrament of reconciliation?  Have we sincerely confessed all our sins in humility and with contrition?  Have we made time to allow Jesus, the Word to be conceived in our hearts and take flesh in our life?  Like the psalmist then we should pray, “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield, for in him our hearts rejoice; in his holy name we trust.”

If He seems to be slow in coming, then know that sometimes, like the beloved, the Lord is “hiding in the clefts of the rock” so that He could expand our desire for Him when we begin the search for Him in desperation and earnestness.  The greater our desire, the greater the capacity to receive; the greater the joy we will have.  So in fervent prayer, we beg the Lord, “Show me your face! Let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful.”  If we are sincere in wanting His love, He will come and show us His face and pour His love on us.

When that day happens, you will, like all God’s people, exult and sing for joy for He will turn your mourning into joy (Ps 30:12).  Truly, when God’s love is with us, then we can say, “winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of glad songs has come, the cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree is forming its first figs and the blossoming vines give out their fragrance.”  How great is our God indeed!  How great is His love for us that He would deign to live in us and not just in our midst!

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

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Prayer and Meditation for Friday, May 31, 2013: Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

May 30, 2013

The Visitation, from Altarpiece of the Virgin — Art By Jacques Daret (c. 1404 – c. 1470)

Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Lectionary: 572

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.

Or Rom 12:9-16

Brothers and sisters: Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation.

Responsorial Psalm Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

R. (6) 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. 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. 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. Among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.

Gospel Lk 1:39-56

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
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And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
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He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever.”
Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
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Homily Ideas for the Visitation
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I treasure this reading commonly known as “The Visitation” for many reasons.  For one thing, the story prominently features two women – Mary and Elizabeth.  What a refreshing change from the Patriarchal bias found all over the Bible that tends to push the women into the margins of the story. (A tendency that continues on into the Church…. but that’s a tale for another day.)

Notice the intimate experience of God and relationship in the story.  Elizabeth is so “filled with the Holy Spirit” she can’t help but cry out in joy.  Mary, too, is overwhelmed with God’s presence, moving her to profess one of the great prayers of praise in the Catholic tradition (The Magnificat) which begins with the words: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”

The connection between the two women, described by Luke as “cousins”, is so deep that Elizabeth instinctly knows the miracle that has happened to Mary (“the baby leapt in my womb”) before Mary does or says anything.   The story concludes by simply stating that Mary “remained with Elizabeth for three months” – presumably, in a spirit of deep and abiding friendship.

No coincidences there.  An intimate relationship with God inevitably leads us to intimate relationships with others.  And intimate relationships with others inevitably leads us into an intimate relationship with God.  Such a circle of abiding Love can’t help but produce within us into a deep concern for and commitment to the poor and lowly – a major theme of the entire Magnificat!

Jim Philipps (3rd millennium pilgrim)

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http://3rdmillenniumpilgrim.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/gospel-reflection-luke-139-56-assumption-of-mary/

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