4th Sunday of Advent

4th Sunday of Advent

You know that when the characters in Scripture talk to one another, they’re also talking to you and me.  Today’s Gospel is a good example of that.  In the very last line Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

Think about that for a second.  Mary is blessed because she believed.  Doesn’t that apply to us?  Aren’t we blessed when we believe.  Think about the famous passage; John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave* his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

 

Mary believed.  And you know what?  She gave her only Son too.  You have to think that Mary, like all young women and men, had plans for her life.  There’s no mention in Scripture of Mary having any friends, but you know she did.  They probably giggled and talked like all young girls, planning what their lives would be like.  But Mary was blessed because she believed.

 

How was Mary blessed?  She was blessed to have only one Son who would leave home at the age of thirty and in three short years would be humiliated, tortured, and executed.  The first inkling she would have of all this was when she and Joseph took Jesus to the temple.  Simeon told her that her heart would be pierced.  I don’t think she planned on that.

 

Mary was blessed to never be intimate with her husband.  Blessed Mary, ever virgin.  That had to be an adjustment for Mary AND Joseph.

 

The Holy Family was forced to flee to Egypt and live in exile while Herod tried to find Jesus and kill Him.  Then when they were settled into their new home, the angel came and told them to go back.  Another blessing?

 

Remember when Jesus was twelve years old?  Mary and Jesus took Him to the temple and lost Him.  It was a big caravan and Mary thought He was with Joseph and Joseph thought He was with Mary.  All of us who are parents have probably been separated from one of our kids at one time or another.  Total panic!  Imagine how Mary must have felt losing the Son of God.  I guess that’s another way she was blessed.

 

The point of all this is what it means to be blessed.  We may have a tendency to think of the blessings of this world.  And that’s ok.  I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife, four great kids, and four and a half great grandchildren.  Those are major blessings but they’re also worldly blessings.

 

The blessing we’re all looking for is the blessing of eternal life.  That’s the big one and it doesn’t necessarily come from worldly blessings.  In fact, one man’s blessing may be another man’s curse.  The guy who lives in the big house with the $2,000 suits and the Mercedes Benz in the garage may be miserable.  And, the things he did to get all that stuff may be what keeps him out of heaven.  Blessings we create for ourselves aren’t blessings at all.  Blessings can only come from God.

 

On the other hand, the guy who lives in the mobile home in Jefferson County and drives a beat-up pickup truck, but who goes to church every Sunday and shares what little he has with others is probably on the express train to eternal life.

 

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

Here’s the thing.  If we believe anything the Lord tells us then we have to believe everything the Lord tells us.  If anything He says isn’t true then He’s a liar.  And if He’s a liar, then we can’t believe anything He says.

 

In just a matter of hours we’ll begin to celebrate the birth of the Savior.  God sent His Son to save us from our sins.  In His three short years of earthly ministry Jesus gave us some instructions.  His instructions were much simpler that the hundreds of Jewish laws that the people were used to.  Basically He told us to Love Him and to love one another.  He told us He had come to build a Church and Peter would be the rock; the foundation.  He left the Apostles to run the Church.  He told them, “Whoever hears you, hears Me.”  That’s this thing we call the Catholic Church.  He left us the beatitudes and the golden rule.  He left us the Lord’s Prayer.

 

So, as we get ready for the celebration of the greatest event in the history of the world, the almighty God being born as a human baby in a manger in Bethlehem, let’s take Elizabeth’s words to heart.  We may be blessed with great families, or good looks, or great minds.  We may be blessed to live in a nice house and drive a nice car.

 

Or, maybe not.

 

But we’re all blessed with the ability to believe what the Lord has told us.  Whether we believe or not is up to us.

 

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

 

 

 

 

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40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #3 The Blessed Mother

“Hail Full of Grace, the Lord is with you.”

When the Lord spoke these words to Mary, her life was changed forever.  She was to become the Mother of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  When she went to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who was also with child, even in her old age, her words were prophetic as well.  When Mary entered Elizabeth’s home the child in her womb leapt for joy and Elizabeth said,

“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”  

Of course, these two sentences from Luke’s Gospel are the beginning of the “Hail Mary”, the tribute to the Blessed Virgin that every Catholic learns early in life and continues to pray as long as they live.

We discussed earlier, in our post on saints, that we don’t worship Mary.  We venerate her.  How else should we treat Jesus’ mother?  Without her, there would have been no Messiah.  Obviously Mary could have said no.  In fact one reason we do venerate her is because she said yes.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”  Mary could have refused.  She could have told Gabriel to leave her alone.  She was young.  She was engaged to be married.  The last thing she needed was a surprise pregnancy.  Nazareth was a small town.  What were the neighbors going to think?  What was Joseph going to say?  But she had faith in God and she agreed to do His will.

Don’t forget, Mary was born without sin.  God had been preparing for this event for years.  If Mary had refused to go along, He couldn’t just go get another woman.  He would have had to start over.  But, of course, He knew that she would never refuse to do His will.

But why do we Catholics have such a strong devotion to Mary?  After all, other faith traditions believe the same Nativity story that we do.  They understand that Mary was Jesus’ mother, but they don’t seem to hold her in the high esteem that we do.  We pray for Mary to intercede for us with Jesus.   Every Catholic church has at least one statue of her.  Until recently, Mary was the most popular girl’s name in the United States.  There are thousands of Catholic Churches named after her, either as Saint Mary, or as one of her other appellations.  We Catholics love Mary.

Mary carried our Lord in her womb for nine months.  She raised Him from a baby and held Him in her arms after He was crucified.  She was assumed into heaven so her sinless body wouldn’t have to lie in the ground.  She was Jesus’ mother and I think we can all agree, if you love someone as much as we love Jesus, you have to love their mom.

Mary said “yes” to God and gave birth to His Son.  As He hung on the cross, Jesus gave her to his beloved Apostle John, and so gave her to us.  Mary was very cool.

Here’s a trivia question for you.  What is the only US city named after the blessed mother?  

 

 

Nativity of John the Baptist

People in Biblical times looked at things a lot differently than we do today.  Our reading from Luke’s Gospel is a good example.

“When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son.  Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.”

 

Remember, Elizabeth was no kid.  That was part of the miracle.  The angel told Mary, “behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age.”  Looking around this church this morning I’d say we’re a pretty mature crowd.  If one of us, or our wife, was to come up pregnant would we think the Lord had shown us “great mercy”?  We might think exactly the opposite.  Would our neighbors and relatives come to rejoice with us?

 

Luke tells us that  the people asked “What, then, will this child be?”  They had no idea what he would become.  In the continuation of this passage, after he gets his voice back, Zechariah will tell John what he is to become, but no one knows it yet.

 

I guess you’d say these people’s glass was always half full where, today, we tend to see it more as half empty.  When God called on them, they usually said yes, even when they didn’t know what they were saying “yes” to.

 

It’s the same thing with John’s name.  The angel had told Zechariah what to call the child.  “Call him John.”  The relatives and neighbors objected.  Babies were given family names.  It was unheard of to give a child, especially a son, a different name.  But Elizabeth insisted that he be called John and Zechariah confirmed it, writing on a tablet “John is his name.”  It’s a good thing he did because that’s when he got his voice back.

 

Family names aren’t so important today.  In fact a lot of parents seem to go out of their way to hang strange monikers on their poor, innocent children.  But how many couples would give their kid a name because an angel told them to?  Probably not many.

 

Here’s the thing.  People in Jesus’ time were open to the will of the Father.  They put God first and themselves second.  That’s not so common today.  Separated from them by 2,000 years and half a world away, I think it’s hard for us sometimes to understand just how obedient those people were and how much we come up short.

 

Some might say that God has never asked them to do anything.  They would be wrong.  God speaks to us in any number of ways including through the Scriptures and through signs.  The problem is that most of us don’t take the time to listen.  We need to be open to the Father’s word and to listen for it.

The Fourth Wednesday of Advent

In today’s Gospel we read of the birth of John the Baptist.  Isn’t it odd that when Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives gathered on the eighth day for the baby’s circumcision that they had already chosen a name for him?  My wife and I have four kids and we didn’t let our neighbors and relatives pick a single name.  I doubt if you did either.

Even when Elizabeth told them that the baby’s name would be John, they still argued with her.  “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So, they asked Zechariah what he thought.  Remember that he was struck dumb when he questioned the angel’s words that Elizabeth was going to be a mother in her old age.  So he took a tablet and wrote “John is his name,” and “all were amazed.”

This elderly woman has had a baby, her husband has had his voice taken away,  and the relatives and neighbors are amazed that they’ve chosen to name the baby John?  That seems to me to be the most normal thing that’s happened around there for a while.

But don’t we all know someone like that?  They overlook the main thing to focus on the small stuff.  You know, the ones who rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.

But then, the most amazing thing of all.  Zechariah gets his voice back.  Now the neighbors are afraid. The events are discussed “throughout the hill country of Judea.  All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, ‘What, then, will this child be?'”

Well, we know the answer to the question.  John will go before the Lord to prepare His way.  Everyone of us is a little bit John.  Our calling is to prepare the Lord’s way, too.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  As we wind up the Advent season, hopefully  we can look back and  see that we’re just a little bit more ready than we were four weeks ago.  If so, then our Advent has been a success.

The Fourth Monday of Advent

Mary visits ElizabethIn today’s Office of Readings Saint Ambrose reflects on Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.  Quoting Luke’s Gospel he writes, “as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the child leapt in her womb, and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

“Notice the contrast and the choice of words.  Elizabeth is the first to hear Mary’s voice, but John is the first to be aware of grace.  She hears with the ears of the body, but he leaps for joy at the meaning of the mystery.  She is aware of Mary’s presence, but he is aware of the Lord’s.”

Ambrose explains that John received the Holy Spirit from Jesus’ presence and Elizabeth received the same Spirit from John.  Elizabeth received the Spirit after John was conceived where Mary received the Spirit before Jesus was conceived.  As Elizabeth says to Mary:  Blessed are you because you have believed.

Then Ambrose speaks to you and me when he says, “You are also blessed because you have heard and believed.  A soul that believes both conceives and brings forth the Word of God and acknowledges his works…..Christ has only one mother in the flesh, but we all bring forth Christ in faith. ”

We all have the opportunity to share the Spirit with others when we proclaim our belief in the Incarnation, in our actions and our words.  And isn’t that the greatest Christmas gift of all?